Archive | September, 2013

CPS Continues their “Fuzzy” Math

29 Sep


I received an email this week from a CPS teacher including an email that was sent out by their principal.   The principal wrote, “Effective immediately we will transition to a no zero policy.  Additionally on Friday we will have a brief meeting 4th & 5th periods.  In exchange I will give one of your prep periods back next week.  By Monday, September 30th please change all past zeros to the lowest possible grade designated for each grade level as identified in the staff handbook.”

In effect, the principal has banned grades lower than 50% at his high school.  The Principal admitted to this teacher that he had been under pressure from the Southwest Area Office to make this change.   Now, I personally give students no lower than a 50% on assignments with the exception of missing assignments.   I do this for mathematical reasons to allow students a chance to recover from a bad test.  However, if a student wants credit for a project or homework assignment, I don’t think it is unfair to require the student to actually do the assignment.  However, I believe teachers should have the right to set standards for their own classrooms.  These policies should originate in the classroom and not in the principal’s office and certainly not at the area office.

This isn’t the only area of fuzzy math in Chicago this week, however.   CPS enrollment is dropping fast and it’s probably no wonder.  When you sabotage the neighborhood schools where most families send their children to school, you shouldn’t be surprised when they respond by looking elsewhere.  However, charter schools in Chicago have been claiming a waiting list of 19,000 students.  Lost in all the hand wringing over CPS’s decline in enrollment this week was the fact that the city’s charter schools have 1,000 students less than projected in the CPS FY14 budget.   It seems to me that if they’re on a waiting list, they should be enrolled when an opening occurs.  Then again, if I had students on a waiting list I probably wouldn’t be spending big money in marketing my charter school like so many of them do.

Of course none of this is any wonder with Mathematician in Chief Rahm Emanuel in charge–he of the $1 Billion CPS deficit that neither grows nor shrinks depending on what savings or expenses are found.  The TIF plan continues to work as intended, siphoning off money from school children to give basketball arenas to private universities and liquor stores to felons.   Of course, Rahm’s new safe passage program seems to make the news every day or two.  

Is Your School Built on a Native American Burial Ground?

18 Sep

ImageThere are a few things I’ve learned from watching movies that I think provide valuable lessons for anybody thinking of running an urban school district.  It may be easy to slam this easily acquired knowledge as being insufficient.  We’re sending a whole lot of people off to run big school districts whose knowledge comes from watching Freedom Writers.

The first thing I learned is that you never build on an Indian Burial ground.   IF you do this, your school will undoubtedly be haunted.  If you have seen Poltergeist, you can already see some of the liability issues with students getting trapped in television sets and being chased by ghosts who want to do them harm.   Fortunately, I am reasonably confident that CPS would not knowingly build a school on a Native American burial ground.

Building a school on an old toxic dump would also be a horrible idea.  If you watch movies like Erin Brockovich you are probably more worried about students and teachers developing serious maladies,  If you watch movies like The Toxix Avenger, you are more concerned with rampaging students who are mutated by the toxins.  Unfortunately, CPS seems ready to ignore reports of toxic waste in order to construct a build a new school near the Indiana border.  A new school is seriously needed in the area to fight overcrowding, but I would like to think that safety would be a consideration.

Rahm Emanuel Discusses Plans to Build School on Possibly Toxic Site

“Preliminary environmental tests conducted last year at the proposed construction site found unsafe levels of chemicals in the soil and a leaking underground gasoline storage tank, reports the Chicago Tribune.”

Emanuel Defends School Additions, Improvements after CPS Closures

“It marked the third straight day that a mayor who closed nearly 50 public schools, most of them on the South and West Sides, has announced plans to build new schools and expand existing ones.”

Singing the Praise of CPS Teachers (Despite Everything)

“I asked folks if they had any good stories from their schools, and parents were happy to oblige. You know why? Because most folks love their schools. They love the community culture of their schools. They love the opportunities the schools offer. They love the kindness, empathy, and professionalism of their teachers. They love their grant-writing, penny-wringing, hope-clinging principals who never say die.”

State Board of Education Could Lift Cap Size for Special Ed

“A possible vote could lift those limits, and mean that a teacher could have 17 students requiring special attention in a class of 35. That idea scares Laurie Viets, whose 4-year-old son is autistic, and goes to Beard Elementary School on the Northwest Side. The school exclusively serves special needs children.”

The Hidden Truth Behind Teach for America’s Political Empire

“At a college-wide block party on Aug. 29, grad students and local teachers passed out leaflets reading, “Why would CEHD partner with an organization that claims that working class students of color do not need well-trained, career teachers?” Several were approached by the dean, who called the leafletting “inappropriate” and threatened to call campus security if they didn’t stop.”

Did This Little Election Strike a Big Blow to Education Reform

“The Vallas allies who lost last week were Democrats endorsed by the state Democratic Party and town Democratic committee and backed by the mayor. In a nearly 10-to-1 Democratic city, the primary winners are all but guaranteed to win the November elections and team up with Working Families Party members to form an anti-Vallas majority on the nine-member school board.”

A Must Read for those Interested in our Schools

17 Sep

ImageDiane Ravitch’s new book just came out today.  Reign of Error puts into context the struggles we’re fighting in Chicago and globally against the forces of mayoral control and privatization.   You can pick up Reign of Error on Amazon and it’ll be a New York Times Best Seller, so you’re certainly going to be able to find it elsewhere as well.

Ravitch’s New Book Demonstrates She Still Hates Children

“While I didn’t actually read Ravitch’s book, I think I’ve gotten a pretty good feeling for what it’s about by reading the cover which is widely displayed on line and several negative comments from people I admire for their no excuses approach to education reform and this unfortunately, is where Ravitch comes up short.”

Life in Rahm’s Chicago.  Resignations abound and Parents Have some Questions for Rahm on the East Side

“Party Boss Michael Madigan and Governor Squeezy greased the way for over $100 million in tax dollars, some of which went to Rangel and his family.

They were alleged contractors for UNO’s charter school construction.

Cabrera’s sudden resignation suggests Rangel hadn’t really given up control.

Questions. Questions. Questions.”

Chicago Teacher: Inhumane Working Conditions are Inhumane Learning Conditions

“These disparities highlight that Mayor Emanuel and his appointees consistently prioritize their own plans to privatize Chicago education over the basic human rights and learning conditions for hundreds of thousands of Chicago children. Cawley has gone on record to say that they will not invest capital money into schools they are considering closing in the future.”

More Cuts Loom for Portage Park Elementary School

“Portage Park Elementary School will have no money to pay for substitute teachers after the latest round of budget cuts, Local School Council Chairwoman Victoria “Tori” Benson said.”

New York and Connecticut Lead the Way

12 Sep

ImageToday, we heard of more CPS incompetence.  In the case of the hand held fans, the incompetence hit epic proportions, but last night we got some good news in the resistance to Rahm style education reform from and I think it deserves noting and celebrating.

In New York, Bill de Blasio won the Democratic primary for mayor.  de Blasio is actually a public school parent who ran on a platform of reversing Bloomberg’s corporate style education reform.   Naturally, the teachers union in New York supported one of his opponents, but he will be great news for parents and teachers alike if elected.

In Bridgeport, Connecticut, the three outsider candidates won the election for school board over the 3 machine candidates.  They have vowed to try and end corporate reform.  This means that Paul Vallas’s days are definitely numbered.

2 Investigators: Safe Passage Routes Lead Kids Past Sex Offender Shelters

“A director affiliated with both shelters, Cynthia Jones Northington says they were not told about the safe passage routes.

“We actually just saw the signs; that raised red flags for us,” said Jones Northington. “So we have some tremendous concerns.”

CPS Handing Out Small Personal Fans to Cope with the Heat

“CPS confirmed that 36,000 of these handheld fans are being distributed this week to schools that requested them. Tuesday’s high temp of 95 degrees tied a Chicago record set in 1983. Boone staff got theirs Wednesday after temps dipped into the high 80s, according to a staffer. CPS could not immediately say how many schools made the requests.”

Teach for America and Noble Street Charters: A Dangerous Combination

“In Chicago, there is arguably no school with closer ties to TFA than Noble St Charter Schools.  At least half of Noble principals are TFA alums and a large percentage of the teachers are current TFA corp members or alumni.  It is no surprise that Mr. Anderson would choose this school to highlight.”

The Chicago Teachers Strike One Year Later

11 Sep

ImageI am not one of the people who run the CTU.  I am no privy to inside information nor do I always agree with everything that the teachers union does.  However, for a couple of weeks last September I found myself with a ringside seat for history.  In fact as a member of the bargaining team, I was called on to do more than just watch history be made, I was called to be a part of it.  The CTU’s official comments on the anniversary are here, but I wanted to give my own remembrances. 

The pace was exhausting.  I’d be at my school for 6AM picketing and then downtown by 3 or 4 for bargaining sessions that sometimes didn’t end until nearly 4 in the morning.  Sometimes we were being briefed by our officers in a fast paced and frantic blur of events, but other times, we were stuck in a room trying to be available when needed and trying to find out (in my case) the score of the Bears/Packers game because the Hotel we were meeting at didn’t get it.

As long as the hours were for the big bargaining team, they were even longer for the officers who fought tirelessly into the wee hours of the morning and then were back at it the next day.  I also heard and saw the tremendous heroism and support on the picket lines.  I thrilled when teachers were given a standing ovation when they went to a police station to use the bathroom and I saw a panhandler who I didn’t have change for, stop when he saw my CTU shirt and tell me, “You’re fighting for this city.  You don’t back down from that Mayor now.”

We accomplished something and to the surprise of Rahm. Bruce Rauner, Josh Edelman, and the Tribune Editorial Board, the city was behind us.  We showed the city that we were a force and we will remain a force as long as we are united.   The school closures came, but we knew they would.   This plan to close these schools was straight from the Broad Academy.   What we hoped we could do was to make it easier for our teachers to get rehired through the teacher quality pool.  We didn’t get large raises, but we held off city plans that would have seen lanes and steps eliminated.  We fought on a lot of issues, but this wasn’t a strike about winning.  We were fighting not to lose everything we had worked so hard for.  I feel that we won a contract we could live with and considering where these negotiations started, that was huge.

More than this, we reminded the powers that be that the Chicago Teachers Union can be a fighting union and we strengthened our ties to parent, student, and community groups in a way that will continue to bear fruit.  We won and the children of Chicago won, but it was a battle and not the war.  Our next big fight is coming to the ballot box.  What we do there will make a huge difference.

[Here are Kenzo Shibata’s thoughts on the anniversary]

Know Your Enemy

10 Sep


I apologize for my scarcity around these parts.  Eventually, this blog will be back to a solid 4 or 5 days of content out of seven, but as many of you know, teaching is hard work.  With both my time and my energy reduced by returning back to school something had to give.   I did it for the second half of last year so I’m pretty sure I can do it this year too.

The main impetus for me returning to the blog was a few outstanding things I saw happening on the internet.  One was an article by the brilliant Edushyster who found a leaked TFA memo that showed plans for 50 new Chicago charter schools.  This plan was a slide from a January 2013 Board of Directors meeting. 

I once thought of TFA as being a nuisance and a waster of talent and passion.  They took people who cared about kids and had great college transcripts, gave them little training, and burned them out from ever being teachers for more than 2 years.  The mission of TFA has changed however, and they are now actively crushing teachers unions and forcing out experienced teachers in locations where there is no teacher shortage.  They are sabotaging public schools and I will go out of my way to expose any sponsors or financial supporters of this insidious organization.

Today was day 10 in the Chicago Public Schools.  There will be more layoffs coming at schools that were short of CPS projections for enrollment.  Every dozen students that charters raid from neighborhood schools is one experienced and certified teacher who will be out of a job.  The way that the rules of have been set up by the city, there is no mutual survival.  The only way that public education survives is if the current charter status quo is defeated.

Student Takes on Michelle Rhee

Back to high stakes testing. I don’t know a single student — I’m sorry, I have a lot of friends, and I have friends at other schools too — I don’t know a single student who says that they learned something from a high-stakes test, and the way that their school is structured. They should be given the freedom to learn what they want to learn, open curriculum, well-rounded, arts, music, humanities….

[Followup:  Here’s a further exchange between Hannah and Michelle Rhee]

How Do TIFs Work in Chicago?

This easy to followexplanation will leave you with plenty of TIF knowledge to impress your neighbors