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.


One Teacher’s Look at Politics

14 Nov

ImageThis is the beginning of a series of blog post that attempt to put the political situation into context in light of today’s city council votes and Pat Quinn’s selection of Paul Vallas as his candidate for Lieutenant Governor.  I am looking at things from the point of view of one Chicago Public School teacher, but a lot of this will probably apply to parents and teachers in Chicago and in other school districts.

Today, we found out who are real friends in the Chicago City Council are.   Aldermen Fioretti and Arena attempted to rescue both the TIF Surplus bill and the Elected School Board bill from the rules committee today and though neither measure passed, we learned a lot about who our friends are in the City Council.

Voted Yes on Returning TIF Surplus



Voted Yes on Elected School Board


Are these are only allies?  I’d say “no”.  Some alderman like O’Shea are glaring in their absence.  Some alderman like Foulkes and Pawar who voted for one measure voted against the other.  I don’t think that a candidate has to be behind us 100% to be worthy for our support.  However, there is a track record and if a candidate is voting against me as often as they’re voting for me, it’s time to replace them.  Aldermen aren’t the most powerful public employees around, but aldermanic races are also the easiest ones for a dedicated band of teachers to influence.  Whether we’re talking about the district where you live or you teach (if you’re a teacher), you can make a big difference by volunteering.

Next time, I’ll look at the race for Governor. 

CPS Fun with Accountability

12 Nov

ImageSometimes, CPS misses the reality boat by so much, you can only shake your head and laugh before weeping and sobbing uncontrollably in distress.  It seems the Office of Accountability, which is brimming with 6 figure salaries, doesn’t have anybody who understands statistics. 

Last week, our school was given targets for improvement based on last year’s ISAT, NWEA, and attendance figures.  These targets were calculated by looking at the scores a grade achieved the previous year and figuring in a solid percentage growth to that score.   For instance, in 2013 the third grade had 42.6 percent meet or exceed on the NWEA so in 2014 the third grade has a target of 47.1.   The problem is that the 2013 third graders are now fourth graders.

This is roughly the equivalent of giving a doctor high marks because the patients that he saw on Friday were healthier than the ones he saw on Thursday or calling the Bulls a much improved basketball team because they did better playing against the Utah Jazz Friday than they did against the Miami Heat in the opener.  Students change for year to year and they are not only different people, but their classroom behavior and attitudes are affected by the other students around them.

As a result of the mathematical genius that is the CPS Office of Accountability, my grade must improve our students’ ISAT reading scores by 21.3 percent over the scores they achieved last year.  However, in math we only have to avoid a loss of less than 11.7 percent.  Did anybody even think about this or read these targets?   As a result, I will be going to my principal tomorrow during report card pick up and asking that we discontinue mathematics education at our grade level in favor of double reading.  Are they that starved for data at central office, that the quality of the data has become irrelevant?

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.”