Tag Archives: Chicago Public Schools

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.

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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.

Facts

  • 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.

Repercussions

  • 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 cmswartz@cps.edu).  Please direct questions on potential repercussions to Tom Krieger (773-553-1193 or tkrieger@cps.edu) or David Ruhland (773-553-2321 or druhland@cps.edu).

Sincerely,

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.

 

CPS Continues their “Fuzzy” Math

29 Sep

Image

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.  

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 Trouble with Microsoft

27 Aug

ImageIf you haven’t noticed, Microsoft is showing signs of real trouble.  They’re no longer innovative and workers and outside observers alike blame it on their management system called “stack ranking”.  In stack ranking, employees are rated from best to worst and the lowest performing employees are fired.  This has created a corporate atmosphere that could best be described as toxic.

“The behavior this engenders, people do everything they can to stay out of the bottom bucket,” one Microsoft engineer said. “People responsible for features will openly sabotage other people’s efforts. One of the most valuable things I learned was to give the appearance of being courteous while withholding just enough information from colleagues to ensure they didn’t get ahead of me on the rankings.”

There was a great article in Slate, which referenced a previous article in Vanity Fair.  My question is, knowing that doing things this way is a failure in business, why are we letting Gates and company inflict this kind of management on education. 

Rahm Skips Planned After-School Walk With Students after Protesters Show Up

“Mayor Rahm Emanuel skipped out on a planned walk with students through a West Side neighborhood Monday, prompting a small group of activists outside Willa Cather Elementary to chant, “Run, Rahm, Run.”

No Experience Necessary

“Silly reader—experience is for status quo lovers! In case you’ve haven’t heard, no experience is the new black, especially when it comes to leading school districts that happen to be almost entirely Black. You see, in the olden days experience was mistakenly believed to be an attribute, or worse, a necessity. Today, nine out of ten reform advocates agree: a lack of experience is the handmaiden of disruption and the first cousin of innovation. In other words, what was your question again?”

School’s Out Forever

“While students return to class today, Tribune photojournalist Brian Casella visits the buildings the sit empty after being closed by Chicago Public Schools.”

CPS Begins New School Year

This is a must see video segment, but unfortunately at posting time, WTTW didn’t have it up yet.  I assume it will be posted very soon at this link.

Activists Call for One-Day Boycott of CPS Schools

“The group is asking students to skip school Wednesday and parents and supporters to forgo a Chicago Board of Education meeting to attend a rally in front of the board’s downtown office, followed by a march to City Hall.”

Tomorrow is Openning Day

26 Aug

ImageTomorrow is the opening day for CPS and I find myself having a very difficult time meeting it with the energy it deserves.  I feel like we’ve not only had important supports cut off from us, I feel that even more damage to our school community is on the way.  My school is down 100+ students from the CPS projection.  

We have a very large Mexican population and it’s not unusual for some students to make their way back from Mexico in time for the start of the school year, but this year the school year starts earlier and the deadline for enrollment to count is the 10th day instead of the 20th.  This means if everything stands the way it is, we’ll be losing another 8 teacher positions.   Little niceties like computer paper have been excised from our budget and we’re constantly being told to do more with less.

In addition, the school faces a mind numbing problem of epic proportions.  We are scoring great on one set of standardized tests and poorly on another.  Therefore, it is clear that the way we are teaching must somehow be deficient because there is no other possible explanation why 2 seemingly infallible tests could be giving the opposite results.

I am sure that when I meet my students and get to know them, I’ll remember why I got into this profession in the first place, but I’m tired of being a cog in a system where my boss (Rahm) not only doesn’t help me to succeed, but actively works to hinder my progress.

Rahm Put Indicted Ohio Money Laundry Man on City’s Pension Boards

“Some independent alderman like Fioretti and Waguespack have wanted a more open, transparent investigation of what Ahmad did here. They want the city’s inspector general Joe Ferguson to be allowed to do his job. That’s not what Rahm wants. And you have to wonder why not?”

Rahm Running Scared Orders Entire City on Alert

“In what is becoming an international spectacle Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel or, Murder Mayor as he is called in some circles, is deploying all city departments until further notice to be deployed on all Safe Passage routes in the first few weeks when school starts for the Chicago Public Schools.”

Heat Wave Forecast for Chicago for Back to School

“The outlook for this week projects multiple days with high temperatures into the lower 90s. However, when factoring in sunshine, humidity and light winds, RealFeel® temperatures are likely to surge into the upper 90s to near 100 degrees for a couple of hours each afternoon.”

Chicago Parents Say: Follow the Money

“CPS says they have no alternatives but to make these school-based cuts,” says parent Jeff Karova of Darwin Elementary. “Clearly CPS has chosen to increase spending in certain areas very far away from the classroom while cutting essential programs critical to the development and learning of our children.”

Matt Farmer: Arne Duncan’s Favorite Phrase

“The Secretary of Education then confused even himself, calling a “new generation of assessments aligned with the states’ Common Core standards” a “second game-changer,” even though it was actually the third “game-changer” Arne had offered the assembled UNESCO masses during that difficult-to-diagram, five-minute rhetorical stretch.