Friday, July 27, 2012

American Federation of Teachers Convening in Detroit Vice President Joe Biden, Charles Blow, Diane Ravitch, UAW President Bob King Among Major Speakers

Media Advisory
July 26, 2012
Carolyn Fiddler

American Federation of Teachers Convening in Detroit
Vice President Joe Biden, Charles Blow, Diane Ravitch, UAW President Bob King Among Major Speakers 

WASHINGTON—The American Federation of Teachers 2012 convention will begin Friday, July 27, and will last through Monday, July 30, at Cobo Center in Detroit, where more than 3,000 delegates will gather from across the country representing preK-12 teachers; paraprofessionals and school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; early childhood educators; federal, state and local government employees; and nurses and other healthcare professionals.

The convention opens with AFT President Randi Weingarten’s keynote address introducing “solution-driven unionism,” a redefinition of unionism that advances solutions focused not just on members, but also on the people they serve and the communities in which they live. Solution-driven unionism will advance creative solutions to unify members and their communities around issues important to all working people.

After delivering her keynote address on Friday, Weingarten will join members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers as they gather at the Detroit Pubic School headquarters to tell Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts to stop dictating and start working collaboratively to ensure the students of Detroit have what they need to succeed.
Essential items the convention will address include:
  • Approving a new American Federation of Teachers mission statement that emphasizes the organization’s commitment to championing fairness, democracy, economic opportunity, and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities.
  • Passing a resolution calling for an end to the fixation on high-stakes testing and the restoration of balance to public education by prioritizing high-quality instruction informed by appropriate and useful assessments.
  • Passing a resolution addressing the need for infrastructure and public service investment to create jobs as the AFT works to improve public education, prepare students for work and improve the outlook of the U.S. economy in the 21st century.
Featured speakers at this year’s convention include Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, historian of education at New York University and best-selling author Diane Ravitch, New York Times columnist Charles Blow and United Auto Workers President Bob King (see list and schedule below).

AFT Convention at Cobo Center, Detroit
Speaker Highlights

Friday, July 27, 9 a.m. session

           AFT President Randi Weingarten

Friday, July 27, Noon
            Rally at DPS,  3031 W. Grand Blvd.

Saturday, July 28, 9 a.m. session
            UAW President Bob King
Saturday, July 28, 2 p.m. session
             Diane Ravitch, NYU historian of education and best-selling author
             Rev. Wendell Anthony, Detroit Branch NAACP president

Sunday, July 29, 2:30 p.m. session
            U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee (Mich.)
            Dr. Jill Biden
            Vice President Joe Biden (see below for special instructions)   
Monday, July 30, 7:30 a.m. Women’s Rights Breakfast
             Sandra Fluke, Georgetown Law School graduate
             Betty Dukes, lead plaintiff in Dukes v. Wal-Mart
Monday, July 30, 9 a.m. session
             Charles Blow, columnist for the New York Times

Rahm blinks first in battle with teachers


Rahm blinks first in battle with teachers

Lee Sustar and Nicole Colson look at how the Chicago Teachers Union pressured Mayor Rahm Emanuel to hire more teachers to support a longer school day.

July 26, 2012
RAHM EMANUEL has agreed to come up with money to hire nearly 500 more teachers to support the longer school day, but Chicago's mayor still wants concessions that may provoke a strike.

The agreement was sought by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) months ago as a way to maintain teachers' workday at current levels after Chicago Public Schools (CPS) used a new state law to increase the school day at elementary schools from five hours and 45 minutes to seven hours.

The agreement means that Chicago's early-start schools--attended by about one-third of CPS's 440,000 students--will open August 13 with enough faculty to support the additional instruction without making teachers work harder for less.

"CPS has finally backed off the unworkable, seven-hour, 40-minute teacher work day," CTU President Karen Lewis said at a press conference [1]. "CPS thus reverses its publicly announced policy that the CTU has consistently criticized as bad for both students and teachers...and it has finally agreed to recall rights for teachers. This is movement in the right direction."

That sentiment was voiced by many of the 500 teachers and supporters who turned up to picket the July 25 Board of Education meeting, held the day after the announcement of the agreement.

"We were never totally against a longer day," said Ken Murfay, a physical education teacher at Wacker and Owen elementary schools, as he walked the picket line outside the meeting with chanting union members. "We just wanted a funded longer day with more teachers, not just all the pressure on the people that are there now."

A high school music teacher agreed: "It shows that what we've been doing--organizing out in the streets has made a difference."

That organizing was backed up by a vote in May in which nearly 90 percent of all CTU members authorized union leaders to call a strike. Under state law, any teacher who didn't vote was counted as a "no"--so in reality, among union members who voted, the vote to authorize a strike was 98 percent. That result--which followed a huge May 23 downtown rally and march by thousands of CTU members and supporters--finally forced CPS and Emanuel to begin bargaining seriously.

Emanuel had calculated that he'd neutered the CTU by pressuring state legislators to pass a law requiring 75 percent of all union members to vote to authorize a strike. Instead, his aggressive demands and insulting tone only angered teachers who two years ago elected a group of reformers determined to rebuild a fighting union.

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THAT'S WHY the agreement marks a stinging defeat for Emanuel, who has been gunning for the CTU since he announced his candidacy for last year's mayoral election.

Emanuel's handpicked school board cancelled teachers' contractual 4 percent pay raise last year. When contract negotiations began this year, Emanuel's operatives at CPS demanded that teachers accept a 20 percent increase in their workload in exchange for a 2 percent pay raise, plus a new merit pay system that would replace individual raises based on experience, known as steps, and educational attainment, called lanes.

The new agreement resolves one of those issues. By hiring 477 new teachers, many of them for art, music and physical education, CPS will be able to support the longer school day without requiring elementary school teachers to work additional instructional time. The deal will, however, require high school teachers to work 14 minutes longer per day.

In another big win for the union, the new teachers will be hired from a pool of laid-off CTU members. That's a key precedent for the ongoing negotiations: Over the past decade, the CTU has seen thousands of experienced union members lose their jobs in school closures, only be replaced by lower-paid new hires who themselves lack job security until they achieve tenure after three years in their posts.

While Emanuel claimed the deal as a vindication of his push for a longer school day, it's obvious that the agreement marks a defeat for a politician notorious for his take-no-prisoners style. Yet the mayor is still using CPS's claimed $665 million budget deficit as a pretext to demand that the CTU swallow a 2 percent pay hike, the abolition of step and lane raise and a merit pay system.

For CTU members, those are strike issues. Many Chicago teacher activists point to the disastrous merit pay system in Baltimore [2], which led to 60 percent of teachers being denied a raise and placed on probationary status.

Emanuel and his strategists at City Hall and CPS will now mount a counterattack on the CTU. With the issue of the longer school day resolved, they will argue that the union no longer has the basis for demanding a big pay raise of about 30 percent, an amount intended to compensate for last year's cancelled raise and the longer school day.

In fact, the CTU had already gained leverage in talks with CPS following the release of an arbitrator's report [3] that sides almost entirely with the union, including a recommendation for a 35 percent raise over four years.

The CTU, by state law, can't demand that the school board negotiate over anything but pay and benefits. But in making a bold demand over pay, the union aims to force the city into bargaining on critical non-economic issues like class sizes, the length of the school day and other questions.

Emanuel had arrogantly demanded that the CTU "wait for the report" from an independent arbitrator, known as a fact-finder, before discussing the union's demands further--on the assumption that the report's recommendations would be in the city's favor.

Instead, as Chicago Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman wrote [4], the fact-finding process "has now blown up in the mayor's face."

Arbitrator Edwin Benn's report came down largely--though not entirely--in the union's favor. Among other things, Benn recommended 15 to 20 percent salary increases for teachers working the longer school day that Emanuel and CPS imposed at elementary schools next year--and a 35.74 percent overall raise over four years, with a first-year pay hike of 18.2 percent.

Benn also concluded that CPS should not have extended the school day if it couldn't pay teachers comparable raises for working the extra time. "The board cannot realistically expect that it should not have to compensate employees for the problem it caused by an almost 20 percent increase for the employees' work time," the report noted.

As Spielman wrote, the report "pins the blame for the stalemate squarely on Emanuel and demands that the mayor choose between fiscal reality and his signature push for a longer school day and school year."

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WITH THE longer school day issue settled, however, Emanuel and CPS will again try to portray any CTU demand for a decent pay raise as an example of greedy teachers attempting to serve their interests against needy kids.

There's also the possibility that Emanuel and CPS will try to chisel away at the staffing deal for the longer school day by laying off other teachers and increasing class sizes, as CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told reporters. Sharkey had a suggestion for where to find the money:

I don't know where the board is going to get the money for hiring. I have some suggestions. I would suggest that the big increase in funding--which the charter schools were not able to get through the state legislature, but which they turned around and got from CPS voluntarily--is something they might want to look at.

But Emanuel is adamant [5] that CPS won't pay for the longer school day by pulling back its growing budget for charter schools.

So the CTU's battle for a fair contract will continue--a battle that the union sees as part of a long-term struggle to defend public education. The CTU is supporting a grassroots effort to get an elected school board [6] as well as a range of community organizations that have resisted CPS's policy of underfunding and then closing "low-performing" schools in predominately African American and Latino neighborhoods.

Many parent, community and labor activists from those struggles are also active in the new Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign [7], which is working to support the union in the fight for education justice.

That solidarity is needed more than ever. Rahm Emanuel may have lost this round, but the CTU's fight isn't over.

Can the AFT meet the challenge?


Can the AFT meet the challenge?

Lee Sustar looks at the attacks facing the American Federation of Teachers as union delegates gather in Detroit for the organization's biannual convention.

July 25, 2012

AS DELEGATES from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) gather in Detroit for their convention July 27-30, it's hard to keep up with the escalating attacks on teachers and public education.

America's most politically wired mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is taking aim at the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) in a contract showdown [1] over Emanuel's effort to make teachers work much longer for less. Los Angeles teachers are bracing for their third straight year of pay cuts [2] to try and avert some layoffs. In Philadelphia, officials are trying tobreak up the city's school district into "networks" run by private groups, which will effectively destroy centralized collective bargaining for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, an AFT affiliate. In Cleveland, the AFT local union accepted a contract that allows for layoffs based on evaluations rather than seniority [3].

Then there's the host city for the AFT gathering, where the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) is being hit with the continuation of a 10 percent pay cut, cutbacks in maternity and sick leave and other takeaways [4] in a contract imposed by an emergency financial manager empowered by state law to tear up union collective bargaining agreements. These attacks come after the union agreed to previous rounds of concessions [5] that forced Detroit teachers to defer part of their pay until they retire or leave the district.

What we're seeing in Detroit, Philadelphia and Cleveland is nothing less than the controlled demolition of public education. And the response of the union most affected by these attacks, the AFT, is...what, exactly?

Certainly the union has sounded the alarm when faced with some of the more egregious attacks, and AFT President Randi Weingarten talked tough at a May 23 Chicago Teachers Union rally.

Yet the AFT leader kept quiet when the Philadelphia school carve-up was announced. And when members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) voted to accept an agreement that gave them unpaid furlough days in exchange for averting some layoffs, Weingarten was quick to issue a statement of support [6].

"UTLA members agreed to forego up to 10 days of pay to ensure that as many of their colleagues as possible stayed in the classroom and off the unemployment line," she said. Weingarten, however, failed to mention that LA teachers--whose union is jointly affiliated with the AFT and the National Education Association--also took pay cuts in the previous two years, but still haven't seen all the promised jobs return.

Then came the Cleveland deal, in which the local union agreed to allow layoffs based on performance evaluations [7]--which are based on student test scores--rather than seniority. Weingarten trumpeted the deal as a model of collaboration. In fact, Weingarten began pushing the Cleveland teachers to accept evaluations based on test scores more than two years ago [8]. It was the union, not management, that proposed axing traditional job protections, Weingarten said, "breaking a significant logjam over the tenure issue."

In fact, the AFT surrendered far more in the Cleveland deal. The union had already agreed in April to the so-called Cleveland Transformation Plan [9], which gives "the district greater flexibility to close underperforming schools and to partner with charter schools," Crain's reported. "It also would give school principals greater responsibility over budgeting and hiring." In other words, principals will be empowered to target teachers they view as troublemakers.

After rejecting an initial tentative agreement [10] because of its harsh economic impact, Cleveland teachers voted to accept a contract with somewhat better terms on pay and benefits, but that accepts the "transformation" plan. Once contract terms were settled, the local union joined the school district and Republican Gov. John Kasich--who last year tried to gut collective bargaining for public-sector workers--to back legislation that will enforce Cleveland's school "reform."

In an article headlined "A School Fix Without a Fight," [11] the Wall Street Journal highlighted the significance of the union's concessions:

The overhaul, signed into law by Gov. John Kasich this month, will allow the district to link teachers' pay, in part, to student test scores, and to lay off teachers based on performance instead of seniority. It will also let the district fire teachers after two years of poor performance, based in part on test scores.

The district will become the only one in Ohio to share local tax dollars with charter schools--public schools run by outside entities that are now funded by state and federal money--and will have more say in who gets to operate those schools.

In other words, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District will see tax dollars--and student enrollment--shift toward nonunion charter schools run by unaccountable private organizations. The Cleveland Teachers Union and the AFT, confronted with a head-on assault on public education, surrendered without a battle.

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THE AFT's concessions in Cleveland are only the latest example of a policy of collaboration in which the union sheds long-established principles--like the defense of tenure and opposition to merit pay--in the hope of staving off even more aggressive "reforms."

The Obama administration accelerated those attacks since 2009 through the Race to the Top program [12], which offered $4.3 billion in grants to states on the condition that they passed legislation lifting caps on charter schools, weakening teacher job protections, tying teacher evaluations to student test scores and imposing merit pay. But that didn't stop the AFT from making an early endorsement of President Barack Obama in his campaign for re-election.

Weingarten's strategy: Look to the Democrats for political cover while pre-empting the corporate reformers by taking the initiative in making contract concessions in order to keep the union's proverbial seat at the table.

That was the idea behind the 2009 teachers' union contract in New Haven, Conn., which Weingarten called "a model or a template." Under that agreement, as the Wall Street Journal put it [13], school officials have greater ability to close schools while imposing "tough performance evaluations and fewer job protections for bad teachers." Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who made his reputation by implementing a corporate-driven reform agenda as head of Chicago schools [14], cheered the deal: "This shows a willingness to go into areas that used to be seen as untouchable."

Weingarten also promoted similar "reform" contracts with AFT locals in Pittsburgh and Hillsborough County, Fla., [15] that allows teachers to opt out of tenure--job security--if they agree to merit pay. Microsoft founder Bill Gates' foundation helped bankroll both efforts. Private money was even used to fund salary increases in a similar merit pay scheme for teachers in Washington, D.C. [16], in an agreement that Weingarten helped negotiate.

Not surprisingly, many AFT members are appalled at the union's willingness to give up job protections and the principle of equal pay for equal work. That's why in 2010, members of the Baltimore Teachers Union initially rejected a contract [17] that embraced merit pay and undermined job security. Weingarten had the traditional response of union bureaucrats out to sell a lousy contract to a rebellious rank and file: Vote until you get it right. Staffers from AFT headquarters in Washington traveled the 40 miles to Baltimore and arm-twisted union members into accepting the deal in a second ballot.

Now the disastrous results are in. In the midst of the 2012 school year, some 60 percent of Baltimore teachers received unsatisfactory ratings [18], which meant that they got no raise, were placed on a "performance improvement plan" (PIP) and are subject to dismissal.

"We have more people on PIPs, and we're proud of it," said Tisha Edwards, chief of staff for Baltimore schools. "We're not saying we're going to fire everybody, but we're using PIPs the way they were supposed to be used, but never were: to communicate where we need to develop, and get better about documenting the development of our people."

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WEINGARTEN ISN'T embarrassed by this abandonment of the bedrock positions of the union. On the contrary, at the 2010 AFT convention, she made Bill Gates the keynote speaker. "We're not going to wait and oppose--we're going to lead and propose," she said of the reform agenda in her opening speech to delegates [19].

The problem is that by trying to maintain collaboration with politicians and education officials hell-bent on breaking teachers' union power, the AFT is moving further and further to the right to accommodate them, as evidenced by the union support for the "transformation" plan in Cleveland. And the union has so far been silent on the Los Angeles Unified School District's plan to give a company run by charter school pioneer Steve Barr [20] control of schools, which would be operated as "hybrids" of traditional and charter schools--another major shift of taxpayer money and students to unaccountable outside entities.

One of the few places the AFT leadership seems to be trying to hold the line is in New York City.

Even so, the United Federation of Teachers has so far failed to resist a punitive new evaluation system. And rather than fight for a contract that is years overdue, the union is simply trying to wait until Mayor Michael Bloomberg's term expires in 2013. In the meantime, the city's school officials pressed ahead with an aggressive school closure program that got more opposition from an Occupy-inspired education group [21] than the union itself--until an arbitrator barred the actions [22].

As the attacks on the teachers' unions intensify, AFT members are discovering what their counterparts in the steelworkers, autoworkers, Teamsters, machinists and other unions could have told them: Concessions only lead to more concessions. Indeed, the corporate school reformers are following the same plan as their private-sector counterparts.

In the freight industry, for example, the Teamsters membership has been gutted by the practice of "double breasting"--starving the unionized operations of investment while building up nonunion subsidiaries. That's why Consolidated Freightways, a one-time Teamster bastion, disappeared in bankruptcy court, while trucks from its nonunion counterpart, Con-Way, continue to roll down the highway.

As traditional school systems in New Orleans, Detroit and Pennsylvania are gutted," It doesn't take much imagination to see how nonunion charter schools are playing the same role in education as a subsidiary like Con-Way did in trucking. And just as the nonunion U.S. operations of Toyota grabbed market share from General Motors, unaccountable big charter operators like KIPP are siphoning off tax dollars students and students from traditional public schools. In Michigan, egged on by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, two districts, Muskegon Heights and Highland Park, are handing their entire school district over to charter school operators [23].

As Diane Ravitch, the former assistant secretary of education turned school reform critic, wrote [24], "Governor Snyder wants to reshape the state's school finance system so that public money 'follows the child,' instead of just automatically going to public schools. This is part of the right-wing agenda to defund public education, cloaked in alluring terminology."

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WHICH BRINGS us back to Chicago, scene of the approaching confrontation between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Because it isn't just right-wingers like Snyder who want to funnel tax dollars into charter schools, it's corporate Democrats like Emanuel and his operatives. That's why Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard is using a formulation remarkably similar to Snyder's "follow the child" policy. "It doesn't make sense [that] our parents pay taxes and then pay tuition [for their children] to go to [private] school as well," Brizard said in a speech at the Economic Club of Chicago [25].

That's no coincidence. As Chicago journalist Ben Joravsky pointed out [26], Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's education plan "in many respects...reads like it could have been written by our very own union-busting, charter-school-loving Mayor Rahm Emanuel."

Will the AFT help Chicago teachers take on Emanuel, who has national clout after his stint as White House chief of staff? Randi Weingarten promised CTU members that she'd come to Chicago to support their struggle whenever necessary.

But the very day in June that nearly 90 percent of the CTU membership was voting yes to authorizing a strike, Weingarten was in town for a different reason--to participate in an event hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative, the foundation headed by former President Bill Clinton. She appeared alongside Emanuel on a panel [27] that highlighted that organizers billed as the "dynamic duo" as they discussed how union pension money could be tapped to fund Emanuel's new Infrastructure Trust, a deal crafted by banks to fund various development projects that will put taxpayers in debt for decades at unknown rates of interest.

That's why CTU members should look carefully at the AFT's potential role in contract negotiations and a possible strike. Chicago teachers should welcome Weingarten's pledge of solidarity--and use it to help them appeal to AFT and NEA members everywhere as they square off with Emanuel.

But where the AFT and Weingarten will counsel collaboration and compromise, Chicago teachers should stick to their guns and fight for decent pay and job security as part of their wider program to defend public education from privatization and budget cuts [28].

A union is only as strong as its members. While the steady retreat of the AFT in recent years has shown its weakness, the CTU's mobilization shows the potential to build a fighting teachers' union. As the contract deadline looms in Chicago, this year's AFT convention provides the opportunity to debate how the union can take a stand against the corporate education reformers--and win.

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Published by the International Socialist Organization.
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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

CPS to hire 477 teachers for longer school day

Karen Lewis
Surrounded by the negotiation team, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis listens to a question, following the announcement at a press conference in the Teachers Union offices that the longer school day is being scaled back. (Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune / July 24, 2012)

Removing a major hurdle in the contentious contract talks with the teachers union, Chicago Public Schools agreed Tuesday to hire nearly 500 teachers so students can put in a longer school day without extending the workday for most teachers.

Both sides claimed victory, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel was able to keep his plan for a longer day intact and the union was able to add teachers while holding the line on how long they work.

But the two sides warned that several sticking points have yet to be resolved in the contract dispute, and the union said Tuesday's agreement does not eliminate the threat of a strike.

"It is too bad this solution, which was actually presented months ago, was rejected out of hand" at that time, said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. "It has taken a march of nearly 10,000 educators, a strike authorization vote and a fact-finder's report to get CPS to move on this issue."

Emanuel called the agreement "a breakthrough" but said "there are a lot of other issues to still be resolved."

The longer day is no longer one of those issues, he said during a news conference at Sexton Elementary School on the South Side, which added 90 minutes to its day in the past school year.

"Will there be a longer school day? Answer, yes. Will school start on time? Yes."

Under the agreement, CPS will hire 477 teachers in noncore subjects such as music, art, foreign language and physical education. That will allow elementary school teachers to continue to work seven-hour days, which include teacher prep time and lunch. At the high school level, teachers will put in an additional 14 minutes.

The current school day runs five hours and 45 minutes for most elementary schools and seven hours for most high schools. That will be extended to seven hours for elementary schools and 71/2 hours for high schools.

The additional staff to be hired will come from a pool of teachers laid off over the past three years, a plan that addresses the union's desire to find work for displaced educators.

The agreement likely will lead to more modest salary demands from the union. An arbitrator's report last week chastised the district for not offering teachers sufficient compensation for the longer day.

The fact-finder recommended 15 to 20 percent salary increases for teachers next school year, which would have cost the cash-strapped district $330 million. In contrast, hiring 477 teachers will cost the district about $50 million, school board President David Vitale said.

Emanuel could not say where that money will come from. Asked how the district will afford to hire the teachers, given a $665 million deficit and plans to empty its cash reserves, the mayor said, "We can't afford not to."

Tuesday's announcement allowed Emanuel to hold fast to his campaign pledge to keep children in school longer, the central part of his plan to improve Chicago's public school system.

In recent months the mayor has lost several rounds to the teachers. He tried to stop the union from taking a strike authorization vote in June, but teachers voted anyway, and nearly 90 percent of them backed a walkout. Then, last week, the arbitrator's report came out and was weighted largely in favor of teachers.

Tuesday's agreement was the latest sign of Emanuel's political pragmatism. In April he made a concession to opponents of the longer day by shaving 30 minutes off the original plan for a 71/2-hour school day for elementary students.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the funding for additional teachers could come through savings realized in contract negotiations or further cuts in programs and staffing.

Union officials would not comment on whether they will lower their salary demands now that most teachers won't have to work longer. The union initially asked for nearly 30 percent over two years, while the district offered a 2 percent increase next year. In final proposals submitted to the arbitrator, the union asked for a 25 percent raise over two years and CPS proposed 2 percent increases annually for the next four years.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said the union floated the idea of adding more art and music teachers early in the talks, but the proposal didn't gain traction until last month's strike authorization vote. With the release of the arbitrator's report, talks about hiring from a pool of displaced teachers gained momentum over the past few days.

"They didn't show willingness to move on that until after the fact-finder's report became public," Sharkey said.

A third of CPS schools open Aug. 13, with the rest starting Sept. 4. The earliest the union could strike is Aug. 18. Talks between the two sides have been scheduled through Labor Day weekend.

Under the agreement, principals will decide how to use the extra teachers as well as what classes they want to add in their schools.

Issues in the contract talks still in play include teacher salaries and how increases are given. The union is still pushing for raises based on experience and the pursuit of graduate degrees, while the district would like to replace them with a system based on merit pay.

Job security and recall policies for fired teachers also remain on the table, as does a new evaluation system and health care costs, and the length of the school year. Class sizes also remain an issue — the union fears that the district could choose to raise class sizes and lay off teachers to save money.

"We don't want to see (the school board) paying for art and music by cutting teachers," Sharkey said. "There's still the question of class size guarantees. We don't want them to staff up at the expense of other class positions."

The Other ALECs' K-12 Education Agenda Exposed

The Other ALECs' K-12 Education Agenda Exposed

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 00:00 By Sarah Blaskey and Steve Horn, Truthout | News Analysis
School street sign(Photo: brianjmatis)This is the fourth and last article in Sarah Blaskey's and Steven Horn's series, "The Other ALECs Exposed."

For over 30 years, corporate America and its allies on both sides of the political aisle have carried out an assault on US workers, pushing down wages, slashing benefits and busting unions.
But after decades of repeated and near-fatal assaults, the US labor movement has waged a fight back, with teachers in the forefront of the battle. Public schools have become the centerpiece of the struggle. Through an array of recent policy initiatives, influential policy wonks are attempting to restructure education fundamentally. According to Jesse Hagopian, a teacher and union activist in Seattle, part of this restructuring process is happening through model bills being enacted systematically in statehouses nationwide.

"Most famously ALEC [the American Legislative Exchange Council] has been ghostwriting bills and passing them out to astroturf organizations around the country to put forward legislation that undermines teachers' unions and helps in this effort to restructure education based on test scores," Hagopian told Truthout.
But ALEC is not the only organization using model bills to push the corporate-friendly education agenda in the states. Rather, a few corporate-funded "Groups," or "Other ALECs," significantly influence education policy in every statehouse nationally. Aside from ALEC, the most influential Groups are two bipartisan trade associations, the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
These entities ensure that teacher-blaming and union-busting policies constitute the "reform" agenda in the vast majority of states. Dozens of reports of cuts to states' education budgets accompanied by privatization campaigns demonstrate the effectiveness of this coordinated attack on public education.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 34 states and the District of Columbia cut education funding between 2008-2011. For public schools, the financial situation is indeed dire and has worsened in the wake of the 2008 economic crash. The Groups have used the crisis to accelerate the implementation of so-called "reform" policies.
"Eighty-four percent of school districts describe their funding as inadequate and the number of teachers laid off since the economic crisis began is likely to top three hundred thousand without federal assistance to the states," wrote Gillian Russom in the newly released book, "Education and Capitalism."
The economic crisis has created a rationale for ALEC and other stealth lobbyists to push privatization campaigns while claiming that they are necessary "reforms" for improving our failing education system, according to Brian Jones, a teacher and New York-based activist featured in the education documentary "The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman."
"For the charter operators, 'reform' means more money, bigger salaries, etc. For the politicians, it means they get to shout to working and poor people about how they're reforming education, while doing a huge favor to wealthy, powerful interests," Jones told Truthout.

A Battle Brewing in the Windy City
In early June, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which represents more than 26,000 of the city's teachers and other school employees, called a strike authorization vote. The vote took place in the immediate aftermath of what many see as labor's drubbing in the Wisconsin recall elections, which failed to unseat Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Adding to the challenge for CTU, in 2011, the Illinois legislature passed SB 7, which mandates that 75 percent of a teacher union's membership vote "yes" to authorize a strike, rather than a simple majority of voters. To put that into perspective, when the CTU organized a 91 percent voter turnout, it needed at least 83 percent of those members who voted to vote "yes" for its potential strike to be legal.
Though they might not have realized it at the time, the Chicago teachers, who ultimately voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if they do not reach an agreement with the school district on a raise to compensate for an increase in their working hours, were directly challenging the corporate model for education that CSG and ALEC have both promoted in recent legislative cycles.

National Precedent and IL SB 7
In October 2011, the CSG Suggested State Legislation (SSL) Committee - the well-respected bipartisan committee that selects state-level model bills for CSG to publish - voted to include IL SB 7 as a nationally distributed model bill in its 2013 SSL Volume.
The Illinois bill's summary statement acknowledges the similarities between SB 7 and legislation recently passed in other states that also aims to limit or altogether abolish teachers' unions. But the statement also claims that SB 7 is uniquely effective and explains:
"The legislation in Illinois was enacted by a Democrat-controlled legislature and signed by a Democratic governor, unlike in Ohio, Idaho and Wisconsin. Perhaps a more important difference is that the Illinois bill passed with support from the state's three largest teachers unions, which helped to counteract opposition from the rank-and-file or other unions."
SB 7 was drafted by a consortium of corporate-friendly organizations, including Stand for Children and the Illinois Business Roundtable. Adding insult to injury, it was also endorsed by unions - including the CTU, though teachers later voiced strong concerns with the union leaders' position.
Mike Klonsky wrote that the three unions that originally signed onto the bill "accepted a spanking in order to avoid a real beat-down." The "beat-down" seems to reference what happened in Wisconsin after Walker's Act 10 passed and unions were stripped of the majority of their collective bargaining rights.
Due to the initial success of SB 7's more seemingly "humane" form of union-busting, overseen by a Democratic Party gubernatorial office, the bill's policies have now become bipartisan-endorsed model legislation, now destined for cookie-cutter replication across the country.
The bill's summary explains that the law "establishes new standards for teacher tenure, empowers school districts to remove poor performing teachers from the classroom and updates regulations about teacher strikes."
Tenure can only be achieved after four years, except for "top-rated" teachers who can take the three year fast track. SB 7 also set new guidelines, including a 120-day waiting period, designed to make going on strike nearly impossible for teachers' unions.
The implicit purpose of laws like SB 7: weaken the last and biggest bastion of organized labor in the country. Furthermore, SB 7 is merely one of a dozen or so CSG model bills from the past five years geared toward privatizing K-12 education and undermining teachers' unions.

The Corporate Playbook for Public Education
In Part Two of this series we described a "corporate playbook" for influencing state-level legislation through nonprofit organizations like ALEC and CSG. As a reminder, the playbook works approximately like this (with variants depending on the group):
  1. Donate to a "Group" (like CSG and/or ALEC), thus gaining access to the Groups' legislative membership.
  2. Use corporate money to get lobbyists on boards and task forces associated with the Group.
  3. Use lobbyists' positions on the task forces to set the education agenda for these Groups. Groups are where state-level legislators receive most of their job training.
  4. Use free time at educational events to "schmooze" powerful legislative leaders.
  5. Write, introduce and influence the passage of business-friendly model legislation through CSG and ALEC.
  6. Lobby your model bills into enactments in as many states as possible. 
This playbook process describes how state-level education policy is shaped by corporate America.
Most major Groups' education platforms reflect some aspect of the big-business model for education.
For instance, CSG seeks to build a "culture of entrepreneurship" and create a "skilled workforce" ready for 21st-century labor tasks. The NCSL Education Task Force promotes "flexibility," charter schools and "common academic standards" based on testing. ALEC's education task force promotes "efficiency" and "parental choice" in schools.
Sarah Knopp, a high school teacher of economics and an activist in her union in Los Angeles, told Truthout that these new policies pushed by the Groups "reflect both a restructuring of education and a continuation of the past."
Public education has always been a "sorting ground" for the next generation of workers.
"Around the time of WWII, when mass participation in industrial manufacturing became the norm, high schools began to resemble factories," she explained. "And now we're going through another shift that nevertheless maintains the same basic goal - conditioning the behavior of students and preparing them for today's economic hierarchy."

The Financiers of Education "Reform"
Why is education policy driven by near bipartisan consensus at the state level? Follow the money.
Many of the same foundations sponsor both CSG and ALEC, giving these billionaire donors disproportionate amounts of influence when it comes to state-level education policy. One of the most notable sponsors of the corporate-friendly education agenda is Bill Gates, through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Gates Foundation alone gave $400,000 to a CSG program dedicated to "reforming" public education and pushing charter schools. Gates also financially supports a CSG initiative to collaborate with Boeing to create "fair and reliable measures of teacher effectiveness that are tied to gains in student achievement." None of these contributions even account for Microsoft's sizable donations to CSG.
What interest does a billionaire like Gates really have in shaping education policy?
"Part of it is promoting free market ideology," explained Russom. "Charter schools, closing and 'econstituting' schools deemed to be 'failing,' judging schools and teachers based on test scores - all these measures help to promote an ideology of competition and undermine the idea of a public sector where people have a guaranteed right to education and other services. Major parts of the reform agenda of these business foundations are also intended to undermine unions."
In 2011, CSG launched a Gates-funded education initiative, Policy Academies for Newly Elected Legislators (PANEL), specifically targeting recently elected state officials. A fifth of all state legislators elected in 2010 had never been in office before. PANEL was designed to educate these legislators on how to transform education to make students "career ready." Democrats and Republicans co-mingle and feel right at home at PANEL.
Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington, DC, public schools from 2007- 2010 and notorious for championing the charter school agenda, also spoke at the 2011 CSG Southern Legislative Conference, cheerleading for the charter school cause during her presentation to the Education Committee.
"Crafting a system that recognizes and rewards the best teachers and identifies those who are in need of improvement and either quickly accelerates their professional skills or moves them out of the classroom, helps to advance the opportunities for all children," Rhee said at the conference.
The 2012 CSG National Leadership Conference featured other lecturers including Ulrich Boser, senior fellow of the Center for American Progress, who spoke on the "return on education investment," and Adam Miller, of Astellas Pharma US, who introduced a new plan for teaching science in schools. Neither have actually been teachers nor worked in a school, yet they are the education "experts" nonetheless, tasked with educating the legislators in attendance.
Out of this process, corporations apparently hope to leave with business-friendly policy resolutions and model bills. Models from the well-respected and bipartisan CSG rather than partisan and now-stigmatized ALEC may be preferred.

CSG's "Model" for Public Education
CSG has a slew of recent, or soon-to-be released, models for public education legislation that deserve a brief primer.

Charter Schools
In the 2010 SSL Volume, CSG published model language intended to open states' regulations to allow virtual charter schools. Then in the 2012 SSL Volume, CSG published the "Charter School Collaborative"based on a 2010 Colorado enactment.
Despite Gates and Rhee telling legislators otherwise, a 2009 Stanford University Study showed that only 17 percent of charter schools examined "provide superior education" to their public school counterparts. This datum suggests educational improvement isn't the motive behind the charter school agenda.

Knopp explained that the 83 percent of charter schools that do not perform better than public schools "are simply there to grab market share and privatize a public good."
With regard to the 17 percent of charter schools that outperform public schools, Knopp offers the following explanation: "In order to remain competitive, the American economy needs a small percentage of highly skilled and intelligent workers. This is where those few high-performing charter schools come in. They skim the talent off the top."
Teacher Tenure/Education Identifier Initiatives
In the 2012 SSL Volume, CSG also promoted a model "Educator Identifier System," based on a Colorado pilot program designed to compile information on "teacher effectiveness" and use the information to close the "teacher gap."
The teacher gap is defined by the model as a "documented phenomenon that poor or minority students are more likely to be taught by less-qualified or less-experienced teachers than those students' more advantaged peers."
This type of legislation promotes a blame-the-teachers mentality that is at the heart of the education "reform" lobby. Knopp calls these policies "business accountability models" and says they have growing relevance in education today.
"Pilot programs to measure teachers based on their students' test scores, usually known as Value-Added Metrics, such as the ominously named Educator Identification System legislation in Colorado are almost everywhere," Knopp told Truthout.
CSG has also endorsed the "Value-Add Metrics" Knopp mentioned above as the solution to the testing question and wrote, "Value-added assessment assumes that teachers are the most important factor in student learning and that the amount of 'value' the teacher 'adds; to each student can be precisely measured."
Russom argues, however, that "Value Added Measures" are "completely unstable and inaccurate" in measuring any teacher's classroom success. She points to another motivator behind legislation that promotes so-called educator effectiveness - union busting, an easy way to get rid of unruly teachers. But the testing causes problems in the classrooms, too.
"They [standardized tests] rapidly lead to a narrowing of the curriculum - more test prep, less arts and authentic curriculum as teachers' own job security begins to depend on their students' scores," Russom said.

Innovation Zones
CSG also influences education policy by promoting models for Innovation Zones (2012) and Promise Zones (2010). Through these market-oriented programs, schools are forced to compete with each other for customers - aka students - and through this competition somehow create better learning environments for students.
"The problem is that the business model, based on profits and competition between 'winners' and 'losers,' and serving basic human needs are as incompatible in education as they are in the healthcare market," Knopp said, as she spoke of her experience with "Zone of Choice" policies in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where she teaches.

Labor at the Chicago Crossroads
All of the CSG models and resolutions combined - SB 7, charter school initiatives, teacher identifier and effectiveness programs based on standardized testing, "Innovation Zones," and so many other still unmentioned CSG policies - create a bipartisan rubber-stamp for business-friendly education laws.

Contrary to popular wisdom, elements within the Democratic Party are playing a key role in this state-level privatization campaign. These state initiatives dovetail with the federal agenda promoted to some extent by both Democrats and Republicans in Washington, as recently covered in an in-depth three-part series on The Real News Network.

Exhibit A: Democrats for Education Reform is one of the key groups pushing for charter school expansion, standardized testing and school closings.
"The bipartisan Council of State Governments is pushing bills to promote these policies at the state level," Russom added. "So while the Democrats will continue to get millions in funding for their election campaigns from teachers' unions, they are carrying out the education agenda of the 1 percent that's destroying our schools."

This is why Russom thinks the CTU struggle is so important. This labor showdown is unfolding in Chicago, a hot bed for Democratic Party education "reformers" like Barack Obama and his former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, now the city's mayor. CTU's strike vote may undermine the effect of spreading bills like SB 7 to other states.

"If the CTU can win most of their demands through this kind of powerful organizing, it will set back the neoliberal agenda in Chicago and will also send a message to unions and communities that we can fight back and get broad community support for a different kind of agenda," said Russom.

Russom is not alone in the inspiration she takes from the CTU strike. Teachers and indeed many unionists in general are beginning to wake up, look to CTU's lead and ask, what can we do to fight back?

"I think what they are doing in Chicago has the potential to revive the labor movement in this era of Occupy when so many people see the problem in society as the 99 percent of us versus the one percent who have gotten incredibly wealthy at our expense," Hagopian said.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission

Friday, July 13, 2012

More Children Opted Out of State Tests

July 13, 2012, 10:02 a.m.
Even before problems emerged with state math and English language arts tests for third through eighth graders this April, some parents of public school students in the city were becoming more vocal in their objections to standardized testing and advocating for children to opt out of the tests.
Once the tests were completed, city Education Department officials said they could not immediately say how many students chose to sit out the exams.
But on Thursday, responding to a request from SchoolBook, city officials released the tally: 113 students opted out of the English language arts test, and 113 students also opted out of the math test.
That is a tiny portion of the number of children who took the exams. According to a spokeswoman for the Education Department, about 436,000 students in New York City district and charter schools took the English language arts test, and 445,000 students took the math test. More students took the math test because first-year English language learners are exempt from the English language arts exam.
However, it is an increase over 2011, when 30 students refused to take the English test and 37 refused to take the math test.
The city’s numbers were not verified by state Education Department officials because a spokesman said the state did not collect data on students who opt out.
A number of parents, responding to a series of opinion posts on SchoolBook and to organizing by opt-out advocates, said they wanted to spare their children from what they criticized as “high-stakes testing.” The length of the exams grew this year, and some parents were critical of the emphasis being put on testing in classrooms.
But many parents said they were afraid of the consequences to their children and to their children’s school if they chose to have them opt out, and some said they were receiving inconclusive information from school officials.
Parents who chose to have their children opt out reported mixed experiences.
Janine Sopp, whose daughter is in third grade at Public School 146 Brooklyn New School in Carroll Gardens and did not take the test, said the school had been accommodating.
“We integrated her into a position to help the kindergarten teacher in the classroom,” Ms. Sopp said. “It was incredible; the kids were really smitten having an older student in the class.”
The school’s assistant principal contacted the testing coordinator, and Ms. Sopp said it just took a letter from her, asking for her child to sit out the test, for other arrangements to be made to assess her child. “I’m expecting that she’s going to have a successful portfolio review,” Ms. Sopp said.
But Laura Kulesz, who has a third grader at a public school in Astoria, said the administration there had been difficult to deal with.
“They wouldn’t give me my son because testing had begun,” she said, describing a time when she went to pick up her son during testing time. She is also unsure about whether her son will be promoted. “The principal said, ‘I can’t see that they would be holding him back, but we should know what they want to do soon.’”
The family was subsequently ensured that their child would be assessed through his portfolio, and he has been promoted to fourth grade. Still, the father, Robert Kulesz, said they were thinking of transferring out of the district. “It’s been kind of a continual headbutt,” Mr. Kulesz said.
And as for opting out next year: Like many other parents, they are worried about the consequences, when their child will be in fourth grade and test scores will count toward middle school admissions.
Hiten Samtani is a former SchoolBook intern and a freelance journalist based in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @hitsamty

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Brazilian, Mexican teachers strike against high-stake tests & anti-teacher evaluations

Marjorie Stamberg  Jul 10 02:03PM -0700

Please forward -- many education activists will doubtless be interested in this news.

Capitalist commodification of education is an international drive. Recent struggles point towards an international fight against it.

Late last month Brazilian teachers stopped work to stop the high-stakes test known as the "Education Evaluation System of the State of Rio de Janeiro" (SAERJ). The SAERJ is a swindle against students and parents, and a weapon of capital against teachers.

The walkout was called by the Teachers Union of the State of Rio de Janeiro, which is also known for calling repeated work stoppages to demand freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The Brazilian action comes not long after important teachers' struggles in Mexico, where in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, Michoacan and Oaxaca, tens of thousands of teachers carried out combative mobilizations to stop the administration of a national high-stakes test (ENLACE) and a "Universal Evaluation" of teachers. This involved shutting down schools, occupying education departments and setting up union guards to make sure tests were not shipped out from warehouses where they were stored. In May, a national teachers strike was called against the Mexican government's "Agreement for Quality Education."

Read about these struggles in the article linked below, which is translated from Vanguarda Operaria, newspaper of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil:

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Wall Street Scandal of all Scandals

This article was originally posted on Robert Reich's blog.

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Just when you thought Wall Street couldn’t sink any lower – when its myriad abuses of public trust have already spread a miasma of cynicism over the entire economic system, giving birth to Tea Partiers and Occupiers and all manner of conspiracy theories; when its excesses have already wrought havoc with the lives of millions of Americans, causing taxpayers to shell out billions (of which only a portion has been repaid) even as its top executives are back to making more money than ever; when its vast political power (via campaign contributions) has already eviscerated much of the Dodd-Frank law that was supposed to rein it in, including the so-called “Volker” Rule that was sold as a milder version of the old Glass-Steagall Act that used to separate investment from commercial banking – yes, just when you thought the Street had hit bottom, an even deeper level of public-be-damned greed and corruption is revealed.
Sit down and hold on to your chair.
What’s the most basic service banks provide? Borrow money and lend it out. You put your savings in a bank to hold in trust, and the bank agrees to pay you interest on it. Or you borrow money from the bank and you agree to pay the bank interest.
How is this interest rate determined? We trust that the banking system is setting today’s rate based on its best guess about the future worth of the money. And we assume that guess is based, in turn, on the cumulative market predictions of countless lenders and borrowers all over the world about the future supply and demand for the dough.
But suppose our assumption is wrong. Suppose the bankers are manipulating the interest rate so they can place bets with the money you lend or repay them – bets that will pay off big for them because they have inside information on what the market is really predicting, which they’re not sharing with you.
That would be a mammoth violation of public trust. And it would amount to a rip-off of almost cosmic proportion – trillions of dollars that you and I and other average people would otherwise have received or saved on our lending and borrowing that have been going instead to the bankers. It would make the other abuses of trust we’ve witnessed look like child’s play by comparison.
Sad to say, there’s reason to believe this has been going on, or something very much like it. This is what the emerging scandal over “Libor” (short for “London interbank offered rate”) is all about.
Libor is the benchmark for trillions of dollars of loans worldwide – mortgage loans, small-business loans, personal loans. It’s compiled by averaging the rates at which the major banks say they borrow.
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So far, the scandal has been limited to Barclay’s, a big London-based bank that just paid $453 million to U.S. and British bank regulators, whose top executives have been forced to resign, and whose traders’ emails give a chilling picture of how easily they got their colleagues to rig interest rates in order to make big bucks. (Robert Diamond, Jr., the former Barclay CEO who was forced to resign, said the emails made him “physically ill” – perhaps because they so patently reveal the corruption.)
But Wall Street has almost surely been involved in the same practice, including the usual suspects — JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Bank of America – because every major bank participates in setting the Libor rate, and Barclay’s couldn’t have rigged it without their witting involvement.
In fact, Barclay’s defense has been that every major bank was fixing Libor in the same way, and for the same reason. And Barclays is “cooperating” (i.e., giving damning evidence about other big banks) with the Justice Department and other regulators in order to avoid steeper penalties or criminal prosecutions, so the fireworks have just begun. 
There are really two different Libor scandals. One has to do with a period just before the financial crisis, around 2007, when Barclays and other banks submitted fake Libor rates lower than the banks’ actual borrowing costs in order to disguise how much trouble they were in. This was bad enough. Had the world known then, action might have been taken earlier to diminish the impact of the near financial meltdown of 2008.
But the other scandal is even worse. It involves a more general practice, starting around 2005 and continuing until – who knows? it might still be going on — to rig the Libor in whatever way necessary to assure the banks’ bets on derivatives would be profitable.
This is insider trading on a gigantic scale. It makes the bankers winners and the rest of us – whose money they’ve used for to make their bets – losers and chumps.
What to do about it, other than hope the Justice Department and other regulators impose stiff fines and even criminal penalties, and hold executives responsible?
When it comes to Wall Street and the financial sector in general, most of us suffer outrage fatigue combined with an overwhelming cynicism that nothing will ever be done to stop these abuses because the Street is too powerful. But that fatigue and cynicism are self-fulfilling; nothing will be done if we succumb to them.
The alternative is to be unflagging and unflinching in our demand that Glass-Steagall be reinstituted and the biggest banks be broken up. The question is whether the unfolding Libor scandal will provide enough ammunition and energy to finally get the job done.
This article was originally posted on Robert Reich's blog.

Why Bother Educating the Poor?

Ohanian Comment: Gerald Coles speaks truth to power and ticks off commentors at the Ed Week website. Coles offers a tough message. It IS on target. I understand that many teachers are still reluctant to hear it. They still buy into the message if they just work harder. . . .

I read Gerald Coles' fine commentary after reading the spring edition of Friends of Fern Creek newsletter, which gives an account of the ongoing program at Fern Creek Elementary School in Orlando, where staff and volunteers work hard to make sure children have a food pack to take home for the weekend. Each Snack Pack includes:
1 applesauce
1 cereal
1 granola/cereal bar
1 fruit cup/fruits snack
2 proteins (can beans, tuna, chicken, singles serving Mac & cheese, soup with meat, and pasta with meat)
2 extras (anything above or any canned item)

I first hear about Fern Creek through a Michael Winerip column. He cared about the poor as few media do. Yes, my name is on the list of donors in the newsletter. I'm proud to see 5 subscribers to my website announcements there too.

While the affluent are going to DisneyWorld, teachers and volunteers at nearby Fern Creek are trying to make sure children have food for the weekend. How is it that in a nation as wealthy as ours, these Snack Packs are necessary? As Gerald Coles points out, in corporate America, spending money to provide U.S. poor children with adequate food, clothing, healthcare and other basics of life, along with the full funding needed to educate them is deemed a waste of money.

P. L. Thomas uses Coles' piece as a jumping off point for BEWARE: Corporate Consumerism Culture and the Rise of the National Curriculum.


Why Bother Educating the Poor?

by Gerald Coles

In 1970, Sidney Willhelm's book "Who Needs the Negro?" (the latter word had currency at the time) argued that with the rise of automation within a capitalist economic system, African-American workers were transformed from being exploited to becoming "useless" from the viewpoint of those who controlled the economy and the automated productive processes emerging within it. Because of the racism of U.S. business interests, the workforce that automation would require could and would be largely white. Yes, business would continue to hire a number of blacks, but as much as the cloaked face of racism within companies would allow, black workers would become productively "unneeded." If black people disappeared tomorrow, Willhelm maintained, for capital they "would hardly be missed."

Willhelm's assessment is now truer than ever for both poor blacks and many whites who constitute part of the potential U.S. workforce within global capitalism. Were he to update his book, the title would likely be "Who Needs the Poor and Much of What Had Been Called the Middle-Class?" Since overseas labor is less costly, fewer U.S. workers are needed for the jobs that are and will be available in this country. Why spend money to provide U.S. poor children with adequate food, clothing, healthcare and other basics of life, along with the full funding needed to educate them? For business needs it would be a waste of money.

Of course some unskilled, low paid workers will continue to be required as part of the U.S. labor force, but the remainder won't. This leaves the "1%" with a problem: what to do as more and more U.S. poor become extraneous for production and profit? Certainly the 1% will not redistribute wealth on their own and provide the full means for educating poor children or for creating socially useful work that could employ the poor. However, neither can the 1% appear wholly indifferent. Thus their answer: fall back on the one path that has a long historical record of "success": blame the fate of the poor on their weak education. Then, under the guise that the poor matter to them, the oh-so-concerned rich concoct educational "reforms" purportedly aimed at preventing poor children from becoming poor adults. However, the reforms invariably ensure that poor children will become poor adults.

Hence, whether today's educational "reform" consists of relentless standardized testing, common core standards, stricter teacher evaluations, No Child Left Behind, "scientifically-based reading instruction," "no excuses" schools, intensive phonics, Race to the Top competition, etc., these and similar policy measures are paraded as solutions. In reality, however, they are illusions that require minimum allocation of resources and by the damage they inflict both to teaching and learning, these illusions prevent the introduction of genuine solutions. Each seemingly well-intentioned but failed "reform" adds another monument to the row of monuments symbolizing the best of intentions: "we try and try but poor children continue to fail educationally and then grow into poor adults who have no place or minimal place in the productive economic system and can't find work that provides adequate income."

Meanwhile, along the way, business interests have realized that while pretending to create educational answers for poor children, profit could be accumulated by destroying public schools, privatizing education, and creating another version of "corporate socialism," i.e., public money going into private hands. However, while it is important to combat this additional funneling of money upward, Willhelm's insight explains the chief engine driving one educational charade after another: the poor have little economic value to the rich. If most of today's more than 15 million poor children were suddenly to disappear, business leaders and the politicians who serve them would respond with initial expressions of pain and sadness, then quickly add: "but doesn't this mean we can now further reduce domestic spending?"

Without social activism that will confront and change the economic system that has generated one educational reform charade after another, continued generations of poor children will be doomed to wretched adulthood.

What do you think? Are education reforms making a difference in the lives of poor students? Or are they a charade?

Gerald Coles is a full-time researcher, writer, and lecturer on the psychology and politics of literacy and education. He is the author of several books, including Reading the Naked Truth: Literacy, Legislation, and Lies, as well as numerous articles in education, psychology and psychiatry journals. Before devoting himself to full-time research and writing, he was on the faculties of the Department of Psychiatry at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and the Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the University of Rochester. His chapter, "Reading Policy: Evidence Vs. Power," will appear in the forthcoming Handbook of Early Childhood Literacy (Sage). He is an active member of the Coalition for Justice in Education in Rochester, NY. He can be reached at
— Gerald Coles
Living in Dialogue blog


The Chicago Public Schools: Another World is Possible

Thu Jun 28, 2012 at 03:32 PM PDT

The Chicago Public Schools: Another World is Possible

“The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.” ― Jean Piaget
Chicago public school teachers are taking a collective deep breath and preparing for what may become their greatest challenge of all, saving public education in the city. While the corporate-owned Chicago media has focused on pay issues, the length of school days and the strike authorization vote, the media consistently ignores how public education is under relentless attack by corporate “reformers” who use their wealth and power to starve public education of funds, silence its advocates, sabotage its improvement and pursue privatization of schools.
One only has to enter the realm of Chicago corporate school reform to see what a grim and cheerless world it can be. Rows of mainly working class children are crowded into cramped classrooms doing hours of repetitive drills to prepare them for hours more of hi-stakes standardized testing.
Many of the children are deprived of art, music, and physical education. They can be housed in poorly maintained deteriorating buildings with falling plaster, balky heating systems, broken windows and leaky roofs. Their teachers, many of them excellent veteran educators, try to hide their anxiety as they worry about being replaced by cheaper inexperienced nonunion labor.
The parents will organize sit-ins and Occupy-style encampments, their faces anxious about the possibility of arrest as they press for building repairs, libraries, creative activities for their kids and the assurance that their neighborhood school will still be there in the  fall.
Neighborhood public schools are deliberately starved for funding and resources which go to the proliferation of “turnaround” schools and charters, many of which perform no better and sometimes worse than their predecessors.
Corporate school reform is elitist and anti-democratic
Chicago corporate school reform is a world of educational scarcity for the many and educational plenty for the few, where social class and race count heavily. Here and there exist beautiful schools gleaming with the latest in educational technology and with catalogs of mind challenging programs. But to enter them requires passing through many obstacles and competing with numerous other families for coveted seats. Some have compared it with applying to Ivy League universities.
Highly motivated savvy working class parents can get their kids into this world of educational plenty with a lot of luck and perseverance, but children cannot choose their parents and luck is fickle.
All of  this is overseen by powerful corporations, non-profits and unresponsive politicians. Before this latest wave of corporate “reform”, the Chicago schools were a morass of political corruption and racial segregation. Now there is even less public oversight than ever as the school privatization juggernaut continues, led by powerful families like the Gates, Pritzker and Walton empires.
Perhaps these dynasties have taken to heart research showing that parental income is one of the best predictors of school success, so why even bother wasting valuable resources on the low income population?
Perhaps it is better to simply push the poor into smaller and smaller areas of the city through gentrification of impoverished working class neighborhoods, which goes hand in hand with the dis-investment in neighborhood schools. Better yet, why not push them out of the city altogether, a pattern in many European urban areas?
Raising working class incomes would require a massive change in our repressive labor laws and public investment on a scale not seen since the heyday of the New Deal, neither of which are very appealing to the wealthy dynasties who are the political clout behind corporate school reform.
Hi-stakes testing with its rote learning, scripted curricula and forced memorization is a threat to democracy itself which requires skeptical, well informed citizens who can research complex public issues and make rational decisions. The mega-corporations  behind this movement are organized in a topdown totalitarian manner and use their wealth to buy influence in politics. Nurturing democracy among working class young people is not high on their priority list.

Corporate school reform is a very large pot of gold for big business 
Charter school companies, online education firms, textbook publishers, curriculum developers, consultants of all types, lobbying firms, public relations shops and others are rushing in, seeing a very large pot of gold at the end of the taxpayer rainbow.
Like the huge military contractors such as Boeing or Lockheed, they hope to profit off of crisis, and transform the nature of society itself, much like Naomi Klein describes in her book Disaster Capitalism. For the military contractors it was the bonanza of the permanent war economy. For the corporate school reformers, it’s a society where the public citizen is transformed into the unquestioning private consumer whose “freedom of choice” is confined to what is offered by society’s business elite as the social inequalities of American society continue to grow.
What education writer Jonathan Kozol once called America’s “savage inequalities” are now a gaping chasm. That chasm reaches deep into the classroom. Educators from as far back as Plato and Confucius understood the importance of joy in learning. The joy of learning is strictly rationed by corporate school reform when hi-stakes testing takes precedence and rote teaching to the test substitutes for the critical thinking and exploration that constitutes real education. The worst abuses of hi-stakes testing take place in low income working class communities, consistent with the elitism of the corporate school reformers. They would never tolerate that inflicted on their own children.

 Corporate school reform is not the only answer
The corporate school reformers would have us believe that their privatization schemes are the only alternative to the racially segregated, politically corrupted Chicago school system inherited from the old Democratic Party political machine. They are wrong. There is an alternative and it is busy being born in Chicago right now. You may find a summary of its goals in the free booklet The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve (SCSD).
 Schools Chicago Students Deserve
Within the SCSD report you will find a vision for the Chicago schools that makes the joy of teaching and learning a reality. It starts with smaller classes so that learning becomes a more personalized individual experience that alternates with group endeavors.  Students and teachers need both individual and group experiences to succeed.
“A well-rounded, full curriculum is an essential part of the education all of our children deserve. Physical activity, appreciating and creating art or music, learning a new language, learning how things work by creating science experiments, solving mathematics problems with multiple approaches, reading and analyzing fiction and nonfiction books—all of these and more contribute to the development of a student who knows how to learn and how to think.”--- from the SCSD report
The SCSD vision would promote the arts as they have been seriously undervalued by corporate school reform. The arts promote creativity, imagination and self discipline, all of which spill over into other subject areas. Physicist Albert Einstein played the violin. Author J.R.R. Tolkien drew and painted. Astronaut Mae Jemison danced. Actor Hedy Lamarr was an inventor. Labor leader John L. Lewis was an actor who managed a theater. We often talk admiringly of the well rounded individual. We should be educating children to become those individuals.
 The ancient Greeks knew the value of physical education and promoted the idea of the strong mind within a strong body. Periods of physical activity not only help to keep the body healthy, they also sharpen the mind when students go on to other learning experiences. Many Chicago schools lack even the most basic playground and PE equipment. Physical education should be a requirement for all Chicago students. This should also include health and nutritional education through such student projects as community gardens, scientific experiments and sociological investigation.
Recent research on how multilingualism rewires the brain for more intellectual complexity only proves what language teachers have known intuitively for years. Why shouldn’t children have English proficiency as well as proficiency in at least one other world language as the SCSD proposes? Multilingualism is simply a given in many parts of the world. Chicago is a city of many languages. That should be seen as a gift to our educational system and not a burden.

Teacher and kids
According to the SCSD report, 160 Chicago schools lack libraries. This is at time when the city government is cutting back on neighborhood libraries. Today’s students live in a world that is awash in information swirling within a mass of misinformation and outright disinformation. Learning how to navigate that means students need access to books, periodicals and the latest computer technology. But they also need guidance from trained librarians and teachers. A school without a library or one that lacks trained personnel, is major impediment to a student’s education. How can students possibly become independent learners without a library?
The savage inequalities of class, race and gender create a host of social problems that can defeat the efforts of Chicago students to stay focused on education. Domestic abuse, street violence, hunger, homelessness, poor health, ugly media misrepresentations and psychological damage from discrimination demand that support services be available to help students heal and move forward with their lives.
Yet Chicago schools are woefully short of counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers. There are often underlying social causes for student distress the professionals cannot change, but they can relieve the worst symptoms and help bolster student emotional strength to endure. Sometimes just knowing someone cares enough to listen intelligently is enough. If the Chicago schools were to follow the recommendations of the professional organizations, they would need to double and even triple the numbers of these critical support staff.

 Chicago’s long history of racial apartheid lies at the core of the crisis

 Chicago has a racially segregated school system. According to the SCSD:
“The governing bodies and corporate interests that steer policy in our public schools have further enabled segregation, creating a two-tier education system based on racial and class status. Standardized testing is the primary ‘policy lever’ responsible for apartheid in Chicago schools. It has come to define the policies, operation, curricula, pedagogy, and survival of urban schools serving low-income students.” 
Standardized testing is used as a weapon against people of color who live in low income neighborhoods. Test scores tend to be lower because of the social conditions of poverty, so this becomes an excuse to attack the neighborhood schools, fire all the teachers, ignore community groups, ignore parent organizations, and ignore the wishes of the students.
The SCSD proposes developing curricula and teaching methods that improve the situation, instead of having resources deliberately withheld from these schools to insure their “failure”. Not coincidently, some of these low income neighborhoods are slated for gentrification so that standardized tests also become a tool for ethnic and social cleansing.
 “Only after disinvesting in neighborhood schools and shutting them down does CPS approach the community and offer a ‘choice’ of charters or other schools outside the immediate community. Often these schools offer their students no better environment than the school CPS closed. Charters and other private management organizations are subject to the same (and due to the profits involved often more heightened) pressures to emphasize standardized test performance, which illuminates the false nature of this choice.” from the SCSD report
Decades of corporate school reform have been a failure
In her definitive study School Reform, Corporate Style: Chicago, 1880-2000,  Dorothy Shipps reflects on the failure of corporate school reform to address the disparities in race and class that are the underlying causes of Chicago’s educational crisis. She concludes that only a determined coalition of parents and teachers can reform the schools and that this will require teacher union participation in the process.
 If parental income is the single most accurate predictor of school success, then it makes perfect sense for teachers to be part of the labor movement because raising the incomes of working class America is exactly what a labor movement is supposed to do.
Did I mention that The Schools Chicago's Children Deserve was published by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), so reviled by Mayor Emanuel and the business elite? And that the new progressive leadership of the CTU is now working to form a citywide parent-teacher coalition to defend and improve public education?

CTU at the Puerto Rican Day Parade
The CTU prepares to march in a community parade
Although the Board of Education refuses to bargain with the CTU over most of the critical classroom issues presented in The Schools Chicago's Children Deserve, the CTU is taking those ideas directly to the public in a well organized grassroots campaign. It is already having an effect. Groups are organizing around the city to support the teachers in their struggle for smaller classes, improved curricula, equalization of resources, an end to racial discrimination and an end to hi-stakes testing abuse.
Critics will point to the low income parents who have put their children into charter or ‘turnaround” schools as evidence that corporate school reform is successful and popular.
 But as Pauline Lipman points out in her recent study of the Chicago schools, The New Political Economy of Urban Education, these parents do not necessarily support school privatization or even charters. Some of them feel that under the present conditions, they have no choice but to find the best school possible. There is resentment of the many years of racial segregation and neglect of low income neighborhood schools by city leaders, but also a recognition that corporate school reform is elitist and destructive of communities. There are parents who send their children to charters, but still strongly support the idea of public education.
Critics will also ask,”Where’s the money?” Illinois school funding is vastly unequal because it is funded mostly through local property taxes, which give an advantage to wealthy school districts. Tax Increment Financing (TIF) in Chicago is supposed to encourage investment in low income neighborhoods, but it mostly goes to downtown development.  There is even uncollected Chicago TIF money which could go to education. Money that is being diverted toward privatization could be re-channeled toward public education where it belongs.
Illinois has a very regressive tax structure which hits the working class the hardest, while wealthy people get off lightly. Large corporations are bestowed with subsidies and tax breaks while schools crumble. Given the importance of the finance industry in Illinois, a “Robin Hood Tax” on speculation as well as higher capital gains taxes could also bring in more money. Other Illinois school districts which are hurting financially would benefit from these measures.

 A future for Chicago public schools?
“When you wage war on the public schools, you're attacking the mortar that holds the community together. You're not a conservative, you're a vandal.” ― Garrison Keillor
On May 23, 2012 thousands of CTU members poured into the streets of downtown Chicago in a joyful demonstration of their determination and pride. There are reports that the union had an unofficial agreement with the cops that they could march pretty much anywhere. The police have their own grievances with Mayor Emanuel and were in solidarity with the teachers.
The CTU marches past Chicago's financial center on May 23, 2012
The CTU marches past Chicago's financial center on May 23, 2012
The CTU took a strike authorization vote which passed overwhelmingly with 98% of those voting saying, "Yes!". Across the city, public workers, letter carriers, transit workers, cabbies, hospital workers and others facing downsizing and wage cuts talked among themselves and asked, “Why aren’t we doing what the teachers are doing?” A poll taken by the Chicago Tribune revealed that more Chicago residents trust the union’s efforts at improving public education over those of Mayor Emanuel. CTU negotiators noted a much warmer atmosphere in the talks with the Board of Education after the march and even the normally macho Mayor Emanuel seemed less belligerent.
Chicago is now Ground Zero in the defense of public education. This was made clear at a recent national labor conference held in Chicago where union teachers from across the nation emphatically made that point. As one longtime Chicago teacher activist told me recently,”It's going to be a very challenging year, since we are up against some of the ‘smartest,’ most powerful and wealthy people on earth, and they do not plan to ‘lose.’"
But then neither do we. For big city public education, another world is possible.

Sources Consulted
A Future for Teachers Unions, But Only with a Fight by James Cersonsky
School Reform, Corporate Style: Chicago 1880-2000 by Dorothy Shipps
Neoliberal Education Restructuring by Pauline Lipman
How can the Chicago Teachers Union win? by Lee Sustar
Chicago Teachers Vote Overwhelming for Strike Authorization as Contract Negotiations Continue by Stephanie Gadlin
The Era of Accountability Has Led to Unsuccessful Reforms
Test-based Teacher Evaluation Earns an F, Again* by P.L. Thomas
Poll shows support for longer school day: But voters generally side with teachers union over Emanuel by Joel Hood and Rick Pearson
The New Political Economy of Urban Education: Neoliberalism, Race, and the Right to the City by Pauline Lipman
 Teachers and Reform: Chicago Public Education,1929–1970, by John F. Lyons
 The 1979 Financial Crisis: brought to CPS by some of the same people still running the schools by John Kugler, June 2012 Substance 

Originally posted to BobboSphere on Thu Jun 28, 2012 at 03:32 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.