Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Philly's cancerous approach to school funding

As if making schools dependent on property taxes wasn't bad enough, now Philadelphia Public Schools will have to rely on cigarette sales just to make it through the year. Without the regressive $2-a-pack cigarette tax increase passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Corbett last week, the city schools and schools throughout the state are facing more draconian cuts in October. Much of the revenue generated by the new tax will be used to expand the already swelling ranks of privately-run charter schools in the city.

This from The Philadelphia Public School Notebook:
 Something is seriously wrong with this picture. Pennsylvania is not a poor state and is situated in one of the richest countries in the world. But many districts can’t provide our children with school personnel we once took for granted. Not to mention books, technology – and in some cases, soap and toilet paper.
That’s not just a Pennsylvania problem. The United States is unusual among industrialized countries in having it backward: We spend the fewest education dollars on the neediest students. If we want to spend tax dollars wisely and get results, we need to flip that script.
Three years of Rahm is enough... Andy Shaw, President & CEO of the BGA, tries to give a balanced assessment of the mayor's first three years. But he can't help conclude that Rahm's positives are mostly "low-hanging fruit" with "limited progress on the more daunting challenges, including comprehensive budget, TIF and ethics reform."

Shaw reports that under the current Chicago mayor's regime, "community participation is virtually non-existent, and there’s still a long way to go to eliminate pension woes, structural deficits, poor credit ratings and excessive long-term borrowing".

Worse yet:
The city hasn’t stopped using tens of millions of TIF dollars to assist wealthy corporations, institutions and clouted contractors in areas that aren’t truly blighted, when the money should be spent in struggling parts of the city that sorely need economic development.
Shaw might have included some mention Rahm's devastating closing of dozens of neighborhood public schools in black and Latino communities along with record levels of gun violence across the city.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Shooting the messenger

On Friday, I received the following missive from SEIU Local 73 Pres. Christine Boardman via the union's general counsel Tyson Roan.

First, I'm glad to find that the president of SEIU Local 73 is such an avid reader of SmallTalk. I remember meeting Mayor Emanuel at a social event a while back (got friends in low places) and as he shook my hand, he said to the hosts, "Yeah, I know Klonsky. I read his blog." I retorted, "...and you're still talking to me?" The mayor answered, "It's a free country. You're entitled to your opinion."

Pres. Boardman, a quasi-public figure like the mayor, is not so generous.

Not wanting to impugn anyone's integrity and certainly not wanting to face the full might and fury of SEIU's legal department (and after consulting with my attorneys at Pro, Bono & Plead), I took Pres. Boardman's charges seriously and reread my Sept. 16th post, "The rats are having a field day at CPS" (boy, are they ever). And you know what? I think Pres. Boardman raises two good points.

First, she says my statement that she signed off on an agreement between CPS and private custodial subcontractors" is "entirely false, and has no basis whatsoever in fact."

She's probably right if you take my comment literally. I have no evidence that Pres. Boardman actually "signed off," meaning signed an actual written agreement with Aramark and SodexoMagic. In fact, I'm pretty sure she didn't. So I can retract that statement.

Second, she points to my statement, "Ugh! She's dirtier than a a CPS bathroom," as evidence that I impute "a want of integrity" on her part (who talks like that?). It's true that I may have imputed such a want of integrity. But to say a politician or union leader is "dirty", means that they are actually on the take or selling out their constituents for a price or political reward. Since I have no physical proof of any such quid pro quo, I retract the "Ugh! She's dirtier than  a CPS bathroom" statement.

As my wife often reminds me: "Honey, you're better than that."

Also, have you been in a CPS bathroom lately? There's nothing dirtier.

Okay, so I'm trying to be better. I'm a work in progress.

But after watching hundreds of those hard-working and often, life-saving school custodians lose their jobs, after Rahm privatized CPS' custodial services (not to mention the hundreds of library custodians and lunchroom ladies before them), leaving schools filthy and dangerous, and all this without much of a peep from Boardman and the Local 73 leadership, I may have been overcome by anger. I'm working on that as well.

Chicago teacher Michelle Strater Gunderson makes a great point:
All of the coverage so far, though, has been focused on building conditions and mismanagement. I see yet another side of this issue – workers’ rights. The privatization of the work has made it almost impossible for workers to do their jobs. The hours and personnel in each building were cut drastically, and to make matters worse, Aramark just laid off 468 janitors last week.
So somebody tell me -- where was the outcry from the custodial unions defending their own members? I searched in vain, including on the Local 73 website, for any sign of protest or public resistance. If I'm wrong about that, show me. I welcome any and all public statements or actions taken by President Boardman or other Local 73 leaders,  critical of Rahm for his privatization or for recent firings. I will gladly post them without comment.

Rahm sells his pension deal. But who was buying?
Now Pres. Boardman might argue that her union doesn't represent the fired privatized custodians and indeed she would be correct. Over the years, CPS has reduced the number of its janitors through attrition. The board now employs about 800 and private companies about 1,800, according to union officials. The former belong to SEIU Local 73, while the private-company janitors belong to SEIU Local 1. But still...

Ben Joravsky writes:
You might not think that belonging to different SEIU locals would matter much, but lately it does. Among union activists, Local 73 is known as the mayor's—well, let's just say union activists aren't too thrilled with Local 73.
REMEMBER this all came after Boardman broke ranks with the broad coalition of union leaders who were fighting back against Rahm's attack on public employees retiree pensions. The mayor wanted to raise property taxes by $250 million — and increase employee contributions by 29%. One after another, union leaders and activists spoke out, from AFSCME to the FOP to the CTU.  But Boardman went along.

This from the Sun-Times:
 Christine Boardman, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, said she supports the “basic constructs” of the pension deal that impacts 10,000 of her members. “We’re in support of the increase in employee contributions. We’re in support of the Emanuel plan to try to fund it through property tax increases. The bill is going to pass. I know that. You know that,” she said. “We’re not gonna work against the bill. We’ve told that to Speaker [Mike] Madigan. We’re gonna be neutral, only because of the effect it has on retirees.”
Neutral indeed.

I guess the icing on the cake for me was when Boardman then kicked in with $25,000 of her members' hard earned money as a gift to Rahm's already swollen campaign fund. A real punch in the gut, not only to the mayor's needy progressive opponents, Bob Fioretti and fellow union president Karen Lewis, but to the janitors and pensioners being screwed by the mayor's privatization deals.

Brother Fred
More Joravsky
I guess I should have seen this donation coming. Earlier this year, Local 73 broke ranks from most of the other public employees' unions to endorse Mayor Emanuel's proposed pension plan. And last month Mayor Emanuel put Matt Brandon—secretary/treasurer of Local 73—on his minimum-wage task force.
To sum up -- I retract the two statements, as requested by Pres. Boardman and her lawyers: 1) that she "signed off on an agreement between CPS and private custodial subcontractors" and 2) that she is "dirtier than a CPS bathroom."

As for her claim that she has been a consistent advocate for the rights of the custodians, I'll leave that for her members and the readers to decide.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Rich Miller
A quick note to Bruce Rauner: The next time you try to claim that Gov. Pat Quinn is "personally" under federal investigation (an allegation that, as far as anyone can tell, is not true), it's probably best not to say it while standing next to a different governor who actually is "personally" under federal investigation. -- Crain's
Marian Wright Edelman
Racially discriminatory school discipline policies contribute to the Cradle to Prison Pipeline crisis with a Black boy born in 2001 having a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison in his lifetime and a Latino boy a 1 in 6 chance of the same fate. -- Huffington
Chicago Trubune Columnist Eric Zorn 
I see that Emanuel's supporters are nervous enough about the prospect of a challenge from Lewis that they're already dialing up the histrionics, clutching their pearls and fanning themselves with premature and utterly phony concern over a "conflict of interest." -- Tribune
Doing "their jobs"
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson
 "I'm truly sorry for the loss of your son. I'm also sorry that it took so long to remove Michael from the street. Investigators were doing "important work" trying to uncover the truth and collect evidence during those four hours...They were simply trying to do their jobs." -- CNN
NYT Columnist Frank Bruni
Around that same time, there were movements on scattered college campuses to attach so-called trigger warnings to texts whose evocations of, say, anti-Semitism or rape might prompt emotional turmoil in students. This echoed moves years earlier by officials at some elementary, middle and secondary schools to prune standardized tests of words that might distress students, either by summoning life’s harshness, reminding them of their deprivation or making them feel excluded. “Poverty,” “slavery,” “divorce,” “hurricanes” and “birthdays” were on a list drawn up by New York City educators, who later abandoned the plan. -- The Wilds of Education

Friday, September 26, 2014

Lesson Plans

Nice piece of writing by Chicago high school teacher and Louder Than a Bomb poetry coach, Dave Stieber at Huffington, "Lessons Learned in Englewood: 8 Years of Reflections From a CPS Teacher". Worth sharing with my students and fellow educators.

Dave Stieber's I Teach website is here.

THE POINT OF PRODUCTION... I did some classroom walk-throughs and observations (not evaluations) with a middle school principal yesterday. Watched him interact and give good, welcomed feedback to teachers. He's trying to help build a professional community based on trust and collaboration.

The classroom, for him, is where most good discussions of school improvement and teaching/learning start. But few principals I see are prepared or have the time or inclination to be instructional leaders, coaches, connoisseurs of good teaching, and many of the new ones, coming out of the power philanthropists' training programs, have little teaching experience themselves. They're increasingly sent in to become building managers and ramrods. Walk-throughs and observations, little more than gotchas, trying to affirm the dominant narrative about "bad teachers" being the problem. 

Thanks for that narrative, Arne Duncan.

ANOTHER REASON I'M A FAN of Karen Lewis. She's carrying on the legacy of our first black mayor, Harold Washington.. Chicago Reporter's Curtis Black writes:
The New Era Windows Cooperative was the perfect setting for Karen Lewis to deliver her core message to an enthusiastic group of supporters: What Chicago needs is “a restoration of participatory democracy.”
“When you have participatory democracy, people can determine what’s best for their communities, as opposed to waiting for years for some development from on high that may or may not be meaningful” in addressing issues faced by residents, the teachers union president and prospective mayoral candidate told a gathering sponsored by the McKinley Park Progressive Association this week.
Karen's rap got Black to remark:
 It sounds like she would restore something like the community hearings on the city budget that Mayor Harold Washington instituted in 1983. Mayor Richard M. Daley continued those hearings, though their number was reduced sharply and they became rather perfunctory. Mayor Rahm Emanuel canceled them after his first year in office.
Remarkable isn't it, that 30 years later, Harold's name is still invoked by all sides as the model of good government.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

More name dropping

Jitu Brown and 10 other protesters say their arrest at City Hall Tuesday night forced the mayor to provide services for Dyett High School students. (DNAinfo)
"I f**ked up." -- Rahm Emanuel
Rahm's dream of a two-tiered public school system -- one tier for gentrifying neighborhoods and one for the rest of us --- is turning into a political nightmare.

The mayor has once again gotten himself into deep doo-doo with Obama's people over the naming of another proposed expensive new selective-enrollment high school for Lincoln Park. As I pointed out last week, Rahm thought that naming the school after the president would help mend his election campaign fences, both with Obama's people who dislike him and with black voters still irate over his notorious mass school closings.

But the response from White House staffers was quick and to the point. Valerie Jarrett reportedly told Rahm in no uncertain terms -- don't drag Obama's name into your mess. He's got enough problems of his own. And just like that, Rahm walked it back.

Yesterday, you could almost feel for the Little Emperor as he had to stand before the media, like a spanked child, and do his forced self-criticism. I'm only human, feinted the mayor, claiming that he had “made a mistake” in his “rush to honor” President Barack Obama — which is why he's now dropping plans to name the new, $60 million selective-enrollment high school on the Near North Side after his former boss.

A "mistake"? What mistake? Rahm never says.  Honoring his boss? With TIF money? Who on Team Rahm thought this was a smart way out? And now he's even tarnished Obama's library project with his buffoonery.

The Sun-Times reports:
Despite the naming controversy, Emanuel said he’s not wavering on his commitment to build the school and “probably in that area because that’s where the [TIF] resources are.” Ald. Will Burns (4th), one of the mayor’s closest  African-American allies, said Emanuel’s rare mea culpa can only help the mayor politically.
Fiddling while Rome burns (pun intended)... Ald. Burns has been carrying Rahm's water on the south side by closing Dyett, which will leave Bronzeville, Oakland and Kenwood without a neighborhood public high school while upscale Lincoln Park becomes saturated with elite high schools.

Help the mayor politically, indeed.

A SmallTalk Salute goes out to Ald. Rick Munoz who has reportedly pilfered asphalt from various city work sites this week, loading it into the back of his car and using it to patch the most egregious of the hundreds of potholes in his Little Village ward that have gone unfilled.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Taking back Dyett and Chicago

As I'm posting this, south-siders, CTU members and community activists from around the city are sitting-in outside the mayor's office demanding that Dyett High School not be closed. If Rahm and Byrd-Bennett carry out their plan to close Dyett and turn it over to private operators, they will leave Bronzeville, Oakland and Kenwood without a neighborhood public high school.

Community activist Bob George writes from the sit-in:
For three years now Dyett students have been without the courses, staffing and funding afforded “normal” High School. They are being phased out. Turned about. Taunted and tempted to attend alternative schools. Abandon your neighborhood school. Close the doors. Shut the windows. Leave your memories behind. Dyett, the Mayor, the Superintendent, and the School Board, deem will not continue to exist. At present, Dyett is the only remaining Neighborhood High School available to the students in the Historic Bronzeville Community. This school is the only one in which students have a legal right to admission. Other learning institutions  insist that students qualify for admission, win a lottery to enroll, or be selected to enter after a rigorous screening.
You can help by calling or texting 312 399-5370 to tell deputy @ChicagosMayor to #SaveDyett high school! 

Worth a read is John Warner's Just Visiting blog series, Excellent Sheep Run the World, Parts 1&2). Writes Warner:
There are perhaps no better exemplars of the products of our current meritocratic system than three of the most important recent figures in the education reform movement: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “Common Core architect” David Coleman, and one-time chancellor of the Washington D.C. schools, Michelle Rhee.
They are also all near-perfect examples of what William Deresiewicz labels as “excellent sheep,” in his new book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite.According to Deresiewicz, one of the chief problems with this miseducation is in these so-called “elite” individuals mistaking “being in charge” with “being a leader.”

Monday, September 22, 2014


Lots of teachers among 400,000 who marched in N.Y. yesterday. 
Linda Darling-Hammond
“The poverty rates of countries in PISA are associated with how kids do overall on the tests. The United States poverty rate far outstrips the other countries with one out of four children here living in poverty.” -- AZED News
Laura Washington
 If Chicago voters really want to divorce the mayor, a Lewis/ Fioretti union could be a marriage made in heaven. A Lewis entry would up the 2015 ante and deliver a potent one-two punch to Emanuel. Lewis and Fioretti would be friendly opponents. They talk, and they agree on most issues, such as taxing the city’s bigwigs and calling for an elected school board. -- Sun-Times
Ben Joravsky
It doesn't matter if Bob Fioretti or Karen Lewis or Bob Shaw or Amara Enyia or Brian Urlacher (why not?—the dude just quit his TV gig) are aiming for the same anti-Rahm vote. The only real issue is whether the anti-Rahm vote outnumbers the pro-Rahm one. If so, Mayor Rahm won't get the 50-percent-plus-one vote he needs to win outright. And we go to the runoff... Actually, in my moments of delusion, I convince myself that the anti-Rahm vote is so large that Rahm won't even make the runoff. -- Politics Early & Often
Janet Garrett
Public education is one of the foundations of our democracy. It is, arguably, the only equalizing force in an otherwise unequal system... People ask me from time to time what I think of the state of public education. I tell them we desperately need educational reform. What children need is not to be taught how to pass endless tests. They need to be taught problem solving, creativity and, most of all, a love of learning. We must give them the tools they need to learn. We are teaching children, today, for a world we cannot foresee. What we need is a new, child centered, not profit driven, education agenda. -- WaPo, "Why a kindergarten teacher is running for Congress"