Friday, July 31, 2015

Rahm's plan: Devastating budget cuts for special ed

If Rahm thinks slashing special ed budgets is the road to solvency, he is sadly mistaken. As the grand-parent of a child at North Grand H.S. with special needs, I can promise you that CPS' plan to cut more than $42 million in special ed funding and lay off 500 special ed teachers and staff will not stand.

Teacher Phil Cantor
North Grand teacher Phil Cantor tells it straight to WBEZ:
“We had some cuts at our school, but seemed to be doing better than other schools in our area,” Cantor, who's chair of the Science Department, said. “And then we realized when we got further into the budget, we were losing $318,000 specifically for special ed services.”
 It would mean the school would have to cut about three special education teachers or six full-time aides. Cantor said there’s no way it would work. “We’re barely meeting the kids’ requirements now,” he said.
They can't say Cantor didn't warn them.
“It’s going to become more expensive when they do this because parents are going to sue,” Cantor said. “There’s going to be massive lawsuits. There’s going to be massive settlements. We’ve seen this over and over in the city. It’s this short-term managerial thinking that’s going lead to long term costs for the city.”
Take it from me. He's right on the money.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Duncan: 'This is not about me.'

Edweek's Alyson Klein interviews Arne Duncan. She asks some good questions about the current contending ESEA bills in the House and Senate, but get's back mostly his usual string of empty cliches.

But then she cuts to the chase.
Under both bills the Secretary of Education would be prohibited from interfering with standards, evaluations, and more. How might that hamstring you or your successor? What do you expect would happen to the federal role?
This really isn't about me. What you want is you want whoever the next person ... the next 20 secretaries, you want them to be able to administer and implement the law. So I think there's some common sense middle ground that we can get to.
But since Duncan will become the first ever Ed Sec to be officially banned from interfering in school business, I'd say, it is, at least in large part, about him. And he's earned it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Duncan big on accountability. But not his own.

Arne Duncan is the great educational know-nothing. As a result, he loads his speeches up with empty clichés and meaningless phrases in place of solid dialog about teaching and learning.

In a speech Monday at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Duncan tells his faithful,
"When students enroll in college, he said, the chances of a successful outcome — getting a degree — amount to “a coin toss.”
“The challenge we face is easy to articulate, if not to solve.” There is, he said, “a lot of heavy lifting and culture change ahead.”
 "This is not a free lunch for higher education by any stretch."
He goes on to decry the "lack of accountability" (not his own) in public ed. He blames it all on "politics" and "bureaucracy". This coming from Pres. Obama's chief political appointee to the top of the one of the world's biggest bureaucracies.

It all reminds me of when Duncan was Mayor Daley's patronage pick to run Chicago's schools back in 2001. He had been the protege of investment banker and Daley pal Jonathan Rogers, who Duncan claims, taught him "the business of education."

When I proposed putting a new small public school inside of shuttered Austin High School, Duncan said he would get the board to okay it, but warned that it had to be charter school. When I asked why, he explained that otherwise, "the bureaucracy will f_ck with you". I rejected the idea and responded: "But Arne. You are the bureaucracy. Why don't you just not f_ck with us?"

He seemed puzzled, but relented.


Students protest re-closing of Duncan's turnaround school. 
In 2008, Dodge Elementary was where then president-elect Barack Obama, after drinking the "Chicago Miracle" kool-aid, announced Duncan as his pick for Secretary of Education.
“He’s shut down failing schools and replaced their entire staffs, even when it was unpopular,” Obama said at the time. “This school right here, Dodge Renaissance Academy, is a perfect example. Since this school was revamped and reopened in 2003, the number of students meeting state standards has more than tripled.”
But fast forward another five years, Dodge was closed again.

CPS spokesperson at the time said there was no one available to speak with the media on the record about the closing. She said CPS is “focusing on the challenges of today.”

Translation -- We don't need no stinkin' accountability.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Bearing witness: A project on memory, community and the 2013 Chicago School Closings.

Overton Elementary
"This is a building that could be put to good use, putting our students back in the building, Putting them back in there and giving them the things that they need to learn -- to get an education."
My friend, photographer Riza Falk and her collaborators Lara Leigh Kelland, and Oriana Erskine working with student interns at Erie Neighborhood House developed this project. The So Close to Ghost Project is sponsored by the Visionaries program in the Youth Options Unlimited (YOU) department at Erie Neighborhood House, the History Department at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Students looked at their closed neighborhood schools through the camera lens and created portraits and a video of student, parent and community voices to tell their story.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Trust was a bust. Now where's Bill and Randi?

Back in 2012, Rahm's proposed Infrastructure Trust got him him great press, especially with flack David Axelrod pumping it like it was the second coming of the Marshall Plan. The New York Times hailed it as the  $7 billion plan  that would "transform the city’s infrastructure from the skies above to the pipes underground". 

Rahm flew Randi in to tout the Trust.
Rahm even flew in AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten to laud the Trust at Bill Clinton's Global Initiative Conference

I quoted this from the Sun-Times report
Emanuel was seated onstage next to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, whose largest member union, the Chicago Teachers Union, [was] taking a strike-authorization vote this week, frustrated with Emanuel’s administration, which killed a negotiated 4 percent raise for the teachers last year. 
Well, the last time I looked, the city's infrastructure was still crumbling and the underground pipes still rusting and leaking. The teachers never did get the 4% raise that was promised them. Rahm claimed the city couldn't afford it but could afford $2.7 million in city funds to help set up the Trust. What followed was the historic teachers strike that shook the city and Rahm's administration to its heels.

But the Trust goes down as only the latest in a series of mayoral financial flops that has led the city to the brink of collapse.

Three years after creating a city infrastructure bank with a huge splash, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has decided to remake management of the finance unit, which by many accounts never has lived up to its potential… Out as executive director is Steven Beitler, who, according to a city statement, "has resigned to pursue other interests." 
This time around Axelrod is nowhere to be seen. Maybe he's too embarrassed. Neither is Clinton. I'm sure Hillary doesn't want the Clinton name attached to a busted trust on the road to 2016. And where's Randi?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pond Jumping

Knowledge can be acquired only by a corresponding experience. How can we know what we are told merely? Each man can interpret another’s experience only by his own.  — H.D. Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
WELLFLEET -- From here on the Cape,  Chicago's school crisis and the issues of urban education seem a millennium away. The problems on folks' minds here have more to do with the heat wave hitting the east coast, the slumping Red Sox and the area's worst ever moth infestation. Check out this interview with moth Glerg in the Cape Cod Pulse.

Don't get me wrong. like everywhere else, people are concerned about education issues like shrinking school budgets, Common Core and testing mania.

Sturgis Charter School in Hyannis
Mostly they seem to be about finding the best school for their kid(s). The Cape is even starting to load up with privately-run charter schools. For the life of me, I don't know why.

I guess even  in the whitest and wealthiest communities, there will be those who want even more exclusivity by running off  the other. In this case, English-language learners and students with disabilities and other special needs. So they're willing to pull money out of neighborhood public schools to serve their own needs.

But as far as this blogger is concerned, I'm taking a short break, restoring body, mind and spirit and will resume next week trying to shake things up a bit and raging against the Machine (in Chicago that's with a capital M).

In the mean time, I'm pond jumping. I started with a dip in the pond out behind Deb Meier's house in Hillsdale, N.Y. Then I paid tribute to one of my all-time favorite education radicals, Henry David Thoreau by jumping into Walden Pond in Concord, MA. After drying off, it was in the car and out to Wellfleet on the Cape, with guidance from an old friend and great educator in his own right, Bob Pearlman, for a swim in Long Pond and some beachcombing.

I love pond jumping.

Friday, July 17, 2015

On the mess at CPS and Rahm's shake up on Clark St.

"We did everything we were supposed to do, but we did not spend enormous amounts of time on every single contract that came through. We had a lot going on. We were closing 50 schools and we were making sure 12,000 kids ended up in the right place."
Then Vitale finally found the black SUV he was looking for, climbed in and rode off. -- Tribune

There's a few pieces worth reading and lots that aren't, about the mess at CPS and Rahm's shake up at Clark Street. Here's some of the better:

Ruthhart and Byrne at the Tribune have a pretty good assessment:
Efficiency is political speak for budget cuts and layoffs, and CPS has faced plenty of those in recent days. And more await if Democratic lawmakers and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner don't break their summerlong stalemate and grant the district some form of financial relief.
Here's what efficiency means at the school level.

Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere
In his latest blog post, Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere takes us inside the July 13th principals budget meeting on the heels of the massive announced cuts in staffing and programs. The assembled school leaders were told that the problem arose because the district was forced to choose between "making pension payments and making needed investments in the classroom.”

LaRaviere responds:
CPS claiming their choice is between paying teachers salaries & benefits or improving classrooms is like the Chicago Bulls saying their choice is between paying player salaries or improving the team.  Is there a more important expense toward improving a team than investing in its players?  Is there a more important expense for improving a school system than investing in its teachers?  The funds used on a salary and benefits package aimed at attracting and retaining skilled and competent teachers for our students is the most important classroom investment a school district can make.  CPS’s “teacher compensation vs. classroom investments” conundrum is a false choice based on a misleading political talking point that had no place in a principals budget meeting.
He tries to question the CPS officials. Here's how that went:
I raised my hand. The CPS official looked my way but kept talking.I kept my hand up for five minutes.The official kept talking, reached the end of the presentation and began walking off stage.I projected my voice from the back of the auditorium toward the stage, “I have a question.”
“We will not take questions here.  We will break out in small groups in separate classrooms and you will be able to ask your question in your small group.”
The White Rhino, Ray Salazar, a Chicago Latino English teacher, has something to say about Rahm's appointment of Claypool. Salazar sees none of what he calls the necessary qualities of transformational leadership in Claypool, or in any of his six mayor-appointed predecessors.
For the fourth time in twenty years, we have a CEO with no teaching experience.  Because, let's face it, teacher experience and leadership is just not valued… No CEO in the last twenty years engaged our district or our communities in new ways of thinking that lead to productive long-term conversations for the benefit of students.  While some may have presented a good idea, he or she let the dirty politics of our city influence what could have been a good option for students.
Salazar thinks a teacher or a leader with teaching experience would have been a better choice.
While a teacher would likely find it challenging to go from the classroom to a CEO position, there's a great deal a Chicago Public Schools CEO can learn from the good teachers in our schools.
My take -- Rahm has covered himself here. He was smart enough to take the attention off of Claypool's lack of education expertise and his being another white, male insider, by announcing the appointment of former CPS teacher and Westinghouse principal, Janice Jackson as his new chief education officer. And Denise Little, a longtime CPS educator,  as Claypool's senior adviser.

I hope that Jackson will keep in mind the fate of former education chief Barbara Eason-Watkins who tried her best to put education first ahead of CPS political shenanigans. I wish her and Little the best of luck.

But, we've had educators, bureaucrats and even bagmen for the mayor holding down top CPS posts for the past two decades. So long as they serve completely at the pleasure of an autocratic mayor who has turned the school system into a wing of City Hall, his choice of CEO will make little difference. Real transformational leadership emerges  from a transformational movement.

We need an elected school board and an end to mayoral control.

Final thought…Please send some support and your best thoughts to the Chupp/Valdivia family. They sure could use it.