Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger
CPS Parent Matt Farmer Puts Penny Pritzker on Trial at CTU’s Stands Strong Rally
Rahm Emanuel promised to “shake up the Windy City’s schools” when he campaigned for mayor of Chicago in 2011. One of his main goals was to change the teacher evaluation process. He is a big proponent of using students’ standardized test scores in determining the effectiveness of classroom practitioners.
On September 12th, Mike Klonsky wrote the following on his blog SmallTalk:
It appears this morning that our autocrat mayor has decided to stonewall the negotiations. While he’s moved on compensation issues, he’s refusing to even discuss teacher evaluation and the power of principals to hire and fire teachers at will.
Rahm is operating here without the benefit of knowing much about education. He’s that just-right combination of street-thug ward politician and Wall St. hustler who thinks that because he believes something to be true, he has the right (power) to force it on the public. First case in point was his notion that more seat time in school necessarily produces better results. It doesn’t. Now he’s convinced that you can evaluate a teacher based wholly or largely on their student’s score on a standardized test. You can’t.
Yesterday Rahm hauled a few of his pet principals, (including Ethan Netterstrom, principal at Skinner North) in front of the TV cameras, to claim that in order to be “successful” they need the unchecked power to hire and fire whoever they choose, regardless of qualifications and experience and without any due process. This is a recipe for City Hall-style patronage and going back to the days when teachers (and principals) worked at the pleasure of ward politicians. It is also a recipe for principals getting rid of teachers who may be the wrong color or political persuasion. It’s interesting to note here that principals already have lots of authority over faculty hiring and that black and Latino teachers have been the victims of these kinds of hiring practices. Today, just 19 % of the teaching force in Chicago is African American, down from 45 % in 1995.
This is what happens when you make the school system a wing of City Hall, weaken collective bargaining, take power away from popularly-elected school boards and Local School Councils, and dismantle public space and public decision making.
This strike really represents a last stand for teachers and all public employees against moves by Tea Party governors and their Democratic Party counterparts in urban districts like Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, to eliminate teachers collective bargaining rights altogether. This was the original idea behind SB7 which made it illegal for teachers in Chicago (nowhere else in the state) to bargain over anything except salary and benefits — two issues that could easily be reneged on after the contract was signed for budgetary reasons. Remember, the board agreed to a 4% raise in the last contract only to take it back once the contract was signed.
All this leaves Chicago’s teachers with only one option. Dig in and fight back with the only tactic left to them under SB7 — the power to withhold their labor and put their bodies on the line in defense of their profession and of democracy. What happens here in Chicago will ultimately determine the fate of teachers and public worker unions everywhere.
Emanuel’s children do not attend public schools. They are enrolled at an elite private school—the University of Chicago Lab School, where the tuition is said to be more than $20,000 a year. According to Mike Elk, the conditions at the school Emanuel’s children attend are far different from those one finds in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
Elk provided information about the U of C Lab School:
The Lab School has seven full-time art teachers to serve a student population of 1,700. By contrast, only 25% of Chicago’s “neighborhood elementary schools” have both a full-time art and music instructor. The Lab School has three different libraries, while 160 Chicago public elementary schools do not have a library.
“Physical education, world languages, libraries and the arts are not frills. They are an essential piece of a well-rounded education,” wrote University of Chicago Lab School Director David Magill on the school’s website in February 2009.
Magill also wrote the following in his Director’s Address to Returning Faculty in 2010:
I believe that the “business model” of improving education will fall on its own sword.
It is unfortunate that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation developed primarily by politicians and enacted in 2002 morphed into what many refer to as a “business model” of improving education. Measuring outcomes through standardized testing and referring to those results as the evidence of learning and the bottom line is, in my opinion, misguided and, unfortunately, continues to be advocated under a new name and supported by the current administration.
In the past decade, there have been many critics of the educational policies promoted by the so-called corporate reformers. Only recently have some voices been taken seriously—in particular, the voice of educational historian Diane Ravitch. Her recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, provides a compelling argument to examine the data that tells us that reforms of the past ten years are not working and are actually degrading the intellectual potential of students. And this comes from one of the early architects of many of those reforms. This is a book worth reading, authored by a person who admits she was wrong yet is forceful when advocating for change. Listen to this from Ms. Ravitch:
“We must honor those teachers who awaken in their students a passionate interest in history, science, the arts, literature, and foreign language. Such teachers (if acting today under NCLB) would be stifled not only by the data mania of their supervisors, but by the jargon, the indifference to classical literature, and the hostility to their manner of teaching that now prevails in our schools.
“Without a comprehensive liberal arts education, our students will not be prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy, nor will they be equipped to make decisions based on knowledge, thoughtful debate, and reason. . . . Not everything that matters can be quantified. What is tested may ultimately be less important than what is untested, such as a student’s ability to seek alternative explanations, to raise questions, to pursue knowledge on his own, and to think differently.”
And to that, I say AMEN and thank you, Ms. Ravitch, for seeing the light and for cracking the armor of the “business model.” Because of her and others like her, I believe this disturbing chapter in American education history is coming to a close.
I must admit that I am not as hopeful as Mr. Magill is that this chapter in American education history is coming to an end. What I hope is that the teachers’ strike in Chicago will awaken many Americans to what has been happening to our public schools over the past decade in the name of school reform…to how high stakes testing of students has perverted the educational process in this country…to the narrowing of the curriculum because everything is focused on prepping children for tests and not on helping them to become critical thinkers and doing what is best for each individual child…to the elimination of art and music teachers and school librarians.
Matt Farmer, the speaker in the first video that I posted, is a lawyer, musician, local school council member, and a CPS parent. He stands with and supports the striking teachers. He wrote the following in an article for the Huffington Post titled Teachers Don’t Like Bullies last May:
Teachers and their union representatives are simply gearing up — outside of the classroom, mind you — to fight for their professional lives this summer, and I’m glad they’re finally getting engaged.
I say that both as a longtime CPS parent and as a local school council member. I talk to a lot of teachers around the city, and from Rogers Park to Gage Park they’re angry.
They’re tired of being made scapegoats for the devastating effects of the generational urban poverty that Emanuel and his aides would rather not talk about. They’re tired of having their students used as over-tested lab rats by an ever-changing cast of out-of-touch, out-of-town “reformers” who specialize in “public education by press release.” But what really angers the teachers I’ve talked to is the absolute lack of respect that this mayor and his hand-picked team have shown them during the last year.
In fact, I’d fear for my fourth-grade daughter’s next eight years in the CPS system if her teachers were not mentally and emotionally invested in the ongoing contract negotiation process.
Make no mistake — I want my kid in class next September. But if her teachers ultimately vote to go on strike, my daughter will know why.
She may not have a deep understanding of tenure issues, pension contributions, or “step and lane” increases, but (like most kids I know) she has a solid grasp on the basic concept of “fairness.”
Even a 10-year-old can understand that if 75 percent of the CTU’s membership ultimately concludes that our charter-school-loving mayor is trying to give them (as Emanuel might say) “the shaft,” then those teachers need to stand up and fight, not only for their individual jobs and their profession, but also for the well-being of the kids in the classrooms in which they now teach.
The deck is undeniably stacked against the teachers in their current negotiations with the Board of Education, and a strike vote is the only leverage teachers have to secure a fair contract.
You want to call mock strike votes a scare tactic, be my guest. But don’t forget to call out Emanuel and his high-priced media machine the next time the mayor starts talking about putting 55 kids in a classroom, or complaining that CPS teachers enriched themselves for years while “cheating our children,” whom, he claims, teachers effectively “left on the side of the road.”
It’s easy, I suppose, to make a habit of dumping on CPS teachers if the only parent-teacher conferences you ever have to attend take place at a private school.
Chicago Public Teachers Stage Historic Strike in Clash with the Mayor on Education Reforms
Striking Teachers, Parents Join Forces to Oppose “Corporate” Education Model in Chicago
Chicago Teachers Strike Could Portend Referendum on Obama Admin’s Education Reform Approach
CTU President Karen GJ Lewis Speech May 23 Rally
Addendum: The Worst Teacher in Chicago (This is a true story.)
CHICAGO. In a poorer city school, one English teacher–I won’t use her name–who’d been cemented into the school system for over a decade, wouldn’t do a damn thing to lift test scores, yet had an annual salary level of close to $70,000 a year. Under Chicago’s new rules holding teachers accountable and allowing charter schools to compete, this seniority-bloated teacher was finally fired by the principal.
In a nearby neighborhood, a charter school, part of the city system, had complete freedom to hire. No teachers’ union interference. The charter school was able to bring in an innovative English teacher with advanced degrees and a national reputation in her field – for $29,000 a year less than was paid to the fired teacher.
You’ve guessed by now: It’s the same teacher.
It’s Back to School Time! Time for the editorialists and the Tea Party and Barack Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan to rip into the people who dare teach in public schools.
And in Arne’s old stomping grounds, Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is stomping on the teachers, pushing them into the street.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves. This is what Mitt Romney and Obama and Arne Duncan and Paul Ryan have in mind when they promote charter schools and the right to fire teachers with tenure: slash teachers’ salaries, bust their unions.
NOTE: Chicago Teachers Strike May Near End As Union Releases Deal (Huffington Post)
Director’s Address to Returning Faculty 2010 (University of Chicago Lab School)
Teachers Don’t Like Bullies (Huffington Post)
The Worst Teacher in Chicago (Chicago Tribune)