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‘Change is hard’

“People are anxious” because “change is hard,” said Mayor Emanuel the other day, referring to the school closings and turnarounds which his Board of Education approved as expected Wednesday night.

“But,” he added, “watching, year in and year out, children captured in a system that’s failing, is harder.”

Yes, change is hard.  And year in and year out, the system has been failing its students by denying resources to neighborhood schools attended by the vast majority of students, setting them up for failure and then handing them over one by one to private entities, which get all the goodies (and still don’t perform).

That’s the status quo, of course.  And in an achievement Orwell would find remarkable, it’s that status quo that’s being defended by people like Emanuel and the Chicago Tribune, as they rail about challenging the status quo.

More on AUSL

The other day we noted discrepancies between AUSL’s approach at Orr Academy High School and the CPS code of student conduct – which among other things, says that suspensions aren’t a first resort, students get to respond to accusations, and kids won’t be turned out on the street for not having their uniform.

On Tuesday, Designs For Change released a report exposing AUSL’s failure to come anywhere near meeting the promises it made to raise achievement at the schools it’s taken over.  (Contrary to what you may have read, annual growth rates are unimpressive at many AUSL elementary schools.  At elementary schools “turned around” by CPS itself, they’re very low.)

Now the Occupied Chicago Tribune has published an astonishing interview with two Orr teachers who describe utter administrative incompetence creating “chaos” and a “toxic atmosphere” that is dragging kids down.  (Real News Network has video.) All hat and no cattle doesn’t come close to describing this outfit.  There’s a vast amount of hype covering up an execrable record.

Now AUSL has six more schools.  Talk about failing our kids.

No one home

Emanuel wasn’t concerned about the quiet demonstration past his house on Monday, but at the Tribune, Eric Zorn was.  It’s “inherently intimidating,” he writes.  He’s concerned that people might intimidate Rahm Emanuel.  That’s a fresh take.

It’s actually a venerable tactic.  In 1884, a Thanksgiving Day poor people’s march paraded past the Prairie Avenue homes of George Pullman, Marshall Field, and the rest of their set.  Saul Alinsky taught it.  (The demonstration at the home of Tim Cawley, the AUSL exec now at CPS, was classic Alinsky, bringing city folks to the suburbs.) National People’s Action regularly shows up in the front yards and driveways of unresponsive Washington bureaucrats.

Here’s another case from recent local history – where they actually rang the doorbell.

[Andrew Patner writes in to remind us of the 1969 Supreme Court ruling in Gregory v. Chicago, after civil rights leader Dick Gregory led a five-mile march in 1965 from City Hall to the home of Mayor Richard J. Daley – from “the snake pit” to “the snake’s home,” as Gregory put it – demanding Daley fire CPS superintendent Benjamin Willis, who was dragging his feet on school desegregation efforts.

[About 85 protestors arrived at Daley’s home around 8 p.m. – one of their chants was “Ben Willis must go, Snake Daley also” — and stopped making noise at 8:30, as they’d promised.  But while “petitioners and the other demonstrators continued to march in a completely lawful fashion, the onlookers became unruly as the number of bystanders increased,” as Chief Justice Warren put it in his decision.  At 9:30 the police asked Gregory’s group to leave, and when they refused, they were arrested for disorderly conduct.

[The Supreme Court overruled their convictions on this charge. “Petitioners’ march, if peaceful and orderly, falls well within the sphere of conduct protected by the First Amendment,” they ruled.

[You can hear oral arguments – with the late, great Marshall Patner arguing on behalf of Gregory – at the Oyez Project of IIT-Kent College of Law.]

A failure to communicate

In this case, it was a last resort, following repeated efforts to open meaningful avenues of communication.

Bronzeville residents including the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, which helped organize Monday’s march, met repeatedly with CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard this fall to discuss their plans for a global achievement village to organically turn around Dyett High School and surrounding elementary schools.  Brizard never had the decency to mention that the schools they were talking about were on the chopping block.

So they started demanding a meeting with the mayor.  “We’re not going to meet any more with people who don’t have decision-making power,” an organizer told me. He was referring to Brizard.

After they got no response to their request for a meeting with Emanuel (who, as the Chicago Reader revealed, spends a great deal of his time with wealthy campaign donors, and very little with community leaders), they went to his office. After they sat outside his door for several days, they finally got a meeting with his staff.

It was pro forma.  The decisions had been made and weren’t open to reconsideration.  The staff in the meeting didn’t have any authority.

Zorn compares the marchers to  right-to-lifers who have loudly and repeatedly beseiged the homes of abortion providers (a number of whom have been assassinated) for extended periods.

[Zorn agrees with a Supreme Court ruling approved by Justices Rehnquist and Scalia, among others. But dissents by civil libertarians William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall and by J.P. Stevens say the town ordinance in question banning residential picketing is overly broad: the “intrusive and unduly coercive elements of residential picketing can be eliminated” – by regulating things like noise levels, the number of picketers, and the hours they picket – without banning picketing entirely.]

The marchers on Monday were silent as they approached Emanuel’s home (reflecting their theme, that they’ve been shut out of decisions about their schools).  There was a brief prayer.  Then they started walking again, singing “We who believe in freedom will not rest until it’s come” — singing softly, so softly that it had a haunting quality.

A noble idea

Zorn also propses that CPS and the teachers union be required to hold their negotiations in public.  “Closed doors are antithetical to democracy,” he writes.

It’s a noble idea, and a grand phrase.  But if he’s serious, why is he limiting it to teachers union negotiations?  Why not require all discussions with companies seeking contracts with any government entity to be live-streamed?  Why not require the mayor’s cabinet meetings – or his meetings with wealthy donors – to be open to the public?  How about legislators and lobbyists?

In these cases too, “one side of the table [at least] is a public body – why shouldn’t the public have a seat at the table?” Wouldn’t we be interested in listening in on the “offers and counteroffers”?

Why not require journalists meeting with government sources to do so in public?  Aren’t we entitled to information about our government? What kind of offers and counteroffers are going on there?

Really:  why do journalists allow government sources to speak anonymously?

Closed doors may be antithetical to some pure or rhetorical ideal of democracy, but we all know that sometimes they help people get things done.  Reporters know people sometimes speak more freely off the record. In labor talks, closed doors allow people to speak frankly and reach compromise rather than assuming postures which they may have trouble climbing down from.

And if an open-door policy is only advisable for teachers union negotiations, we’re entitled to wonder how idealistic this suggestion really is.

No context

Zorn doesn’t discuss any context, but in the context of recent events, he’s helping out the mayor’s public relations tactics.

Emanuel has gone public with union negotiations three times in less than a year.  Most recently he had the teachers’ opening salary proposal leaked.  Last year he released the work rule changes he was seeking from city workers.

Most egregiously, a day after the conclusion of negotiations over CPS’s refusal to pay the raise agreed to in the teachers’ contract – claiming there was no money for it — the mayor had Brizard go on TV to announce an entirely new offer, a 2 percent raise if teachers would agree to a longer school day.   (When Emanuel started pressuring individual schools to agree to a longer day — in violation of the teachers’ contract, as a state board later found — Zorn urged the union not to defend itself.  Bad optics, he said.)

That’s not good-faith negotiating.  It is the epitome of posturing.  In the two cases involving teachers, it’s not intended to get to agreement, it’s intended to make the folks on the other side of the table look bad. It helps a lot to have a willing press, eager to depict unions as villains – or at least raise an eyebrow.

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Category: CPS, school closings

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4 Responses

  1. pelham says:

    Excellent points throughout and a fine analysis. Thanks much.

    As a humble citizen and former journalist, however, while I agree that there are some cases in which anonymity for sources is justified (the guiding principle should a judgment as to whether or not they’re whistleblowing), in most cases anonymity is used to illegitimately lend credence to a government policy or, often, an outright lie.

    As for open meetings, I agree that labor negotiations and the like should be closed. But there is no reason in the world that any meeting between a public official and lobbyists or campaign donors of any sort shouldn’t be recorded and televised. These public officials are mere servants, the schlubs that we, the public, employ. They are 100% answerable to us. Collectively, we are the CEO and the board of directors wrapped into one.

  2. Curtis says:

    I agree that anonymous sources are overused (though do check the AUSL whistleblowers in the Occupied Chicago Tribune interview) and that more openness in general would be a boon to democracy.

    The point of the contrast is that no legislature currently existing is going to open up these other meetings, and the reason they’re opening up labor contract negotiations in Idaho is probably to make them harder – and if someone’s advocating openness in one area and not the rest, it’s reasonable to ask if openness is their real concern.

  3. Chris says:

    It is in unions’ interest to negotiate publicly — not just leak details, as Rahm does. That’s why the CTU brings whole groups of rank-and-file members to negotiations. It would be nice if the press actually reported the teachers’ and parents’ views and facts, as some papers have started to do. Thanks, Curtis. The CTU here
    http://www.ctunet.com/blog/text/SCSD_Report-02-16-2012-1.pdf
    puts forward a vision that is NOT simply about firing teachers and dismantling public education.


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