Democrats for Education Reform – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.13 Subliminal message: Rahm lost http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/subliminal-message-rahm-lost/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/subliminal-message-rahm-lost/#comments Tue, 25 Sep 2012 23:49:48 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6668 Mayor Emanuel “knows he lost” in the recent showdown with the teachers union “and finds it necessary to rehabilitate himself,” political analyst Don Rose told Newstips last week.

That’s his take on the TV ad blitz by an arm of Democrats for Education Reform – which has cost “an astronomical amount of money,” according to a campaign finance analyst.

With only 19 percent thinking he handled the situation well – “the first time the mayor has been upside down in any polling” – Emanuel “believes he needs damage control,” Rose writes in a letter to the Sun-Times on Tuesday.

“What is most distressing,” Rose writes, is that Emanuel accepts financing “from anti-union advocacy groups whose acknowledged goal is the destruction of teachers unions and the eventual breakup of public education itself.”

Rose, who advised the firefighters union around the time of their 1980 strike against Mayor Jane Byrne, concludes: “We have not seen the end of union-busting tactics emanating from the fifth floor of City Hall.”

As noted here last week, DFER was founded by billionaire hedge-fund traders who like charter schools and hate teachers unions.  “National donors” funded the group’s recent expansion into Illinois, according to Catalyst; funding is now said to be a combination of local and national money, though DFER wouldn’t discuss who its donors are.

Previously the group ran radio ads criticizing the union’s decision to hold a strike vote, then calling on CTU to “get back to the table” – while negotiations were underway continuously.  “If you listened to a DFER radio ad, you would have thought CTU pulled out of negotiations,” Raise Your Hand points out.  The group ran TV ads throughout the strike.

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Featuring Emanuel himself, the newest ad campaign works less to boost the corporate school reform agenda than to buff the mayor’s tarnished image.

It’s a symptom of the post-Citizens United political landscape and of the vastly expensive “24/7, 365-day campaign cycle” that’s resulted, said David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

The reported $1 million price tag is “an astronomical amount,” he said, dwarfing any other campaign media spending at the moment – and especially remarkable on behalf of a politicians who’s not currently running for office.

And because it was spent by a 501 (C) 4 nonprofit — Education Reform Now Advocates, the educational arm of the DFER (which itself is a political action committee) — we have no way of knowing where the money came from, he said.

The purpose of disclosure is to help citizens evaluate the messages that interest groups pay for.  It would be welcome in this case, Morrison suggests. “They could choose to disclose voluntarily,” he said.

And the activities of Education Reform Now Advocates “may be covered by lobbyist requirements,” he said.  As of June, no one from DFER or ERNA had registered with the city as a lobbyist.

Along with the huge infusions of outside cash from unknown sources, the perpetual campaigning is a matter of serious concern. Morrison points out that “part of the reason we have relatively long, four-year terms” for mayor is “so there’s a substantial period when you focus on what’s best for your constituents, not what’s best for your reelection.”

“There comes a time when you have to stop campaigning and start governing,” he said.  “It can be difficult to bring people together and pass legislation when you’re always sticking your finger in someone’s eye.”

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Raise Your Hand Coalition lists more questions about DFER in a new blog post.  Not just “why a group of hedge-fund managers from New York is trying to run public policy in Chicago.”  But also, how did DFER get its hand on the cell phone numbers of CPS parents?  Many parents have been asking, RYH reports.

And another thing – what if those millions of dollars spent on TV ads and robocalls had been spent on schools instead?

Raise Your Hand was neutral during the strike, though it has worked with teachers on issues like increased funding for schools and a well-rounded curriculum with less testing.

But they’re distressed to see mayoral confidante Bruce Rauner (who Rose calls “a real right-winger”) declaring on Chicago Tonight, “This is war.”

“Most parents don’t want a war. They want a district that’s looking out for all children, that is capable of collaboration.”  Their concerns: “having a voice in educational policy and putting resources in the classroom.”

RYH promises to keep its focus on reforming state funding for schools.  And when that push comes, it will be interesting to see if the hedge-fund guys lend a hand.

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Teachers demand respect http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/teachers-demand-respect/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/teachers-demand-respect/#comments Mon, 17 Sep 2012 23:54:57 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6647 Entirely aside from what the school strike has revealed about Mayor Emanuel’s executive incompetence – or how he intends to spin the eventual outcome – and far more important, there are several layers of historic significance to the teachers’ fight.

Here are three:  it’s marshalled broad popular support in a period when public-sector unions are under assault on many fronts; it’s dramatized and exposed the costs and compromises of the corporate school reform agenda; and – particularly going forward, as the outcome unfolds – it represents a signal battle in the fight against the austerity agenda of the world’s elites.

They’re also teaching us about an old-fashioned value that we may hope is not yet out of date: respect.

The Chicago Tribune actually editorialized that the teachers were on the wrong side of history, fighting the inevitability of corporate reform.  On any given day, the editors could have looked out their window and seen the streets filled with multitudes of red-shirted teachers who were actually making history.

Unhinged

The paper seemed to become unhinged after its pet cause of merit pay was abandoned as Emanuel sought to avoid a strike.  (That may have been the most startling revelation in the paper’s behind-the-scenes report – that the mayor actually feared a strike.  For a whole year it had seemed clear that he was actively courting one.)

First the Trib came out for vouchers.  That’s the reformer’s nuclear option: if they can’t run schools without interference from anyone else, they’ll blow up the public education system.  Then, as negotiations began to progress, they actually called on Emanuel to withdraw the latest CPS salary proposal and go back to merit pay – no matter how long it took.  All that concern for children out of school was apparently just for show.

Then they ran an utterly insulting op-ed by Bruce Rauner, Emanuel’s billionaire buddy who dabbles in school reform.  While negotiators were trying to find common ground, Rauner and the Tribune was busy pouring gasoline on the flames.

As if that wasn’t enough, the paper then gave us an endorsement of Emanuel and denunciation of the union by none other than Jeb Bush, a major proponent of charters and of online learning – which, as Mother Jones notes, “siphons money from public institutions into for-profit companies” while it “undercuts public employees [and] their unions.”  Like charters.  (Problem is, also like charters, “many online schools simply aren’t very good.”)

Maybe they thought this demonstrated “bipartisan” support for their agenda, but for a mayor forced to shrug off a full-throated endorsement by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a shout-out by the brother of America’s worst president had to be a major embarrassment.

Who needs unions?

There is indeed history being made here, but its final chapter is yet to be written.

Over the past generation, private-sector unionism has been decimated, starting with the Reagan administration’s approval for replacement workers in strikes, and especially with the passage of NAFTA, one of Mayor Emanuel’s signal achievements. (And much as he likes to brag about saving the auto industry, he helped destroy hundreds of thousands of American manufacturing jobs by pushing NAFTA through a reluctant Congress.)

That’s led to an economy where corporate profits soar and the middle class sinks; de-unionization is a key factor in the dramatic growth of inequality since 1980 and the economic stagnation that’s caused.

Public employee unions were only organized in the 1960s (with support from people like Martin Luther King), at a time when public workers made much less than private-sector workers.  Now the situation is reversed, and business leaders see a chance to destroy collective bargaining – and unions as a political counterweight to corporate dominance — once and for all.

Teachers and other public workers are under the gun across the country.  Last year they made a heroic stand in Wisconsin but were unable to overcome the influence of big money, which sought to stir up resentment among regular folks who’ve seen their standard of living tumble.

Democrats against unions

In Chicago teachers confronted an all-out attack by Emanuel, who has campaigned against them since returning here.  His stated goals of closing neighborhood schools and opening charters are clearly aimed at reducing the number of unionized teachers.  And teachers saw a similar motivation behind CPS’s evaluation proposals.

The anti-union animus is clear in some of Emanuel’s major supporters.  Take Democrats For Education Reform, founded by billionaire hedge-fund traders.

“The financial titans, who tend to send their children to private schools, would not seem to be a natural champion of charter schools, which are principally aimed at poor, minority students,” notes the New York Times in an article on DEFR.

“But the money managers are drawn to the businesslike way in which many charter schools are run; their focus on results, primarily measured by test scores; and, not least, their union-free work environments.”

Then there’s Penny Pritzker, the billionaire heiress appointed to the school board by Emanuel, whose family’s Hyatt Hotels face a worldwide boycott due to anti-union practices — among them, replacing union members with minimum-wage temps.

In the face of all this, the Chicago Teachers Union have given the nation a remarkable display of unity, solidarity, and militancy.  They gave Emanuel a very public drubbing. And they’ve brought a new level of unity for all city workers, whose unions have been nibbled away bit by bit by Emanuel for the past year.

Two visions of school reform

The strike also puts two visions of school reform in sharp relief.  As Diane Ravitch delineates, on one side are the billionaires pushing for school closings, charters, and cracking down on teachers.  On the other are teachers and parents opposing the disinvest-and-close approach and demanding investments in smaller classes, social workers, and air conditioning (which Emanuel, in attack mode, ridiculed).

There’s history here too:  as CTU points out, the so-called “accountability” movement (driven as Mark Naison demonstrates by an entirely irrelevant business ethos) superceded an earlier era of reform based on the values of the civil rights movement – equality, inclusiveness, democracy, and public services to alleviate the impact of poverty.

Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, the black-white achievement gap shrank.   As Jitu Brown of KOCO pointed out at Saturday’s rally, that progress has been reversed under mayoral control, under which that gap has steadily grown.

One accomplishment of the strike was to bring parents and community groups out to support teachers around a common agenda.  Not only on the picket lines and in the mass demonstrations, but in the opinion polls too.   As Emanuel moves next to close neighborhood schools and open charters, will that unity and energy keep pace?

Respect

At Saturday’s rally (which was amazing), I was struck by the deeper significance of a few of teachers’ slogans.  Especially the demand for “respect.”  You heard it again and again.  And yes, it refers to the way Emanuel and the Tribune and Bruce Rauner and Jeb Bush talk about teachers.

But it’s also about how teachers are treated, and how teaching is treated as a profession.  I ran into an old friend, Josh, who’s spent years in classrooms, most recently teaching social studies, first in a selective enrollment high school, then in an inner-city neighborhood high school.

The contrast was striking, he said.  The first school had plenty of everything – including basic things like books, enough textbooks for every student.  At the second school, kids had to share textbooks or teachers had to prepare their own materials.

The first school’s building was well-maintained and fully air-conditioned; the second school was run down, and only the principal’s office was air-conditioned.  (That’s how it is in many schools listed as air-conditioned by CPS.)

“That’s something that’ll piss a kid off – that’ll piss anybody off,” said Josh.  “The principal’s all comfy and the rest of the school is a heatbox.”

At the second school, kids were dealing with all kinds of issues, every day – getting arrested, getting pregnant, the gamut.  In one section something like 14 out of 18 girls were expecting or new mothers.

The reformers view students more or less like sliders at a fast-food joint, he said – how many can you flip and how fast can you flip them.  But each one is completely different from the next one.  Not only that, each one is different from how they were three months ago.

Since social studies isn’t a tested subject, he was told to work on their reading, an area in which he has no background; he split the difference, teaching them how to examine a primary document – often going over it word by word – and how to think about those kinds of things more deeply.

He worked hard with them and was gratified every time a kid got something.  It wasn’t easy.  The small victories come one student at a time, with hard work.

Then enrollment dropped and his position was terminated.  He spent a year as a cadre sub.  Now he’s day-to-day, with no benefits.  He was really interested in the proposed contract’s job security provisions.

High schools aren’t hiring middle-aged teachers, he said.  Principals want young teachers.  It’s basically because they’re cheaper, Josh says, but it’s also because they’re easier to shape.

The schools don’t want teachers who came up with those civil rights values.  If they get teachers young, the new way of doing things, with its focus on test scores, will be the only framework they know.

And I look at this guy, who’s so sharp, so dedicated, who is exactly the kind of person you would want teaching your child.  And there’s no place for him, because some politicians and business people have decided that the thing to do is destroy the teaching profession.

That’s disrespect on a level far more profound than the kind of language that’s used.

I hope the new contract provides real hope for this kind of teacher.

At the rally, Che “Rhymefest” Smith recalled a science teacher who tried to convince him to buckle down and graduate (while the principal discouraged him) — who signed him up for an alternative school when he dropped out, who later helped him fill out college applications.  “I’ll never forget Ms. Harris,” he said.

“I realized that the system had failed me and the only person trying to get me back in the game was this teacher,” he said.  “Truly I see a system that’s not only failing the children but failing the teachers too.”

Let’s remember Ms. Harris.  And please, let’s give her some respect.

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In contract talks, teachers challenge CPS priorities http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/in-contract-talks-teachers-challenge-cps-priorities/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/in-contract-talks-teachers-challenge-cps-priorities/#comments Sun, 08 Jul 2012 21:05:29 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6416 Since Chicago teachers voted to authorize a strike last month, contract negotiations “appear to have broadened to include items once thought off the table, possibly including class size,” the Tribune reported recently.

That’s a significant development.  Prior to the strike vote, CPS had reportedly refused to entertain CTU proposals on class size and other issues, including appropriate staffing levels.  The union has proposed providing art, music, and world language teachers for every school, in addition to badly needed counselors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists.

Those are among the key issues that grassroots parent groups have raised, too.  Raise Your Hand has called on CPS to negotiate over class size and other issues, and Chicago Parents for Quality Education petitioned Mayor Emanuel to address issues like a fuller curriculum and more social supports in planning the longer school day.

By law, CPS is only required to negotiate over economic issues.  In the past the district has agreed to consider these optional classroom topics; this year, it took a strike authorization vote to force them to do so.

It’s a setback for the agenda of corporate reform groups like Stand For Children and Democrats For Education Reform, which as Ramsin Canon points out have no real popular base here but outsized influence due to huge bankrolls.  They opposed the strike vote.

Smaller class sizes: for and against

Classroom issues do not appear to be on the agenda of these groups.  As Erica Clark of Parents For Teachers pointed out here in February, they never talk about the issues that matter to parents – class size, curriculum, less standardized testing – but focus solely on trimming collective bargaining rights and increasing testing in the name of “accountability.”  If you want a better curriculum or better facilities, you can try to send your kid to a charter school.

The issue of class size is revealing.  In forums earlier this year, SFC said the issue wasn’t a priority for them.  In fact, most corporate reformers follow Bill Gates, who has called for lifting limits on class sizes.

For them the problem isn’t large classes or underresourced schools, it’s bad teachers.  If you could put 60 kids in front of a great teacher, she could work miracles.  Actual teachers, who work with actual students, are skeptical of that view.

In a report issued earlier this year, CTU laid out the choice in clear terms.

The report reviews the research that consistently shows the difference smaller class sizes make in every measure of student achievement, especially for low-income students.  It’s particularly valuable in the early school years.

No limits

Unlike most states, Illinois has no legal limits on class size.  Chicago has had the same guidelines since 1990, ranging from 28 students in lower grades to 31 in high school.  But they are easy to get around, and many CPS classes are actually far larger; class sizes in the upper 30s are common, and there are kindergarten classes with 40 kids.

In contrast, Florida limits range from 18 to 25 students.  Private schools average 18 students in a class, often fewer in high schools.

CTU estimates it would cost $170 million to lower K-3 class sizes from 28 to 20.  But CPS is broke.  Where to get the money?

It turns out that’s just half the amount budgeted for CPS’s Office of New Schools (now the Portfolio Office), which funds charters and turnarounds.

While CPS is broke and classroom spending has been cut every year, that office has seen its budget steadily grow. It’s growing again this year, with charters getting an additional $76 million.

The union asks: why not shift spending away from unproven and all too often unsuccessful experimentation and fund a widely accepted, research-supported solution, aimed not at a select few but at all students, especially those most in need of help?

No art, no playgrounds

The CTU report looks at other classroom issues given short shrift by corporate reformers.  Like smaller classes, the academic and social benefits of art, music, language and physical education are widely documented.  Those subjects are universally available in suburban and private schools.  Yet only 25 percent of CPS neighborhood elementary schools have both music and art teachers; 40 schools have neither.

In addition, over 20 percent of elementary and middle schools have no playground, and CPS annually receives a waiver from a state mandate requiring four years of physical education in high school.  Then there’s the lack of libraries at 140 CPS schools, the sparsity of language programs, and a lack of “functioning, up-to-date” computers at many neighborhood schools.

CTU estimates it would cost $200 million to hire enough new music, art, phys ed, language and technology teachers to allow each CPS student to have two such classes per day.  That’s less than the amount diverted to TIF subsidies each year.

The numbers of social support staff in the district is shockingly low.  Just 202 nurses serve 684 schools; 370 social workers are available to provide 400,000 students with help, working with kids who are abused, neglected, homeless, or involved with gangs or drugs.  In some schools counselors have five times the caseload recommended under national guidelines.

CTU recommends that “bringing the number of social workers, counselors, nurses, and psychologists up to the numbers recommended by professional organizations” in schools that are on probation would be “a logical first step” for CPS.

The report looks at a range of additional issues – racial segregation, standardized testing, punitive discipline, early education, special education, teacher turnover (especially high, and especially harmful, in low-income schools), as well as salaries and facility spending.

No air conditioning

On facilities, one example is timely: previous to the strike vote, CPS reportedly refused to accept union proposals on air conditioning for all schools.  According to CTU, 90 CPS schools don’t have functioning air conditioning. (And, I’m told, in some schools listed as air conditioned, it’s limited to the principal’s office).

Last week CPS was forced to close 18 schools without AC when temperatures soared.  For teachers it’s both a health and safety issue and an educational issue.  They point to a study by the Council of Educational Facility Planners that found students in air-conditioned buildings outscored their peers by 5 to 10 percent.

But CPS has slashed capital spending while funneling millions of dollars into buildings for turnaround and charter schools.  Six turnaround schools being taken over by AUSL next year are getting $25 million in capital improvements.  (Here’s another case.)

So while CPS pleads poverty — with annual Chicken Little budget projections that more often than not end up in year-end surpluses – there is clearly money in the district’s $6 billion budget for politically favored priorities.

Neighborhood schools just aren’t one of them.  Maybe the contract negotiators can talk about that.

One upshot of the classroom cuts reflecting CPS priorities is that the proportion of total operating funds going to teachers’ salaries has steadily declined, from 48 percent in 2004 to 41 percent in 2010, according to a union analysis.  That’s over a period when teachers got healthy raises, too.

This makes it hard to argue that CPS can only afford a 2 percent raise over the next five years.  But CPS’s credibility on salary issues was seriously damaged last summer when it offered teachers a 2 percent raise to teach longer hours, a day after negotiations concluded over its claim that it couldn’t afford a scheduled pay hike [– and now this].

The CTU report includes a series of proposals for “fair school funding” – real TIF reform, progressive taxation, and a novel idea: a flat tax of 15 percent on capital gains for those with incomes over $200,000.  That could generate $367 million for Chicago schools, the union estimates.

Other states do it.  It’s a lot of money.  What would happen if powerful politicians took up such an initiative in Springfield?

But don’t expect the millionaires and billionaires funding SFC and the hedge fund traders behind DFER to stand up and cheer.  “Fair school funding” doesn’t seem to be a priority for these groups either.

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Big money in Wisconsin, Chicago http://www.newstips.org/2012/06/big-money-in-wisconsin-chicago/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/06/big-money-in-wisconsin-chicago/#comments Thu, 07 Jun 2012 22:28:20 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6343 The day after huge infusions of political money helped save Governor Scott Walker from recall in Wisconsin, big-money interests were buying media to influence public perceptions of the Chicago Teachers Union’s strike authorization vote.

(Ken Davis points this out at the top of this week’s Chicago Newsroom on CAN-TV, where I was a guest with Lorraine Forte of Catalyst Chicago.  You can watch it here.)

In either case, of course, the goal is to shape the narrative.

It worked in Wisconsin, where a governor who’s fallen far short on his promises of economic revival – Wisconsin is at the back of the pack in terms of job creation over the past year – was recast as a tough, courageous leader turning the state around.

The real story in Wisconsin is that union busting and cutting public spending has failed to get the economy going.  It’s really a case study of how austerity doesn’t work.  Now it’s also a case study on how to sell austerity, even when it’s not working.

In Chicago the goal is to take a situation where teachers are under attack and fighting back and paint it as one where they are being reckless and irresponsible.

As Lorraine Forte points out, it was allies of the group that’s running the anti-teacher ads that pushed through SB7 last year, raising the bar on a strike authorization vote to great heights, and more or less forcing the union to take its vote now.

To turn around and criticize the union for taking its best shot under heavily-constrained circumstances is disingenuous at best.

The anti-CTU ads are the product of Democrats For Education Reform, a New York-based group funded by billionaire hedge fund traders. It was a West Coast-based group, Stand For Children – also funded by a small number of wealthy financial industry people — that pushed through SB7, after making huge donations in key legislative races.

Public support for teachers

Their goal with the ads is to undercut strong public support for CTU.  The Trib’s recent poll showed 92 percent of CPS parents think teachers should be compensated for a longer school day.  It showed Chicagoans by 2-to-1 back the CTU plan for the longer day over Mayor Emanuel’s, which may be unfair, since it’s not clear he’s yet bothered to translate his campaign slogan into a real plan.

Meanwhile, CPS has offered a single 2 percent raise for two years, for a much longer day, followed by a merit pay system to be figured out later.

In negotiations CPS doesn’t want to talk about adding languages, art, music, and physical education to round out the day (which would require teachers) and wants to jettison contract language on class size.  This has just deepened some parents’ fears that the longer day will be just more “drill and kill,” and will be paid for with larger class sizes.

Of course the backdrop of all this is the failure of Emanuel’s approach to the longer school day.

A ‘win-lose’ proposition

He set it up as a “win-lose” proposition, where he and “the children” would win and the teachers would lose. It would be imposed on teachers, and it would prove to the world what a tough guy he was, at least when it comes to unions. (Yes, like Scott Walker.)

He first rolled out a longer-day proposal last year with a 2 percent pay hike offer, immediately after negotiations had failed over CPS’s claim that it couldn’t afford a scheduled raise.  That was clearly bad faith.

Then he tried to implement the longer day in individual schools, in violation of the teachers’ contract, as the state education labor board found.  That was beyond bad faith; it was illegal.

He stonewalled parents who wanted details.  “I cannot wait for a high-class debate,” he said, when people asked what the longer day would consist of and how it would be paid for.  Those are things that parents care about – and they’re not things they’re likely to trust CPS to take care of — and Emanuel misjudged that entirely.  Parents have been left with many unanswered questions and growing frustration.  (More here.)

Now it’s crunch time, and the mayor’s not in a very good position.  He’s hoping a little media money from his rich friends will distract people — with an old familiar formula: blame teachers.

***

Wisconsin is a taste of what Super PACs can accomplish in the post-Citizens United landscape.  The Illinois General Assembly is worried too – they just passed a bill lifting limits on campaign donations in races where Super PACs spend over a certain amount.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is calling on Governor Quinn to veto the bill.  Other states have found better ways of reining in Super PACs, says Brian Gladstein of ICPR.   Illinois only passed contribution limits in 2009, after Rod Blagojevich was arrested, and the new legislation would be a big step backward, he said.

The new Illinois Campaign Finance Reform Task Force just began meeting late last year, and that body should be given time to study responses by other states and recommend next steps for Illinois before lifting limits and “opening the door to more corruption,” Gladstein said.

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