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In contract talks, teachers challenge CPS priorities

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.

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Big money in Wisconsin, Chicago

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.

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Fact check: Emanuel, Brizard, Pritzker

UPDATED – “We will have to come together as one” to solve Chicago’s school problems, said mayor-to-be Rahm Emanuel.

Then he announced the selection of a new schools chief who got a 95 percent disapproval vote from teachers at his current post. Catalyst cites sources in Rochester who say schools chief Jean Claude Brizard talks about collaboration but operates as an autocrat.

The rhetoric continues to outpace the reality: Emanuel praised Brizard for raising the graduation rate in Rochester schools. In fact, though, the 12 percent increase claimed by Brizard occurred before he took his post, according to his predecessor.

Chicago News Cooperative reports that Rochester’s graduation rate has actually declined over four years. A Rochester reporter notes that Brizard seems to confuse graduation rates with absolute numbers – not a good sign in a top executive, whether he’s spinning or not. (PURE points out the Tribune seems to have the same problem.)

On Emanuel’s part, his false claim continues a reign of error, with repeated misstatements regarding performance and graduation rates at charter schools.

Brizard is a product of the Broad Foundation’s superintendent training program, which has recently placed trainees at the top of schools systems in Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Denver.  (Eli Broad donated $25,000 to Emanuel’s campaign, Ramsin Canon points out.) Broad trainees have also been run out of several towns, according to a new guide from Parents Across America:

“A hallmark of the Broad-style leadership is closing existing schools rather than attempting to improve them, increasing class size, opening charter schools, imposing high-stakes test-based accountability systems on teachers and students, and implementing of pay-for-performance schemes. The brusque and often punitive management style of Broad-trained leaders has frequently alienated parents and teachers and sparked protests.”

[Eric Zorn offers corroboration from several Rochester parents, who say Brizard “lacks people skills,” “didn’t listen to parents and doesn’t like being challenged,” is “arrogant and autocratic.”]

“Parents Across America considers Broad’s influence to be inherently undemocratic, as it disenfranchises parents and other stakeholders in an effort to privatize our public schools and imposes corporate-style policies without our consent.”

Broad has published a guide to closing schools; Brizard closed half the city’s high schools without consulting communities. Broad came up with the idea of the “parent trigger,” which Emanuel has praised.  Its philosophy of management is to “invest in disruption,” to promote instability in a system in order to generate “innovation.”

Exciting times ahead.

Brizard clashed not only with teachers and parents but with Rochester’s board of education, which unfortunately for him was elected by Rochester voters. He won’t have that problem in Chicago.

Perhaps Emanuel’s most noteworthy appointment to the board of education is Penny Pritzker, scion of the Hyatt hotel family that’s currently under pressure from religious and community leaders for mistreating its workers.

It’s worth recalling Pritzker’s recent notoriety as a subprime lender, which was probably a factor in her withdrawal from consideration as President Obama’s commerce secretary, after chairing his campaign’s finance committee. After the Pritzkers took over Superior Bank, she headed the board as they plunged into the subprime mortgage market, which eventually swamped the bank.  And under her lead, the bank played signal role in developing the mortage-backed securitization instruments which eventually swamped the nation’s economy.

These securities were call “innovations” at the time.

David Moberg’s 2002 piece has the best overview of Superior’s collapse, which he says was “tainted with all the hallmarks of a mini-Enron scandal.” Accounting tricks were used to turn growing losses into steady profits, allowing dividends to continue to flow to the banks owners.  Maybe Pritzker can help “fix” the CPS budget.

When she was getting bad press a couple years ago, her lawyer said the bank did subprime lending but not the “predatory” kind. According to Moberg, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition accused the bank of “engaging in a variety of predatory practices.”

It’s particularly worth recalling because, as the Tribune recently reported (thanks to PURE for the link), Penny Pritzker is now founding a private equity firm that will focus on buying distressed property.

It’s nice to have money.

In other management feats, Pritzker chaired the Olympic Village subcommittee in the city’s ill-fated bid for the 2016 games.  She bears some responsibility for the $100 million debt incurred in that disaster, which Emanuel is going to have to start paying off in a couple of years.

Pritzker is a major backer of Stand For Children, which pushed union-busting legislation in Springfield. While serving on Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, she split from the president by opposing card-check labor reform he backed. Add Hyatt to the mix and her anti-union record is complete.

It’s highly unlikely that these people will “bring us together as one.”



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