Stand For Children – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.12 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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Fact check: Emanuel, Brizard, Pritzker http://www.newstips.org/2011/04/fact-check-emanuel-brizard-pritzker/ http://www.newstips.org/2011/04/fact-check-emanuel-brizard-pritzker/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2011 00:01:39 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=3656 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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