We Are All Chicago Schools – More Layoffs, Less Help for Other People’s Kids

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“Fuck those kids.”

 

 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel couldn’t have been clearer if he’d said the above.

 

 

Chicago Schools Chief Executive Forrest Claypool couldn’t have made his priorities clearer if he’d given Chicago’s parents the bird and told them to “Kiss my ass.”

 

 

The Chicago Board of Education – made up of members all of whom are appointed by the mayor – decided to layoff 1,000 teachers and staff at the city’s public schools just a month before opening day. Sure, some may keep their jobs through reassignment, but hundreds will be unemployed.

 

 

This after a recent history of closing more than 80 schools and slashing thousands of jobs. Just last February, the district laid off 62 employees, including 17 teachers. In January, it laid off 227 staff members.

 

 

This begs several questions: How many teachers and support staff can Chicago Public Schools afford to lose? What exactly is this doing to its students? How is it affecting their future prospects to be taught by a skeleton crew?

 

 

The city’s leaders don’t give a shit.

 

 

And why should they? These aren’t their kids!

 

Emanuel’s children attend University of Chicago’s Laboratory Schools, a private institution. Claypool’s kids go to Francis W. Parker, a private school in Lincoln Park. Even Gov. Bruce Rauner’s six kids don’t go to public school. They’re all grown.

 

So this doesn’t affect them. Nor does it affect any charter school kids. Not a single one of these 1,000 cuts will occur at a city charter school.

 

It’s just the traditional public schools, those schools where approximately 85% of students are Latino or African-American. Just those schools where 87% of the children come from low-income homes. Just those schools where 12% of kids are reported to have limited English proficiency.

 

Yeah. Fuck those kids.

 

And the worst part is that it’s not necessary. Chicago doesn’t have to continue to abandon its neediest children.

 

When you’re in a family, you make sacrifices for your kids. If funds are tight, you make cuts elsewhere or maybe you even take another job. Anything to make sure you’re providing your children with the best.

 

But Chicago’s leaders aren’t interested in doing any of that for these kids because they just don’t care.

 

Otherwise they could find the money. The teachers union suggests declaring a TIF surplus and reinstating a corporate head tax. The city isn’t exactly a wasteland. Wealthy developers are looking to build yet Emanuel has no intention of inconveniencing them by making them pay a fair share of taxes. Instead, the full burden falls on the city’s working families. And he calls himself a Democrat!

 

There’s always enough money for projects leaders care about. For instance, there was no problem finding $250,000 to pay a law firm where Claypool and his handpicked general counsel, Ron Marmer, both formerly worked. Marmer still has financial ties to the firm! So cut a check to Jenner & Block LLP? YES! Ensure kids have all the teachers they need? HECK NO!

 

Strangely there’s $27 million hiding in the seat cushions to open a new charter school for the University of Chicago. The Woodlawn Campus of the University of Chicago Charter School will be part of the development around the newly-planned Obama Library. It’s a fitting symbol of the President’s legacy – a brand new privatized educational facility while a few blocks away traditional public schools molder in ruin.

 

Meanwhile, Gov. Rauner holds the state education budget hostage. Illinois lawmakers could only agree on a 6-month state budget in June. Republicans expressed concern about the state being responsible for bailing out Chicago Schools. It’s not our problem, they seem to think. Well of course not. These aren’t your kids.

 

It’s the same swindle we see throughout the country. Refuse to pay for public schools – especially the schools serving poor brown kids, and then shrug. “Look at the impasse,” they shout, hoping voters are too stupid to realize it’s an impasse created by these lawmakers, themselves! It’s a textbook disaster capitalism move, approved by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other conservative think tanks. But Rauner can at least be forgiven for being a proud Republican. This is, after all, the behavior progressives expect from GOP lawmakers.

 

What about Democrats like Emanuel? This isn’t the way progressives are supposed to act. They aren’t supposed to favor privatization over public schools. They aren’t supposed to fawn on big business and promise tax cuts, tax shelters, and every other kind of tax avoidance.

 

Some might say it’s just Emanuel. After all, for a Democrat he sure pals around with a lot of conservatives. He and Rauner are best buddies. When Emanuel earned his fortune, he was an investment banker, and one of his best clients was Rauner. They go out to dinner and even spend vacations together. Sure they occasionally criticize each other in public, but behind closed doors the ideological differences just melt away.

 

What about the rest of the Democrats? Surely they don’t agree with Emanuel’s tactics. They made sure to keep him away from the Democratic National Convention – out of sight, out of mind.

 

But if the party is really so opposed to these policies, where is the condemnation from party leaders?

 

I haven’t heard a peep from the Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton, about these layoffs. Have you? She’s the de facto leader of the party and she’s got nothing to say about this. What does that tell you about her priorities?

 

Sure she’s cozied up to the two biggest national teachers unions who liked her so much they didn’t even need to consult the rank and file before endorsing her in the primary. Ronald Reagan had the support of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) right up until he declared their strike illegal and demanded they return to work. Will Clinton, too, turn against union teachers once she’s used them for their vote in November?

 

But you know what? Forget Hillary. Where’s Bill? Where’s Tim Kaine? Where’s Barack and Michelle Obama? Where’s Joe Biden? Where’s Al Franken? Where’s Cory Booker?

 

We have to get beyond labels like Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. Almost all of them are neoliberals. They all believe essentially the same things.

 

And as proof I offer the deafening silence offered against Emanuel in Chicago.

 

He’s hurting school children.

 

But no one in power gives a fuck.

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I Doubt Hillary Clinton Plans to Close Half of All Public Schools – But She Does Want to Close Some

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“This school district, and these schools throughout Iowa, are doing a better than average job. Now, I wouldn’t keep any school open that wasn’t doing a better than average job. If a school’s not doing a good job, then, you know, that may not be good for the kids.”
-Hillary Clinton

The above comments have caused a tremendous stir in the media lately.

Hillary Clinton wants to close half of all public schools!? She wants to shutter all public houses of learning that are average or below average!?

The Federalist even did some quick math and decided this means Clinton would shutter 50,000 schools. They even put that number in the headline of their article!

But hold your horses, media backlash.

I’m not really a Hillary supporter, but this has gotten a little out of hand.

Maybe I’m being too generous here, but I’m going to assume that Clinton may be a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them.

She made a gaffe. She said something that doesn’t make much sense mathematically. Close all schools below average? Average means 50%. That’s half of all schools.

It was a blunder, a mistake, a foot-in-the-mouth moment.

I can believe a lot about Clinton, but not that her education policy includes shuttering half of our nation’s schools.

However, don’t take my word for it. Seriously! Ask her. She should clarify what she meant. But give her a chance to do so. Don’t mob her just looking to trip her up.

I doubt I’ll vote for Hillary in the primary, but she deserves a certain modicum of respect. She is an impressive person. She’s accomplished a heck of a lot in her life under some pretty intense circumstances.

As a college student in the 1960s, she volunteered to teach reading to children in poor Boston neighborhoods. She fought to ensure voting access for African Americans and even worked at an alternative newspaper in the black community. As First Lady and in Congress, she pushed for universal pre-kindergarten, arts education, after-school tutoring, smaller class sizes and the rights of families.

And in 2008 she ran an impressive – if ultimately unsuccessful – campaign for President.

As one of the most prominent women in the nation, she’s made some enemies.

Remember that Benghazi nonsense! Conservatives have been out for her blood because an American diplomatic compound in Libya was attacked in 2012 while Clinton was Secretary of State. They’ve trumped up a crazy amount of lies and innuendo that she was somehow responsible when it was the Republican-controlled Congress that voted to reduce security at these installations.

Heck! Michael Bay has a hatched job movie coming out during this election season just to wound Clinton’s current bid for president!

So give the woman some credit. She’s proven she’s a serious-minded, intelligent and capable politician.

However, like every human being she misspeaks from time-to-time. George W. Bush couldn’t open his mouth without English teachers and grammarians hiding under the sofa.

I think this explains much of what she said in Iowa trying to consolidate votes for the first Democratic primary on Feb. 1, 2016.

It explains much – but not all.

Clinton may have fudged her math momentarily forgetting that 50% of all schools are – and always will be – below average. If tomorrow every school in the country provided the greatest education the world has ever seen, half of them would still be below average. That’s what average means.

What bothers me is that Clinton thinks we should be closing schools at all.

That’s not a slip. That’s not a blunder or a miscalculation.

She really seems to believe you can improve public education by closing schools. And THAT is much more dangerous than any nonsense about her going on a nationwide school shuttering spree – something of which she would not, by the way, even have the power to do as President.

This idea that we can close schools to improve education is one of the founding principles of corporate education reform. And it’s demonstrably untrue.

Never has a school ever been improved by being closed. Student academic outcomes do not increase when children are displaced. In fact, they suffer.

If schools are struggling, a sensible strategy would be to find out what’s wrong. What is the reason kids are having trouble reaching academic success?

Spoiler Alert: nine times out of ten the problem is disinvestment. The school doesn’t have adequate resources to meet students’ needs.
More than half of our nation’s public school children live in poverty. Their schools don’t get equitable funding with districts that serve the rich. Moreover, privatization, charterization, increased efforts at vouchers, tax breaks and school choice have segregated our schools to such a degree that these problems disproportionately affect our students of color to a much larger degree than white children.

THAT is the problem with American education. It’s been proven time and again in study after study. Yet corporate education reformers like Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown, Bill Gates, and Andrew Cuomo continue to ignore the facts in favor of simply closing more schools. In his time as Mayor, Rahm Emanuel has closed 50 Chicago schools46 of which serve mostly black and brown students. And he’s a close Clinton friend.

It is no accident that so many of these corporatists are Democrats. The entire neoliberal wing of the party is sick with these sorts of conservative policies. And Clinton can be connected with many of them.

Since getting the support of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA), Clinton’s tried to distance herself from her disaster capitalist buddies. But it isn’t working.

On the one hand, she criticized charter schools for ignoring the most difficult students. On the other, she still champions keeping privatized education in the mix.

On one hand, she thinks there should be a federal investigation of the Chicago Police Department for civil rights abuses. On the other hand, she thinks Rahm is doing a heck-of-a job.

I am deeply troubled that Clinton seems to think we can close our way to academic success. She should know better than that by now. Everyone should. It is absolutely unacceptable that any candidate with such teacher support should hold these views. Quite frankly, it’s a deal breaker.

The ball’s in your court, Hillary. You need to explain what you meant by your Iowa comments.

I admire Clinton’s bravery for actually talking about K-12 education – something her rival Bernie Sanders seems much less inclined to do. However, we all know Clinton’s endorsements by the AFT and NEA don’t represent the views of the rank-and-file. These were top down decisions made without much member input. If Hillary wants those endorsements to translate into votes, she’d better do some serious convincing.

Otherwise it won’t be schools that are shuttered. It will be her campaign.


NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association Blog and mentioned on Diane Ravitch’s blog.

 

Hypocrisy: Democrats Criticize Trump but Not a Peep Against Emanuel

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So Donald Trump is a narcissistic, bigoted, fascist.

Not exactly a surprise.

He’s also the Republican front runner for President. I’ll admit to being mildly shocked by that.

However, much more astonishing are the chauvinistic and possibly illegal actions of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel – and the fact that no major Democrat of note is calling him out for any of it.

Let’s review.

Trump made a name for himself during this election cycle calling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers. Then he insulted women and the disabled. He proposes surveillance of mosques and registering all Muslims. He even incites supporters at his rallies to beat Black protesters.

And every time this happens, his poll numbers rise.

Predictably Democrats have decried this state of affairs. They have pointed their fingers accusingly at a Republican base that would champion such an odious figure for leader of the free world. And rightly so!

By contrast, Emanuel isn’t currently a candidate for anything. He’s a second term Democratic Mayor of one of the most populous cities in the country.

During that time, he has closed 50 public schools46 of which serve mostly black students. Southside residents had to resort to a month-long hunger strike to keep their last neighborhood school open. In addition, his economic policy consists of closing public health clinics for the poor and installing red light cameras to increase fines – none of which has actually boosted the economy.

But perhaps worse than all of that is the recent revelation that Emanuel’s administration with full knowledge of the Mayor may have actually covered up the police killing of an unarmed black teen!

In October, 2014, Officer Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. Most of those bullets went into the teenager after he was already flat on the ground and the officer was at least 10 feet away.

As usual, the police story includes all the usual racist clichés – a trained and experienced officer of the law fears for his life from a black teen. Van Dyke says he was attacked. The dashcam video, however, shows no such thing. McDonald did not lunge at the officer. The young man was walking away when Van Dyke shot, and after he fell, the officer unloaded a barrage of bullets at his prone and seemingly helpless body.

Then the cover-up began. Emanuel allegedly was told about the incident in February, 2015, while he was in the midst of a contentious re-election bid. His administration quickly issued a $5 million settlement to McDonald’s family on the condition they keep quiet about the incident. It wasn’t until May, after Emanuel had won re-election, that an independent journalist asked for the dashcam video to be released. It took the full power of the media and a lawsuit to accomplish this. Last Thursday, a Chicago judge ordered the video be disclosed and Van Dyke was quickly charged with first degree murder.

It seems impossible to deny that Van Dyke would have been charged a year ago if not for the cover-up. The officer had already received 17 citizen complaints including that he had made racist remarks and three excessive force complaints over four years. Only Emanuel’s protection kept him out of jail.

So which is worse? Trump loudly champions prejudice and bigotry without the power to do anything about it. Emanuel protects an actual racist, stops him from being charged for what may well be a racially motivated murder, but makes no flashy public comments about it.

Yet only one of these two politicos gains the ire of the supposedly progressive and enlightened Democratic party.

How can this be? If we accept Fox News to represent a realistic presentation of the Republican platform, the party is often regressive, counterfactual, and rife with prejudice. On the other hand, media representations of the Democrats present them as the exact opposite. They propose progressive policies based on facts and a much more pluralistic view of society. They’re just much more inept at achieving this vision than their GOP counterparts.

But if that were true, how could one of their anointed, one of the most powerful Democrats in the country, a man who had been White House Chief of Staff at the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term, a former U.S. Representative, senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, how could HE be perpetrating so many repressive, bigoted, “conservative” policies? How could so many leading Democrats support him? Why are so few criticizing him now?

It makes one question the perceived wisdom about the two parties. Is there really a difference, or are the left and the right wings just two parts of the same bird? When you look at what Democrats do – I mean when you actually examine the policies they enact when they’re in office – they really aren’t much different than those proposed by Republicans.

Perhaps there are a few far left Democrats like Bernie Sanders who actually represent a real progressive movement. Or perhaps there is no  major progressive party anymore in the United State.

We  must keep our eyes on Chicago. If there is any fight left for the soul of the Democratic party it will be here. Will the party call for Emanuel’s resignation? Or will it continue to side with one of the most regressive politicians currently holding office while it congratulates itself for condemning clownish Trump?


NOTE: This article also was published on Commondreams.org, the LA Progressive and on the Badass Teachers Association Blog.

Black Schools Matter – Chicago Protesters Go on Hunger Strike to Save Their Last Neighborhood School

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Somewhere in Chicago tonight, Mayor Rahm Emanuel may be sitting down to his favorite desert – warm pecan pie with vanilla ice cream.

Across the city in the South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville, 11 parents, teachers and community members aren’t eating so well. Their meal – a few sips of coconut water to keep their strength up.

These brave men and women are on the third day of a hunger strike to save their last open enrollment public school.

If the Emanuel administration has its way, this mostly black community will have to choose between sending their children to a failing charter school or a failing public school run by a private company – all while the neighborhood’s historic Walter H. Dyett High School is closed.

Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Red Fox and Bo Diddley are all alumni of Dyett.

Why close such a vibrant connection to the community’s proud past?

The unelected Board of Education voted in 2012 to phase out the school because of low standardized test scores and dropping graduation rates.

It’s the same excuse lawmakers used in 1988 to take away local control from Chicago residents throughout the city. Most Americans have the right to vote for the people who run their local public schools. But not in Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans or many other places dark complected people live. The poorer the people and the darker their skin, the more likely the state will swipe away their right to self government on the excuse that their neglected and underfunded schools are “failing.”

Chicago, the third largest district in the country, is a prime example of this kind of disaster capitalism.

While schools in wealthier neighborhoods had all the amenities, Dyett students had no honors or AP classes and no art or music. Even physical education classes had to be taken on-line.

No wonder test scores were low! These children didn’t have nearly the same resources as other richer, whiter kids.

Despite such unfair challenges, academics were actually improving prior to the board’s decision to shutter the school.

In 2008, there was a 30% increase in students graduating. The improvement was so spectacular it was even recognized by then Mayor Richard Daley and Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan (soon to be U.S. Secretary of Education).

Likewise, in 2009, a community program helped decrease out of school suspensions by 40%.

However, by the time Emanuel took office, this wasn’t enough for the city’s Board of Education – all of whom are appointed by the mayor.

Emanuel has already shuttered 50 Chicago City Schools46 of which served mostly black students.

But not Dyett. At least, not yet.

The South Side community has been fighting to change the board’s decision for years. About 7 months ago, it seemed to have some success.

Eleven community members chained themselves to a statue of George Washington outside Emanuel’s office demanding the board reconsider. It did. But once the protesters removed themselves, the board decided to take bids on how to keep the school open.

Three plans were submitted – two to privatize and one to keep it an open enrollment public school.

That last plan submitted by the community, itself, would transform the facility into the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School. This would be a district run school for up to 600 students mostly from the Bronzeville area.

The plans to charterize the school have strengths and weaknesses, but the biggest problem with both privatization schemes is they disconnect the new school from the community and its history.

If either charter school plan is enacted, Bronzeville children may or may not be able to attend it. They could apply, but the entire student body will be selected by lottery. So it’s a roll of the dice whether they could go to their neighborhood school.

Community children not selected would be sent to Phillips Academy – a public school being run by a private management team. Phillips has a worse academic record than Dyett did in it’s darkest days. In 2012, less than 1% of Phillips students passed the state math test and just 8% passed the reading test.

Student prospects aren’t much better at a new charter school. Countless studies – even the Walton Family Foundation-funded CREDO study – have shown charter schools don’t provide better educational outcomes than traditional public schools. In many instances, they do much worse. And students uprooted from community schools rarely improve academically. However, Emanuel and other policymakers like him continue to push for the creation of more charters despite any track record of success or justification beyond increasing the corporate profits of the companies running them.

The best solution seems to be the plan created by and for the Bronzeville community to keep a public school in place. But when a public hearing was abruptly cancelled this month, they suspected the worst – the board was trying to sidestep a democratic vote.

That’s when community members started the hunger strike.

Protesters vow not to eat unless there is an emergency meeting on Dyett and a final vote taken.

The activists say they’re starting to feel tired and a bit light headed but severe hunger has not set in yet. They are getting daily checkups from a nurse to ensure they’re healthy enough to continue.

Meanwhile, where is the national media?

The Rev. Jesse Jackson visited the hunger strikers Tuesday and vowed to join them in their quest for justice.

But even this hasn’t brought national attention.

How typical! While black schools are closed and black communities gutted, White America yawns and the band plays on.

But some of us are committed to the idea that black lives matter.

Black schools matter.

Black communities matter.

Are you?


If you would like to help, you can call Mayor Rahm Emanuel at (312) 744-3307 and Alderman Will Burns at (773) 536-8103 and ask them to support the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.

You can also tweet in solidarity to the hunger strikers using the hashtags #SaveDyett#WeAreDyett and #FightForDyett. Finally, you’re invited to email the protesters at info@reclaimourschools.org and let them know you stand with them and would like updates on their progress.

NOTE: This article also was published in the LA Progressive, on CommonDreams.org and on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

We Shall Overcome… Big Money: Rahm Wins Chicago, Loses Soul of Democratic Party

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It’s a sad night.

Progressive challenger Chuy Garcia lost his bid for Chicago Mayor. Neo-liberal Rahm Emanuel won re-election.

It’s a headline that shouldn’t surprise anyone – but it does.

All the polls told us this would happen. Rahm just had too much money. Emanuel raised nearly $23 million compared to Garcia’s little more than $6 million.

That buys an awful lot of television commercials, advertisements, and confidence.

Emanuel had 20 different ads that aired over 7,000 times!

Even if you aren’t paying direct attention to it, after a while that kind of repetition seeps into your bones.

Rahm’s going to win. Rahm’s going to win. Rahm’s going to win…

Even if you don’t want it to be true, even if you fight against it, there’s a part of you that can’t help but believe it.

It’s like being trapped in the coils of a monetary anaconda that looks you right in the eyes as it squeezes the life out of you and unhinges its jaw!

How else could Rahm win? His attempts to goose the city’s sluggish economy were nothing but an attack on the poor and minorities. He closed public health clinics, 50 public schools and installed red light cameras to raise fees. And none of it even worked!

You might think it’s counter-intuitive that money matters so much, but history disagrees. This is how it plays out almost every time. The candidate with the most green wins.

Look at New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised $30.5 million fending off challenger Zephyr Teachout. She raised only $600,000. And we all remember how that turned out.

Without the constant stream of campaign ads and only the bad taste of his actual policies, Cuomo’s popularity now is lower than it’s ever been. And that election was only half a year ago!

Buyers remorse? Sure! But just wait until the next campaign and a truckload of donor’s money to temporarily hypnotize people they should think otherwise and voila! Instant approval. Just add money!

But there’s good news in this nest of vipers, too.

Consider this: both races were internal. These were Democrats vs. Democrats.

But were they really? Rahm’s top donors were conservative billionaires. These are the same folks backing Scott Walker, Mike Pence and Mitt Romney!

The media is trying to spin this as the Elizabeth Warren wing of the party vs. the business wing.

Nonsense! It’s real, grassroots progressives vs. the DINOs – the Democrats In Name Only! And the DINOs keep winning!

But take heart. The future doesn’t belong to dinosaurs.

Look at how far Chuy Garcia pushed Rahm Emanuel! He got enough votes in the primary to force this runoff election. It was no cakewalk for Emanuel.

The people lost this one, but we will remember it.

Neither of these were high turnout elections. We don’t have that anymore in America.

No matter who is running, no matter what’s at stake, the public is so gripped by a sense of helpless apathy that most people don’t even show up at the polls to cast a vote.

But every time we have an election like this one, we stir people up. We fill them with passion. We make them care.

I knew Chuy Garcia had very little chance of winning, but I wanted it anyway.

I read up on him, talked to people, posted on facebook, sent out a barrage of tweets every day.

And I’ve never even been to Chicago!

But Chuy’s campaign meant something to me. It still does. Even with the election lost.

There is a growing majority of people who feel the same way. We care about closing 50 public schools for minorities. We care about local government control. It matters to us that our society is run justly, morally, progressively.

We repudiate the business model, the worship of money and profit at the expense of all else.

And there are more of us everyday.

Yes. In the short term, money still rules.

But what happens on the day when they open the polls and we all show up?

What happens when that passion spurs us – all of us – to actually get out and vote?

What happens when we drown out the drone of campaign commercials with the certainty of what is right?

I think on that day, the Rahm’s and Cuomo’s will fail. On that day the DINOs go extinct.

On that day, we take back our party and our Democracy itself.

It’s coming closer everyday.


“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
-Mexican proverb

NOTE: This article was also published in the LA Progressive and the Badass Teachers Association blog.