Arne Duncan Designed Rahm Emanuel’s Latest Attack on Poor Students of Color

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Sometimes an idea is just too stupid to keep it all to yourself.

Ask Arne Duncan.

Sitting at his lonely desk as managing partner of the Emerson Collective, a limited liability corporation pushing school and immigration policy, he must have missed his days as President Barack Obama’s Education Secretary.

After all, he was the architect of Race to the Top, a federal policy that at best wasted billions of tax dollars without helping students learn – at worst it enriched private charter school operators, standardized test and publishing corporations and private prison operators without helping kids learn.

At the dawn of 2017 with Donald Trump just beginning to flush public education down the toilet in favor of school vouchers, Duncan took to the Internet wondering how he, too, could bring harm to inner city students.

On Jan. 11, he sent an email to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel with a suggestion that was pure Duncan – let’s help poor children of color by making it harder to graduate!

Chicago Public School students have suffered from decades of budget cuts, teacher layoffs and even the closure of 49 schools almost exclusively in poor, black or Latino neighborhoods. A former district CEO even plead guilty to a $23 million kickback scheme.

As a result, the more than 400,000 students, 37.7% of which are black and more than 80% of which are poor, have struggled academically.

How would Arne help them? Make them submit more paperwork in order to get a diploma. They must prove that after 12th grade they’re going to college, trade school, an internship, the military or would otherwise be gainfully employed. OR ELSE they can’t graduate!

“Think about making completing a FAFSA [financial aid application] and applying to two or three colleges or the military a new CPS graduation requirement,” Duncan wrote to Emanuel in emails released to the Chicago Sun-Times through a Freedom of Information Act request. “Graduation rates continue to rise. This would signal the importance of ongoing education/training. A HS diploma is great, but not enough. No other school system I know of has taken this next step.”

Duncan followed up in February, and Emanuel replied, “Thanks. You know we are doing a version of your graduation requirement.”

Duncan responded, “Didn’t know. Good?”

No. Not good, Arne.

Because of your neoliberal meddling, when this year’s 9th graders finish their senior year, they’ll have to jump through yet another hoop to get their diplomas.

The Brookings Institute concluded in 2016 that cities like Chicago with pronounced income inequality are more likely to see higher rates of secondary school drop-outs, and lower graduation rates. An unrelated 2014 study found that Chicago ranked eighth among American cities in an index of income inequality.

None of that is helped by a new graduation requirement.

But Duncan disagrees.

He wrote an op-ed published in the Chicago Tribune praising the plan – his plan.

“Some people worry that raising graduation standards will cause more young people to drop out, but they’re wrong,” he wrote. “Young people don’t drop out because school is too hard. They drop out because it is too easy and they are not engaged. They don’t understand how it’s relevant to their lives.”

Wrong, Arne. It’s not a matter of school being too easy. It’s a matter of life being too hard. Imagine being an impoverished inner city student. You’re malnourished, there are few books in your home, you’re struggling to survive in a world populated by drugs and gangs, you’re suffering from post traumatic stress and your neighborhood school is closed, your teacher is laid off, there’s no tutoring, no arts or humanities classes. And they keep making you take endless high stakes standardized tests. THAT’S what makes students loose interest in school. Not because it’s too easy!

But Emanuel, a former investment banker and Obama’s White House Chief of Staff, only understands business solutions to human challenges.

When proposing this new graduation requirement, he said he got the idea from charter schools.

But of course! Private corporations running schools at public expense always know what is best!

Or is that NEVER know what is best? I guess it depends on whose interest you’re looking out for – businesspeople or students.

Emanuel doesn’t think this new policy is a major change.

“We already have around 62 percent of our kids are already either accepted into college or accepted into community college, and our goal is to make sure nobody spikes the ball at 12th grade,” Emanuel said. “We want to make 14th grade universal. That’s the new goal line.”

Is it, Rahm? It’s interesting that you’re doing this for inner city kids but no one is suggesting it for wealthy kids in the suburbs.

This statement about expectations explains why:

“Just like you do with your children, college, post-high school, that is what’s expected,” Emanuel said. “If you change expectations, it’s not hard for kids to adapt.”

So poor black and Latino kids need YOUR expectations. Is that it? It’s up to YOUR patriarchy to step in and tell them what to do with their lives after high school or else – what? They’ll just sit home on food stamps doing nothing?

This is Chicago – where police brutality is an everyday thing. Gun violence is out of control. And you think these kids and their parents live in crippling, generational poverty because they aren’t trying hard enough to get jobs or better themselves?

Those seem to be the underlying assumptions here. It’s not about giving these 18-year-olds a helping hand. It’s about pushing them to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

It only takes a second of thought to realize why this is a bad idea.

The district has been cutting staff positions left and right – especially at schools serving poor students of color. Has any additional funding been budgeted to ensure district guidance counselors are in place to help students meet this goal? NOPE.

Students can graduate if they prove they’ve got a job after high school. Those aren’t exactly growing on trees – especially jobs that pay more than minimum wage. What if students can’t find employment? That’s reason to withhold their diplomas? Your academic fate should be held up because there aren’t enough positions as a fry chef!?

Sure, seniors can apply to a local community college, which according to a spokesperson for City Colleges of Chicago, lets everyone in. But what if this isn’t the path for them? Not everyone is made for college. Why is the city stepping in to demand a post graduate plan from students? Isn’t this really just a recruitment plan for these community colleges and/or the military?

Is this even legal? These kids have passed all their classes. They’ve earned a diploma. You can’t simply withhold it because their post-secondary plans don’t meet with your approval.

When the district withholds its first diploma, look for a legal challenge where taxpayers will be in the uncomfortable position of paying for legal counsel to stop a child from graduating.

This Duncan/Emanuel policy is something you might expect from a certified moron like current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. (She wants teachers armed against grizzly bear attacks.)

But it should be noted that both Duncan and Emanuel are Democrats. They’re just not progressives.

You wonder why a fool like Trump won the Presidency? It’s because of neoliberal attitudes like these. Both of these men were part of the Obama administration. And Hillary Clinton was following in the same footsteps – or certainly she didn’t speak out against it.

Emanuel’s political career is backed by the same big money conservatives that back Chris Christie, Mitt Romney and Bruce Rauner. He’s a puppet of charter schools, hedge fund managers and the Koch Brothers.

In fact, his corruption was so bad that during the 2016 primary, he became an issue for Democratic Presidential contenders. Bernie Sanders actually called him out in a tweet saying: “I want to thank Rahm Emanuel for not endorsing me. I don’t want the endorsement of a mayor shutting down schools and firing teachers.”

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Rahm had endorsed Clinton putting her in a bad position. Ann O’Leary, Clinton’s education advisor, said in private emails that Emanuel was “bad for Chicago schools.”
Like Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, O’Leary was a longtime supporter of corporate education reform policies – and so was Clinton. Hillary supported George W. Bush’s terrible No Child Left Behind – the law that changed federal education policy from focusing on equity to holding schools hostage for their standardized test scores.

O’Leary was worried about how Emanuel might hurt Clinton – especially in light of Bernie’s tweet.

In a private email to senior Clinton staff, she wrote:

“Bernie is beating us up over Rahm’s record on schools in Chicago. The Chicago school system is overloaded with debt and likely to run out of cash before the end of the school year. As a result, they are withholding their pension contributions, and laying off teachers and support staff.

I reached out to Randi W[eingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers] and she suggested that she tweet something tomorrow making it clear that Rahm and Rauner have been bad for Chicago schools and then HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] retweets.

That sounds like a toxic idea to me given Rahm’s endorsement, but I don’t think this issue is going away.

We could: (a) have HRC say something more forceful about the state working to help Chicago pay off debt so the schools can focus on teaching and learning; (b) have Randi say something more mild and we could retweet. But I do worry that short of going after Rahm, these options are not going to be satisfactory. So the (c) option is to stay silent for now.

Thoughts?”

O’Leary’s final decision was to do nothing.

And we all know how that turned out.

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The worst part is that the Democrats don’t appear to have learned anything.

Here’s what Duncan had to say just this month about how Democrats should be fighting the Trump administration’s education policies:

“The federal government is disinvesting in public education and withdrawing from accountability, so states and districts have to step up and lead.”

But Arne, your administration disinvested in public schools, too. Emanuel is famous for it!

And we all know what “accountability” means to neoliberals like you. It means endless standardized testing and closing schools catering to poor students of color. It means giving charter schools, book publishers and testing corporations a blank check.

No one is going to vote for that anymore.

That is just not a viable alternative to Republican policies that take all of this to its logical conclusion.

Destroying public schools slowly is not a viable alternative to destroying them quickly. Democrats need to either discover their real progressive roots or else move aside for grassroots groups to take over.

That’s a suggestion worth sending to your buddies Rahm, Hillary and Barack via email.

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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.

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.