Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The voice of corporate-style school reform

Peter Cunningham (right) flack for corporate reformers like Arne Duncan & Eli Broad
Last week, I got into a twitter spat with former Asst. Sec. of Education Peter Cunningham over the issue of school desegregation. He claims that in his heart he's for it, but that it's a lost cause. Better to stop wasting money and energy on fighting segregation and poverty and just focus on creating new "good schools", argues Cunningham.

He accuses me of fighting "yesterday's battles". I'll cop to that, I suppose. Then claims that I'm an agent of the status quo. That's funny.
He's a teachers union basher and part of the "no excuses" crowd who claims we're just using issues of racism and poverty as excuses to keep from working hard on school reform.
He even wrote a major piece on the topic, "Is School Integration Necessary?, published in U.S. News & World Report.

I maintain that concentrated poverty and racial segregation are at the very root of our country's school problems and that it's impossible to build "good schools", charter or public, apart from the ongoing community-based struggles for equity and against segregation.

Cunningham thinks I'm picking on him. He even claims that I and his many critics are "obsessed" with him. That's a little weird.
The reason so many progressives are taking aim at Cunningham is not that they're obsessed. Rather it's because he's become the main flack for corporate-style school reform.

I'll say one thing for him, he's prolific on Twitter (like me) and likes to engage with lefties. Sees that as his role.

He was the public voice and often the script-writer at the DOE for Arne Duncan's Race To The Top and his efforts are now totally underwritten by anti-public-school power philanthropists like Eli Broad and the Waltons. 

Now that Duncan has virtually disappeared from the education policy debate and the words Race To The Top are taboo for any politician hoping to win an election, Cunningham has become the most visible national target for public education advocates and social-justice activists.

He shouldn't be complaining about all the heat he's taking. That's why they pay him the big bucks.

Monday, August 22, 2016


Trump's real estate flop in Chicago
Film maker Carol Black 

Science is a tool of breathtaking power and beauty, but it is not a good parent; it must be balanced by something broader, deeper, older. Like wind and weather, like ecosystems and microorganisms, like snow crystals and evolution, human learning remains untamed, unpredictable, a blossoming fractal movement so complex and so mysterious that none of us can measure or control it. -- Answer Sheet, What the modern world has forgotten about children and learning
Leanna Diggs
We can no longer teach a whitewashed history. We can no longer pretend we live in a post-racial society. Not in math class, not in any class. -- Washington Post
Pastor Bullock
David Bullock, Highland Park, MI pastor
“I think one of the things emergency management does, if it doesn’t destroy democracy, it definitely suppresses democracy. It suffocates the civic impulse. Why would I be engaged in a process where there’s no accountability for the person who runs the school? The school board has no power.” -- School takeovers leave parents without a voice

Trump's appeal to black voters
"What do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump? What do you have to lose? You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?" -- Washington Post
Maureen Dowd does Trump apology
 I’m sorry I asked African-Americans “What do you have to lose by supporting me?” in front of a crowd of white people. I’m sorry I can never find my African-American. -- New York Times

Friday, August 19, 2016

GOP down-ticket candidates run from Trump, but not Trump-ism.

IL Senators, Durbin (left) and Kirk. 
Down-ticket Republicans are understandably swimming faster than Ryan Lochte to get away from Trump's sinking ship. But not necessarily away from Trump-ism.

In IL we have several of this type. There's our union-busting, budget hostage-taking Gov. Bruce Rauner for one,  and our faux-moderate Sen. Mark Kirk for another.

SJR reports,
 Kirk is quick to tout himself as a maverick for breaking with his Republican Party on several issues, including his decision earlier this summer to "de-endorse" GOP nominee Donald Trump... But ask Kirk where he goes from here, and things get more murky.
 For instance, if he truly believes Trump is unfit to be president, it's fair to ask what he's doing to prevent him being elected. If Kirk believes that the Senate ought to consider Garland's nomination, he must actively lobby his leadership to do so.”
Kirk un-endorsed Trump in June and said he would instead write in Gen. Petraeus, who resigned in 2012 and later pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information.

But after facing criticism for his Petraeus choice, Kirk reversed course and backed former Secretary of State Colin Powell for president.

Last week, Kirk said on CNN he could not vote for Hillary Clinton because he "can't support someone who is for the Iran agreement."

Turns out, Powell endorsed the Iran agreement, describing it as a "pretty good deal."

So now Kirk is back to supporting Petraeus.

Remember, Kirk was the one who outdid Trump in calling for the mass incarceration of 18,000 young black men, alleged "gang-bangers", without and trials or due process. If this sounds like Trump's proposal to round up immigrants from Mexico and the Middle East, you're on to something.

Where would Kirk put 18,000 new prisoners?
Back in 2013, Kirk and Democrat Dick Durbin, approached Zachary Fardon, the nominee for U.S. Attorney in Chicago, and urged Fardon to begin rounding up every member of the Gangster Disciples street gang. Kirk wanted the Senate Appropriations Committee to give him $30 million “to go after gangs like the GDs . . . and pick the biggest and baddest for a federal effort.”

Where did Kirk and Durbin think they were going to put 18,000 more prisoners? Cook County jail was already stuffed to overflowing, mainly with young black and Latino men. The court system was so backed up, some prisoners have been held for up to 10 years without  trial.

Chicago's Guantanamo?

The answer wasn't forthcoming but worth considering, especially in light of Pres. Obama's recent announcement that private prisons would be phased out by the Justice Dept. Democrats have long attacked the Homeland Security Department's use of privately run facilities, particularly the detention centers that have housed thousands of immigrant families.

At the time, Congressman Bobby Rush lit into the Kirk-Durbin plan, calling it  “ a sensational, headline-grabbing, empty, simplistic, unworkable approach.” If there is $30 million for Congress to spend, better most of it be allocated for “job creation and job training,” to address the gang problem, Rush said. Rush said an arrest sweep “is not going to work. . . . It is not a law and order, lock ‘em up solution.”

Kirk also outdid Trump on union bashing. He claimed that SEIU and other "big unions are already running the state."

Now Durbin is planning to run for governor and Kirk is playing Trump keep-away to retain his senate seat and maintain the GOP senate majority. Not happening.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Claypool not worried about a strike. It's all good.

Claypool with top lawyer Mormer, the man from Jenner & Block
Given that Chicago schools CEO Forrest Claypool is under investigation once again, this time for funneling CPS contracts a connected law firm, you would think he would tone down his arrogance a notch or that the mayor would put someone else in front of the media for a while.

Claypool suddenly exudes a false sense of optimism after forecasting a deficit hovering near $1 billion less than a year ago. This even while Gov. Rauner, in a political death spiral himself, is still holding the state's school budget hostage.

After a year of CPS teachers working without of contract, Claypool still had the audacity to assure everyone that contract negotiations with the CTU were going swell with no need to worry about a teachers strike.
"We are at the negotiating table. I don't see any reason why we should not be able to come to an agreement. Teachers do important work. We want to give them as generous a contract as we can possibly provide given the dollars that are available."
Well here's one reason for no agreement. Claypool continues to push for an end to the 7% pension pick up which was negotiated in lieu of a pay increase. With no corresponding pay raise, this would mean a huge cut in pay for thousands of city teachers.

Here's another reason. Claypool just pink-slipped 1,000 teachers and school staffers, a blow not just to them and their families, but to the city's economy as well. That's a thousand paychecks that won't be spent on goods and services in city businesses each week. That's also a thousand school faculty and staffers like that won't be out there in the schools and neighborhoods, working to improve the lives of our children.

CPS has a debt load of nearly $7 billion and its debt service spending is estimated to consume more than 10% of operating budget funds in the 2016 fiscal year, more than any year since at least 2007. That translates into downward pressure on wages, more school closures and larger class sizes.

"It's not good government, it's not sound fiscal policy, " says Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. "It's not as if we are seeing a budget that is moving towards fiscal health. What we're seeing is a budget that's under significant pressure."

The CTU's Stephanie Gadlin responds:
"He seems to ignore the fact that we live in the city and pay taxes, and CTU members have seen their pay frozen and then cut with furloughs, have seen over $1 billion diverted from their pension fund, have seen contractually guaranteed raises canceled and have witnessed conditions in schools worsen throughout layoffs and privatization deals."
 "No educator wants to strike for the sake of striking, If they do so, it is because they must protect their students and their profession from technocrats who don't realize these are real lives they are messing with."
There are many options available to the CTU, including a strike. They can continue working without a contract as a holding action against the cuts. They can mobilize support from the base through street protests. I think it's Claypool and his boss, Rahm Emanuel, who are the ones on the ropes here.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Peter Cunningham's reform apologia: 'Fighting segregation and poverty too expensive'.

White ladies' signs read: "We want equal & segregated schools"
Peter Cunningham's latest apologia for school segregation, in U.S. News & World Report, is basically a defense of current reform policies that have been shown to re-segregate schools. It represents more than just the opinion of a lone education gadfly. Cunningham is paid millions to speak for some of the most powerful and wealthiest among those who influence national ed policy.

It's run up the flag pole at a time when corporate-style "reform" has come under attack from civil rights groups and teacher unions, and appear to be losing their cachet, even within the Democratic Party establishment.

Cunningham tries to come off as a tormented soul, torn between his personal and "pragmatic" side, the latter arguing that ending poverty and integration are just too "politically difficult and financially expensive" and therefore, instead of spending hundreds of billions more to reduce poverty and reduce segregation, we should just "double down on our efforts to improve schools."

At a recent DFER-sponsored forum at the DNC, Cunningham laid out his anti-deseg line in an obvious attempt to influence Clinton's education agenda. He answered a question about school integration this way:
"Maybe the fight's not worth it. It's a good thing; we all think integration is good. But it's been a long fight, we've had middling success. At the same time, we have lots and lots of schools filled with kids of one race, one background, that are doing great. 
There nothing original in Cunningham's comments. If they strike you as a throwback to Plessy v. Ferguson and the separate-but-equal doctrine, you're definitely on to something. As we learned back then, when it comes to schooling, separate is never equal. Following the Brown v. Board decision in 1954, the difficulty and protracted nature of the struggle against de facto segregation and poverty has caused some to throw in the towel.

Cunningham is basically echoing the call of his boss at the D.O.E., former Sec. of Education Arne Duncan. It was he who tried to put the kibosh on a Justice Dept. civil right suit against the state of Louisiana, which would have blocked expansion of the state's school voucher system.

When asked about the suit being pushed by his fellow cabinet member, Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, Duncan said he was opposed to "forced integration," echoing the language of the old southern segregationists. The suit was then dropped, to the applause of segregationists.

Current battles are going on in states like N.C. where privately-run charter schools are being used to promote re-segregation and evade civil right law. The Voting Rights Act itself has been dismembered by a conservative-led Supreme Court in 2013. And now, the new K-12 Education law, ESSA, has shifted much more authority back to the states and away from federal oversight, setting the stage for even more school deseg efforts.

It's in this context then, that Cunningham's "pragmatic" call to abandon the cause of school desegregation is all the more pernicious.


Cédric von Niederhäusern
David R. Stone, special education teacher, Gallistel Language Academy
Yet the biggest sacrifice of all is one we tragically share with our students and their families. Violence increases when after-school programs, counseling services, special education, tutoring, and social workers are sacrificed due to CPS budget cuts. Since joining CPS, I personally have lost three of my students who were murdered before they could graduate. Nobody should be asked to share such sacrifices. -- Chicago Sun-Times | Sunday Letters
Kesi Foster, a reform advocate with the Urban Youth Collaborative in N.Y.
“Yesterday, we felt that, even if the city wasn’t ending the school-to-prison pipeline, it was committed to some progress. After last night, we’re not sure we’ve taken a step at all.” -- The Atlantic
Cédric von Niederhäusern
Maureen Dowd
The Republicans have their candidate: It’s Hillary. -- New York Times
Ben Jealous, former NAACP president
“Secretary Clinton’s decision to aggressively court Mitt Romney’s base has her looking more and more like Mitt Romney every day. That’s not a good thing.” -- New York Times
Neil Gross
Union decline has left the working class politically and economically vulnerable, and it’s this vulnerability Mr. Trump has been able to exploit. -- NYT Sunday Review

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Following layoff of 1,000, Rahm demands 'more sacrifice' from teachers.

Rahm to big Chicago banksters -- Don't worry, you'll be first in line to get paid. 

Rahm to teachers and staff after laying off 1,000 -- Don't Strike, "Be Part of the Solution."

And by part of the solution, Rahm means teachers should accept a 7% pay cut to cover pension costs and bear the burden of years of the city and state missing required contributions to the pension fund.

According to the Tribune:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday joined his Chicago Public Schools chief in calling on teachers to start contributing a chunk of their salaries toward their pensions." 
Who at City Hall thought telling teachers to give up a chunk of salary, was a good idea? Are they trying to provoke a strike? Or is this the kind of bullying needed to appease Gov. Rauner in exchange for a budget deal?

CTU Pres. Karen Lewis dismissed schools chief Forrest Claypool's pledge of a budget with "no gimmicks," saying, "Was his mouth moving when he said it?"

Patricia Scott
Dark day for homeless students. I remember Patricia Scott from my days coaching at Prosser.

This from Mark Brown's column in today's S-T.
At the end of this past school year, Prosser counted 68 homeless students among its 1,400 enrollees, 26 of whom were seniors. “They all graduated,” Scott told me Wednesday. “I’m very proud of that.”
That group of 26 seniors will be the last class of homeless students Scott shepherds to their high school degree at Prosser.
On Friday, she was among 1,000 Chicago Public Schools employees to learn they were getting laid off.
Just multiply Ms. Scott's story by 1,000 and you begin to feel the impact the layoffs had on students and their families.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

New legislators' report on reform is a step up from current policies

“High-performing countries have consciously decided to prioritize education over testing.” — State Senator Joyce Elliott, D-Ark.
Will a Clinton administration bring a shift in federal education policy? Will we see a break from corporate-style reform practices--racing to the top, no child left behind, testing madness, school closings and the unfettered move to privately-run charter schools that marked the Obama/Duncan era? We can only guess right now.

Recent Clinton speeches to the teacher union conventions sounded good. But we've all been there before. The new party platform plank on education reflects some positive changes pushed mainly by Sanders members of the platform committee. But platforms are soon forgotten once November is in the rear view.

The latest indicator that change may be in the wind comes from a new report from a bipartisan group of state legislators who studied and were impressed by the most successful approaches in Finland and other developed countries. "No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class Education System State by State’. 

The 28 legislators and staff members focused on the highest performing countries on PISA to discover commonalities across their policies and practices. They met with education leaders from these countries, along with national and international experts who study their systems. They also visited several countries to see the differences firsthand.

I read the report with a skeptical eye, especially after I saw AFT President and Clinton cheerleader-in-chief Randi Weingarten giving it a giddy endorsement, calling the report "a model" and claiming that "the committee sets aside political ideologies to work together for what’s best for students and educators."


AFT is listed as a partner on the project though it appears, after scanning the list of partners and consultants, that no k-12 educators were involved in creating he report. So no, Randi -- not a "model".

Actually, the report does represent a step up from where we've been for the past three decades since A Nation at Risk" set us on our current destructive course. In some ways, both documents are similar with each taking globalism and the race for American supremacy as its starting point. The new report is filled with much of the same empty reformy rhetoric about our failing schools and the need for "world standards" and "alignment."
“In several of the countries studied, teaching is regarded as an honorable and respected profession, comparable to medicine and law, and not a burden on the local property tax.” — State Representative Mary Stuart Gile, -- D-N.H.
On the positive side, the report contains no mention of standardized testing, school choice, charter schools or privatization in its list of recommendations. Instead it calls for "a strong early education system, a re-imagined and professionalized teacher workforce [I sensed Linda Darling-Hammond's presence here], robust career and technical education programs, and a comprehensive, aligned system of education."

Most importantly, there was a strong statement on the effects of poverty as a key determinant in student academic success.
In the United States, children in poverty now account for about a quarter of all children in public schools. Large numbers of American children enter first grade with disadvantages that may overwhelm the school’s capacity to provide an adequate education. Because high-performing countries provide supports to ensure that children are ready for school, their schools typically do not face similar challenges.
Once students in top-performing countries are in school, those who struggle receive extra help to reach the same high standards other students will reach more easily. Providing additional resources to schools serving disadvantaged, struggling students is a priority.
More teachers are typically allocated to such schools, with the best teachers serving in the most challenged ones. Resources are also reallocated within schools to reach those most in need of extra support. These countries demonstrate that, with added support, struggling students can meet high expectations. Inversely, American students from the wealthiest communities are most likely to get the best teachers and the finest facilities because of the way we structure our finance systems.
A far cry from the reformers' current "no excuses" rhetoric.

The report takes notice of Finland's focus on equity:
Finland prides itself on providing equity of opportunity to learn and inclusion. Resources are directed to the most high-need students and schools. Students with special needs are often mainstreamed in regular classrooms but receive significant additional support. Ninety-eight percent of the cost of education is covered by government.
However, no mention of the effects of race, racism or segregation. The word, unions, appears only once in the report. This, despite the fact that most of the countries investigated have a strong unionized teacher force. But the one reference is positive, a recommendation that unions have a seat at the reform table. No wonder Randi is so enthusiastic.

How much influence "No Time To Lose" will have is anyone's guess. With the passage of ESSA and the weakened federal role in influencing state ed policy -- in part, a backlash against Duncan's overreach, Common Core and Race To The Top -- it's doubtful that this report will have much weight in red states.

Unless of course, the Republican crisis that is Trumpism, turns many of them blue or at least purple.