Is This Really Fair CPS?

Posted August 29, 2011 by thatsrightnate
Categories: Chicago Board of Education, Chicago Public Schools, CTU

The Chicago Public Schools want to give teachers a 2% raise for 29% more hours.  For a beginning teacher this is $3.08 an hour.  That’s considerably less than many of her students would make babysitting.


Rahm vs. The Chicago Teachers

Posted August 26, 2011 by thatsrightnate
Categories: Chicago Public Schools, City Bosses, CTU

Tags: , , ,

It’s been nearly a year since I posted to this blog.  I frankly considered it done.  I continued to leave it up for those who found previous postings useful while I used satire to comment on education elsewhere.   Satire is something I’m good at, but it doesn’t do a great job of encapsulating all my feelings at this particular moment.

What I really want to do is teach.  I got into education after working nearly 10 years in the private sector.  I got a bachelor’s degree in history and made the rather unusual jump to broadcasting.   I got into teaching  just before programs like Teach for America hit, so I moved back home for 2 years and took classes in education while taking a huge pay cut to work at a comic book store because the hours worked around my schedule.   It also gave me the opportunity to look after my dad as he suffered through the Alzheimer’s Disease that finally took his life.  I point this out because for some reason I feel the need to justify that I know what hard work is.

The Chicago Public Schools were supposed to give their teachers a 4% raise this year.  This was an agreement that was negotiated 5 years ago.  We got a decent pay raise, but we made other concessions that made me vote against the contract at the time.  When the raises were not granted, the city didn’t even pretend that it was because of a budget shortfall.  Instead, they actually said teachers really didn’t deserve the raise that we had negotiated with in good faith.  At the very same meeting that we were denied a raise, the top brass were granted large pay raises.

Chicago now wants to expand the school day 90 minutes and the school year 2 weeks.  They want us to take their word that this time will be well spent and in exchange for working 29% more hours, we will be paid 2% more salary.  I really don’t care about the money.  Frankly, the $3.50 an hour or so I’d make comes to less than I spend in my classroom on a yearly basis.  What I care about is that I believe the city’s big idea is to use its teachers as wardens.

As I read press releases from city hall, the big push seems to be keeping these students off the street where they cause crime.  That is so wrong headed, maybe I shouldn’t be the most insulted by this plan.  My students have a right to be far angrier than I do.  Is it so much to ask that this time be used for quality and that teachers be fairly compensated.  Our day is short, but that is because in the 70s teachers agreed to not take their 45 minute lunch and instead get out 45 minutes early.  We actually have more instructional time than New York or Los Angeles, but we have no planning time.  I would be happy to stay an extra 45 minutes if it gave me more planning time.   I am less enthused about the extra two weeks when classrooms are over 90 degrees in summer and most are not air conditioned.

I urge the city to show us a plan that is for quality time.  I currently use my time after school for tutoring, planning, and two days a week I do an after school improvisational comedy class.  If this is being replaced by more drill and kill, there is no point.  I just want to teach.  I am not unreasonable, but quantity isn’t the same as quality.

Lex Luthor is Waiting for Superman

Posted September 20, 2010 by thatsrightnate
Categories: Public Education, Waiting for Superman

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I never really cared for comic book revisionism.  When they replaced Hal Jordan as Green Lantern I screamed bloody murder.  However, when John Byrne took bumbling mad scientist Lex Luthor and turned him into a corporate fiend, it was a brilliant move.  In the past, Luthor had build giant robots, death rays, a green and purple armored suit, but none of these posed a threat to the Man of Steel.  As a reader I knew this.   What John Byrne did in 1986 was to find a foe that Superman couldn’t face in a fair fight—a corporate executive.   Superman couldn’t just fly into a board room and haul Luthor off to prison, he had to catch Luthor in the act and to the public Luthor was corporate hero.  He hid his crimes behind a facade of good works.

For me, the new movie Waiting for Superman is very aptly titled for the movie is little more than propaganda designed to be  a happy face on those who seek to profit at our children’s expense.  To truly appreciate the movie you must accept three claims:

1. Public teacher unions are so powerful people like Bill Gates and the folks who run Walmart can’t figure out a way around them.

2. Countries like Finland and Sweden that have much more powerful teachers unions than we do and are considered the world’s top school systems have nothing we can learn from

3. Schools in the South are a utopia since they do not have teacher’s unions or have right to work laws that make them useless.

4. Public school teachers don’t care about kids, only corporations do.

5. The people pushing education reform based on standardized tests and strict discipline like KIPP seek education opportunities for their own children directly opposite the KIPP philosophy by mere coincidence

6. That a failed teacher like Michelle Rhee after 2 years of struggling to control her own classroom suddenly found the magic formula for teaching and abruptly left the classroom to recruit teachers.  She now is capable of running a big city school district despite the parents that live there seeing her as one of the main reasons to vote against the mayor that hired her.

I could go on, but really if you can look at those 6 and tell me that the movie still makes a lot of good points, there really is no reason to continue.   We want a first world education system and we should have it, but we do not have first world health care for children, we have third world levels of childhood poverty, we are no longer a country that values our lower class or most of our middle class.   Our poverty numbers exceed what they were in the 1960s when Lyndon Johnson declared his war on poverty.   Jim Horn has some wonderful information here on just why this movie is so blatantly propaganda most vile.  I would also recommend checking out Charter School Scandals before holding them  as the panacea that the movie makers want you to.

It’s sad when children don’t make the lottery to get into the school they want or when they are called into the office to be told that they are a discipline problem, have special needs, or just are too low to remain at the charter school.   Fortunately, they can always go to the public school.   They take everybody.

Why AFT Was Wrong to Have Gates Speak

Posted July 12, 2010 by thatsrightnate
Categories: AFT Convention, Bill Gates

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As we were having breakfast Sunday morning at the AFT Convention, one of my fellow delegates asked me what the media said about Gates speaking.  I told him, “Teachers applaud Gates”.  He then asked me what the alternative press said.  I told him, “Stupid teachers applaud Gates.”

The fact is teachers were put in a no win situation by AFT President Randi Weingarten brought in Bill Gates to deliver the keynote address to the AFT Convention.   We were left with a choice of looking unprofessional and heckling or with looking like we supported Gates by not heckling.   The newspapers reported Gates’ speech just like we knew they would and we provided a forum for his views even though they are views that are opposed by most teachers and should be objected to by any self-respecting teacher’s union.

Some members of our caucus walked out in protest, others sat silently–although we couldn’t help joining the rest of the crowd in booing at several of the things that Gates said.  Weingarten explained to us at the Illinois Federation of Teachers breakfast that she was being like Gahndi by having a dialogue with Gates.   I admit that my knowledge of Gahndi is based on a little bit of reading in college and the Ben Kingsley film, but I am pretty sure his method of resistance was not giving the British a forum to speak.   A keynote address is not a dialogue, it’s dictation.  So what was it that Bill Gates said that was so objectionable:

1. Despite these efforts, our high school scores in math and reading are flat. Our graduation rates have plunged from 2nd in the world to 16th. And our 15-year-olds now rank behind 22 countries in science and behind 31 countries in math – This is not highly objectionable, but I really get irritated when I see America’s universal education system compared to countries without universal education.  It majorly skews results.

2. There are a growing number of public schools – including charter schools – that smash old prejudices about what low-income and minority students can achieve. They give us models to study, understand, and spread – Well Bill, last week you said that only charter schools could provide innovation.  Let’s at Urban Prep who has been celebrated in the national media for their 107 95 graduates all going to college.

3. The truly impressive reforms share the same strategic core – they all include fair and reliable measures of teacher effectiveness that are tied to gains in student achievement. Public schools have never had this before. It’s a huge change – the kind of change that could match the scale of the problem — We’ve had this for years.  We’ve only recently started using it to punish schools.  The result is that our students are no longer taught critical thinking skills, which are of little use in standardized test taking.

4. In 2008 and 2009, our foundation partnered with Scholastic on a national survey to learn the views of 40,000 teachers on crucial questions facing your profession.  Teachers said in huge numbers that they don’t get enough feedback. They’re not told how they can improve. They’re not given training that can address their weaknesses or help them share their strengths with others. — The number one thing both teachers and students said most was class size–something that Gates always ignores.

5. In Pittsburgh, they’re creating incentives for highly effective teachers to go into low-performing schools. In certain schools, if students have better-than-expected gains in learning, their teachers earn additional pay. In another program, teachers will work as a team with a group of incoming ninth graders and stay with those kids for two years. If at the end of 10th grade the kids are on track for college, the whole team will get a bonus — Merit pay has never worked for teachers and everywhere it’s been piloted it has failed.   If teachers were soulless money grubbers we wouldn’t have been teachers, we’d have gone to work for Microsoft.

6. Many teachers say they know someone who—even after getting the support needed to improve—simply doesn’t deserve to get tenure. You owe it to your profession and your students to make sure that tenure reflects more than the number of years spent in the classroom. It should reflect the quality of the work you do in the classroom—and that means student achievement should be a factor in decisions about tenure. — Tenure is not lifetime employment.  It is due process.   It is not something that should be based on success under any metric.  In fact, it is when you are unsuccessful that you most need due process.   Tying the two together is like saying, “Let’s reserve the Bill of Rights only for people not accused of a crime”.   Sorry, that doesn’t work.

7. This work is important. But if you’re fighting only for wages, hours and working conditions, then it’s just teachers fighting for teachers – In Illinois, that’s about the only thing we’re legally allowed to bargain for.  All workplace issues like class size and calendar we are prohibited by law from negotiating.

8. If you want teachers unions to lead a revolution in American education, please remember: sometimes the most difficult act of leadership is not fighting the enemy; it’s telling your friends it’s time to change. — That’s great advice.  I’m sure Gahndi would agree.

For more information on Gates, check out Leonie Haimson’s commentary. She offers some wonderful reasons why the AFT was crazy to invite him.  For some wonderful satire on getting rid of bad teachers follow this link.

Parasitic “Reformers” Upset as Obey Tries to Save “Edujobs”

Posted July 1, 2010 by thatsrightnate
Categories: Congressman Obey, education reform

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What is an edujob?  An edujob is a fancy way that some supposed reformers like to refer to teachers.  It sounds like these are jobs that add nothing to a school and simply are adults getting in the way of a child’s education—what’s sad is that is exactly how many of these so-called reformers feel about teachers. With a new Twilight movie opening last night to the delight of junior high school girls across the country, it’s ironic that the educational vampires are out in force today, looking to suck the life blood out of public education in the name of profit.

So why the Orwellian language?   The answer is simple.  Who with one degree of common sense would push for building more charter schools or Race to the Trough funding for innovation, while at the same time cutting hundreds of thousands of teachers from the schools of this country and jamming more and more students into a classroom?

Congressman David Obey (D-WI) seeing the crisis that some have referred to as a teacherpocalypse has tried to cobble together the funds to save teacher jobs.  His bill would would cut $500 million from the Race to the Top, $200 million from the teacher incentive fund (TIF), and $100 million from the charter school program.  It would also secure $10 billion to save 140,000 teacher jobs in this coming school year.

Congressman  Obey explained his action this way,  “When a ship is sinking, you don’t worry about redesigning a room, you worry about keeping it afloat.”

His point is that without qualified teachers in the classroom, what is the point of education reforms–especially when many of them are designed to track teacher performance.  If you have nobody to track, there is no reason to pay money to track them. Unfortunately, those profiteers who see a $400 billion dollar industry and want a nice healthy slice, are up in arms. Again using Orwellian language they ask people to sign the Stand4Children petition unaware of the irony when students in public school classrooms could be jammed in so tightly next year that there are no room for students to do anything, but stand.

Support Representative Obey’s bill to at least keep public school class sizes at a level that frankly is already too large, to keep qualified and certified teachers in the classroom where the latest study shows they continue to outperform their charter school peers, keep education free from the greedy hands of hedge fund managers, and support keeping public education public.  Call your Member of Congress via the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 225-3121 and let them know you support the Obey amendment for education.

CORE Wins!

Posted June 13, 2010 by thatsrightnate
Categories: CORE, CTU

Tags: , , , ,

After an election on may 21st that saw CORE and UPC each take about 1/3 of the Chicago Teachers Union votes, it all came down to a runoff between CTU and CORE on this past Friday, June 11th. The result was a resounding CORE victory 60% to 40%. For me personally, it means I will be a delegate to the AFT convention and one of 17 elementary school advisers to the union. To the teachers, parents, and students of Chicago I believe it means hope.

The Chicago Public Schools waited until after all the teachers had voted Friday to announce an emergency board meeting for this coming Tuesday. The purpose of that meeting is to clear the way to be able to fire 3,000 teachers in a cost cutting move. The 3,000 teachers won’t find out until the middle of July for the most part, after virtually all teaching jobs are filled. They will then have until September to find a job or lose all seniority, cutting their pay drastically and taking away their tenure. Meanwhile, the children of Chicago can look forward to classes of 35 next year. CORE is taking over in the middle of a crisis and that kind of sucks, but there is nobody I’d rather have lead us through a crisis.

Teachers are going to need to mobilize and that’s difficult. Nobody signed up to teach to be a labor agitator, but unfortunately, we can’t do the job we love unless we do.

CTU Election 5/21

Posted May 19, 2010 by thatsrightnate
Categories: Chicago Public Schools, CTU, Uncategorized

Tags: , , ,

We’re down to the final two days before the Chicago teachers get to choose between business as usual union politics where we throw money at politicians and hope they save us and movement style union politics where we save ourselves.   If you have been following my sporadic postings since October you know that I took Howard Zinn’s advice and joined up with a social movement.   As a teacher, the thing that was most important to me was education and naturally that’s where I went.  I can’t tell you how CORE has impressed me in this time.   While the other caucuses seem exactly one person deep–maybe two—CORE has 20 or 30.

I talk about CORE a bit differently than most.   You see, since I didn’t join until October I was able to pick a caucus that felt like they would take the union where it needed to go.   Since, I joined I’ve seen CORE’s partnerships with Teachers for Social Justice, Chicago Youth Initiating Change, and a host of community organizations.   We have something developing here and I’d ordinarily be quite content if we lost the election to sit back and continue to let the movement germinate, but who knows what will be left of the union or the city’s schools if another caucus wins—especially UPC.

The CORE Slate

Karen Lewis – She’s a firebrand.   She reminds me a bit of my sister.   Most of the time she’s pretty laid back and easygoing, but let her talk about education and she lights up.   She makes such an eloquent spokesperson for the teachers and students of the Chicago Public Schools.   It’s about time we had a CTU President that we can watch on Chicago Tonight without cringing.

Jesse Sharkey – He’s the perfect counterpoint to Karen.  I see him at CORE meetings with his young son and I see not only a great feather, but also a guy who really knows how to organize his time.   He’s a very effective speaker as well who was quite effective during the city council hearing on school turnarounds.

Kristine Mayle – I blogged about Kristine on the last day before going into work this year.   I was shocked to find out the next day that she would be working with me.  She reminds me of a turn of the 20th century labor leader.  She is so polished and well-spoken.  She also seems to be a font of endless stamina.  She made it to every school closing hearing 2 years ago and most of them this year.

Michael Brunson – Michael is fun.  He’s a former boxer and a second career teacher who is extremely gentle and charming, but like you might expect there’s a fighter there.   He’ll be smiling and you never see the jab coming.

I could go on and on.   This is an organization that is passionate about public education.   Check us out at   If you are a Chicago Public Schools teacher I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, but I am going to tell you educate yourself and make up your own mind.   I’m looking forward to Friday when the votes are cast, but I’m also nervous as all get out.