Archive for the ‘education reform’ category

Negotiations Aren’t a Popularity Contest

January 7, 2010

As the Race Off a Cliff  continues, I’m shocked by some of what I see from teachers union officials.   An article in the News-Press out of Fort Myers Florida entitled Lee County Teachers Union Boss Has Dilemma caught my eye today.  The story was about Mark Castellano who is the head of the Lee County’s teachers union and how he feels he is in a difficult spot because he is being asked to sign a memo of understanding saying that he is in favor of Florida’s race to the top program.

As in just about all states, Florida has made their pitch without consulting teachers.   The state’s  Race Off a Cliff proposal will cost the teachers rights that their predecessors fought very hard to earn.  In exchange the state will be eligible to  gain a one time increase to their operating budget of 0.3% in federal funds.   If you read the comments at the bottom of the article, you can see exactly what the people of Florida think of Castellano and teachers in general.  If he wants to win a popularity contest, he really should try another field.

Teachers are not very popular.  With all of the teacher bashing that our politicians are doing lately that isn’t going to improve anytime soon.   Teachers unions better learn to forget about the popularity and start looking out for their members and the students they teach.  The move to open public education to greedy entrepreneurs has been going on for 15 years now in Chicago.  There will be a host of new charter schools as a result of this “reform”, but it too will pass.  People will look back 10 years from now and either bash teachers further and try to take away more rights or ask why we didn’t fight this if for no other reason than to look out for the kids we teach.

Teachers know that this kind of reform isn’t for the kids.   This is top down government intervention to open more public funds up for people like Dennis Bakke.  However, no matter how many conditions they attempt to impose on the teachers of a state, they are still going to be looking for a memo of understanding.   If the states want the union’s signature this is the time to negotiate.   There is no reason to sign on for one of these misguided plans.  Instead, we need to act like adults and negotiate.  The fight to privatize the schools is a national one and it is one we can withstand only if we fight back nationally.   Any 7th grade teacher can tell you, if you wanted to be popular then you went into the wrong business.   Ok, I needed to vent.   It just feels too much like counseling somebody through an abusive relationship.

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Fighting Privatization

January 4, 2010

I’ve made a resolution to do a better job keeping this blog updated this year.  The assault on education in this country and in my own city of Chicago is too pressing not to be vocal about what’s going on.  I’ve mentioned before that I am a member of CORE (The Caucus of Rank and File Educators), a group that has been trying to stop the privatization efforts in the Chicago Public Schools.   I’ve only been a member for a few months, but last year the organization and several community activist groups staged a big summit to protest school closings at Malcolm X College.   We’re having another summit this Saturday January 9th to continue the fight.   Last January, 500 people came out in a blizzard.  This year, I’m hoping we can draw 1,000 committed activists.  I have a lot of problems with Chicago’s program of turnaround schools.   Studies have shown that they do nothing positive for the students in the school that is closed and instead increase dropouts, overcrowding, and student violence.   I took the liberty of reposting here, an article I wrote on the criteria Chicago is using to determine which schools stay and which ones go.

For the third time in three years Chicago has changed the criteria by which schools are eligible for closing.   The ever changing criteria are supposed to help the schools separate which schools are “failing”.  However, despite closing over 70 schools, the administration continues to show a lack of faith in their own ability to come up with fair criteria while their lack of consistency has schools scrambling to find out if they’re on the chopping block.

There are so many problems with judging schools based almost entirely on attendance and the ISAT test.   One culturally biased multiple choice test administered by a politically connected company that was awarded the contract under shady circumstances by the Blagojevich administration is hardly a scientific way to evaluate schools.   Major trends like neighborhood demographics and student mobility can play havoc with test scores, but so can small things like who had a good night’s sleep or ate a breakfast before taking the test.

Elementary schools are judged based on ISAT reading, math, and science scores meeting and exceeding standards; attendance; and value-added scores and composite scores in both reading in math.   Charts have been created for all schools that make it appear very scientific as schools are rated in 8 different categories.   However, three of those categories are determined from the same math test and another three are determined by the same reading test.   Schools which fail to gain 1/3 of the achievable points are then eligible to be closed.

The constantly changing target makes it difficult for schools to succeed.   McKay Elementary School on the South West Side is on the bubble having earned 14 of 42 points.   Like all schools potentially facing the chopping block, they are in a working class neighborhood and service a minority population.  In 2007 38% of their students met or exceeded standards in math, but in 2008 they improved that number to 46%^ of their students, and last year they were up to 54%.   They showed similar gains in reading and science.   Under the 2007 and 2008 scoring systems, McKay would have been safe.   With the new system, they are not.

High Schools use a more complex system that evaluates schools based on average ACT, one year drop out rate, attendance, freshman on track, AP enrollment, AP success,  and PSAE scores.   Again, there are liars and then there are statistics.   At a time when the College Board is pointing out massive flaws in the entire AP program, CPS continues to push it.  The Prarie State Exams have led to a four year program in many suburbs where students are never given junior status so that they never take the examination.   These are the two main criteria Chicago uses to judge high school quality.

Schools can also be closed if a school’s enrollment is less than 250 and it is using less than 40% of available space or if in the opinion of the board, the infrastructure of the building is unsound.   These rules are applied unevenly.   De la Cruz middle school’s unsafe building was rented to UNO for $1 this year.   Carver Military Academy’s “need” for a small program in their large school has prevented Fenger parents from having a safe place to send their kids.   Of course, the test score data is also not rated equally or several of the city’s charter schools would find themselves facing the axe.

When decided something as important as the future of the children in this city, we owe it to them to find an effective way to measure the quality of schools and a fair and open process for deciding which schools are not making the grade.  These criteria are neither fair nor open.  There have been no positive gains demonstrated by Chicago’s program of closing schools, but we have seen the danger it brings for students forced to travel to other neighborhoods for their education.   Our students deserve better.

Teach Locally, but Think Nationally

December 9, 2009

I’ve been getting a lot of traffic from Washington, DC lately on both of my blogs because of the writing that I’ve done on Michelle Rhee.   To my mind, Washington is definitely ground zero in the battle to privatize our schools.   What Michelle Rhee has done with her summary firings in our nation’s capital should be known to teachers far and wide.  However, we make a big mistake if we don’t see that the same forces that have hit Washington hard have also been at work in Chicago where mayoral control has displaced many teachers and despite a growing unrest by the parents and students of the city, charter schools continue to open leading to a huge uptick in teen violence.   In Milwaukee, the mayor is trying to take over the city’s schools.   In Detroit, they are trying to blackmail teachers into an agreement where each teacher would loan the school district $1,00o.  New York is threatening to tie tenure into test scores and let’s not forget the Race Off the Cliff coming from our federal government.

I really hope that each and every school district is able to fight off the threat to their districts, but if we are really to be successful we must unite together nationally because the threat that we face is national.   The people who are trying to bring corporate technique to the public schools are the same people who have joined together to ruin our economy.   It would make a lot more sense for the corporations to hire teachers to try to bring the classroom to the board room.   After all, our schools continue to lead the world in producing Nobel and Einstein Prize Winners even as our country has become a spending economy instead of a producing one.    For all of the Gates Foundation’s money, the American people would rightfully react with such horror, if they sent their children to schools that failed as often as any Microsoft Windows Operating System.

I’ve mentioned some big school districts, but I’d love to hear how your particular district is being privatized.  I won’t yell at you if you think it’s a good thing, but I want to know how are charters and corporate “accountability” moving into your schools.   What’s happening where you live?