Saturday, July 20, 2013

Chicago's Friday Morning Massacre - the Human Collateral in the War of Testing Over Teaching


One backscript lurking behind the story of the mass ejecting Chicago Public School teachers from their positions mid-summer is that this is in a context of a high-flying financial sector economy in Chicago. The Windy City, the magnet of Chicagoland, drawing people from the otherwise troubled former industrial heartland that is the Midwest, sometimes called the Rustbelt (a term I do not prefer as it dismisses manufacturing and industrialism as old hat), is doing well. The Chicago (and disadvantaged cities of Illinois, for that matter) public revenues can do well by taking the public's fair share from the wealthy.

In addition, akin to the old guns and butter debate of military spending versus social needs, we must point out that Illinois' questionable decision to pony along with the Common Core mania has worsened public education's situation. In carrying out Common Core mandates, Illinois is hitching itself to the computerized testing that the test entails, and the computerization expenses that come with it. Namely, note that Illinois is going along with the PARCC program, the computerized test for executing the Common Core. (The test expense itself is making more districts to be wary of the tests. Oklahoma pulled out of PARCC over technology difficulties.) A rising public debate is challenging the Common Core. The key matter is, must we jeopardize educations and careers in the unnecessary rush for commercialized testing?

In short, the funds are there. There is no need to dismiss teachers or support staff. It is a question of priorities.

A second disturbing backscript is one wonders some of these schools and programs are being cut purposely in areas that have key activist teachers. Close a school, slash a program, through a teacher out of her or his program, and conveniently Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and the education privatizers can (hope to) silence strong voices in the resistance against commercialized education.

Namely, I refer to Xian Barrett, a key activist in the Chicago Teachers Union. He has been a key figure in the Chicago scene and he has traveled out of the region to support teachers in New York City and elsewhere who are engaged in like educational-political struggles. Furthermore, he has been a well-recognized teacher of law and history. So when I read that he was among over 2,000 educators in a mass dismissal Friday morning alarm bells went off in my mind that this could be political scapegoating. Here is a fine piece from the 'Chicago Sun-Times,' from Fred Klonsky's blog yesterday. Note how there is yet another agenda at work here: the replacing of veteran, tenured teachers with less expensive Teach for America recruits (read on these glorified 2 year temps, here, here, here):
Gage Park High School teacher Xian Barrett learned Friday morning he was one of 2,113 Chicago Public Schools employees losing his job from his mother.
Why the principal called his emergency contact instead of his primary number, he isn’t sure. But when Barrett returned the message his mother relayed from his principal, he was read the script thanking him for his service — but pink-slipping him.
“The fact that there’s a script and it has in it, ‘Thank you for the service to the kids’ but no details — the fact that it’s always done this impersonally. It’s not just about firing. It’s how CPS treats their students. They’re interchangeable, and the relationships in their lives are interchangeable,” Barrett, 35, told the Sun-Times Friday. It went better, though, than the first time the district laid him off in 2010, when the principal — who also called his mother — went right into the script.
“The principal laid off my mom,” said Barrett, recipient of a prestigious and national U.S. Department of Education Teaching Fellowship, and a tenured teacher of law and of Chicago history at Gage Park on the Southwest Side. His law class typically spent Monday mornings with a triage of cases kids brought to him that friends or relatives were involved in.
“We get to a point where we’re called to serve the entire community. What I just challenge people to think about is that one teacher who made the difference in your life and what would happen if they were torn out of the fabric of your life,” Barrett said.
Barrett didn’t yet know how many of his Gage Park colleagues were part of the massive layoffs that hit Friday.
In one of the city’s largest teacher layoffs ever, the district pink slipped 2,113 teachers and other employees.
Of those laid off, 1,036 are teachers and 1,077 are support staff, with the laid-off teachers accounting for about 4 percent of last year’s total faculty of 23,290.
Budget cuts are to blame for 815 support staff, 398 tenured teachers and 510 non-tenured teachers; school closings for 68 support staff employees and 194 food staff employees, and changes in school enrollments account for rest, the district said.
Another 161 highly-rated teachers from the 48 schools that closed permanently in June also learned later Friday they will not follow their students to new schools — there aren’t enough open jobs in the receiving schools, according to CPS spokeswoman Kelley Quinn. Their positions have been cut, but they’re not technically laid off since they continue to collect full pay and benefits in a teacher reassignment pool for the first five months of the school year, and slightly lower pay in the cadre substitute pool for the next five months, Quinn said.
The district, which has been saying for weeks it would “minimize cuts to the classroom” while staring down a historic budget deficit, blames the layoffs on a $400 million increase in annual teacher pension payments. Those payments jumped this year from about $196 million a year to about $600 million because a three-year period of pension relief came to an end, CPS said.
In a statement Friday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the cuts “yet another painful reminder to Springfield that we need immediate pension relief.
“With a billion dollar budget deficit, decreased enrollment and ballooning pension costs, CPS has been forced to make extremely difficult choices to put our school district in the best position to be successful next year and beyond,” the mayor’s statement said.
Flanked by teachers and parents Friday afternoon, CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey called the layoffs “outrageous.”
“The school day for students got more than 20 percent longer and yet now we see massive layoffs in the staff that’s supposed to be delivering the educational content that makes that school day better. I don’t see the point of making the school day 20 percent longer and then laying off all the art music, physical education teachers that were supposed to fill the day up with education,” he said. “This is the starving of public schools through insufficient revenue and when the district first said they would be closing 50 public schools in order to save money, I think that was about the right answer…What it means is we’re offering a more and more meagre and a poorer education.”
He seemed doubtful the CTU could restore any of the jobs without major change in Springfield or city leadership, just as the union and its supporters weren’t able to save schools from closing: “The public disagreed with the school closings and yet we couldn’t soften the heart of Pharaoh, those school closings still went through.”
The layoffs come about a month after 850 other employees were laid off — 545 of them teachers — mostly due to the closure of 48 schools.
They include teachers, teacher assistants, clerks, technology coordinators, instructional aides, lunchroom workers and security guards.
Some of the teachers could be replaced by Teach For America recruits, as the district has committed to more than doubling its investment in the TFA program that trains college graduates for five weeks then sends them into schools for two years at a time. The Board of Education voted to increase its payment to TFA from $600,000 to nearly $1.6 million, and to add up to 325 new TFA recruits to CPS classrooms, in addition to 270 second year “teacher interns”.
TFA spokeswoman Becky O’Neill said about 200 of the new recruits are destined for charters, the rest to interview for openings in neighborhood schools.
“We’re looking forward to getting more information and better understanding how all of this impacts the schools and principals with whom we partner,” she said.
Sharkey denounced CPS’ TFA placements “at the same time it’s laying off veterans. This is an organization who started out saying their mission was to serve underserved children with a teachers shortage. There’s no longer a teacher shortage.”
The tumultuous news capped a year of upheaval that included a teacher strike, the implementation of longer school days, mass school closings, budget cuts and a new school budgeting system that grants autonomy – but also tough spending decisions and less money – to principals.
Principals from the affected schools began notifying employees Friday morning. Ruth Augspurger, the art teacher at Carson Elementary School, 5516 S. Maplewood Ave., said she got a call from her principal saying her position was cut – but that’s all she remembers from the shock.
“I believe that every child should have the privilege to have the highest level of education,” the veteran teacher of 9 1/2 years who originally moved to Chicago to attend Art Institute of Chicago, said crying, “so knowing there were many challenges to teaching in this district I decided to stay here for almost a decade.”
Parent group Raise Your Hand called the CPS announcement “a frightening day for the children of Chicago.”
“Our mayor has chosen to prioritize property tax spending on unnecessary and frivolous projects such as $55 million for a stadium for DePaul University, while CPS continues to receive drastic funding cuts that severely impact our children’s ability to thrive and learn,” they said in a statement Friday. “The mayor’s decision not to use TIF money to offset some of these cuts is deeply disappointing and is forcing many parents to leave the city.”
Diane Ravitch posted on the mass dismissals, and pondered whether this brass knuckles move was payback revenge for the Chicago Teachers Union's strike last September.

Veteran educator and activist Lois Weiner writes today in the journal "New Politics"' online blog points out that there are two strategies to pursue, revolt from below pressuring American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten to use her clout with the White House. I agree-- both channels should be pursued. Quite rightly, she calls mayor Emanuel's moves as class warfare. As I note in my late edit below, New York governor Andrew Cuomo is conducting similar class warfare. As Weiner suggests, teacher unions should rethink their financial support for Democratic politicians.

Heartbreak and class warfare, Chicago-style, July 20, 2013
I’d be heart-broken by the layoffs announced by the Chicago Public Schools, (CPS) even if my pal Xian Barrett (in the photo, talking teaching with me at the DC Save Our Schools demo last April) weren’t one of the folks given a pink slip.

By pinning the blame for the layoffs on “the lack of pension reform” Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to force the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) to choose between layoffs and cuts to pensions. Meanwhile, the CTU with parent and community allies has brought the district to court to reverse the school closings, tenaciously contested last Spring.

Layoffs are devastating - as are school closings. Can the CTU win this? Or as a reader of my most recent NP seems to suggest, is schooling just too enmeshed in the muck of capitalist social relations for even a good union to counter?

No one has a crystal ball - not me, not readers, and not our enemies. No one knows what the outcome of this struggle will be. This is class warfare, and in wars both sides have wins and losses. The CTU’s strike and its success in building solid, mutually respectful alliances with parents, students, community, and other unions go in the “win” column. So far the weight of those successes has not been sufficient to keep Emanuel and the political elite of Chicago whom he represents from countering successfully with the school closings and layoffs.

What to do now? I think the union needs to adopt two strategies simultaneously. First is turning up the heat “from below.” CTU knows how to organize and staff are likely cooking up a campaign as I write. Maybe a series of rolling strikes? That’s what the two biggest teachers unions in the UK are doing now to push back on the government’s attacks on teachers and public education. (Catch that band playing! Love those hats!) The Bad Ass Teachers Association has a campaign to phone Emanuel's office and demand he call off the layoffs. Nice work, BATS!

The other part of the strategy is “from above.” This means putting pressure on AFT President Randi Weingarten, who has considerable access to the White House, to use her clout, now. After letting the White House know her intention, Weingarten could have a coffee date with Rahm and explain why he can’t tell teachers to choose between pensions and layoffs - not, that is, if he wants a single penny from the AFT for Democrats (who don’t deserve a cent to start, but that’s another blog…) No campaign workers, no phone banks. And a campaign in the AFL-CIO to follow suit.

What if Weingarten doesn’t respond to private pressure? Doesn't want to use her political capital to save the jobs of Chicago teachers? Then we should go public with the demand. Petitions, phone calls, to the AFT national office. Union officials are only as smart and powerful as their members help them to be. Union officers get lots of heat from the media and the politically powerful to be reasonable, that is, make concessions. It’s the job of members to push the other direction, hold our officers’ feet to the fire. By making demands on Weingarten to defend Xian and the other 2000 CPS employees told they've been laid off, we’ll be helping Randi Weingarten to do her job. And by organizing at the schools, with parents, students, and community, the CTU is helping Rahm to be a better Mayor. And boy, does he need help. Until we throw him out.
Let us not sit still. This is not an isolated case. This is a international struggle; this is a international cause.

[Postscript: Linking to Weiner's suggestion that the AFT might consider the threat of witholding support for Democrats, there is the parallel case waiting to be pursued: Teachers and their unions should cut any support to New York governor Andrew Cuomo (1) who worsened teachers' working conditions by applying for Race to the Top, and for (2) imposing a draconian teacher evaluation system; and --in solidarity with state employees overall-- (3) for Cuomo's threatening state employees' retirements with his steady attack on pensions.]

Bravo to the rogue NYSUTer who posted a rogue video contribution on NYSUT's Facebook page. Of course, NYSUT issued a disclaimer and pulled the vide, but not before the New York Daily News ran this story, October 24, 2012, at its "Daily Politics" site: State Teachers Union Links Gov. Cuomo To National Attack On Education
The powerful state teachers union Wednesday launched its harshest attack on Gov. Cuomo and his education policies.
The New York State United Teachers posted a seven-minute video on its political Facebook page that links the Democrat Cuomo’s agenda to the roll back of union rights in Wisconsin and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s education platform.

“Wisconsin wasn’t the end,” the video states. “It was the beginning.”
It then leads into a Cuomo speech on education where he talks of the “failing of our public education system.”
The video disputes Cuomo’s contention that New York is 38th in graduation rates despite being number one in the nation in spending.
It also highlights his attacks on superintendents, principals and teachers before offering a list of his top accomplishments the union considers anti-education.
Among them are changes to the pension system for new government hires, the creation of a 2% cap on local property tax increases, an increase in charter schools, and a new teacher evaluation system.
It even mocks his much quoted contention that the students are the only ones in the education system without a lobbyist.
“I guess the students wanted higher class sizes, program cuts and more standardized tests...because that’s exactly what they got,” the video says.
The video also ties Cuomo’s education agenda to others like Mayor Bloomberg and Romney.
NYSUT in the web posting specifically credits Rep. Tim Bishop of Long Island with voting with the union 100% of the time and chastises his GOP opponent Randy Altschuler for a platform that is “from another planet.”
The video urges union members to band together “or we can fall apart.”
It urges members to sign up for phone banks, talk with neighbors about the issues, attend rallies, and vote.
“We are not Republicans and we are not Democrats,” the video concludes. “We are teachers--and education matters.”
The union in recent days donated $25,000 to the New York chapter of the Democratic Legislature Campaign Committee, a group dedicated to electing Dems to state Legislatures across the country. That's on top of the hundred thousands of dollars that are being spent by the union as an independent expenditure on key state Senate races.
A Cuomo spokesman could not be immediately be reached for comment.
WBEZ Chicago public radio tweeted, July 22 that Chicago Public Schools "could not tell us today how much it is saving by laying off 2,113 school staff."

From Mike Klonsky's blog, July 18, 2013:

Gang expert Hagedorn warns federal judge to stop Chicago school closings

John Hagedorn 
A SmallTalk salute goes out to UIC prof John Hagedorn for speaking truth to power during a second day of testimony before a federal judge who's considering a temporary injunction to stop the district from closing dozens of schools, nearly all in the city's mainly black south and west-side communities.

John, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Illinois-Chicago's Great Cities Institute and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, has been researching and writing about Chicago's street gangs from multiple perspectives for decades. He's the author of People & Folks, Gangs, Crime, and the Underclass in a Rustbelt City. This book, published in 1998, re-framed the study of gangs in the United States by focusing on the impact of de-industrialization. He's currently studying why Chicago's homicide rate has not declined like New York City's.

In his 2008 book, A World of Gangs, he writes:
… institutionalized gangs and other armed young men [that] have become permanent fixtures in many ghettos, barrios, and favelas across the globe are an ever present option for marginalized youth. [G]angs are unmistakable signs that all is not well and that millions of people are being left out of the marvels of a globalized economy. 
FOX News reports:
Taking the stand for lawyers opposed to Chicago Public Schools' recent decision to shutter about 50 public elementary schools, John Hagedorn also testified that rival gangs already are posting warnings on Facebook for the incoming children from other neighborhoods to stay off their turf.
"It's already aggravating gang conflicts," he said about the pending closings. And if the closings ahead, added the University of Illinois at Chicago professor, "It is likely a child will be shot and killed."
John told Judge John Lee that it's not a question of whether there will be shooting in neighborhoods kids must walk through. He says shootings are happening now. He adds school closings already are prompting gang Facebook postings warning students to stay away.

"The old times where one gang controlled one neighborhood are gone," he said. "Those changes are what make it especially dangerous to children."

According to the Sun-Times:
Hagedorn displayed gang maps, showing how students would have to cross gang boundaries to get to their new schools and arguing that CPS doesn’t have an effective safety plan in place. For example, he said, children transferred from Pope Elementary to Johnson Elementary in North Lawndale will “literally be walking down a line of fire” on Albany Avenue, where the New Breeds have clashed with rival gangs.
CPS’ “Safe Passage” program, which pays community groups to chaperone children, won’t “protect them from bullets,” he added.
Thanks John.