Made Final CTU Rally Today (After VIrtually Attending All Week)

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Today was my first real-time CTU strike rally!   The only reason I could make the rally today was because my husband, partner, and greatest supporter could escort me, as I’ve been on medical leave recovering from surgery in May. Although I have been actively participating in virtual time all week, as well as when I first began this blog last fall, I had to wait for my escort to ensure I’d have help if I needed assistance.  Ut’s a good thing I waited after hours of standing in the sun cheering and waving my home-made poster, I needed to hold his hand to make my way through the crowd walking to the car.

In my opinion, I could be a poster ‘child’ for why this strike is being held: after having brain surgery on May 15, the principal of the school, where I have taught for the past four years, changed my “Excellent” rating – she herself had given me the previous three years – was changed to “Unsatisfactory” after just four months in a new teaching position while I was on medical leave.  That’s right, three years of excellence as a first grade teacher, which I had years of experience teaching, were eliminated after a mere four months teaching middle school language arts, a subject I am certified to teach but a subject I had never taught before.

The past three years I observed teacher after teacher at the school leave and most felt they were forced to leave.  All were experienced and most near retirement, thus more expensive, and like me, transferred into classrooms with curriculums they had never taught.  All of us were immediately expected to continue teaching like experienced teachers although we had never taught the grade levels or curriculum we were transferred into and were not given the opportunity to get up to speed by the administration before being observed countless times each week and evaluated before we had time to acclimate to our new teaching positions.  The reason given were:  you are experienced teachers you should be able to teach anything at the drop of a hat!  The principal might as well have said “Off with their heads!” and eventually she did.

At the school I taught at previously, the principal dismissed all the untenured teachers, all of whom had masters degrees, including myself, the year before we would have been given tenure.  Then, the following year, the principal re-hired only first year, inexperienced, much less expensive teachers. because her budget had been cut due to the exodus of 30% of students at the school who left to attend an Uno charter school nearby.

How could this happen, excellent teachers being dismissed in order to hire less expensive teachers?  The reasons are complex, yet ultimately they are because of reductions in school budgets based upon student enrollment. Principals now control their own budgets, at one time they did not, but principal’s do not now control teacher salaries.  Get the picture?  Cost cutting means teacher cutting, even if the teacher is an excellent one.

In addition, this is also trickle down from politics: this is Illinois, the state where politicians work the system in unjust ways and the city of Chicago is well known for doing the same,  of course such shenanigans at a state and city level trickle down into the way the Chicago Public Schools are managed.  I mean come on, how else do you think Mayor Daley, Rahm’s predecessor, was able to finagle state permission to have an unelected school board:  it was all about the money it takes to run the third largest school board in the country

Until I talked with my union representative at CTU in January, I had no idea teachers all across Chicago teachers are regularly transferred to areas they have never taught, given no professional development to teach, nor given time to adjust to, before their classroom observations are increased, their ratings are lowered and principals file T3 paperwork to have them dismissed.   The union rep stated this seemed to be strategy to reduce the number of tenured teachers at CPS and a retired administrator echoed that saying “Downtown CPS officials were always pointing out what a drain tenured teachers were, even if those teachers were some of our best teachers and we were encouraged to find a way to reduce the number of tenured teachers!”

Today, inspired yesterday by colleagues from my school, whom I drove by to see yesterday after one of my twice weekly acupuncturist appointments, I held my husbands hand and joined the throngs of people at Union Park and had my day of rallying for fair education for all students in Chicago and fairer treatment for teachers who teach them.

Chicago Teacher’s Strike is Ultimately Rahm’s Choice

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Rahm Emmanuel chose to strike when he decided to join forces with Republican / Tea Party corporate edu-reformers at the state level requiring a 75% strike vote by teachers here in Chicago. The contract negotiations actually began just three months ago when teachers called Rahm out with their 90% strike vote. At the end of the school year, fed up with Rahm’s strong-arming tactics, teachers overwhelmingly voted to strike because Rahm had pushed them into a corner and would not negotiate.

Sure, Rahm may try to pin the strike on Brizzard the CEO of CPS he chose, in the future, yet everyone knows he’s been calling the shots, after all he has a hand-picked not an elected school board to challenge his decisions. However, with the strike vote tonight, teacher’s have challenged Rahm’s bet against them and now he must now make another choice: to actually chose to improve CPS school for ALL children. CPS teachers, students, and parents are all waiting for Superman and it ain’t Rahm Emmanuel!

As a Chicago teacher I keep reading the average pay for a Chicago teacher is $76,000 but I know countless untenured teachers who barely make enough money to live on, pay their exorbitant student loans. Many would claim this salary inequity is due to teacher tenure, yet this is actually due to to an exceptionally educated, experienced, and dedicated work force which has helped raise test scores across this city in spite of draconian cuts year after year such as: wrap around services for students,the real Superman behind Joeffery Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone; the closings of school libraries, Mayor Daley instead chose to build new public libraries which children in violence-ridden areas can risk their lives traveling to; the lack of much needed curricular materials , instead funding has been re-routed for never-ending testing; and a termendous lack of 21st century technology; a necessity for educating an information age work force.

For 25 years Chicago teachers have had their silence about the social injustice of school inequity bought by incremental pay raises those in other salaried professions – requiring the 60 – 80 hour work weeks many exceptional teachers log in – would deem ludicrous. Yes, teachers sure have minute yearly raises, but teachers have salary caps, do not receive social security, and have never been given merit pay as in other professions because teaching is not a business it is a public social service. Tteachers do not chose the students they teach, education is not a product where raw materials are selected then turned into an object on an assembly line – teachers work with students, not raw materials, and teachers work with children not who have needs those in the business world ever have to face in working with adults. Those tiny yearly pay increases for teachers have never been the big payoff they are portrayed – but they have staved off a strike year after year under Mayor Daley.

When teachers were denied their 4% raise because of a budget deficit at the end of the 2010-2011 school year, then at the beginning of the 2011-212 school year teachers were asked to work longer days on tope of it – that straw broke the already over-burdened backs of teachers. Imagine, teachers typically work 60 hours per week, sometimes up to 80 hours per week and they week asked to work even longer hours without a raise. Yet money was found to pay some schools extra to work a longer day, even though they were all told there wasn’t the money to pay 4% raises months earlier. At that time, CPS teacher lost all belief in the fairness of contract negotiations as year after year more and more schools had been closed, as more and more teachers have been laid off, as less and less curricular materials became available (meaning more and more curricular materials are purchased by teachers), as class sizes continue to unmanagably ballooned each year, and wrap around services for students had all but disappeared.

Tonight’s decision to strike has been building for years because of the social injustice of Chicago public schools. Denied raises and with ever increasing paper work replacing teacher preparation off the time clock, teachers decided enough is enough – we have been coping for years and now is the time to put an end to inequities we have ignored for decades!

Teacher Salaries in U.S. Lag Way Behind Canada (and All those Other Countries with Higher Test Scores .)

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Everyone likes to compare the outcomes of the multi-cultural U.S. educatioal system to those of other more homogeneous countries. The truth is no other country publicly educates the multi-ethnic as here in the U.S., except of course Canada. However, in Canada teachers make more – much, much more – than teachers here in “the states” as Canadians refer to those of us below the 49th parallel border between us and them.

Even more importantly, in Canada, as an educator, I felt I was put on a very high pedestal by parents and Canadian citizens on the whole, at least this was my experience teaching in Canada for five years after earning an MAT degree at National Louis University here in Chicago, after substitute teaching without a teaching degree for almost ten years for CPS.

If you click on the graph contrasting the wages of teachers around the world, also cited above, you will find that changing my vocation from artist to that of educator, with a $40,000 student loan, I earned almost twice as much money living in Canada compared to what xi would have made in Canada.after being a starving artist living in an unfinished loft/garrett for years, I was not making much more money: I became a teacher because I wanted to do something meaningful to make the world a better place, not for the fat pay check, but that would have been nice too!

Attending the DNC With a Strike Looming Sends Message from Rahm: Education Doesn’t Matter

Even though Rahm was President Obama’s Chief of Staff, how does he have time to write a speech and travel to Charlotte, N.C. with a strike looming over the heads of students, parents and teachers here in Chicago? It boggles the mind his top priority is not helping to end the possibility of the strike, unless he knows something everyone else does not, for instance he will help make all schools in Chicago equal in curricular materials, facilities, support staff, play grounds, and all the other things which vary extensively form neighborhood to neighborhood in Chicago?

Evidently education – thus the students, parents, and teachers involved in education – are not a priority for Rahm. However, it didn’t take his appearance on television this evening to prove this, he has been proving he really doesn’t care about education since before he was elected. His pre-election promise to extend the school day seemed fatuous and uninformed at best given the budget problems harped about as teachers were let go, schools closed, and bussing stopped all because there wasn’t funding for them. But hey, he had been in Washington D.C. for three years since Obama was elected, so perhaps he had no idea how public education was being decimated in the city he wanted to become mayor in.

When Rahm explained his education agenda – longer school days but no ideas how to enable the successful possibility of a longer school day – the news spread like wildfire through the teaching community. All the teachers I know, as well as the CTU leadership, spread the word a vote for Rahm would be a vote against a fair upcoming teacher’s contract in 2012.

We educators knew what was lost on the rest of the electorate: Rahm did not realize there wasn’t funding for a longer school day because he had no idea what funding a longer school day would entail, let alone cost the city of Chicago.

It is now obvious Rahm thought there would never be a strike because he joined hands with Republicans, the Tea Party, and various teacher and union bashing corporate education reformers at the state level to require a 75% strike vote here in Chicago. Then, like a power hungry bully, he proceeded to push teachers into a very tight corner with refusing to pay for a contractually promised pay raise and then asking them to work 30 more hours per month. Only a leader who thought he had nothing to loose in a contract negotiation would go so far out of his way to alienate the other side to such an extreme extent..

Hopefully there will not be a strike, but if there is I’ll bet Rahm will not be re-elected.

Organized Labor Built That

As I sit recovering from surgery unable to join fellow teachers at the labor rally today here in Chicago, I cannot help but ruminate upon what this country would have been like without the social contract of public education.

Would we have a middle class, now in regress with the financial sector posting record breaking profits while so many more fall from the middle class into poverty?

Would we have been able to educate the masses of immigrants from Europe turning to America to employ and educate the tired, poor masses yearning to be free?

Would we still have child labor if teacher unions had not organized in the early 1900s which advocated against child labor and gave all parents a chance to educate their children.

Would women have been able to vote? Economies thrive when women are educated and educated women will always demand to vote.

Would slavery have been abolished? The abolition movement was organized and mobilized by an educated populace. Organized labor advocates for fair wages and treatment of workers, including teachers, many who work 60 – 80 hours per week.

Would we have put a man on the moon? Neil Armstrong and countless others who made going to the moon possible went to public schools. Do we need to privatize education or is that just another excuse to control the labor force?

I don’t know about any of these propositions, but I do know I am going overboard to make a point: democracy only thrives with an educated populace. This country has been more successful educating and mobilizing its labor force than any in the world and teacher unions and public education have made this possible. Organized labor – especially the hard labor of teachers who have educated most citizens in this country regardless of socio-economic status – has been the engine driving our middle class and economy in the agricultural and industrial age and it will be even more important in driving the post-industrial information age.

The middle class, organized labor, and our economy have worked hand in hand with education as this country has prospered. Public education has taught the workers of this country for over two centuries, organized labor has made the middle class possible, the middle class has driven the economy with the fair wages they use to buy things they need and want, which in turn profit the financial sector. All work in tandem with the foundation of public education at the center holding them together.

Organized labor, public education, and the economy all must continue working together. If the financial sector breaks the backs of the labor force and ends organized labor – including teacher unions – who will take a stand for public education? If education is privatized and the business of education is privatized, big business will be able to manipulate the work force in unimaginable ways.

A labor force educated, paid, and controlled by management with the bottom line of making profits woudl amount to paid slavery. Do we really want to go there?

Students and Community at SOJO Will Not Go Quietly into the Night of Another CPS School Closing

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Yep, everyone – including mainstream media outlets, Democrates, GOP, MBSs who have never spent a day teaching in an inner city public school – just can’t stop to bemoaning how untenured teachers being let go due to lack of seniority, yet, we rarely hear about all the exceptional tenured teachers targeted then fired because principals are encouraged by head office to get rid of expensive experienced educators. I only the anti-union media would begin reporting such losses. Thankfully, organizations such as Teachers for Social Justice are reporting such firings and also celebrating how students and communities can and do impact groundless CPS firings of tenured teachers SOJO Teachers Win Back Jobs! Students March Through Community”

Juan Rangel, UNO, and Charters Schiols Will Not Save Public Education in Chicago: Teacheers Will!

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Today as I scrolled through my facebook page I found a heads-up to yet another great education piece liked by Alexander Russo of District #299 from the Chicago Reader “UNO’s Juan Rangel Does a Damn Good Chris Christie Imitation”. However, Rangel, above, does look much happier than Christie the other night at the Republican Convention. Christie was not happy at all with his scowling and finger pointing claiming “they” this and “they” that about the Democrats and Obama, who also think blaming teachers is the solution to the complexities of reforming education in America.

Reading the piece I was struck by Rangel’s many ‘claims’ so much like all the teacher bashing echoed by not only the Christie and the GOP but by Dems as well. Two glaring claims jumped off the screen at me: Charter schools like UNO have nothing to gain (only federal and state funding) no real estate moguls like Penny Pritzger have nothing to gain (only improving real estate prices with better schools). So I immediately typed off a comment:

“And Juan Rangel isn’t acting in his and UNO’s own interest? Rangel and other Dems seeking to tear down teacher’s unions due to their own self-interest, and the self interest of real estate moguls like the Pritzker family, might as well join the GOP. After all, Rangel and others keep borrowing from the Karl Rove playbook: lie, lie again, then keep up the lies until everyone believes them. All you have to do is look at the test score graphs on the CPS web site to see how charter and turnaround schools are under performing in comparison to public schools. It’s in the data and how can you argue with the data used to evaluate teachers with?”

Because I especially love to read the bombastic comments and replies on comments for Reader pieces, and I admit, I like to be social media savvy having a blog and all, I received additional comment postings to the Rangel piece via email. Some astute replies came up and then one lengthy comment which contained some great points yet was factually lacking. I couldn’t resist, and I posted this additional comment:

“IAC:

You have made some astute points. However, education is funded by property taxes across this country. It is no secret why schools in some neighborhoods are much better funded than other neighborhoods – its the property taxes and the economic power of parents in those areas have. Follow the money, real estate benefits from good schools and Pritzker is in real estate. [Some one later commented this is a chicken and egg type thing. Which comes first. But the connection is clear between real estate value and schools in this country.]

In addition, what makes Pritzker more qualified to be on the board of education in Chicago than a parent with a child in public school or an educator with a Phd? Nothing but business connections with politicians. It is no secret the entire Chicago board of education is filled with mayoral appointees with MBAs or law degrees.

I agree, both parties do not know how to resurrect our education system, first defamed after the 1983 report on the state of education titled “A Nation At Risk”. This report was misrepresented and re-framed by Reagan and others in terms of ideology for their own Machiavellian purposes. Even at the time, the report was an inditement of how poverty impacts students, not only how terrible our education system performs. Further more, the numbers in the report were skewed by the Simpson Paradox and I’m not getting into a statistical analysis here.

Schools – teachers / administrators / neighborhoods – cannot improve education when reform leadership is politically driven and based upon a business model. Read the book “Schools Cannot Do It Alone” written by Jamie Vollmer, a business man turned edu-reformer who no longer believes the business model can work to improve education.

As Vollmer learned from a teacher who challenged his comparison of successful education to successful businesses, the manager of a business selects / controls the raw materials, equipment, and resources used to get results. Educators work with what they are given, usually by politicians. Oh except selective enrollment schools, which include many charter schools. So, not only are charters performing below the level of public schools, student enrollment is more often than not selective.

To learn how business and politics negatively impact education in the U.S. you gotta do your homework because the media nor either political party have the best interest of students in mind when they spout their latest / best ideas for improving test scores.”

That was the end of my second post. Bottom line: education is a social contract, not a business contract and most teachers are highly dedicated. Why trash the profession when the few teachers, as well as administrators, don’t / can’t pull their weight? Why trash unions when they are the only thing standing between classrooms and a complete Wall Street take-over of education? We saw how well that turned out didn’t we?

Striking in Chicago: Rescuing the Teaching Profession from Politicians

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Choosing to strike was the only way for Chicago teachers to rescue public education from an endless list of game players who do not send their children to public schools in Chicago and who would ultimately profit if education was privatized. Chicago teachers have been pushed into a silent, time-out corner like children who are misbehaving for years by politicians beginning with Mayor Daley who master-minded his direct control of CPS via a take-over of the school board in July 1995.

Why do I characterize his take-over, like a CEO not a politician elected by the public, as being master-minded? Because, more than likely, unbeknown to the majority of Chicago citizens, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation giving Mayor Daley complete control of CPS in earlier in 1995. Yes, changes needed to be made in the Chicago Public School system, yet there must have been options beyond a heavy-handed dictatorship of public education in Chicago, finagled at the state level with insurance Daley could cherry-pick a non-elected board.

It is no coincidence Mayor Daley created the first CEO position for CPS and choose Paul Vallas. You see, Vallas was influential at the state level as directed the budget arm of the Illinois State Legislature (and served as budget director for Daley). Vallas, as director of of the Illinois state budget, helped Daley successfully convince the Illinois State Legislature to place CPS under mayoral control. Then an even more laser-like focus on CPS funding began in earnest. If you want to figure out why political decisions are made just follow the money.

From my perspective, 1995 seems to mark the time when CPs teacher contracts began emphasizing only salary: we give you more money and you keep your mouths shut about the educational inequities of this fair city such as: bussing, class size, testing, curricular contracts, and anything else. This worked fine until the contractual raise was denied teachers at the end of the 2011-2012 school year that was the last straw.

With their contractual raise pulled out from under them, the decades of unfairness toward teachers – thus students and their parents – under a hand-picked mayoral board of education became unbearable: Chicago teachers voted to strike in spite of the Illinois State Legislature demanding a 75% strike vote.

Many journalists and politicians try characterizing the decision to strike as motivated entirely about salary. However, when was the last time you heard Rahm Emmanuel say anything positive about the hard working teachers in Chicago? When was the last time you heard public schools have a better track record than charter schools not only here in Chicago but across this fair land? When was the last time you heard a politician talk about poverty as impacting education more than educators themselves? When was the last time you actually talked with an educator about the systemic problems of the education system which was created during an agrarian economy, continued under an industrial economy to supply predominantly blue collar work force, and now still being promoted – blaming teachers without any changes to the system itself – as the way to educate students in the information age?

There need to be changes in the way we educate ALL children for success in the the information age. As proven by Joeffry Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone, this will take millions, if not billions of dollars at the national level, to provide the wrap around services required to nurture a predominantly blue collar work force into a knowledge based work force.

Teaching to the Test Blues

Raising test scores will not help fix a pre meditatively broken education system spawned by NCLB and  teaching to the test. Teaching to the child cannot be done in a quantitative, data driven system which serves as a cognitive gulag.   Education in the U.S. will continue to be a dumbed down version of cognitive colonization preparing students to be drones of the capitalistic machine as long as tests reduce the minds of students to stats.  Best practice for teaching is not supported by NCLB  which only serves the dumbing down of democratic / student based education.  

Merit Pay: Gambling with Education

Step right up and gamble on your child’s education with merit pay for teachers at the all new and improved Public Schools Casino For-Real where huge amounts of money will be spent on an unsupportable quick-fix for educating students!

Merit pay has proven ineffective for CEOs so why would politicians bet on it for improving teacher performance?   Answer: it is the least expensive way for politicians to pretend they doing something to improve education.

In his recent book “Drive”, Daniel Pink uses four decades of scientific research to debunk the carrot-and-stick motivation of merit pay. Instead, Pink thoughtfully explains how three aspects of motivation – autonomy, mastery, and purpose – truly increase productivity, high performance, and job satisfaction.

Before Michelle Rhee, Race to the Top, and other current forms of education reform, merit pay was never a viable education reform option. Previously, autonomy motivated teachers through the ability to direct their own classrooms not follow the directives of misguided, under funded federal law and the accompanying over-load of accountability measures and paperwork.  Mastery of the teaching profession motivated teachers to learn and create new ways to reach students instead of begin told to use expensive, scripted, “research proven” curriculum materials promoted by publishers who lobby politicians.  Job satisfaction for teachers has always been one of the greatest motivators encouraging teachers to do what is right by students and parents because they felt protected by unions to stand up stand for best-practice teaching methodology, without fear of loosing their jobs when challenging the status-qou.

Let’s not fool ourselves on this gamble, many teachers who might receive merit pay for making a difference in their students lives would do so without merit pay, yet what kind of educators will merit pay begin to attract?  In addition, as an experienced teacher, who, more often than not, has improved student achievement in my classroom every year, I know most parents would not want their children being taught by competitive, race to the top teachers who view their children as test score numbers to improve for merit pay.  Reaching every student in a classroom is a complex mix of human development, nurture, and professional know-how above and beyond your typical business model of merit.

I’ve seen what a focus on test scores has done to school morale and it is far from productive.  At a previous school, I saw teachers encouraged to finger point at other teachers because student test scores fell over the summer!  I’ve then seen teachers take credit for students improvement and say this had nothing to do with the previous teachers students had.  On top of all the teacher back-biting, I experienced administrators, so worried about their own pay rate, encouraging staff members to turn on each other through tattling, gossip mongering in order to demoralize other teachers who were struggling to meet scripted mandates.

This is the future of merit pay:  pitting teachers against each other instead of encouraging them to work as a team.  Look forward to teachers being as cut-throat as wall street brokers competing against each other for the biggest piece of the pie.  It didn’t work on Wall Street so why would it work in hallways of schools?