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The National Implications of Emmanuel’s Re-Election Redux

March 5, 2015 Leave a comment

Yesterday I wrote a post based on a NYTimes article describing how Rahm Emmanuel’s “reform” agenda might prove to be his undoing in seeking re-election as mayor of Chicago. Today Salon features a lengthy interview with Emmanuel’s opponent, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who is now in a dead heat with Emmanuel despite being outspent 12:1 and having the President of the US show up to provide support. In many of the questions posed about why Emmanuel is vulnerable, Garcia cites Emmanuel’s handling of public education and his decisions to favor corporations over citizens. This quote is a good example of the bad priorities Emmanuel has embraced:

This (increase in the city’s indebtedness) occurs while he’s providing tax dollars to benefit his rich friends, like the Marriott Hotel chain in the South Loop, an area that doesn’t need Tax Increment Financing to make a hotel development a reality in one of the hottest real estate markets in the city. Those are the priorities of this administration: wanting to build a DePaul [basketball] arena while we have the levels of violence that we do in the neighborhoods is another clear example of this administration’s misguided priorities in Chicago, when the city is suffering from closed schools and the violence that goes unabated.

Two of the questions posed were particularly relevant to an emerging trend in the public’s views on public education, particularly in urban areas where mayors have sought complete control over schools:

Last Tuesday, over 80 percent of the voters favored a referendum for an elected school board. Rahm Emanuel doesn’t want it. Why does Chicago need it?

Chicagoans have arrived at the conclusion that we need more accountability over the Chicago public school system. The legislation that gave the mayor absolute authority over the school board has been rejected. People no longer have faith that complete control over the school system should lie in the hands of the mayor. They want an elected school board just like all the state of Illinois has, but for Chicago. It clearly shows the mayor being out of step with the citizens of Chicago.

What have been the consequences of an appointed school board?

The consequences are that you wind up with Mayor Emanuel appointing people who wind up on the school board with conflicts of interest. People like Dave Vitale who come from the banking industry engaging in exotic financing deals that can jeopardize the assets of the Chicago Public Schools. People don’t want that. People want elected representatives who care more about the policy rather than using the assets of the school system once again to benefit their friends.

What is happening in Chicago should resonate with citizens in States where Governors want to wrest control for public education from elected school boards as voters in towns and cities across the country catch on to the games that politicians are playing. Politicians are giving their campaign contributors opportunities to advance their earning while denying students an opportunity to advance their learning. They are giving corporations tax breaks while cutting budgets for schools and declaring crises in meeting pension payments and keeping contractual agreements. MAYBE the Chicago mayoralty election is a canary in a coal mine: a sign that the public is serious about clipping the wings of conservatives and neo-liberals who want to reward businesses while punishing government employees. Stay tuned! 


The Fruits of Funding Inequity in Ferguson, Missouri

March 5, 2015 Leave a comment

Charles Blow’s column in today’s NYTimes describes the damning findings of the DOJ relative to the police force in Ferguson MO. I believe Blow realizes that the problems Ferguson is experiencing are no different than the problems property poor communities are encountering across the country… and while those communities are not all populated by minorities, they all face daunting challenges because they are economically disadvantaged.

Ferguson, like many towns with high poverty rates and low property values, suffers in many ways. For example, Ferguson schools spend $500 per student less than the State average… and their strained tax base cannot afford the kinds of recreational opportunities for their citizens that more affluent communities provide. They don’t have garden clubs who can plant tulips in median strips in town or have public funds to pay for planters in their town center. They may not even HAVE a viable town center because Dollar Stores and Walmarts have forced small businesses to close. This creates a vicious cycle: housing values decline as schools are underfunded and parks are poorly maintained and police departments turn to ticketing for revenue because they, too, are underfunded.

The solution to this problem— which is happening in New York State and many states across the country— is to increase spending for schools and social services instead of militarizing police departments. If Ferguson had additional state funds to help pay for their schools they might be able to use local funds to underwrite the costs of a police force that doesn’t have to rely on ticketing citizens in the community, a police force that provides support for parents and children who want to live a better life.

The solution to the problem is to recognize that we are interdependent. We need to help the communities in our states who, like Ferguson, cannot get out from under because of the way we’ve rigged the system to ensure that those born in affluent zip codes get the best treatment and those born in poverty have an even harder struggle to advance. And given that 45 states have had lawsuits filed to provide equitable funding for schools– a good proxy for funding disparities– it is clear that Ferguson is NOT an outlier.

Maryland Legislators Should Heed David Hornbeck’s Wise Advice

March 4, 2015 Leave a comment

The February 27 featured an editorial by former MD Commissioner and former Philadelphia Superintendent David Hornbeck urging legislators to reject legislation designed to promote the expansion of charter schools. I had the privilege of working for David Hornbeck for two years when I was superintendent in MD for ten years beginning in the late 1980s and found him to be apolitical and completely committed to providing equitable and excellent educational opportunities for all children. His commitment to that goal led him to implement charter schools in Philadelphia because he believed that they might prove to be a means of upgrading the learning experiences of children who were raised in poverty. As the editorial indicates, that did not prove to be true and, even worse, Dr. Hornbeck found that the expansion of charter schools proved to be more detrimental to students than the status quo.

The article is well written. Concise, factual, and logical, the essay describes how charter schools siphon money, good students, and resources away from schools serving the neediest children and concludes with this set or recommendations with my emphases:

Charters are not substitutes for broader proven reforms. In fact, chartering is not an education reform. It’s merely a change in governance. A charter law doesn’t deal with the hard and often costly slog of real reform. We know from research and experience what works to build schools with thriving students:

•High standards;

•Quality teachers;

•Prekindergarten for 3 year olds;

•Lower class sizes through the third grade;

Attacking concentrated poverty through community schools; after school programs; more instruction time for students who struggle; home visitation programs; and high quality child care.

Let’s do what we know works.

David Hornbeck led the State of MD schools for 12 years and the challenging Philadelphia schools for six years. He knows what works and what doesn’t. Legislators across MD and the nation should listen to him. 

The Perils of Privatization

March 4, 2015 Leave a comment

The Perils of Privatization.

This article shows how privatization has failed in the military and failed in prisons… the conclusion applies to ALL public functions including schools:

For all the rhetoric about public-private partnerships, our society works better when we keep public functions public and private ones private.

NYC Take Heart! Rahm Emmanuel’s Misbegotten School “Reform” MAY Cause Him to Lose Re-Election

March 4, 2015 Leave a comment

As Monica Davey and Julie Bosman reported in today’s NYTimes, Rahm Emmanuel’s public school policy has undermined his re-election as mayor and MAY result in the election of a progressive insurgent candidate, Jesus G. Garcia, who has the full support of the Chicago Teachers Union. While Emmanuel is likely to win in the run off given the massive amounts of money he can raise and the political clout he possesses, Garcia’s ability to force a run-off is an indication that urban areas are wise to what is going on… even if Davey and Bosman are not.

After a lone paragraph citing AFT President Randi Weingarten’s conclusion that Emmanuel’s “… education agenda is based on sanctions and punishing and tests in lieu of the professional judgment of educators”, the Times offers several paragraphs of data supporting Emmanuel’s reforms. In the end, though, the Times was compelled to add this qualifying reality:

A study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research found that 93 percent of the nearly 11,000 displaced elementary students wound up in schools with better ratings. About one in five ended up in schools the district has deemed in its top tier. More than a third of the students, though, remained in schools in the lowest tier, leading the researchers to conclude that while most students had gone to better schools, in many cases the schools were only marginally better.

“That’s because we have very few high-performing schools in these neighborhoods,” said Andrea Zopp, president of the Chicago Urban League and an Emanuel appointee to the Chicago Board of Education. “That’s the ultimate issue that we are trying to address.”

A week ago I posted this link to a 22 minute documentary from Naked Capitalism that gave the answer to the question posed repeatedly in the article, which is “Why Did Emmanuel Need to Close 50 Schools?” The answer is to reward his campaign contributors who want to make a profit from publicly funded schools… or… to put it more charitably… to provide a fast, cheap, and politically expedient means of addressing “failing schools”. Either way, as this documentary and countless blog articles show, parents and the public are getting wise to the “reform” game and are increasingly willing to see that poverty, not bad teachers, is the problem with “failing schools”.


The REAL Violence in Public Education is the Collateral Damage of Class Warfare

March 3, 2015 Leave a comment

Steve Singer’s recent blog post, “The Worst Sort of Violence Against Children” cross posted from The Progressive in Common Dreams describes the collateral damage that occurs when schools are underfunded and, consequently, under-resourced. In the article Singer describes the real violence his students face… not in school… but every day at home and, as was the case in one of his students, overseas where she was exposed to the horrific mall shootings in Nigeria. While suburban parents are raising funds for arguably superfluous safety equipment to protect their children from armed intruders, our country is doing little to help students who encounter real dangers each and every day of their lives. Singer describes the effects of poverty on his students this way:

Students must have their physical needs met first—be fed, have a full night’s rest, etc. Then they have to feel safe, loved, and esteemed before they can reach their potentials.

But meeting these needs is a daily challenge. Our students come to us with a wealth of traumas and we’re given a poverty of resources to deal with them.

How many times have I given a child breakfast or bought a lunch? How many kids were given second-hand clothes or books? How many hours have I spent before or after school just listening to a tearful child pour out his heart?

He emphasizes that he was drawn to teaching because he wanted to help children experiencing distress. But he DOES object to the public’s blaming teachers for their inability to achieve “success” in the classroom:

But what I do mind is doing this alone. And then being blamed for not healing all the years of accumulated hurt.

Because that’s exactly what’s expected of teachers these days. Fix this insurmountable problem with few tools and if you can’t, it’s your fault.

I didn’t shoot up the mall. I didn’t pass the laws that make it so easy for kids to get a hold of a gun. I didn’t pass the laws that allow such rampant income inequality and the perpetuation of crippling poverty that more than half of our nation’s public school children live with every day. And I sure didn’t slash public school budgets while wealthy corporations got a tax holiday.

But when society’s evils are visited on our innocent children, I’m expected to handle it alone. And if I can’t solve it all by myself, I should be fired.

That is where I take umbrage.

The parents in Singer’s school are not worried about intruders coming into school… they are worried about getting a decent meal on the table and a roof over their kids heads. They… and especially their children… are the collateral damage of the class war. And when teachers are expected to do the impossible and lose their job when they fail to do so, they, too, become collateral damage.

Meet Me At The Barricades

March 3, 2015 Leave a comment

I read a report from the Columbus Dispatch that the Southwest Licking School District PTA decided to raise $30,000 to install barricades in the doors of its elementary school as a precaution against armed intruders and was filled with dismay.

I was dismayed mainly because I thought it was sad that a group of parents felt that it was imperative that they raise $30,000 for a safety item, but even more dismayed to read that the safety item they believed they “needed” was “…Barracuda intruder-defense systems (for) every student door in the district.”. This report was discouraging for several reasons:

  • The “Barracuda intruder defense system” would not be failsafe in any school: Having looked at the video of this product, I see several flaws in its use. First and foremost, it assumes that the shooting incident will take place when an adult is present in every room in the school, which is often not the case. In elementary schools some group of students are often at recess, or lunch, or en route from one class to another in a (presumably) insecure hallway, playground, or large gathering area. Secondly, it assumes that the adult in the room will know how to use the tool, which requires the training of ALL school personnel including substitutes.  Thirdly, in response to these “gaps” some parents, Board members, and administrators might suggest even more heavy handed monitoring and “locking down” adding to the atmosphere of fear and protection outlined below.
  • “Barracuda intruder-defense systems” reinforce fear and protection in an era when children need support and encouragement: Based on my understanding, the youngsters who become “school shooters” are disaffected students who felt marginalized in school and had a desire to get revenge and make a name for themselves. It strikes me that a “Barracuda intruder-defense system” would not be an obstacle in the minds of these shooters any more than the armed guard was at Columbine or the secure entry system was at Sandy Hook.
  • Taxes, not “bake sales”, should pay for safety concerns: If a “safety item” is needed for a school it should be budgeted by the school board and paid for by the taxpayers. Would the PTO be expected to raise funds to purchase and install better door locks– the most common means of upgrading security? Would they be expected to raise funds for surveillance cameras? Pay for the cost of a “good guy with a gun”? There is a reason that these kinds of decisions are rendered by School Boards. It assures that they are made after weighing their value against other alternatives, after considering the psychological implications, after weighing the time needed for staff training, and— as was true in this case— after ensuring that the decision was in compliance with local ordinances and resources.
  • Parents fears surpass their desire for equity or enrichment: I harkened back to my early days as an Acting Principal at an elementary school in suburban Philadelphia where funds were raised for special field trips to orchestra performances in the city or trips to amusement parks… recalled my early career as a Superintendent in rural Maine where the parents raised money to make it possible for all the children to going skiing if they wished or to participate in field days at the end of the year… and as Superintendent in NH and NY where PTOs raised huge sums to upgrade and modernize their playgrounds so that children at recess and so that communities would have places for children to congregate and play on weekends…
  • “Safety equipment” makes school facilities more like penitentiaries and less like campuses: The more schools attempt to be 100% safe the more they resemble prisons. It is not hard to imagine parents who are fearful that intruders might invade playgrounds advocating that the schools install a fence with razor wire around the perimeter. If parents want to be absolutely certain that corridors and common areas are safe they might advocate the school expand the number of armed guards in the hallways. To make sure that only students are present in the school they might advocate that all students wear uniforms with their names and student numbers emblazoned on the outside. These may sound like extreme solutions, but they are the logical consequence of the desire to provide a 100% secure environment for children.

I am dismayed about these developments, but I have a vivid memory of  the “Columbine Spring” that was the source of this demand for school security, the event that “changed everything”. In 1999 I was serving as Superintendent in Dutchess County NY and convening coffees to provide parents and community members with an overview of the budget that would be voted on in mid May.  But in 1999 the conversations at those gatherings never got to the budget: they were all about the events in Colorado in a community that looked a lot like the communities I was leading in NYS. After those shootings and the ones that followed parents and school boards focussed less and less on funding for playgrounds and more and more on new door locks, video surveillance, and redesigning schools so that administrative offices were closer to the entryway. When budgets became tighter and tighter, security issues trumped playgrounds and other capital projects, a trend that only got worse after the shootings at Sandy Hook.

I am dismayed by this trend because it erodes the child’s belief that the outside world is safe and welcoming and reinforces parent fears that their children will be harmed or abducted and, in doing so, brings discussion down to a lower level on Maslow’s hierarchy when school policy is being discussed. If we want imaginative and creative children who love attending school every day, we need to accept the very low risk that a shooter might invade a school or a stranger might abduct a child while encoring our children to experience the freedom and liberty that makes our country different from those parts of the world where every movement is controlled and monitored.