Posted by: competitivemalaise | July 25, 2013

Lake house blogging

Some observations from vacation ….

One, nearly two weeks into vacation, and I am still having anxiety dreams. Dreams which portend of anxieties of my daily life back home, dreams which have to do with things I’d really rather not think about on vacation, work dreams, driving dreams, and so forth. Now as I write this, I can’t remember details, but I’m frequently waking up slightly annoyed. The good dreams never last, never get to the good parts … but the anxiety dreams go on and on and don’t resolve themselves. What is that about? Enough already. Maybe I’m getting too much sleep? Really, if that’s true … well, then, you can’t win.

Second, it’s gorgeous here. One slight quibble, from a week first in the suburbs and then in the country … what is it with these folks and motors? Honestly, lovely, relaxing, country, and someone is always running a lawnmower … how relaxing is that? And on the lake, do people content themselves with nice quiet boats like kayaks and sailboats and paddle boats and the occasionally pontoon boat? No. On the weekends especially, jetskis and motorboats that race up and down the little lake, sometimes pulling people behind them on skis or floats … ugh. Too loud.  And the Mama Loon doesn’t like the motors either. She yells at them a lot.

There’s a loon pair here, with a baby. They’re nesting across the lake, the baby is learning to swim but doesn’t dive much yet. The Mama Loon goes frantic trying to warn off the motor boats and jetskis. She doesn’t like them at all.  She had a good day yesterday when it was too cold and windy for the power boats to be out.  The photo below was taken by my kid as we were kayaking past the pair: Mama and baby.  She was not best pleased with us, though she didn’t seem to mind having her picture taken …. as long as we didn’t get too close or appear to be chasing them …

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Posted by: competitivemalaise | June 22, 2013

Netroots Nation Friday

Friday was long long and busy.

Started by going to the “Morning Dump” with Lizz Winstead, Shannon Moore (the blogger from Alaska who Sarah Palin hates …), Joan Walsh, Cliff Schetcher, Tracy Weitz.The Dump was all about abortion access restrictions, and what that does to women. Tracy Weitz has done a fair bit of research on what happens to women who are denied abortions — who by time they make it to a clinic are just outside the legal gestation period. And it turns out that yes, they love their kids, but they are significantly poorer than the women who got abortions.  So restrictions on abortion are a good way to keep women in poverty: that’s the outcome.

OK, I keep trying to write a synopsis of the days events — at which I took copious notes — but I keep chatting with people instead. Which is the best part of the conference: chatting with folks. More interesting people here than can be believed, both the ones who are famous — or famous in the left-wing blog world — and the folks who are activists.

More blogging when I have a chance. Right now, I’m just giving up and saying it’s been fun, learning a lot, meeting people, seeing a lot of great folks.

 

Posted by: competitivemalaise | June 21, 2013

Netroots Nation Day 2 (one day later)

So, yesterday was a bit difficult for me — was over-tired, a bit sick, and just wanted to lie and sleep. Not  particularly productive for getting stuff done.

That said, I did see Lizz Winstead and Joan Walsh talk about their books – and about politics in the US now — that was terrific. Wish I could afford to buy Joan’s book … but there it is. Maybe on the Kindle at some point.

Went to the panel on “Mansplaining” but had to leave early as i felt awful.

Saw Howard Dean and Barney Frank talk about the Pentagon Budget — Barney is a joy to hear. We could cut the Pentagon budget by25% and still be the most advanced military in the world — and he says about new planes (can’t remember which ones) — who are we going to use them against? The Chinese just bought an aircraft carrier from the Ukraine — it’s not like they’re up on air defense. The second most powerful air force in the world — second to our US Air Force — is run by the US Navy. So ….

Fangirld geekdom: Saw Marcy Wheeler in the hallway, Saw Howard Dean and Barney Frank twice (and was close enough to touch Barney in the Daily Kos lounge when we were all milling about hoping for food), and really too many to count.

Ended the day going to the keynote speaches …. again, too many to count. Elon James White was the host: the man is funny. Terrific. Howard, Barney, Sandra Fluke, Jeff Merkely — highlights. Also, a San Jose city councilor, Congressman Mike Honda, and many others … video from the President and Elizabeth Warren.

Blew off Laughing Liberally — wanted to go, but was much too tired.

Read More…

Posted by: competitivemalaise | June 20, 2013

San Jose Day 1

Made it to San Jose for Netroots Nation.  Wickedly happy to be on an adventure, out of Chicago, and somewhere I’ve never been before.

So far, I’ve chatted with Jim Dean (he’s sitting across from me now on his computer), seen Markos in the lobby, and met a Flordia State legislator. I’ll have to look her up at some point :)  Oh, and Meteor Blades was checking in at the same time I was (no, I did not introduce myself as a fan — there will be enough fangirldom as the convention progresses).  And Howard Dean just walked by.  Really, the lobby of the Marriott.  is the place to be.

Did go outside for a brief walk: gorgeous weather here.

My roommate has not arrived: he had flight issues. Hope he makes it. Stand by is not a good way to travel.

Tonight, meet the scholars with DFA, followed by Liquid Courage with Howard Dean.  And it begins.

 

Posted by: competitivemalaise | March 20, 2013

Chicago’s Board of Education is running a con game

Went to a forum on the school closings that are projected in Chicago. The first number the Board of Ed rolled out was 129 schools on the list; the current number is around 80.  We’re supposed to feel good about that. The reasons why we need school closings shift from year to year: some years it’s about “underperforming” schools; this year, the code word is “underutilized.”

It’s all lies. That’s the take-away. Our public officials are lying to us, and no one is calling them on it.

Well, some folks are trying to call them on it. Raise Your Hand is doing its best to figure out what is real and what is falsehood.  The CTU is trying to call them on it too … but the press gets into a “he said, she said” on that one.

Lies.  Lies that schools are underutilized.  You want to know if a school is underutilized? Go visit it. Look at the class rooms, talk to the teachers, talk to the staff, see what’s going on. Has anyone on the Board of Education actually visited any of the schools on the closings list? No. They’ve run the numbers to say what they want them to say, and so what if the numbers lie.

And the numbers lie. The first number is the number that they’ve lost over 146,000 students in the last 10 years, given the Census number. That Census number counts everyone between the age of 0 to 19. Think about that. It includes children who are too young to attend school. It includes students who were never in public schools, who went to private and parochial schools.  Raise Your Hand ran the actual numbers, based on students who were actually in the Chicago Public Schools: the number actually lost is closer to 31,500. That’s a big exaggeration of lost enrollment.

The numbers used by CPS to determine “underutilization”  assume a class size of 36 students per class.  Let that sink in a moment. 36 students per class is assumed to be the optimal use of space. The optimal class size for elementary through high school.

I’ve always thought that the optimal size for a classroom was about 20-25 students per teacher.  At most. The smaller the class size, the more time the teacher gets to spend with the kids individually, the better the quality of the education.  Thirty kids is pushing it.

Then you have the special ed kids. The kids in special ed are mandated to have class sizes no more than fifteen per class, and ten is really more optimal. So the higher a percentage of special education classes in a school, the more it seems “underutilized.” Because the Board of Education’s numbers don’t take into consideration which classes are special ed: it lumps them all together.

So the Board of Education has now determined that what’s best for our kids is thirty-six kids crammed into a classroom? Even if they are special needs kids?  They’re actually lobbying the State of Illinois to allow them to increase class sizes to forty students per class.  That should make for some quality education time.

Think about the schools they’re talking about closing. The majority of them are in poor neighborhoods, because poor neighborhoods have schools that are labeled “failures.”  Actually, interestingly enough, this year the Board of Education argument isn’t about “failing schools,” it’s about under-utilization. Funny how that goes … consistency much?

At any rate, here are schools in neighborhoods that have high crime rates, have low-socio-economic status, and are mostly African-American and Latino. Often these kids are traumatized before they ever get to school: can you imagine trying to teach a class full of kids who have all seen violence? Violent death? Who have had parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, die violently? Who may have witnessed death? What does that do to your class dynamic, if the kids in your classrom are mostly terrified all the time? Does making the class size larger really help? Give you any room to cope with these traumas on an individual basis? Treat your kids like human beings?  Like individuals who deserve respect?

Notice, too, that while the Board talks about closing all these “underutilized” schools to save money, to use our resources more wisely, more profitably … it is also talking about increasing the number of charter schools. So our neighborhood schools are underutilized and need to be closed, but at the same time we need to spend taxpayer money to build more charter schools?

And that brings us to the money.  We’re told there’s a budget shortfall. We never actually see the budget.  They say they’re cutting costs at the administrative levels, but as they cut they also hire.  Departments are shifted around. Finding budget detail for the Board of Education itself is somewhat difficult.  The Board of Education frequently claims a projected budget shortfall, only to find that the actual budget ends in a surplus.  And while they claim to have a budget shortfall, instead of using that money to save and improve neighborhood schools, they’ve allocated $80 million dollars to charter schools.

So on the one hand, they have declining enrollment and underutilized schools so clearly neighborhood schools need to be closed to maximize efficiently. On the other hand, they need to fund the building and development of as many as 80 new charter schools because we have a demand for their services.  So which is it: are the schools we have underutilized or we do need more schools for our children’s educaiton?

Money is the key. What is happening when we build charter schools? We’re shifting public dollars into private hands, with much less oversight and much less control. We shift money to charter school companies that are designed to make a profit. And if a profit is being made, that profit is money that is not going into the direct education of students. It’s public money that is going into someone’s pocket.

That is offensive.

Posted by: competitivemalaise | March 3, 2013

Winning elections

It’s good to win.

When I got involved in the wonderful world of endless campaigns and election cycles, it wasn’t with any thought that we’d actually win.  The concept was that even supporting losing candidates changed the conversation — and boy, the conversation needed to be changed.  The conversation had become filled with right-wing propaganda, and it felt like no one was talking about the issues that really mattered in ways that made any sense — it was all framed to agree with Republican assumptions about the world. And some of us felt those assumption were not only wrong, but geared to re-distributing wealth from the majority to a tiny minority at the very top.

We kept being told it was a center-right country. We kept being told that this was the new reality. We kept being told that we were a minority.

But it didn’t feel like that. It felt like the leaders — whether it was the politicians or media flunkeys — were ignoring the majority. It felt like we needed to organize and start yelling … and the best way to do that was to support candidates who were running from the left, talking about our issues in ways that make sense, people who would listen to the lobbyists for our allies and not the corporate elite. But most of all: make the other candidate justify their positions, and make them re-think some of their positions.

It felt like a long-term plan. Keep at it. First you win at very local races, the small ones, build a bench, then move on to the bigger prizes.  Give it thirty years or so. Don’t worry about the battles: see the war for what it is — a war for our future.

But once you start winning … winning is fun. It’s joyous. It’s the precursor to a lot of hard work, the hard work of governing — but it’s good to win. Because then you’re not just changing the conversation, but allowing the folks who agree with you to have a voice — and proving that there’s more of them than conventional wisdom assumed.

Losing isn’t the end of the world. It can lay the ground work for the next race, the next election. It can show that an incumbent is vulnerable, even if he/she managed to hold on.  The best candidates learn from their losses … and take it to the next level the next go round (see Obama, Barack, loss to Bobby Rush, D-IL 1st Congressional District).

And sometimes you win and the candidate you worked so hard for turns out to be disappointing … easily co-opted by the powers that be. But sometimes they turn into real fighters, who really do take the work seriously, and work at the business of learning when to fight and when to compromise, when to poke a stick into the wheels of the legislative body to slow it down, and when to compromise to get something done — even when it’s not perfect.

But winning is sweet. It makes you see that you’ve made a difference, and that makes you fight harder for the next one.

It may be addictive as well.

Posted by: competitivemalaise | February 24, 2013

Reset and test; or, blogging from the tablet

Well, trying to blog from the tablet.  My laptop had a wee accident,  from which it shall recover, but meantime I’m learning more and more about how the tablet works. Fascinating.  This is really a test run, to see how irritating it would be to write a post on this medium.  Could be worse.  I’m not using an eyebrow to type – that would be worse. It’s do-able,  but exhausting. I need to purchase a keyboard for this tool.

And how grateful I am to have it. Best present ever.

Life has been getting in the way of writing lately.  I need to make more space for writing.

It never occurred to me not to vote for Obama this time around. Why?

In so many ways he’s been disappointing — here, let me enumerate just a few of them, in no particular order:

1) Drones — why are we bombing innocent people just to get one or two “targets?”  Who said that the “targets” deserved a death sentence just because we suspect them of bad intentions? Or even suspect them of bad deeds?  Is this an appropriate use of military force? What happened to the rule of law?

2) Speaking of the rule of law, what is going on with the Patriot Act and all its attendant bad policy of allowing the government to spy on each and every one of us? Civil rights keep eroding badly in this post-9/11 world — why is living in a surveillance world becoming more and more acceptable?

3) Why aren’t the people who tanked the economy in jail? What is wrong with the Obama Justice Department that it spends more time going after whistle-blowers, and no time going after the banksters? Why isn’t Goldman Sachs being prosecuted as the criminal conspiracy they are?

4) Why have there been more deportations under Obama than any other president?

5) Why wasn’t the stimulus bigger? Why isn’t Paul Krugman the chief economic advisor? Why isn’t Howard Dean Secretary for HHS? Why did he take Janet Napolitano from Arizona and set up Jan Brewer to be one of the worst governors ever? Why … why oh why?

6) Medicare for all? Why wasn’t single-payer on the table? Why can’t the President negotiate from a position of strength, rather than starting from the middle and bargaining down to a worse place?

7) What the hell are we still doing in Afganistan?

8) Arne Duncan? Really? Charter schools? More tests? Is this really the best way to achieve education reform? What happened to evidence-based logical answers to our problems?

9) Why aren’t you up front with support for workers, Mr. President? Whose side were you on in Wisconsin? Whose side were you on in the CTU strike? Do you think the unions and their members don’t notice your lack of vocal support for them?

10) Guantanamo. Indefinite detentions. Supposedly torture is gone from our vocabulary of interrogation techniques … but is that true?

11) Bradley Manning. The way he has been treated is a crime. And not in a metaphorical sense.

And I’m sure there are many, many other things we could all name.

So, why am I not withholding my vote from him? Why not seriously consider voting third party? I know several people who are, people who I respect and whose opinion I value … and I’m not in a swing state, so why not vote third party?

I can’t afford not to. Simple as that. Why?

1) Reproductive health/reproductive freedom: yes, I’m a normal person, who feels that sex is a normal healthy activity, and that I shouldn’t be penalized just because I’m female. I know plenty of women who need birth control not because of sex, but for preventive maintenance of their bodies. But honestly, even if it’s so a woman can have sex without getting pregnant …. it’s no one’s business but hers and the guy she chooses to sleep with, so but out. A woman taking birth control, by the way, is a lot less expensive an employee than one who doesn’t …. and frankly, none of it is your business. But the point is: my life, my choices — and no male politician gets to tell me what to do or how to live my life.

2) Rape is rape. period.

3) My kid goes to a public school. Charter schools are selling out to corporate interests without the actual increase in educational outcomes … so why bother disrupting lives to put in charter schools?

4) Lily Ledbetter Act: I need the equal pay for equal work — as a single parent, I can’t afford to be paid less than a man doing the same work … really, can’t.

5) Affordable Care Act: OK, it’s not perfect. But it means my kid can stay on my health insurance until his mid-twenties. It means no more pre-existing conditions. It means at least 80% of the fees I pay are going to actual health care costs, and not some insurance executive’s new boat or second or third home.

6) Pretty much we’re out of Iraq. War costs are down.

7) Social Security/Medicare: while I don’t entirely trust Obama not to “compromise” on this issue, I think our only hope of defending Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is to put Democrats in charge (paging Speaker Pelosi …). I don’t want a president who thinks that these necessary programs are too expensive, and need to be eliminated — and that’s what the other side believes. “We’ll gut it to save it” is their mantra: no thank you.  Very few of my friends have retirement savings: what was there went south after the economic downturn in 2008: with the jobs that vanished, so did the 401K’s that were cashed in so folks could eat in the here and now. What happens when we’re all old? I worry about it.

8) At least Obama wants to develop wind/solar/sustainable energy. He may be gung-ho on “clean coal,” drilling for oil on public lands, etc., but at least he’s trying to invest in the future as well. The other side … denial.

9) Dodd-Frank: not enough, but more than any Republican ever wanted or would pass.

10) Gay rights: yes, he deserves props for being the first president to come out in support of marriage equality. Then there was the end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the refusal to defend DOMA in the courts. He evolved: which is more than any Republican can ever admit to doing.

11) Got the banks out of the Student Loan business. That’s huge: eliminating the middle man eliminates costs.

12) The economy is better. It may not be back to “normal,” but it is better. My office was down to two employees and a temp at one point. Now … we’re attempting to hire someone for whom we don’t have actual desk space for. The office is full. I am way less stressed about my work load now … even though I still have a lot of work. Yes, it’s better. We are not in danger of all getting laid off. That’s a good thing.

13) You think civil rights under Obama have deteriorated? Wait to you see what President Romney has in store …

To expand on a few of these …

I’m female. I don’t believe some random white old guy politician should have any say in my reproductive health. I don’t care if my sex life offends his religious beliefs. I also think I can make my own decisions about my health care, and that I shouldn’t be treated as a second-class citizen just because of my reproductive organs. This goes for who chooses who I get to sleep with, to who chooses what my health care is around that choice, to how much insurance I pay. It all has consequences for me — and no old white guy gets to make that choice for me.

I’m not Catholic, and do not respect the Catholic Bishops who would also like to control whether or not I have birth control, or, heaven forbid, an abortion. Why they are granted any moral authority these days is beyond me: these are the same guys who spent decades covering up for pedophiles and who have yet to own up to their sins. Confess, guys, and go to jail for your crimes, and then, maybe, I’ll start to respect you again. Until then, no, you don’t get to claim moral superiority for your “pro-life,” anti-choice, anti-birth control stance. Corruption will do that. And that goes for all the other old guys who think they have the right to tell me what choices to make based on their religious beliefs — regardless of whether or  not I share them: no, you don’t get to choose for me. Go away, now.

Rape is rape. It’s a crime. There is not “legitimate” rape, “easy” rape, “forcible” rape, etc. etc. Rape is rape. It is a crime. Like anyone else who has a crime committed against them, rape victims have the right to attempt to make their lives right again, to return to the state that they were in before the rape. Getting an abortion after a rape, or getting the morning-after pill to prevent a pregnancy, may be one way to help restore that. Getting pregnant and potentially putting your life in danger does not return your life to the way it was before the crime.  Between 15 -20% of women in the United States experience rape in their lifetime.  91% of rape victims are women; 99% of rapists are men.  No, jokes are not appropriate, nor is ignoring it, nor is saying “hey, she asked for it.”  Believe me, no woman asks to be raped. Admired, maybe. Lusted after, maybe. Raped: no. No one “rapes easy.” Get over yourself: you don’t get to have a woman just because you want her — she gets to say no.

I worry that when we all get old, not all of my friends will have the resources that our parents’ generation did. We’ll have to live in communes to support each other. Will Obama fix this? I don’t know — but I do know Mitt Romney doesn’t care.  He’s a product of the Lucky Gene Club, and why isn’t everyone?

Here’s another thing: I look at Obama now, and I see a man who is aged significantly since taking office (they all do). But … when I hear him talk these days, I hear a man who is not entirely comfortable with all the choices he’s made, I hear a man who is second-guI essing those choices, I hear a man who has nightmares because of some of them. And this comforts me. He should have nightmares. He should second-guess. Its the ones who are cocky, arrogant, and self-confident that I fear most.

I watched all four debates. At the end, I remain uneasy about some of Obama’s polices, especially those where he’s trying to appeal to Republican voters (environment, foreign policy, drones, Simpson-Bowles, etc.). On the other hand, I confirmed my bias in regards to Mitt Romney: he’s nuts. He wants to destroy our entire way of life, kill every single bit of the social safety net, all in the name of tax breaks for the wealthy (who are no more job creators than I am, btw). So I came away from the debates knowing that my candidate is far from perfect, but definitely smarter, more thoughtful, and more nuanced than the other guy. And smarts, thoughtfulness, and nuance counts.

OK, what about the third party candidates? Well, OK, what about them? Are any of them running an actual campaign, where any of them will make a difference? My beef with third-parties on the left (and I make no judgments about right-wing third parties) is that they are completely clueless about winning elections, and in their cluelessness they are often self-righteous about not actually doing anything to win: people are supposed to see the name and party affiliation on the ballot and assume purity.  Arrogance and self-righteousness  is another name for that.

Noam Chomsky is credited with saying “Of course you should vote for the lesser of two evils. You get less evil.” Less evil, and more rights for me. Yes, I’ll take it. Is it enough? No, not quite … but I’ll continue to lobby to change the minds of our dear leaders until they come around through public pressure to do much less evil: it’s called holding their feet to the fire, and is worth doing. I’ll take the less evil of Obama, because with Obama I’ll have more healthcare and fewer excessive charges, I’ll be able to call a rape a rape, and not quibble about whether it was “forcible” or not … and the Supreme Court will be in better hands than with Mitt Romney. And less evil on the Supreme Court goes a long way.

I honestly don’t see how any woman could vote for Romney/Ryan. Here’s a pair that condescends to you, doesn’t think you’re capable of making your own choices in life,  can say “if women work …” as if that’s feasible for most of us (and believe me, I’ve had years when I wished I didn’t have to work …), and will gut social security and medicare in the name of fixing it. And we won’t even go into how retrograde their foreign policy is: can we say we”ll be fighting to take out the Soviet Union under a Romney Administration? Nuts.

Less evil. I’ll take it.

Posted by: competitivemalaise | September 25, 2012

About those ads …

So the Mayor has now decided – après le strike, as it were – to continue to run hateful ads against the Chicago Teachers Union.

Who are these ads funded by? Hedge fund managers in New York City. Remember them? They’re the ones who crashed our economy in 2008 and 2009. Yeah, they’re people I want to take advice from … and what exactly do hedge fund managers know about education, you may ask?

Well, they know they see an opportunity to make a profit on it.

There will be more on this topic later, as Raise Your Hand sent out an email with a lot of information about who is behind the “education reform” movement that I want to talk about, but here is a petition asking the Mayor to pull these ads.

http://signon.org/sign/mayor-emanuel-stop-the.fb23?source=s.icn.fb&r_by=274463

Posted by: competitivemalaise | September 17, 2012

On the Chicago Teachers Union strike (or, why the Mayor is an utter asshole)

My kid is in a Chicago Public School. He goes to a really good one, with selective enrollment, great teachers, and a great new school building, LEED certified and everything  - but even in his new building, no air conditioning. Maybe that would have hurt it’s LEED certification or something …. here’s the thing: it’s getting warmer earlier. It was in the 80′s in March last year, and hot in school. You know what? It’s hard to learn when it’s too hot, and it’s hard to teach when it’s too hot. The heat makes it difficult to concentrate.

Why is this relevant? Well, the teachers have brought this up as an issue. It’s an issue for the students and teachers trying to learn in the E Track schools — they were in school in July, when we had several over-100 degree days, and weeks of over 90 degree temperatures. Those kids were in un-air conditioned schools: that’s a good educational environment, wouldn’t you say? Are the kids there to actually learn, or to make the Board of Education feel good that they’re providing extended school hours for them?

And then there’s the extended school day.  It’s fine to say we need longer school days to meet current educational standards. It’s not fine if you have no curriculum for those extended days. It’s not fine if there is no art, no music, no PE, in your schools. Oh, and no recess. Who is supposed to come up with the new curriculum? The teachers. Who wants to give them a pay cut for working more hours?  The Board of Education.

So, everyone agrees that teachers should be evaluated. Teachers want evaluation so they can improve their teaching skills, become better teachers. Everyone wants to see all our kids taught by good teachers. How do we know if a teacher is good? Well, we know it when we see it, right? If the kids like the teacher (but some kids don’t like good teachers because they enforce discipline and make them work), if the principal likes the teacher (but some principals play favorites, or penalize teachers who have spoken up about things that aren’t going well), if the test scores go up — surely test scores are unbiased data points, right?

Well, let’s examine that. My kid’s school has great test scores. It also has great teachers, kids who are motivated, parents who are supportive, a new building, textbooks, computers, art and music classes, and PE. You take the same school, the same building, the same teachers and principal, and plop them down in a violent neighborhood, take away the selective enrollment, and what happens? Test scores go down. Are the teachers suddenly less well qualified, less talented, less caring, and worse teachers? No. The environment has radically changed. Introduce factors like poverty and crime, and suddenly it becomes very difficult to teach and for students to learn at the same rate.

Yet not only teachers supposed to be evaluated on test scores, but so are entire schools. What happens if a school “fails?” Why, it’s shut down, and re-opened as a charter school, mostly likely run as by a for-profit entity, and with non-union teachers.  Maybe this isn’t so bad: are charter schools better? Undoubtedly, some are better than the schools they replaced. But overall, public schools and charter schools perform about the same.  Here is a quote from The Center for Public Education:

Some charters do better; the majority do the same or worse. CREDO also moved beyond individual student performance to examine the overall performance of charter schools across multiple subject areas. They found that while some charter schools do better than the traditional public schools that fed them, the majority do the same or worse. Almost one-fifth of charters (17 percent) performed significantly better (at the 95 percent confidence level) than the traditional public school. However, an even larger group of charters (37 percent) performed significantly worse in terms of reading and math. The remainder (46 percent) did not do significantly better or worse.

So why disrupt neighborhoods and close schools and fire teachers just to open charter schools that perform no better?  Seems like the answer is 1) to bust the union — the trend these days is very much towards blaming public sector unions for all our financial ills; and 2) turning public money into profit centers for individuals and corporations.

If you fire all the teachers, who will you hire to teach? If you fire just the bad teachers, can you replace them all with good teachers? Or will you find mediocre teachers, compliant teachers, disengaged teachers, and call it an improvement? Who will go into teaching in our schools if the Board of Education and the Mayor routinely puts down the entire teaching profession, and calls into question their honesty, their commitment to their students, their quality as teachers? Who will go into a profession that demands constant continuing education if you are just told that your education and your degrees are worthless and you are paid too much?  And why is a middle-class income too much money to pay our teachers?

Who is on the Board of Education? Those appointed by the Mayor. Who has he selected? Millionaires. Do any of them have kids in the Chicago Public Schools? No. Do any of them have experience in education? No. Will any of them profit if there are more charter schools? Well …. maybe, yes.

When you talk to teachers, what you find is a deep anger over cuts in education funding — the feeling that the children are not being served well by the system. They argue every school needs a social worker and a school nurse. They argue every school needs text books on the first day of classes, not six weeks in. They argue that the emphasis on testing forces them to teach to the test, to teach students how to fill in little circles, but not to teach them critical thinking, or creativity, or love of learning.  They argue kids need art, because it unleashes creativity and you need creative thinking in so many fields (science, for instance). They argue that kids need music, and physical education, because these are lifelines for students who are otherwise drowning in the stress of their daily lives. They argue that no one should be expected to work 24% more per day and then take a pay cut. They argue cutting health benefits means more sick days for teachers, more disruptions in the classroom. They note the major disrespect they feel from the Mayor and his Board of Education: they’ve been made to feel that they are at fault for everything that is wrong in the schools.

Meanwhile, Illinois is 50th in the nation in education funding. Let that sink in. And then start to wonder if perhaps this isn’t all the teachers’ fault — perhaps this a major policy failure on the part of every single politician who has ever voted for a budget in the state, city, and county. Perhaps the failure of our school system come from the leaders, not the teachers: perhaps their bosses are really at fault. Perhaps the appointed Board of Education is at fault because they are applying business models to education that have no basis in any research in education that has ever been done — because none of them have any reality-based idea about what makes education work or how you measure it. None of them are educators. None of them have degrees in education. They are all “leaders in their fields” — but none of those fields are education. How can you appoint a board of education and not put someone who knows something about education on it?

Tonight, the Mayor is threatening to file an injunction against the CTU, calling their strike illegal, and for illegal reasons (i.e., not just compensation).  He mouths platitudes about our children not being served by the teachers’ strike, and how much harm this is doing to them. The Mayor’s kids are not being harmed: they are in a wonderful private school. He’s making sure his own kids get a great education while he’s disrupting the education of my kid and the kids of other Chicago parents. He says “this was a strike of choice,” when referring to the CTU — and I agree with that: I think it was a strike of choice pushed by the Board of Education, the new Chief Executive Jean-Claude Brizard, and the Mayor.

It seems the Mayor hired Jean-Claude Brizard primarily to force a strike by the teacher’s union — after all, he came from Rochester, where he was was noted for his top-down and heavy-handed management style. In his last job in Rochester, NY, the Rochester Teachers Union held a no-confidence vote in which 80% of the teachers voted — and 95% of them voted “no confidence.”  This vote was preceded by a vote of no confidence by parents and community members in Rochester.  So why did the Mayor pick Brizard, who clearly lacked the communication and leadership skills to manage a large school district?

CPS parents have routinely seen their concerns dismissed by the Board of Education. CPS parents have attended public hearings to argue forcefully against having their neighborhood schools closed, against sending their kids to other public schools where they had to travel further to get to them — often placing them in unsafe environments, or forcing them to travel in unsafe environments.  The Board has consistently dismissed parents’ concerns, and gone ahead with their predetermined plans for school closures, teacher dismissals, principal dismissals, the labeling of schools as “failures” even as significant improvements were being made.

Then there is the little matter of funding. TIFs have been a major force in siphoning off money from the education system and into the hands of private developers: and there has been little accountability for how those TIF dollars have been spent. The parents might be more convinced by the charter school argument if they hadn’t already seen politicians skimming dollars from the schools through TIFs: now the charter school movement seems like another way to skim some money from public education.

So yeah, I think the Mayor is just being an asshole. I think he set out to demonize the teachers, imply they were overpaid and under-performing, and I think he wants to break their union so he can stop paying middle class wages to public employees, and instead create profits for his friends in the for-profit charter industry.  I think he’s a Democrat in name-only: that just like Republican Scott Walker, he wants to break all public unions, and the police and fire-fighters unions are next on the list.  He thinks he can get away with it.  And that makes him an asshole of the highest degree. Does that offend you? Sorry.

Does giving “more flexibility in hiring”  make a difference? In other words, do non-union schools perform better? Richard D. Kahlenberg, writing for the New Republic, notes otherwise:

The theory that a nonunion environment, which allows for policies like merit pay, would make all the difference in promoting educational achievement never held much water. After all, teachers unions are weak-to-nonexistent throughout much of the American South, yet the region hardly distinguishes itself educationally. Indeed, the highest performing states, such as Massachusetts and New Jersey—and the highest performing nations, such as Finland—have heavily unionized teaching forces.

Here’s hoping he’s wrong: that he doesn’t get away with it, and that he doesn’t win re-election … or, heaven forbid, election to higher office.

Thank you to the Chicago Teachers Union for teaching us all this past week about what the real issues are, and what the “education reform” movement is all about.  We don’t need Democrats who mimic Republican talking points — not on education reform, not on fiscal policy, not on national security.

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