Friday, December 29, 2017

Chicago Collegiate Charter School Must STOP Expansion Plans

So I did a little digging into Chicago Collegiate Charter Schools, the tiny school looking to expand into the empty Kohn Elementary School building. A school in the far Southside neighborhood of Roseland which was murdered during Rahm's 2013 school closing rampage. It is located ONE BLOCK from my elementary school, Langston Hughes. This expansion would be a death blow for our school and many of the other surrounding neighborhood schools.
 All information was taken from their website: 
-Out of 26 teachers/staff including the Dean, the "Director of Talent and Marketing", Academic Program Director (Is this the principal?), and Chief Operating Officer FIFTEEN of them come out of Teach For America, with 3 CURRENT Corps Members (meaning they have not completed their teacher training.) That's nearly 60% of the staff being under TFA's indoctrination process.
-They only have THREE "Learning Specialists" which I assume is a covert way to say Special Education Teacher, and at least one of them is a current untrained TFA corps member. The school serves grades 4-12.
-The school is smaller that my school (Langston Hughes) yet somehow has $$ for a "Director of Talent & Marketing", a "Director of Community Engagement", and a "Chief Operating Officer" as well as a Dean AND an Assistant Dean despite have less than 400 kids. Where is the $$ for these high-paying positions coming from??
-In addition to TFA, all these common edreform orgs are mentioned in the staff bios: Stand For Children, Relay Graduate School, Noble St, KIPP, and AUSL. This school is a hotbed for all the worse trends in education today.
-The Board of Directors is full of bankers, lawyers, and Fortune 500 non-educators. The only person with some sort of education background is an early childhood person despite the school starting in grade 4.
There in no way this school could ever offer even a fraction of the quality education that my school can.
The community of Roseland, like too many other African-American neighborhoods, is suffering from under-enrollment and ensuing cuts in all schools in the area thanks to intentional disinvestment and chaos in the neighborhood. Rahm's racist Disaster Capitalism is driving families away even as they discuss building a BRAND NEW SCHOOL. Our neighborhood schools do not have marketing directors or paid staff to promote the hidden gems that are our public schools. We canvas the neighborhood ourselves. We succeed DESPITE going through the brutality of a school closing in 2013 and then SEVEN rounds of subsequent budget cuts. We make up for the loss in several teaching positions, our Dean, a Culture/Climate coordinator, a clerk, our Librarian, special ed positions, teacher assistants, and a cut to Social Work/Psych services even as mental health needs spike at the school. CPS has done nothing but sabotage our school, yet we soldier on.
What our community COULD use is shared community space. A community center complete with safe, supervised recreation space for kids and youth, mentoring programs, free extracurricular opportunities like art, music, drama, dance, sports, continuing education programs for families. If the city is looking for ideas from the community for closed school buildings, the community will come through with those ideas.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Support Room 134!

Friends, family, even public education supporters I don't know on social media are always asking about how they can help given the constant madness of the Chicago Public Schools. Well here's a way!

The Chicago Public Schools has been in a devastating manufactured budget crisis for many years now, with no end in sight. We need structural change. But in the meantime, those of us in the schools try to shelter our kids as much as possible, and this is where you come in.

Students in Room 134 working on a project
I teach special education in a severely underfunded school on Chicago's Far Southside neighborhood of Roseland. My school is a high-poverty school serving primarily African-American students. Help me provide a high-quality educational experience despite the chaos of CPS, the callousness of our Mayor, and the cruelty of our broken state politics.

Please donate to my classroom!! I need help replenishing basic supplies including pencils, gluesticks, markers, folders, prizes for our prize box, items from Teachers Pay Teachers, and other classroom basics.

You can donate via Paypal (all donations will be strictly for classroom needs, going directly to students):


Buy directly from my Amazon Wishlist which will be updated throughout the summer: 

I chose to not go through Donors Choose this year as they take a huge chunk of the proceeds for themselves and place silly restrictions on asking for the basic supplies most teachers today need. Other fundraising sites also charge, so I thought it best to stick with free sites.

Thank you for your support!

Friday, April 7, 2017

CPS Targets Special Education Teacher Sarah Chambers

Here are the remarks from an action we did today at River Point Plaza, a new development that used over $30 million in TIF funds. CPS claims we are broke, and yet school money continues to get handed over to these wealthy developers. And on top of all that, CPS retaliates against activists who speak out.
Picture of Sarah Chambers taken in December at a Special Ed Action in front of Rahm's office
The leaders of the Chicago Public Schools constantly do outrageous, shameful things. They viciously close schools, they starve the neediest kids of funding, they create chaos wherever they go.

And now, we have a new shameful, unforgivable act. Yesterday, the leaders of the Chicago Public Schools FIRED a beloved, dedicated, outstanding special education teacher, Sarah Chambers. In true CPS fashion, they performed this cowardly act the afternoon before they furloughed us and as we start our Spring Vacation. But that will not stop us from calling out their evil actions.
"Special Ed Need over Corporate Greed!"

Sarah Chambers has faithfully taught students with special needs at Saucedo Academy, an elementary school in Little Village, for nearly a decade, in a community our Mayor pretends he wants to give sanctuary to. She is an award-winning teacher who always received top, distinguished ratings. Her students, the staff at the school, and the parents and community speak glowingly of her. She also supports LGTBQ students by running a Gay Straight Alliance club. She protected her students when administrators tried to illegally cut special education services. She encourages her students with special needs to find their own voice to speak out for justice. She is a powerful educator.

But Sarah is not being targeting because of her teaching. She is being retaliated against for being a fierce advocate for special education. She is being retaliated against for speaking truth to power, for not letting CPS harm our kids with special needs behind closed doors in the dark, but bringing their disgusting cuts and attacks on our most vulnerable children to light. She is being retaliated against for being a leader in our union, as a member of our CTU Executive Board and for co-chairing the Special Education Taskforce-a group of teachers, clinicians, parents, legal experts, and community members fighting wave after wave of harm to our special ed population.

As a special education teacher and a member of the Special Ed Taskforce myself, I have come to know Sarah and her tireless work for special education students well. She has spoken out numerous times about the need for more revenue. How our Mayor could fix these manufactured budget gaps hurting kids tomorrow by releasing TIF funds and pushing new city taxes that target the rich and corporations. Instead, Rahm Emanuel and his appointed Board of Education decide to CUT from special education students and students living in the deepest poverty in our city. Disgusting.

Sarah could not be here today because she is currently on a flight to Brazil invited to speak by a UN representative. She is building international solidarity with others fighting austerity and injustice. Sarah is known internationally as an advocate for children.
Sign hung pointing to High-rise Given $30 million in TIFs

But this is what Rahm & his appointed board do. They attack what is right and good. They come after the most vulnerable. They claim to care about kids and communities, then cruelly rob them of their greatest advocate in the middle of the school year even as they threaten to cut their school year short due to budget cuts.

Attention CPS Board of Education and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, know that this will not stand. You have woken the sleeping giant, my friends, and come after the wrong person. Sarah Chambers has touched 1000s of lives throughout this city, this country, and this world. I guarantee she is more popular that you, Mayor Emanuel. And you will see what solidarity looks like. Those 1000s will not forget your actions.

We demand you reinstate Sarah Chambers to her special education teaching position immediately. We demand that instead of coming after our best teachers and child advocates, you spend your time seeking out new revenue soltions. Release the TIF funds and FUND. YOUR. SCHOOLS.

For those of you here today. Please sign the petitions being passed around. Also share it online. We ask all here to call their state reps to demand to pass a bill that ties TIF funds directly to special education need instead of giving handouts to wealthy developers and your rich buddies.

An injury to one is an injury to all. And Rahm and CPS, you have injured one of our best.

"Save Sarah Chambers! Save Special Ed! Save Sarah Chambers! Save Special Ed!"

 Please sign and share THIS PETITION!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Case for Striking

Things are very bad in the Chicago Public Schools right now. And we need to do something about it.

I support the idea of my union going on strike May 1st in solidarity with workers and immigrants around the world. 

But I want to go further. I want to make the case for the Chicago Teachers Union to go on an open-ended strike this school year with one, clear goal: Force the bosses to fund our schools. Yes, this is a much scarier proposal, but also far more powerful.

For the second year in row, after years of cuts, closures, consolidations, and chaos, Chicago Public School employees are facing the lost pay and lost time of yet more furlough days. Last year, it was three days of lost pay. This year, we are looking down the barrel of a total of 17 days slashed from our paychecks. At this point, our contract, and our negotiated pay scales, are not even worth the paper they're printed on. And we all knew that this was ALWAYS the plan. We knew it, our leadership knew it, Rahm certainly did, too.

And now our union leadership has asked us to consider a one-day strike on May 1st. It was an ask that was all over the news before we even had a moment to consider, perhaps unavoidably. But as a delegate, I will say that I appreciate the conversation. To be asked, not told, despite what the media misreports. And I want us, as a union, to really have this conversation. Not limited to one idea, but willing to consider all the possibilities.

While I support striking to participate in May Day actions-I think at the very least we must do that-I do not believe that a demonstrative action goes far enough. We need bigger change.

I believe we need to withhold our labor until the situation changes in CPS. The Chicago Board of Ed has already shown they will take our pay. Either way, we are going to lose a bundle. Money most of us cannot afford to lose. But I say we do it on our own terms. They cannot leave schools closed for both furloughs and strike days. They can't close the schools for six weeks. So if we're losing pay anyway, let's take our unpaid days when we want to. CPS has set it up that we lose very little in a longer strike. The fear of lost pay and instructional days is already happening. And goodness knows that our working conditions are beyond terrible. There's not much to lose at this point. But there is much to gain.

I say we strike starting on May 1st and continue until there is movement on our dire budget situation. Instead of losing the money at the end of the year, closing out our classrooms and leaving our buildings defeated and demoralized on June 1st, we could mobilize to a massive call to action. 

By striking in May, we could disrupt The Testing, the data that is used to label, fail, harm, and fire us. Without that data, no VAM scores in our evaluations. Without that data, no school ratings system used to destroy community schools. We could use the time to send thousands to Springfield, to camp out, Wisconsin-style, until our twisted governor is forced to fund our state. We could pester and disrupt Chicago politicians until they have no choice but to use city resources to plug any holes in the CPS budget, to enact taxes on the wealthy and the corporations for sustainable revenue sources, to go after the banks which cheated CPS children out of hundreds of millions of dollars, to release all TIF surpluses back to the schools.

These budgets cuts and furloughs will keep coming year after year unless we do something about it. These are blatant violations of our new contract, proving that the Board never had any intention of following through on raises or salary schedules, a clear breach in the contract. We have every right to strike.

But there's more. Our ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union) brothers and sisters are also poised to strike. Can you imagine the disruption to our city and state if the buses and trains shut down along with the schools? AFSME state workers are ALSO in the position to go on strike. I want to build a vision here. Imagine all of us on strike at once. Imagine it! This is not just wishful thinking, there is a possibility that this vision could come true. But it would take serious effort and bravery.

The CTU has been a leader in the labor movement. We fought when no one else was fighting. Our fight has been an inspiration. And we could lead something big. Given the current political climate under Trump...who knows, who knows what our strike could lead to. 

Maybe nothing. Maybe we would lose. Maybe we would win zero change and get some hefty fines thrown at our union. But is that worse than just sitting back and taking hit after hit after hit? To watch our colleagues quietly quit, succumb to mental illness from the stress, to hang our heads low and keep trying to weather this storm which only grows stronger year to year? 

And I know we are demoralized. I am demoralized. There are days I can barely get out of bed. I have been throwing my resume around this system desperately searching for some relief. It doesn't exist. 

Doing nothing means things will keep getting worse. Your mortgage will not get paid. Your pension will not be funded. Your future as a teacher or school worker will end in despair. And you will watch the students you love suffer through more and more attacks.

I don't want that. I am willing to take the risk now. We were ready to strike last October. We can be ready again.

I say, "STRIKE!"

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Devaluing Women's Work: I am a Teacher and My Labor is Not Free

I avoided becoming a fully-certified teacher for a long, long time. I taught English overseas for many years in Japan. I loved the lifestyle. Enough money to live comfortably, but the workload was not excessive. I had time and money to travel, to go out whenever I was a pretty cushy job.

And when I came back to The States, everyone told me I should get my education degree and be a teacher. That's clearly what I was supposed to do. But I resisted. Not because I don't like working with kids. Not because I didn't think I'd be good at it. But because of the workload. I knew-I KNEW-that going into teaching meant giving up my life. That in exchange for summers and holidays (sort of), the rest of my life would be consumed by non-stop work, staying up til the early hours of the morn, using all my weekends and evenings to lesson plan, grade, prep....and for not very much money to boot. I knew in my bones that that was what teaching entailed in America.

But I did it. I became a teacher. And the first year I taught in a public school, my life became exactly what I feared. No sleep. Constant stress. Mental health shattered. Social life completely disappeared as I worked my butt off to keep up with the never-ending requirements forced on today's teachers. And this was back in 2009-2010 at the moment Waiting for Superman was telling the world how lazy and terrible teachers are. It was a double slap in the face, the workload coupled with the immense disrespect. And it absolutely crushed me.

But since that time, I've changed. I was pulled into unionism and a growing understanding that my time and my labor were worth something. That I was being EXPLOITED when I stayed up late, spent all my money on my classroom, when I gave up my life "for the kids." That others were profiting off off MY free, guilt-ridden labor. The Chicago Public Schools certainly relied on the fact that even as they cut, sabotaged, and defunded schools further, that I, and my majority women colleagues would pick up the slack. "For the kids." How could we not? So CPS continued to cut, close, crush, complicate.

I don't think that way any more. I now understand that it is not me who harms kids when we are understaffed and is the bosses. Every time they cut our budgets, close our schools, furlough us, disrupt our communities, it is THEIR EVIL AGENDA that causes the pain. In fact, by picking up their slack, we enable them, we EMBOLDEN them to keep on attacking and keep on cutting, to keep on harming kids and communities.

Yesterday, outside Mayor Emanuel's office, I joined with my union sisters and brothers to spend our forced furlough day listening and learning from one anther. I heard my union sisters and our sister from the ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union) speak about how the attacks on women-dominated professions were no accident. Mayor Emanuel, Governor Rauner, Forrest Claypool...they target female professions for cuts and "speed ups" (doing more with less) precisely because they assumed we'd just accept it. "For the kids!" They don't pull this crap with the police or the firemen. With male-dominated professions. Those guys get overtime for every hour they work. No, those cowards in charge in City Hall and the State House come after teachers, our clerks, our social workers and nurses, they come after female bus drivers and train conductors (ATU is 85% female), they come after home-healthcare workers, and DCFS workers, and clinics staffed by women.

As we spent our furlough day in action and solidarity, I came to a renewed conclusion. That standing up against the exploitation of my labor is one of the best ways to help my students. Teachers who are overwhelmed and overworked will never be the best for their kids. We can't run schools on spit and elbow grease. Our kids deserve healthy, functioning, fully-funded systems that do not rely on pain, guilt, or exploitation. And every time we give in, when we bend to the lie that we have no choice but to "do more with less," we allow the bosses to continue to cannibalize our schools for their financial gain.

My labor is worth something. I will join my sisters (and brothers) in the CTU to stop giving away my labor for free. To become militant enough to demand through united action to be paid for my important skills and valuable time. I will not spend my precious time on their ridiculous bureaucratic hurdles. I won't spend all day filling out new paperwork requirements for IEPs or paraprofessional justifications. I will not become a clerk, do the work of social worker, act like a librarian, or do the work of a nurse. I join my union in saying we DEMAND these services be brought back into our schools by qualified professionals. I will not put in grades or upload lesson plans on my own time. You cut our time and our pay, then that means these requirements will take longer to do. We will not do more with less for Rahm & his wealthy backers' profit.

The bosses won't change on their own. Claypool, Rahm, Rauner, Trump, the whole of the ruling class...they care nothing for the "product" we produce: educated young people. In fact, they'd rather the populations we serve-majority low-income, minority, immigrant-they'd rather those children didn't get the education they deserve. Our kids are disposable to them. Worth more to the 1% as a prison inmate than the productive member of society our students have a right to become.

So we must force those in charge to fund our schools adequately. Disrupt their lives to the point that they have no choice but to raise revenue dedicated to our schools and students. To force the rich, the corporations, the financial industry, the banks...force them to pay their fair share.

We are teachers. We are women. And we will not accept their exploitation. We will fight. For the kids.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Rethinking Special Education

For a long time, the way we do special education has...irked me. And I mean in general, not just my pretty messed up district. I imagine it irks a lot of people out there. But, for some reason, I never hear about the pretty ridiculous ways we have set up to make this whole darn thing work. I think we all have a case of the Emperor's New Clothes.

Image pulled from Pinterest: 

 Here are just a few wonderings:

1) Why do we write year-long goals based off of specific standards? Why can't the goals be more broad, like "student will progress in the math curriculum"? Ok, maybe not that broad, but that's pretty much what I want to accomplish. Why do I have to write that a kid is going to practice addition and subtraction skills for a whole year? I don't really want that, I want them to be successful when we do our addition/subtraction unit. And then yes, I want them to carry over that knowledge as it pops up in other needed. But quarterly benchmarks on something we aren't actually studying at the moment? It's annoying and messy. My kids generally need EXTRA time to learn new material. How can I cover the standards I'm supposed to be teaching AND the standards that are in the IEP goals at the same time? Gen Ed kids only have to cover the one topic, but my kids have to do way more work in a less cohesive format. And I want the kids to be successful in all the topics we cover, are you really expecting me to write a goal for all 60+ standards in Common Core for any given grade level?  It's stupid.

2) Want to know what else is stupid? IEP minutes are stupid. They are SO RIDICULOUSLY DUMB. What we actually should be talking about is fluid, flexible, fully-resourced access to multiple different educational opportunities based on the needs of the kid at the moment. There is a lot of stuff that happens in the gen ed room that my kids could absolutely participate in. And there are certain units and activities that they would enjoy with their peers. And splitting minutes rarely works (ie half the Literacy minutes as pull-out). Maybe you've figure out ways to do the split thing, but all I've seen is it confusing kids and staff alike with kids being dumped into a classroom mid-lesson completely lost. Why can't we write in "support as needed" or "change settings as needed." I get this is harder to enforce, but there HAS to be a way to add flexibility into the system.

3) Which brings me to educational contexts. You can write the best IEP in the world, but if the school and district where you are has decided to criminally underfund education or completely warp the educational experience with ideological gibberish, what good is it? Educational CONTEXTS matter and we should be able to describe what the student needs beyond the individual. For example, I would put kids in inclusion IF there were caps on freaking class size. But my state has no caps, so I won't subject my students to so-called inclusion classrooms of 34 or more kids, sometimes in split grade-level classrooms. Or, if we weren't subjected to developmentally inappropriate standards (Common Core, cough...cough....) and insane pacing guides, I'd have my kids in the gen ed setting more. The way it is now is completely inappropriate. I need to be able to write in these whole class, whole school needs that affect my students.

4) IEPs written in legalese, not accessible AT ALL to parents and the students themselves. IEPs are a mess of acronyms, clinical reports, numbers and data points. Why can't these things be more user friendly? 

5) And SHORTER!! How do some districts accomplish the same legal documentation with less than 10 pages while others are requiring 50+ pages of work?? Why??? WHY?!?!?

6) IEPs are NOT transferable from district to district. We get kids who transfer in from other districts all the time. And the IEPs they come with end up having to be completely re-written in order to use them is our district. Why the complete lack of consistency across districts? Are there NO guidelines in IEPs? What the hell?

7) Data collection is OUT OF CONTROL!! I mean, tally marks, graphs, charts, constant progress monitoring. Before there were disgusting "no excuses" charter schools using numbers in lieu of children, there was special education. Quantitative, harsh cold, "objective" data used for everything. IQ tests, reasoning tests, behavioral tests, standardized test scores, behavior plans...all if it. I understand wanting something "objective" but come on. When I worked in mental health, we did daily charting on behavior, needs, interventions in narrative format. I found that WAY more helpful than freaking percentages, trials, charts, etc. Sometimes it's easy to forget we work with children under all the data. Maybe that's on purpose....


I would guess that the answers to a lot of these questions is...lawyers. Special ed is completely plagued with lawsuits and the ensuing obsession with all things data and numbers. Doesn't quite mesh with the job of working with human children. But I understand how the system doesn't work and hiring lawyers is pretty much the sole line of defense. Still, after 40 years of this growing technocratic solution to the "problem" of beautiful, unique children, things are spinning out of control.

I imagine a very different way to do special education. It doesn't involve needing an IEP in order to get services. Rather, that every child in a school gets an individual learning plan that is incorporated into the school's overall workings. That ALL kids have access to social workers, to learning specialists, to small quiet settings, to accommodations/modifications as needed. No label necessary.

But that utopia is very very far away in today's educational landscape of shrinking budgets, cutthroat accountability, and harsh school choice policies that turn diverse learners into liabilities on your books.

But can't we think of some better ways to function within the system that we've got? Like really, can't we? Something flexible, but binding? Something clear to non-educators, but still addresses all the legal requirements? Something short, transferable, and gets the job done? I know we can do better.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The New Best Way to Destroy Special Education

The best lies are always ones based in some truth.

The newest austerity project for districts across the nation, including the Chicago Public Schools, is to claim that special education budgets must be decimated: in the name of racial equality. Now, the refrain to destroy public services in the name of equality should sound familiar if you've been paying attention. Remember how corporate ed reformers claim that we must dismantle and privatize public education because of inequality, because of Civil Rights, because of racism? In fact, this is a favorite tactic of neoliberalism more broadly.

And now it's coming for special education.

Special ed has flown somewhat under the radar of the neoliberal education reform debate. Usually, it's brought up in the context of pushing out kids with special needs from "schools of choice" especially the charters where a significant disability is simply a liability on the books for free market privateers. These kids find themselves bounced around schools until they land back in the neighborhood school which must provide services, only now that school has been so striped resources as public money flows towards privatizers, the child languishes through schooling more unsupported than ever.

So now, districts that have had funding sources dry up-are looking to save money on the backs of their most fragile-but also most expensive-students: students with special needs.

Now, the one thing that stood in the way of this desire to slash costs, was that darned federally-protected document called an Individual Education Plan. There was legal recourse if this plan was not implemented. Charter or neighborhood, parents and kids had some rights. So the privatizers decided to use their favorite tool: a plea of racism and inequality as a reason to DENY services to needy kids.

Now, back to the beginning of this post, the best lies do have some truth in them. We do often see racial disparities in how special education services are doled out.

Yet all the studies I've seen focus solely on the individual. The problem has been completely framed as one of personal biases-usually the classroom teacher-who makes a racist decision to refer a child for special education. Those studies further the "bad teacher" mantra of the edreform crowd. (So naturally, it is those studies which get funded and published. Academia has been bought and paid for long ago. Sigh....)

Now, in an equal society, we should not see racial disparities. That's true. But who believes we live in an equal society?? We live in a deeply racist society, with real and damaging material impact on the quality of life, especially for kids, based on a legacy of racism.

District officials would have us believe that the rates of special education should be exactly the same, no matter the circumstances. And since they are not, teachers must just be over-identifying. Therefore, massive cutbacks in special education are not only warranted, they are a civil rights mandate.

No! Do not fall for the okey-doke, as my union president loves to say. They are using the language of equality to justify further inequalities.

If you live in a community experiencing massive environmental racism such as a lead poisoning epidemic, guess what? There should be higher rates of special education needs. If you live in a community facing tides of trauma and violence stemming from the intentional disinvestment, lack of affordable housing, lack of jobs, underfunded schools....guess what? All those factors can lead to learning challenges!! We know that too many Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can warp a child's ability to learn as well as affect behavior. Since we don't protect kids from trauma in our society, special education is frankly all we've got. Yet, we ignore these obvious factors because those in charge would have us believe "equality" just means all the percentages equal out without touching the true underlying racism beneath?

In fact, students with special needs in affluent, often white areas, are getting far MORE special education services. Low income kids and kids of color are actually already being denied fair and equitable access to special education services and these budget cuts are exacerbating a bigger problem. It's likely that kids with special needs are actually under-identified in systems that are so underfunded and understaffed, that it's not possible to follow up on every suspected case.

Make no mistake. Special education is under attack. We either stand up to save it, or we allow those in charge to continue to discriminate in the name of "equality."