Friday, December 28, 2012

Make No Mistake, Corporate Ed Reform is Hurting Kids

Corporate Education Reform hurts children.  This truth needs to be said a million times over.  No longer can we allow reformers to hide behind the rhetoric of reform and ignore the realities.  Words like "poverty is not destiny" "high expectations" "quality school options" and "choice" all mask the very real impact of these reforms. There are consequences to the disruption of school closings, to purposeful disinvestment in neighborhood schools, to layoffs of experienced educators, to the haphazard expansion of largely low-quality charters. 

As most who read this blog know, I work in a psychiatric hospital in Chicago. Unlike many teachers out there who see only their small window of the reform world, I get to see the cross-section.  Students cycle through my program so quickly (too quickly, thanks to massive cuts in mental health services) that I hear dozens of stories a week from all over the city and surrounding suburbs.  And what's happening out there is beyond heart-breaking, it is wrong.  Kids have come in to the hospital with massive anxiety, depression, and aggression related, in part, to school policies.  I have students who report fear of “getting jumped” on the way to schools across town after their neighborhood school was shut down.  I've had kids with school refusal due to the very real fear of a dangerous bus route through rival neighborhoods. Young people are afraid of the increases in violence and gang activity as kids from all parts of the city are thrust together in schools whose only response to the rage is zero tolerance lockdown.  There is no healing, just ignoring and punishing the problem, pushing the fights off of school grounds.  Almost every child I work with from the neighborhoods targeted for the brunt of school reform has symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.  They have difficulty sitting still, are quick to react to any perceived threat with violence or aggression, cannot concentrate on school work, and have come to hate the experience of school.  And yet all they get from school leadership is school closures, fired teachers, and false choices.

Kids feel abandoned as they lose the ties to trusted teachers and school staff, many drifting off into truancy and drop-out.   My kids have complained about teachers who “don’t get it” speaking about the unfair practice of putting poorly-trained teachers with no education experience and no understanding of their communities’ issues in their classrooms.  As reform sweeps through my city with its massive layoffs, it disproportionally affects teachers of color, the teachers who are most likely to connect with these children.  As a special education teacher, it is especially shocking how many uncertified and inexperienced teachers serve our students with special needs. Why this isn't a national scandal, I will never understand...

My kids with IEPs get shuffled around schools as neighborhood schools shut, charters push them out, and receiving schools must take time to get to know the child anew, delaying services.  I have kids who have been to four different schools in as many years, and must keep changing schools as schools are shut down down or turned-around.  How many children have we lost who slip through the cracks as they bounce around school options?  Is anyone keeping track?

I've met kids who complain "I was in a class of 39 kids with no textbooks.  Why should I stay? They don't care about us."  Kids understand on a deep level that they are being treated like disposable people as their neighborhood schools are being grossly under-resourced and under-staffed in order to justify further school closures. Purposefully starving a school, underutilized or not, to serve your political agenda is criminal.   There are children suffering in those schools. 

And my kids hate school.  When I hear the stories of what they are being asked to do all day I don't blame them.  Any joy and excitement that teachers used to bring to the classroom is being destroyed by pressures from high-stakes standarized tests.  The class project bulletin board is replaced by a data wall.  The music, gym, art, and after-school activities are being exchanged for longer days full of test prep, rote memorization, and disembodied facts, formulas, and vocabulary practice.  Kids in low-income schools no longer read novels, they now do reading comprehension worksheets focused on discreet skills like "compare/contrast" or "main idea".  They don't fall in love with characters or ideas, they answer comprehension questions and write out short essays.  They don't do projects and experiments, go on field trips, or paint, draw, imagine, or question. They take tests.  I know I hate teaching that way just as much as the kids hate to learn that way.  It is boring as hell and you have to choose to either crack down on restrictive discipline or you live in chaos as kids rebel.    

My charter kids are lovely, smart, capable young men and women.  But I worry about all my sicker, poorer kids being left behind.  Negative behaviors are being concentrated in certain schools.  Peer effects matter greatly.  What a joy it is to have the higher-performing kids in my class at the hospital.  They change the whole atmosphere of the room.  They can support the struggling students and raise thoughtful questions.  This is why socioeconomic integration matters.  My charter kids are almost without exception at the higher end of the free/reduced lunch bracket with families better able to support them while the kids who struggle the most are those coming from the deepest, most debilitating poverty.  Racial integration matters, too, for my students of color in the magnet and selective enrollment schools are having better experiences than charters or neighborhood schools thanks to having access to the funding that follows white students. 

[As an aside, google "school integration" and look at "images".  They are ALL in black and white because we stopped talking about this issue decades ago.]

Meanwhile, all this focus on the corporate reforms of school closures, charter expansion, and teacher/school accountability means we are not investing in other types of reform, most notably anti-poverty programs.  The number of kids I have met who are suffereing from trauma, abuse, PTSD, depression, anxiety, anger issues which could have been prevented by working towards eradicating poverty is staggering.  School leaders' "choice" to focus solely on corporate reforms at the expense of all other types of change means more kids must suffer.  I am tired of the tragic stories I hear. 

And I'm thinking ahead to the unknown, but likely large numbers (60? 100? 120?) of schools heading for closure at the end of the year here in Chicago.  I am bracing myself for the repercussions of chaos in the coming months.  Imagine potentially hundreds, maybe thousands of kids with IEPs needing to find new appropriate placements.  How will receiving schools follow children's IEPs in a timely manner?  How will they ensure they have the right amount of staff?  What will happen to my kids with no parents, in the child welfare system, if their school closes?  DCFS tries to meet their needs, but they are not staffed anywhere near the level necessary to manage a mass number of displaced children.  The charters, even if they somehow enroll these kids, will not and do not keep them.  They will bounce back to yet another school, having to start over yet again.

And those proponents of choice brag about closing down "under-performing charters" the same as neighborhood schools as if this were a good thing!  The number one thing my students require is stability and connection.  And those are the very things which are being lost as CPS follows the corporate education reform path. Edreform's goal is a neverending cycle of chaos, with schools being opened and shut down again like shoe stores.  And this model goes against everything we know to be good for children.

Education Reform does not work.  It shuffles kids around, concentrating a few high-achievers in the choosen "miracle schools" in order to be able to market "choice", but does not actually do anything remotely innovative or even new.  And to condemn so many of those bright young charter kids to "no excuses" discipline codes makes me ill.  Why can't they get creative, progressive teaching and learning like the children of the suburbs get?   Edreform is all smoke and mirrors.  And while reformers try to spin their made-up successes, the children being left behind are being hurt, neglected, and abused like never before.

There can be no middle ground or compromise when kids are being hurt.

No more.  All that reform has taught us is that funding matters, peer groups matter, and segregation matters.  So let's tackle the real problems in schools.  What if reform was built around helping our neediest kids first: those in extreme poverty, those with special needs, those with emotional/behavioral problems?  What if education philanthropists were bragging about giving every school a library, instead of donating to a new "no excuses" charter?   What if the Gates Foundation committed to giving every school a full-time social worker instead of their odd fixation with teacher evaluations?  What if the words "integration" and "equitable funding" were as quick to roll off the tongues of the elite and powerful as the words "choice" and "charters"? 

The current education policies hurt kids.  No more discussion.  Even if EdReformers had most beautiful intentions in the world, if the uninteneded consequences cause children pain, then they must be stopped immediately.  FIRST DO NO HARM.  Only a monster would continue a course of action knowing it hurts kids...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A "Kerfuffle" to Cover Education Reform's Greatest Secret

I am completely baffled by the recent "kerfuffle" on twitter and the blogosphere regarding the remarks of first Diane Ravitch and then later CTU president Karen Lewis discussing the tragedy in Newtown. EdReformers of all kinds are simply "outraged" over, well I'm not exactly sure, since it's not about what both Ravitch and Lewis actually wrote  Honestly, I'm too tired of this silliness to write it out in full here so please see what the great Jersey Jazzman said here and here as well as Peter Hart's piece on this insanity.)

It all started on twitter with David Rosenberg, a TFA vice president, who was absolutely shocked at the "reprehensible" language that Diane Ravitch used by mentioning the words "union" and "tenure" in her tribute to Sandy Hook teachers.

Originally from Kenzo Shibata, found on Jersery Jazzman's blog

As a business school graduate with plenty of experience in education PR and "Online Strategy," Rosenberg likely had a very specific goal in mind with his initial tweet.  He is, after all, an expert in "online strategy".  Like everything else TFA does, being the masters of PR that they are, I'm sure this was a well-planned defense to deflect attention from Ravitch's point.  As others have pointed out, it doesn't look good to have a history of bashing the very people now being lauded as national heroes.

But then things got really interesting when Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers Union chimed in.  Suddenly, we had Andrew Rotherham and others twisting Lewis' words into "Teach for America Kills"

And it is Karen Lewis' words which I would like to examine today, since those seem to be the ones that most offended the delicate reformers' sensibilities. She writes [emphasis mine],
Diane, et. al.
I have read these posts (alas I do not do Twitter), and I am struck by the lack of authenticity by the Rosenberg comment. Diane has been at the forefront of the desire to lift up the beleaguered profession of teaching in each and every post. She has drawn the connections between people who wouldn’t think of sending their children to public schools and their policies that are destroying the common good. Anyone who doesn’t know that in the marrow of their bones, doesn’t read her blog.
On the other, the educrats who do not agree with her, read her posts, too so as to keep abreast of her thoughts and are ready to pounce if they see an opening. There might have been a time where “politicizing” tragic events, especially mass shootings was thought to be in poor taste. That has changed with the 24/7 news cycle that continues to focus far too much time and energy on the perpetrator of the massacre than that of our precious victims. Rosenberg’s “false outrage” needs to be checked. That same false outrage should show itself when policies his colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation. We in Chicago have been the victims of their experiments on our children since the current secretary of Education “ran” CPS.
The accolades heaped on a group of education missionaries, (hopefully with beautiful intent on the part of the TFA teachers) cannot go unchallenged. Diane does that. Day in and day out, she champions rank and file educators and the hard work they do. She has a special place in heart for those who see the value of the classroom and not as stepping stone to a more lucrative career or the opportunism of self-promoters like Michelle Rhee who, with her lies about her own classroom experience has catapulted herself into the welcoming arms of those who hate unions, tenure and anything else that provides due process and gives teachers real voice.
To David Rosenberg, Shanda! Shame on you for such a paranoid rant. If you had nothing of which to be guilty, those words would have rolled off your back.
To Diane – Keep speaking the truth!
Karen Lewis
As a quick aside, of COURSE, Rosenberg's statement lacked authenticity.  This is his job. He was simply managing the bad PR he felt was coming out indirectly against his organization and his reformer acquaintances.  

But it is this critique of Rosenberg's "false outrage" which does not extend to outrage over children being hurt and communities being disenfranchised due to Ed Reform that seems to be the biggest reformy rallying point.  Andrew Rotherham distorted Lewis' quote by inserting [Teach for America] into a line where it does not belong.  Campbell Brown is shocked that "Teach for America kills" after reading Rotherham's distortions.  When read in full, it is clear that was not the intent of Lewis' remarks.

But why are all these reformy people really so very very upset?  Why have they gone into full-blown attack mode over a few silly words?  It is because Lewis points us to the very real and very dangerous, even deadly, effects of the bad education policy these reformers push.   If the extent of the pain and suffering caused by "reform" were to get out into public consciousness, as it seemed likely to do in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, Corporate Education Reform would crumble to the ground.  Sandy Hook challenged the very foundation of their claims regarding unions, tenured teachers, teacher quality, and the real problems in education.  And their impatient desire to attack the wrong problems has had a very real and negative impact on children.  It turns out Americans don't like stories of children dying due to violence.  Too many people were making the connections to the largely overlooked hundreds of black and brown children dying due to gun violence with the middle class kids who lost their lives in Connecticut.  The public was getting too close to the truth that education reform was contributing to the violence problem in this country.  This truth is education reform's greatest secret.

Those of us in the trenches see the repercussions of Ed Reform daily.  We know how teaching and learning has been compromised in the search for better test scores.  We know the trauma that school closures and mass staff firings inflicts on kids.  We know what happens when ignorant support of "choice" sends a child over gang boundaries or on unsafe bus routes.  We have seen the increasing devastation wrought by growing poverty and how ignoring it is hurting children.  We've talked to our students, heard their fear and their anger.  However, the greater public is still being spoon-fed "miracle school" stories, gushing love for KIPP and their "grit"-my-way-out-of-poverty line, the constant photo ops and Op-Eds praising reform, and the misinformation campaigns occurring around the country.  They do NOT know what we do.

So when Lewis highlighted the deadly repercussions of school reform in Chicago, where we have had these policies for even longer than most places and we know, intimately, the cruelty being inflicted on children and schools, it frightens reformers at the deepest level.  It is not a coincidence that CORE (the progressive caucus which currently runs the Chicago Teachers Union of which Karen Lewis is the head) arose in Chicago.  It is no coincidence that the historic teachers strike happened here.  We have already seen some of the worst of the effects of these policies and have had long enough to get really angry. 

Here was my response to Lewis' remarks:

Lewis was not speaking about TFA specifically, but about the Corporate Ed Reform movement as a whole with which TFA is closely aligned. And yes, the corporate education reforms plaguing Chicago for the past 10+ years have cost precious children their lives. The chaos caused by callous school closings, leading to sending children across the city to “choice” schools crossing gang boundaries has indeed led to increases in youth violence and yes, even deaths. The tragic beating death of Derrion Albert in 2009 is one prime example

It is the utter ignorance and arrogance of education reformers, including and especially TFA, which allows terrible policies to get passed. Churn in teaching staff after closings and turnarounds is dangerous to kids who need stability. Charter schools do not serve the neediest students and instead these kids are concentrated in schools purposefully underfunded and neglected causing ever more severe behavior issues in schools given fewer resources to help. Our district buys new tests and “data systems” instead of hiring more social workers, counselors, and nurses which my kids desperately need. Ed Reform creates environments of fear and stress with terrible new evaluation systems and sometimes even pay tied to test scores leaving the people who work directly with the children with less emotional energy to devote to them. Ed Reform also pushes more inexperienced, poorly trained teachers-as the war on veteran teachers, tenure, and unions continues-on the children who need experienced, well-trained teachers the most.”
Karen Lewis, as a teacher for decades and herself coming from one of the neighborhoods hit hardest by the instability of "reform," knows all this too well.  She, like many of us teachers, parents, students, and community members who fight, have had first-hand experience.  (For more on the damage done by education reform in Chicago, I encourage everyone here to look at the work of Dr. Pauline Lipman out of University of Illinois-Chicago. Here is her latest book and one relevant paper.)


So I leave you with a message.  Attention all you outraged EdReformers: David Rosenberg, Cambell Brown, Andrew Rotherham, Jonathan Alter, Wendy Kopp, Justin Hamilton and anyone else feigning righteous anger over this kerfuffle, children are dying in Chicago.  Much of the increases in violence in this city have to do with the chaos caused by the education reforms YOU ALL advocate for.  Acknowledge that.  Write your blogs, sends angry tweets, speak out on television for THESE kids, not against made-up distractions like this twitter controversy.

Stop hiding behind your misinformation, your spin, your talking points, your complaints about tone, your phony research.  Come to where the kids are.  Listen to parents beg, plead, cry, yell, and chant to save their schools from closure.  Come to my psych hospital and hear children's actual experience of charter schools, of zero tolerance discipline, of school closures, of disinvestment in neighborhood schools, of poorly trained teachers in their classrooms.  Listen to parents and students who occupy their schools, hold sit-ins, or let themselves be arrested to stop school closures and charter expansion.

Sandy Hook reminded us all of the first thing we must remember about schools.  We must protect children above all else.  Like the Hippocratic Oath in medicine, we must "first do no harm" in our attempts to better education.  And corporate education reform IS HURTING CHILDREN.

It's time for some serious outrage over THIS reprehensible fact.  Then we can talk about the reforms our schools actually need.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Now Ed Schools Are the Problem? Change the Conversation!

In a recent paper, the AFT's national leadership advocates for a "bar exam" for educators in order to improve the quality of teacher candidates by raising standards for entry into teaching. While there were a number of noteworthy ideas in the paper, such as more time spent observing masters teachers at work and an emphasis on educators within the profession setting standards, overall, this paper is just one more idea borne out of the notion that our teaching force and the education schools which produce them are, to paraphrase Michelle Rhee, “crap.”.  It feeds directly into the oh-so-common "bad teacher" rhetoric.  The report argues that if we raise GPA requirements, make ed schools more "rigorous," set higher standards of practice, and force prospective teachers to pass intense exams in subject matter and pedagogy THEN our schools will improve.  Now, beyond the classist and racist implications of "improving" our teaching force (read whitening and drawing from higher income brackets), the very conversation itself is flawed.   And I am upset with AFT for entering this conversation. 

Don’t Feed the “Bad Teacher” Monster

This paper comes as retort to EdReformers everywhere who claim that current teacher preparation programs are creating poor quality teachers.   Just last week we heard Arne Duncan with Jeb Bush and other corporate-reform-loving friends lament that “teacher education programs are ‘part of the problem.’” He went on to say “We need to push very, very hard in schools of education." 

This whole conversation assumes, as always, that the major problem in education is the quality of our teachers.   The assumption is that too many teachers are simply sub-par individuals and that a more selective process is necessary to weed out these low-quality people from the "best and the brightest".  Although the AFT gives it a different spin, in many ways this report is the same "bad teacher" mythology peddled by EdReformers, seen on emotional display in Waiting for Superman, and put on repeat from every hedge-fund-manager/billionaire-turned-education-philanthropist out there.  It's Wendy Kopp's appeal to get "new talent" in our classrooms regardless of amount of training or experience  It’s Arne Duncan calling teacher prep programs “broken”.  The major problem, to these people, is always the individual teacher and the ed program that spawned them.  And the only way to improve schools is to recruit better people from better universities with better rankings within those schools.  And all those who do not meet these criteria must be fired and punished, because they do not have the innate qualities to be great.  And those that do? Well we should reward them for their amazing greatness. 
Let me be clear, it's not that I'm against finding ways to improve traditional teacher education programs.   I just do not believe they are “broken”.  They are not why so many teachers quit.  They are not why so many low-income schools struggle.  And they certainly have nothing to do with the so-called achievement gap. The achievement gap exists because of gross inequalities, racism, and poverty NOT as a result of low-quality teachers or their low-quality prep programs.
Besides, what has changed in recent years is the massive proliferation of fast-track alternative or online teaching degrees.  We absolutely SHOULD crack down on these programs.  But not through some "bar exam".  Why can't the national unions fight in Congress to get rid of these terrible programs? Where was the AFT when Teach for America was pushing through changes in the “highly qualified teacher” stipulation in NCLB? Let's stand up to Teach for America, the University of Phoenix, and all the other programs placing unprepared teachers in our neediest classrooms.  

 I do see how, as Dana Goldstein points out , it sounds like Ms. Weingarten and the AFT were trying to shift some of the focus off the "bad teacher" in the classroom rhetoric by honing in on increasing standards at the front end of the process.  But--this is all still within the conversation of improving education through improving teachers themselves.  This move affirms the idea that we need higher entry standards for teacher preparation because our current batch of teachers is simply not good enough. 

And I refuse to participate in that conversation anymore. 

It’s time to change the conversation.  Listen to any EdReformer give a speech. Inevitably, they will slip in the pressing need to "put a great teacher in every classroom" or some variation.  Think about what that rhetoric means and assumes.  Instead of the bizarre, meritocratic, elitist, "best and brightest" rhetoric trying to put the magical "best people" in the classroom, let's change the conversation from talk of great teachERS to great teachING.    A focus on great teachING necessarily opens the conversation away from individual Super-Teachers and acknowledges that great teachING requires supportive teaching environments, training, experience, and can always be improved.  Discussing great teachING highlights the inequities between schools and districts such as class size, resources, support services, work load, time for collaboration/planning, and all the other factors that contribute to what a teacher is able to do in her classroom.  It also acknowledges the obstacles presented to great teachING from the effects of poverty.

Innately "Great" or Learned Professional Knowledge?

The mythical "great teachER" is innately and immediately ready to work miracles in the classroom.  Little training and experience are necessary as long as that person is the "right kind of person".  A quality candidate does not need more than the five weeks of preparation Teach for America provides.  The assumption is that proper screening in the application process is enough, and the rest can be learned "on the job".  Nevermind that that experimentation is on someone's precious child.  To TFA, that parent should be grateful their child has exposure to such a quality human being.  The great teachER conversation presupposes that there is no professional body of knowledge to be learned, pondered, or practiced, just specific character qualities to be screened for

Great teachING, on the other hand, is a skill that must be developed over time and with guidance and care.  TeachING can be improved, it not some static state of being.  And in this context, preparation, training, and experience matter dramatically. By the way, great teachING can never be demonstrated through a rigorous exam, but rather must be observed and nurtured on an individual mentor/mentee basis.  A strong basis in theory and extensive student teaching experiences are necessary for great teachING, because like any professional skill, it must be practiced and honed under the watchful eye of an expert.

Notice that within the conversation of great teachING, it makes sense why our successful affluent suburban schools hire teachers with Master's Degrees and Doctorates. They don't fill their schools with fresh, elite superstars with little formal training.  Affluent schools acknowledge it is preparation, experience, and teaching contexts that lead to the great teachING found in these institutions.   In addition, the teachers in affluent schools come from the same schools of education as the "failing" school in the nearby inner-city, and yet somehow those teachers succeed.  If schools of education were truly “broken”, as our own Secretary of Education contends, then schools would fail everywhere.  There is simply no evidence that our Ed Schools are doing a poor job. 

Greatness Depends

When the focus rests on the great teachER, teaching contexts truly do not matter.  A superstar teachER, can overcome any obstacle.  "Poverty is not destiny" and anyone who claims otherwise is "making excuses". The great teachER--through their high expectations and belief that all children can learn--can work miraculous transformation.  Throw in a little "grit" and "perseverance", those important innate qualities of greatness, and the achievement gap will magically disappear.

But great teachING requires teaching contexts conducive to greatness.  In this new conversation, we are suddenly free to talk about inequalities in the system.  These are not excuses, but realities.  We can acknowledge that a teacher can perform phenomenal teachING in one context and horrible teachING in another.  When classes are too large, with too many high-needs students, and few support staff or resources, we can speak the truth that the quality of the teachING will likely decrease.  To improve teachING means to take on building equitable, fully-resourced classrooms for every teacher and learner. It means creating appropriate workloads and time for collaboration/planning.  And no amount of firing and hiring of individual teachers in an unequal system will ever change that context.

We can also finally talk about poverty and the very real effects it will have on great teachING.  Poverty does not need to be a taboo word. Instead, having the conversation of great teachING opens a frank discussion about even the best teachING's limitations.

Who is "Great" Exactly?

Also in the conversation of great teachING, there is room for all kinds of teachers: people who are inspirational, brainy, athletic, artistic, from the local neighborhood or another country, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, people who possess all types of multiple intelligences.  We can be glad of this diversity, for the students we teach are just as diverse and need all kinds of people in their lives to inspire them to greatness.  This conversation also allows for the occasional normal human "bad day" without it being the end of a career.  Great teachING is not tied to a test score or a snapshot, but rather is a holistic picture of what happens in that classroom daily.  And it can always be improved.


I urge Randi Weingarten and the AFT national leadership to stop participating in the "bad teacher" conversation.  I understand wanting address the many claims by EdReformers that teacher prep is broken.  But why not highlight our best examples? Why not remind people that it’s not traditional programs producing the vast majority of unprepared teachers? Why not point the spotlight back onto the real problems in preparation like the growing number of fast-track alternative programs and how some traditional programs have watered down their own programs to compete?    

Or better yet, why engage in the “bad teachER” conversation at all?  End the witch hunts.  Focus the conversation on how to improve teachING.  It is a much fuller, more inclusive, and more helpful conversation to have. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bullying: Why are we surprised?

In education circles, there is often a lot of talk about how to prevent and deal with bullying in our schools.  There are anti-bullying programs, trainings for teachers, social-emotional curricula designed to increase empathy.  Teachers are taught how to work with the bullying victim, the bully themselves, and the bystanders who must be encouraged to interevene.

But when I look around at our society, I sometimes wonder why are we surprised that bullying is such a rampant problem in schools?  Do we honestly wish to pretend that this is problem unique to the schoolyard, to our young people who just don't know better?  Or, are we willing to take a long hard look at ourselves, what our society teaches and rewards, and the daily lessons our children learn growing up in an grossly unjust and abusive America?

Think about what a typical child witnesses in their life.  Perhaps they overhear their parent complain about an abusive boss.  They watch as that parent works longer hours for less pay. They see the fear in that parent's eyes knowing that they can never speak up, speak out, fight for better conditions.  There are mouths to feed and bills to pay so the parent has no choice but to return to the abuse day in and day out.  Children feel that tension.

That child, especially an African-American or Latino/a child, leaves that stressful home and walks down the streets towards school. On their way, they observe the police, once again, harassing, accusing, perhaps beating another member of the community.   The child hangs their head low and walks by quickly, the lesson that the police will bully you for little or no reason etched into their brain.  And knowing all too well that a prison cell awaits anyone who resists.

The child arrives at school and sees their teacher welcome them.  She seems tired and frightened.  That child watches the teacher catch her breath as an administrator walks in later that day in a surprise evaluation.  The child hears the nervousness in her voice and watches her forced smiles and fake enthusiasm.  The child sees the administrator scold the teacher, right there in front of the class, for not having the correct words written on the board or paper filed away.  The child knows the dread on their teacher's face as yet another test approaches.  And they know that their teacher has no choice in what she is being asked to do.  Children see it all.

And on some level, children understand who the winners are in our society.  They see their city's mayor on TV, a bona fide bully, continue his bullying towards the child's teachers, relatives, and community members.  They see the billionaire bullies, the political bullies, the business bullies fleece the entire nation's milk-money without so much as a detention.

And we are surprised when children try to exert power over someone less powerful?  That is how the game is played.  That bully, provided he has the right connections and does not have the wrong skin color, will be rewarded for that nasty behavior someday.  Perhaps, he can manage a hedge fund, become a ruthless banker, or even run for office.  Bullying equals "success".

I am not condoning bullying.  As a teacher, I work everyday to teach my students to feel another's pain, to care for their classmates, neighbors, even strangers.  But I also acknowledge where that desire to dominate and be cruel comes from.  It is taught.  Keep fighting bullying, but until we live in a more just and equitable society, don't be surprised when you see it in the schools. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Twilight of the EdReformers

I just finished reading MSNBC host and Nation contributor Chris Hayes' new book: Twilight of the Elites.  In the book, he highlights how America's version of meritocracy has spiraled out of control into a small group of elites who make decisions and govern with little to no accountability, who feel entitled to take an ever growing chunk of the wealth this country produces, and who remain so far removed from the reality of our grossly unequal society that they rarely see the consequences of their greed.

Hayes chronicles how the wealthy elites are so deep into their meritocratic story of worth--being the "best and the brightest", being the smartest people on the planet and therefore the only ones capable of making decisions--that they are immune to outside criticism or blame for mistakes.  And our elites have made many many mistakes.  Hayes picks the example of the disaster following Hurricane Katrina where the elites were so far removed from the reality of the people living in the Ninth Ward--such as the lack of access to a car, the lack of money (especially at the end of the month for those living on a fixed income), the sickness and immobility that comes with a lack of access to health care--that they simply were not capable of planning appropriate evacuation procedures.  After all, telling people who cannot physically leave to leave and expecting them to somehow do so, is ridiculous.

Hayes also follows the grave mistakes leading up to the financial collapse of 2008. To this day, the elites have not had to pay for their mistakes.  Meanwhile, far away from the millionaire bankers and hedge fund managers, millions of average Americans' homes are being foreclosed on and families are falling into bankruptcy.  He also discusses how the elites in Washington allowed themselves to be duped into two long, expensive, and deadly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Hayes notes that almost none of the people making the decision to go to war would ever have to risk their own son, daughter, husband, wife, friend, or relative's life.  They make their poor decisions from a safe place far removed from the repercussions of those decisions.

When looking at the actions of the elite over the past decade, Hayes writes, "All the smart people fucked up, and no one seems willing to take responsibility" (Kindle location 230).

Also interesting is when Hayes mentions Karen Ho's book entitled Liquidated which looks into the dysfunction on Wall Street.  Ho talks about how the "elite educational institutions and Wall Street have fused into a sort of educational industrial complex." (Location 753).  She also calls those who believe the current status quo of privilege and elitism have
...A kind of neo-Calvinist logic by saying that those at the top, by virtue of their placement there, must be the most deserving.  [She] describes this "meritocratic feedback loop" as common on Wall Street, where the finance industry's "growing influence becomes further evidence that they are, in fact, "the smartest." (location 788)
These are the elites of today: uber-rich, unaccountable, greedy, self-righteous, drunk on power, and completely isolated from the vast majority of humanity and their suffering.

These elites-the wealthy, the powerful, the Wall Street tycoons, the members of the "educational industrial complex"-are the very same people pushing corporate education reform.  It is Wall Street and its hedge fund managers, the billionaires, the socialites, the wealthy politicians (for only truly wealthy individuals can afford to run for top offices anymore), and students and graduates from elite universities which make up the EdReform crowd. I want to make this very clear, the same people who callously crashed the economy with little personal consequence while sending millions into poverty and distress, the people who ignorantly and wantonly left thousands to suffer in the flood waters of Katrina, the people who call for tax breaks and corporates subsidies for themselves and their friends while social programs and education are gutted, the people who remorselessly sent young Americans into battle, trauma, and death on foreign soils, taking thousands of in-country civilian lives along the way, are the same people who are telling us how to reform education. 

The reformers, these elites, are so deep into their "meritocratic feedback loop," so very sure of themselves and their ideas, that they simply cannot hear dissent.  When teachers and parents tell heart-wrenching stories of the cruel consequences of Ed Reform, telling about beloved schools being shuttered, children treated like lifeless commodities, growing segregation, the spikes in youth violence in the midst of the chaos of opening and closing schools, Ed Reformers literally cannot accept that their actions might be wrong.  After all, the people in the trenches, families from low-income areas, teachers, communities groups all have not proved their worth by entering the elite upper-echelons.  Parents and teachers do not have "merit" in the EdReformer eyes.  Only the "Masters of the Universe", as demonstrated by accumulation of money and power, could possibly be smart enough to fix a problem as complicated and convoluted as education. The Billionaire Board of Education in Chicago is a prime example of the disconnected coldness of the elites and why the fight for an elected representative school board is so important to the parents and teachers of Chicago Public Schools. The board does not just seem distant, they actually are living on an entirely different social plane of existence.

Chicago's Board of Education, Graphic designed by CPS teacher
It is no accident that organizations like Teach for America have become so very popular in Education Reform circles.  TFA takes the "best and brightest", the top of the meritocracy, and puts them in the middle of the problem.  According to the elite, how could they NOT work miracles?  Never mind that they have no degrees in education, no experience working with children, and only five measly weeks of training, the hubris of the elite claims these novices know better than the seasoned professionals they are displacing. And throughout the TFA experience, TFA is careful to keep a clear social distance between members of their organization from traditional teachers and the communities where they serve.  They see themselves as TFA first, and part of a teaching community second, if at all.  And once members have put in their time with the ordinary, UN-meritorious masses, many TFAers jump quickly back into the far removed world of corporations, non-profits, high-profile education jobs, or political life--straight back into the safe space of the elites.

It is this social distance, which has grown exponentially in just the past few years, which allowed the space for the growth of horrible ideas being promoted by the elites: merit pay (naturally in a meritocracy), evaluations based on test scores (show your merit through bubble tests--getting ranked and sorted is oh so very meritorious), charters (the wealthy and elite can certainly figure out a better way to run a school than those working-class union thugs), and the end of tenure and LIFO (if you are still teaching after 20 years, you are clearly not competing hard enough), and of course Race to the Top (we'll give you money, but only if you prove your worth.)  Social distance allows reformers to make edicts from on high without ever having to hear the consequences of excessive testings, or school closures, or ruined careers, or lifeless, dull curriculum.  Neither they, nor their children, nor-importantly-their circle of friends will ever have first-hand knowledge of the bad policies being put in place.

To real educators, corporate education reform ideas are simply insane.  They don't work and we have research to prove they don't work.  But there was plenty of evidence that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that sub-prime mortgages were dangerously precarious long before the housing bubble burst, and that the levees were not going to hold as Katrina rolled in.  But the "best and the brightest" refused to listen to anyone but themselves.  And the results were disastrous, just like we are seeing in education.

Hayes calls for a massive shift in our social order.  He recalls that meritocracies often go in cycles and that we are at the end of the current swing toward massive inequality and an elite class that is out of control. He contends that these elites are right now at their very worst.
The extreme inequality of the kind that we have produces its own particular kind of elite pathology: it make elites less accountable, more prone to corruption and self-dealing, more status-obsessed and less empathetic, more blinkered and removed from informational feedback crucial to effective decision-making. For this reason, extreme inequality produces elites who are less competent and more corrupt that those in a more egalitarian social order would.  This is the fundamental paradoxical outcome that several decades of failed meritocratic production has revealed: As American society grows more elitist, it produces a worse caliber of elites. (Location 2351)
Are these the types of people we want to entrust the lives of our children and the future of our schools with?  Hayes ends his book by asking us to direct the...
...frustration, anger, and alienation we all feel into building a trans-ideological coalition that can actually dislodge the power of the post-meritocratic elite.  One that marshals insurrectionist sentiments without succumbing to nihilism and manic, paranoid distrust.  One that avoids the dark seduction of everything-is-broken-ism.  One that leverages the deep skepticism of elites into a proactive, constructive vision of a moral, equitable, and connected social order. (Location 3482)
The only way forward is the creation of a more moral, equitable and connected society?  Sounds good to me....

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why Can't I Opt Out of the GREs?

I have dropped off the face of the blogging world.  The reason is two-fold.  First, life at the psychiatric hospital where I work has become unbearable.  From where I stand, there is a mental health crisis happening in this city which is being exacerbated by the continued cuts and privatization of mental health services in Illinois.  And school "choice" has worsened these conditions as public money is funneled into charters which do not serve the children with the greatest mental health needs.  Add into the mix the exhaustion of the longer school day and the weeks of testing and test prep, coupled with spikes in youth violence and child poverty/income gap increases and what we have is a city full of very sick children.  Our facility is running at or over capacity.  DCFS is being crushed by growing need. Insurance companies are paying out less and less.  And Illinois' medicaid benefits are being chopped giving children fewer paid days in hospitals to recover from trauma or abuse.  We are at a critical mass, folks.  And as far as I can tell, the powers that be will do nothing about it.

But there is another, more inane reason why I have not been adding my voice to the bloggosphere chorus:  I have to study for the GREs.  

I cannot believe I have to waste my time on this crap.

The PhD degree program I wish to pursue is in Education Policy where I would like to examine the negative effects of standardized testing on children.  And in order to get into the program, I must take an f-ing standardized test.  Oh the irony....

I went to the professor I hope to study under and asked her about opting out of the test.  I suggested sending in some of my writings to demonstrate my ability to succeed in a graduate program instead. The professor said she loved the idea, that the people who would review my application at the School of Education would love that idea, but that the School of Admissions would never let an application without a GRE score reach them.  No, she said, you must take the GRE.

So I asked some of the other graduate students in the program what their experiences with the GRE were.  One student told me "I'm a horrible test taker, so I locked myself in a room for six months to study."  This seemed to be a common response.  Other people told me how they saved and sacrificed to afford a Kaplan course, many of which run in the 1000s of dollars.  The fact that you can, in fact, buy better test scores speaks wonders, don't you think? "Higher scores guaranteed or your money back!"

So I sucked it up, bought myself the practice books, paid the $175, and signed myself up for The Test.

Can I just say how very useless this test is?  I am sitting here today trying to memorize random vocabulary words which I will probably never be able to use in actual writing or discourse because of the decontexualized format in which I am studying them.  I am going over math which I will never, ever use again. It will not help me when I need math for statistical analysis for my actual program.  Afterall, when I need to do statistical math, I will learn the math I need!  It will be useful math, directly applied to what I am studying, rather than disembodied formulas and tricks which I am being forced to jam into my head now.  And as for analytical writing?  I have hundreds of essays for them, essays that were actually published or used in the current education debate.  What use is it to know if I can come up with something on a random topic I may or may not care about, in a few short minutes?  How will that help determine whether or not I will be able to write an entire dissertation?

But the saddest part is that I will probably get a decent score (not great, since apparently I have decided to "waste" my time blogging, or going to the many educational events happening in my city contributing to actually CHANGING the system I would like to study in grad school).  I have always been a good test taker, although I like to quip that I am terrible at, you know, actual life.  I graduated from one of the best public high schools in the country.  We were very well prepared for academic excellence.  (As well as for replicating our privilege.) When I think of the potentially fantastic candidates out there who will be rejected because of this idiotic test, people who are far more knowledgeable than I, I feel like screaming.

And of course, I come back to thinking about the students in our schools being subjected to this waste of time.  To jamming useless facts in their heads to be able to "compete" on the unfair battlefield of labeling, sorting, and punishment. 

How much time have we as society lost to the disgusting standardized testing movement?  How much of that time would have been better spent marching, singing, organizing, building, DOING instead of cooped up in a room memorizing nonsense?

Well, no more contributing to the national conversation on education for me today.  I need to lock myself away so I can jump through some hoop in order to be able to join the national conversation on education.  Sigh...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Letter to Obama

Diane Ravitch is encouraging everyone with an interest in education to write a letter to President Obama and send it to him on October 17th.  Here is my letter:

Dear President Obama,

I am writing to you today as one voice in a chorus of millions of educators, students, parents, and concerned citizens.  I ask that you take a moment to hear our stories.

Mr. President, I worked as a special education teacher at a small elementary school just two blocks from your Chicago home.  Perhaps you and your family have walked by it, Reavis Elementary at 50th and Drexel?  Did you ever wonder what happened inside that small, crumbling, yellow-brick schoolhouse which sits just outside your affluent Hyde Park neighborhood? 

I doubt you let your girls spend much time in the park in front of Reavis, what with the frequent drive-bys and police chases.  But that is where our students played before and after school.  As you may know, our students' families are what's left of the population remaining after the demolition of the Robert Taylor Homes. Nearly all the students come from low-income homes, and every single one was African-American.  Many were homeless, gangs infested the neighborhood, drugs touched far too many lives, and the violence was an ever-present threat.  But everyday, those little babies walked to our school.  And we worked hard for them, spending sixteen hours days and giving up our weekends and money to try and fill the gaps of not having a library, textbooks, support staff, a full-time nurse, supplies or music in our building. We gave our all.

And Mr. Obama, do you remember the friend you wrote about in your book, Dreams From My Father? You called her "Mary".  Did you know that she dedicated more than twenty years of her life to the children of Reavis?  I had the privilege of working with her during my first year of teaching.  She was the most inspirational, kind-hearted, good, hard-working teacher I had ever seen.  She had a way of making the children light up with joy.  She worked endlessly, often losing sleep.  You know her history, you wrote about it, she has not had an easy life.

I'm sorry to report her life has been made worse thanks to you, Mr. President.  The pressure of test after test was all-consuming.  Our administration was cruel, and our principal looked for reasons to belittle us, berate us, and to fire us.  Instead of letting us, as professionals, be free to create relevant, engaging curriculum we were told we must write lessons a certain way, we must configure our board a specific way, we must put up the children's test data on the walls of the classrooms, and above all else, we must obey unquestioningly.  We watched as the principal targeted the older teachers, or anyone who disagreed with him.  No one was safe.  More than one teacher from our small school community ended up at a psychiatric facility.  Marriages failed, tensions were high, and many tears were shed.

I wish I could say that school culture of fear was unique to Reavis.  But it is not.  For too many schools, this is the new normal in education under oppressive top-down mandates.

But "Mary" and I found small pockets of joy with our students.  We secretly planned engaging lessons on all sorts of topics squeezed into the cracks between the mandated tests and while our principal was out of the building.  We co-taught fun lessons that were filled with laughter, creativity, and lively questions.  We had to tell the children not to get too loud in their excitement, in case someone from administration came down the hall and saw that we were not following the boring scripts and mandated paperwork.  I remember one day, in the heart of an active lesson, one of our reluctant readers getting up and reading a whole paragraph which she had written herself in front of the class.  We all danced and hugged and shed tears of joy, all while nervously glancing over our shoulders for fear of being discovered by the bosses.  Mr. President, we shouldn't have to hide those moments.  But you see, that small success won't even matter since that special education student will likely never pass the standardized test.  In the eyes of the Department of Education, she is a "failure".  And thus, so are we, her teachers.

Poor "Mary". She knew as a veteran teacher that no school would ever hire someone her age. So she was stuck in that abusive school.  She reminisced how things had always been hard teaching in an inner-city school, but they had been better years ago.  The past few years had become unbearable, she told me.  The year after I worked there, she was finally forced into early retirement.  She will have to live on a reduced pension for the rest of her life.  According to your administration, her years of dedication, loyalty, and practiced expertise mean nothing.  In fact, I'm sure the Department of Education would be happy to bring in a poorly-trained, inexperienced novice like Teach for America provides.  So Mr. President, your friend "Mary" is now just another selfless soul thrown away in this barrage of teacher-bashing, deprofessionalization, and budget-cutting.

This is the world of Race to the Top.  Of cold competition, deceptive data, test scores, merit pay, unfair teacher evaluations, and a constant fear of school closures or massive layoffs.  I remember trembling as the list of school closures came out, knowing this time it could be our school, our fragile children displaced.  Meanwhile, we would watch as the Chicago Public Schools unfairly gave new money, facilities, marketing, and praise to charter schools and turnarounds, while our neighborhood school was crushed under growing accountability with shrinking resources.

And it's getting worse every year.  This unequal system is why the teachers of Chicago had no choice but to withhold their labor in protest.  They held a strike in defiance of YOUR policies, sir.  You brought us Arne Duncan and his Race to the Top. You helped Rahm Emanuel-whose sole mission seems to be breaking the teachers union-become mayor.  And when the teachers walked the picket line, you did not fulfill your promise to put on your comfortable shoes and join them. 

The world of your "accountability" is cruel.  It hurts teachers and children alike.  But I ask you, who is held accountable for the horrible conditions at that school?  For the savage inequalities of school funding?  Why didn't we have enough money at Reavis to buy soap, much less extra teachers to reduce class sizes, or aides to help in classrooms?  Who is accountable for streets that look like wars zones, for the lack of housing and steady, living-wage jobs in the communities where we teach?  Who is accountable for the racism that still plagues our society and is reflected in our education system?  Why does accountability rest so heavily on the backs of teachers alone?

Mr. Obama, please.  Make these attacks on teachers end. We cannot do the vitally important job of teaching our nation's youth in this toxic environment.  Help us get rid of the constant high-stakes testing.  Stop forcing schools to rely on those meaningless test scores for everything from teacher evaluations, to teacher pay, to the massively disruptive decision to fire the staff or close a school.  End the expansion of privately-run charter schools, which siphon off necessary resources from schools like Reavis and do not even serve the neediest children.  Help us bring joy back into our classrooms.  Help clear away the culture of fear and intimidation.  Look to ways that the Department of Ed can support schools, instead of punishing them.  Make sure that EVERY school gets the resources it needs instead of having to compete in your Race to the Top.  There should never be winners and losers when we are talking about meeting the needs of children.

End Race to the Top now. End No Child Left Behind.  Bring in actual educators to run the Department of Education.

Most of all, trust your teachers.  Trust the people like "Mary."

Katie Osgood
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, IL

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Won't Back Down: The Worst Propaganda Ever?

So the other day I jokingly posted on facebook that I was planning on sneaking in to a screening of Won't Back Down.  A couple education activist friends saw the post and offered to come along.

Shortly thereafter, I received a text from our good friends over at Democrats for Education Reform announcing more FREE screenings of the movie put on by Parent Revolution.  Even better!  So I immediately signed up and received an email saying someone would be in contact.  Well, no one was in contact.  I assume DFER purposely did not post the time or the place of the showings on purpose in order to screen people like me from attending.  (I know I'm already on Stand for Children's hitlist, so being on DFER's is not a surprise.)

OK, back to plan A.

Obviously, we needed drinks before the showing, you know...for morale.

So perhaps we were a little tipsy when we finally arrived at the theater last night.  As planned, I bought us three tickets for another movie. (We were not about to put a dime into the WBD movie coffers. I believe Taken 2 got our money. I like Liam Neeson. He's tall.)  And as we walked into the "wrong theater", we were to surprised to see a completely empty room.  So we immediately began taking pictures, giggling, and having a grand ol' time.

But then a young movie attendant came in and asked to "check our tickets" saying we must be in the wrong theater since that showing had sold no seats.  Crap.  He went to get the manager and we played dumb saying we had purchased the wrong tickets accidentally.  Looking back, I realize I could have just been honest and let them know what we were up to.  A missed opportunity...

But they let us stay.  So, I finally got to see the movie causing such a stir.

Wow, what a bad movie.

I mean, not even talking about the propaganda side of things, the movie was just poorly made.  Terrible dialogue, no character development, predictable, and boring as hell.  One of my movie sneaker-er friends left half-way through.

But of course, the propaganda was part of the problem.  The dialogue was taken straight out of an EdReformers playbook.  It had the "bad" teacher whom you can't get rid of because she's "tenurized".  (Making the parent character mispronounce the word the "tenure" makes it more authentic, get it?)  Teachers complaining about that same teacher saying she gets the "highest salary and has the worse performance."  (What a beautiful setup for a lead in to MERIT PAY!)   The charter school lottery-where people actually care about kids (with only 3 slots for the 6.7 million applicants, or something like that...I think they just superimposed Maggie Gyllehaal with crazy eyes into a Waiting for Superman scene. )  And the Teach for America guy as the only good, enthusiast teacher in the school, who they were very careful to show wasn't "anti-labor" and kept repeating "I just want to teach."  (By the way, since when is it ok for teachers to date parents?) 

But let's get serious for a second here.  There was one piece I haven't heard as much about in the critiques of the movie.  The issue of race and school closings/turnarounds.  Adams Elementary seemed to be a perfectly integrated (roughly 33/33/33 racial breakdown of White/Black/Latino) school.  Here in Chicago segregation is the norm, so it was interesting to see the moviemakers be so careful to show large numbers of white parents at the pro-charter rallies and meetings.  The truth is, in reality, the schools being targeted for turnaround or charterization are overwhelmingly schools with intense racial segregation and isolation.  They are the schools which have been historically disinvested in due to racism, redlining, and savage inequalities in the system.

I imagine the racial make-up of the population at the school was very intentional on the part of the movie-makers.  The idea that a "failing school" has nothing to do with racism or purposeful disinvestment, but is the result solely of poor teaching, tenure, and union contracts is the main message being sold here.   The choice to pick a white single mother and a white teacher to be the "bad teacher" is intended to draw a curtain over the truth that firings have disproportionately affected older African-America women and that the populations being given the worst educational opportunity are in segregated Black and Latino neighborhoods. 

At the end of the day, this movie was about propaganda, albeit really poorly-made propaganda.  It was about scaring people into believing that what ails our schools is completely removed from any conversation about equity or race. 

While I had a good time laughing with other people who "get it" and enjoying the fact that the movie is an embarrassing empty-theater-flop at the box office, I do worry that the intended audience of the movie is not the community at large, but rather all the politicians, policy-makers, and edreform sympathizers who are being shown the film in private screenings.

Whatever, it was a good laugh.  And I think the sequel is going to be a whole lot more enjoyable!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dear Mr. Mayor: There is Hope for Chicago's Children, In Spite of You

Dear Mayor Rahm Emanuel,

A few months ago I wrote an open letter to you about why I will not teach in your schools.  You, and your corporate education reform buddies, are turning our schools into testing factories.  You use punishment and fear--I believe you call it "accountability"--to wield unlimited power over teachers and students.  You starve schools, deny them vital services, unilaterally demand a longer school day with no new resources, write off 25% of our city's youth as disposable, allow racist and ageist hiring and firing policies to persist, and then callously sell off our schools to your venture capitalist buddies like Bruce Rauner or Juan Rangel, all while acting like you are doing something "for the children".

You, sir, do not even know the children.

Can you tell me the children's names?  Their talents, their fears, their hopes and dreams?  Because I, and the other teachers in Chicago, can. 

But Chicago's teachers did something amazing last week. They stood up to your terrible, racist, cruel policies and said "no more".

Thanks to those teachers, I believe the Chicago Public School system is a place I would once again consider working. 

Their new contract has many wonderful provisions such as adding $1.5 million dollars for more special education teachers, a promise to hire more social workers, nurses, and counselors, a guarantee to have textbooks on the first day of class, an increase from $100 to $250 given to teachers for supplies, new clauses about including parents on class size monitoring committees, $.5 million dollars for class size reductions, allowing teachers to follow their own lesson plan formats instead of using the top-down mandated one, an anti-bullying clause against workplace bullying by poor administrators, and 600 new music, art, and gym teachers.  The CTU also stopped the collaborative-culture-crushing idea of merit pay, preserved steps and lanes in the salary schedule to ensure we value experience and education in our teaching workforce, and kept the use of student test scores in teacher evaluation to the legal minimum.

But more than the victories in the new contract, I would once again work in CPS because of the rank and file teachers.  Chicago's teachers have remembered something this country forgot decades ago:

Power conceded nothing without a demand--Fredrick Douglas

I would be excited to join my brothers and sisters in demanding better schools for all children.  I would proudly join those who fight for equality, for educational justice for all students regardless of zip code.  I would gladly go back to Chicago's classrooms and help children both through my classroom practice and through the work of social justice outside the classroom.

Mr. Mayor, I would go back to Chicago's schools IN SPITE of you.

This I know: you are wrong.  You know nothing about education or our students. And the battle for great schools is not over.  Teachers are a hard-working bunch who know how to persevere through trying circumstances. And they have right on their side.  They fight for actual precious human beings.  And like the mother defending her young, they will never give up the fight to protect their students.

So Mr. Mayor, I suggest you step back and let teachers lead the way.  Abandon your call to close 100 more schools. Forget the twisted logic of your corporate elitist friends. 

And to any progressive, free-thinking, social-justice minded principals out there:  Do you need a special education teacher?

Ms. Katie