Sunday, July 7, 2013

Speech for 7/4 Rally: The Fight Against Austerity

Below is the copy of a speech I gave during a rally against Austerity outside Mayor Emanuel's home.  Here are a couple links to news coverage of the event here, here, and here.

Hello! Happy Independence Day! 

My name is Katie Osgood and I am a teacher.  I teach at a psychiatric hospital here in the city, working with students from all over the Chicagoland area and of all ages including hundreds of CPS students.  And in my hospital, I have seen directly the impact of Rahm Emanuel’s terrible school policies.  We are seeing higher rates of depression, suicide attempts, school refusal, family conflict, anxiety, and aggressive behaviors all directly related to current school policies in this city. 

To put it bluntly, CPS’s policies are hurting children.  When you viciously close schools, slash budgets-including taking money for social workers, smaller classes, arts, music, and gym, when you fire trusted teachers and staff, all these things hurt kids.  And in the middle of all this, our mayor has the gall to cut mental health services and close mental health facilities.  But you see, the chaos of our system is intentional.  The people in charge call it “creative disruption,” a business term.  They want to let market forces determine where schools will stand, and maybe make a buck or two in the process (ahem UNO charter schools) -which means throw up a charter here, close down another school there, and they even generously say they will close the underperforming charters too.  Gee, thanks.  

They treat schools like shoe stores in a strip mall-not historic institutions that are grounding communities.  I have met countless children who are lost in this madness, going to 3, 4, even 5 different schools in as many years.  Here is the pattern I keep seeing: Students start in a neighborhood school, the school is closed or the parents are lured to a charter, the charter very quickly pushes out that student due to behavior problems or disabilities-I am hearing frightening horror stories coming from these charters-and they bounce back to another neighborhood school which may be closed itself. Kids learn to hate school, to fear it.  Under this system, children become liabilities, bad assets to be dumped with they are not deemed profitable.  You know what, kids know when they are not wanted.  And it is heartbreaking to watch kids get beaten by school reform.

This is madness.  Children need stability, they need connection, they need strong ties to their neighborhoods and communities.  They need schools that are funded to work and be successful.  They need fully certified, experienced teachers! (Have you heard how our CPS school board just expanded the contract with Teach for America tripling its funds in the middle of a “budget crisis”?  Teach for America is a program which gives non-education majors a short, five week crash course in teaching and then places them in our highest needs classrooms.  After firing hundreds of experienced teachers and staff, our Board is bringing in MORE uncertified, untrained novices. Parents, DEMAND that your child’s teacher is certified and qualified. You have that right!)

And these policies are most damaging to our students with special needs who are the most deeply impacted by the bad policy coming from the 125 Clark and our 1% Mayor.  Mayor Emanuel is deliberately enforcing policies that hurt children.  Do you know what we call people who deliberately hurt kids? (---- )
I have seen my CPS students and colleagues in the schools become weary and be beaten down with exhaustion and demoralization.   The longest school day coupled with the longest school closings process ever, was impossibly tiring.  Hearing after hearing, bad news on the heels of bad news.  Crazy budget cuts on top of everything else.  Rahm and the other bullies at CPS want this.  They want to wear us out, beat us down, keep us too tired to speak up.

But will they succeed?  NO! Because what they will never understand is that we are fighting for flesh and blood children, children that WE know by name. They are OUR precious sons and daughters, OUR students, who fill up OUR schools in OUR communities.  (Who’s schools? OUR schools! Who’s children? OUR children!)
I wish we could say that this was just Rahm and his twisted mind.  But it’s not, this is part of a greater attack on teachers, on schools, on low-income communities of color, on public education.  It’s happening all over the country, the world.  But let me say this, Rahm may not have started all this, and it may not be just him leading these attacks, but you know what? I think he’s a good place to start the offensive!  Take back our city!  Take back our schools! Let’s make Rahm be a One Term Mayor! (One Term Mayor One Term Mayor One Term Mayor!)

Today is Independence Day.  So we declare independence from a mayor-appointed school board made up of millionaires and business elites.  We need an elected, representative and who represents US!  We declare independence from a regime of high-stakes testing that takes away joy and creativity from our classrooms.  We declare independence from a city budgeting system that gives money to private school stadiums to politically connected charter operators but starves our public schools. We declare independence from a 1% Mayor who cares more about the interests of the rich than Chicago’s students.  (When public education is under attack, what do you do? STAND UP, FIGHT BACK!)

So thank you, and Happy Independence Day. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Exhaustion of The Longest School Day

I received this blog post from a special educator currently working in the Chicago Public Schools.   The writer wished to remain anonymous, understandably.  I have heard similar stories from far too many teachers out there.  Rahm and his politically-motivated Longer School Day are going to drive away all our very best educators.  This particular teacher is an absolutely phenomenal teacher and this story absolutely breaks my heart.

Chicago Public Schools defines the "Full School Day" as…
A richer school day… one that provides additional instructional time in both elementary and high schools.  This means more time on task in reading, math, history and science.  In addition, it provides time for a real recess so kids can exercise and refresh.   The Full School Day provides students with the time they need for quality instruction in the classroom with their teachers, as well as new opportunities for creative learning and extracurricular activities that were not available even just last year.  (
My students don’t spend the “Full School Day” with creative learning, enrichment, or exercise.  Instead, they spend a longer day in a classroom with substitutes, waiting in line to “play” at recess, being bombarded with data, all the while struggling to interact with their peers.  They are spending a longer day in a classroom where the windows don’t open, the heat doesn’t work, paint is falling off the ceiling in dangerous chunks, and where there is not adequate technology.  My students are exhausted, frustrated, and are having more behavior problems, because of the “Full School Day.”
Walking down the hallways of my school used to be one of my favorite things to do.  I would pass by classrooms and see all of the fun and creative things students were doing.  Bulletin boards were filled with colorful and imaginative displays of student mastery.  Since the implementation of Rahms “Full School Day,” the creativity has been sucked out of our classrooms.  Teachers are being forced to become robot while teaching.  We must say key words at certain times and must integrate a teaching strategy into our lessons whether or not it pertains to our teaching or will work for our students.  While new teaching strategies can be good, what is being lost, being sacrificed? 
My students have yet to see any of the enrichment promised to them.  My school has had three FSD positions go unfilled all school year.  These positions were created to give the students enrichment resource classes.  Instead, my students spent all of second quarter with a different substitute every day.  I spent my own time and money planning and creating activities to keep my students occupied.  My students deserve more than busy work to occupy their time!  Now in the third quarter my students have another resource class with another substitute.  I feel like my hands are tied.  I try to provide my students with some meaningful work to do, but I can’t keep spending my time, to plan for another hour of my student’s day when I am not supposed to.
Recess is another thing.  While technically students have 25 minutes of recess, day in and day out my students complain that they don’t get to play at recess.  They spend 1/3 of their recess time in lines.  We have two recess coordinators (who are doing the best they can), but logistically to think about two people supervising nearly 200 students at one time.  It’s no wonder they spend a lot of their recess time in line waiting for instructions!  Recess should be a time when students can enjoy the fresh air outside, and have the freedom to let off some energy.  But without any true planning or thought about recess from CPS, students are not getting all of the benefits they should from recess.
Student morale and attitude is at an all-time low, I have never seen the students at my school struggle to function through the school day before.  What the FSD is not addressing is the social/emotional needs of our students.  We are spending hour after hour throwing information and them and making demands of their reading and writing skills.  We are not being given the time to teach them how to get along with others, solve problems without fights, or even how to advocate for themselves.  I have been sneaking behind the closed door of my classroom, teaching my students character development.  I will pause academic instruction, and address the social/emotional needs of my students.  I have been lucky that I haven’t been “caught” yet by my administration, but I do know if they walk into my room and I am not doing exactly what is on my lesson plan, I will have a lot of explaining to do!
The mandates and expectations are no longer just affecting me; my students are feeling the pressure too.  Earlier this school year my classroom was subject to five different walk throughs and observations in just a couple weeks.  We had visits from our ILT, other school’s ILTs, the network, administration and from central office.  The central office visit really stands out the most to me, because of the experience of two of my students.  My students were working independently on their task, when the central office person came over to ask them questions.  I noticed that the questions kept coming, and my students were becoming more and more frustrated.  Finally one of the student’s starts saying loudly “This is a nonfiction text, and we are taking notes on it,” the student is pointing at the article she is reading with her partners.  The student continues, “That is how I know I am doing what the objective says on the board.”  I always try to prep my students for when we will have visitors, but I know that my students have become frustrated with the process.  They will always ask, “Why are they coming again?”
I am in just my fourth year of teaching, and I am starting to question if teaching is really the place for me.  I know that I am a great teacher, and can really make a difference in the lives of my students.  However, with the way this school year has gone, I know that mentally, and physically I can’t keep up this pace forever.  The Full School Day is not at all what Rahm and CPS promised it to be, things are worse for my students now than they were in years past.

So very sad...

How is the longest school day going in your school?  Please tell your stories.

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Shout-Out to Education Activists

This piece was originally posted at

There are times when I feel overwhelmed by my good fortune to know so many powerful parent, teacher, student, and community activists across the country and the globe.  We have come together through the fight against corporate education reform and the call for education justice, equity, and democratically-run schools.  I feel lucky to have met so many amazing people at the many rallies, sit-ins, community meetings, and education events happening across my city of Chicago.  I feel fortunate for being able to witness and take a small part in the inspirational Chicago Teachers Strike.  I feel blessed to know many of the people behind the scenes of that historic event.  I feel privileged to work in solidarity across the nation with activists standing up against excessive testing, fighting for smaller classes, speaking out against corporate influence in education, and lending their expertise and voice to the struggle.   And today I feel honored to share a blog space with many of my education blogging heroes whose words tear down the false rhetoric of the education reform movement and inspire us to a new, equitable, and just vision of schooling.

As yet another School Choice Week comes to a close, I am again hit by the differences between Corporate Education Reformers and Education Justice Activists.  During the week, I took a moment to look through the school choice week hashtag #SCW and saw many of the tweets were from Astroturf organizations like Students First, conservative Think Tanks, or Education wonks and their publications.  Every tweet seemed so intentional, as if vetted by a marketing-expert or a social media manager.  And all the tweets seemed so far removed from the realities of schools.

StudentsFirst is the well-known Corporate Ed Reform run by Michelle Rhee.  Illinois Policy is a "free market think tank" while Joy Pullman is "Managing editor of News for " Sally Canfield is "Deputy Chief of Staff to Sen " and Emily Bouck is a "Legislative Aide at Office of US Senator Marco Rubio " That top tweet is from @TexasAFP or Americans for Prosperity Texas. Need I say more?

Meanwhile, as I looked through the corporate, political, carefully-orchestrated tweets, I was also receiving updates via twitter from the school closing hearings being held around my city of Chicago.  They were packed full of parents, teachers, and community members who overwhelmingly were begging to stop school closures and to end charter expansion in the city.  These meetings were overflowing with raw emotion, sometimes turning into rowdy disruption and angry outbursts.  Parents sang praises of their schools, teachers described the magic that happens everyday in their classrooms, and communities demanded real investment in their neighborhood schools.  I am proud to know many of these people.  These are the same people I marched with on the streets of Chicago during the teachers strike.  Together we marched and rallied and sang and danced demanding fully-funded schools, counselors, nurses, social workers, libraries with librarians to staff them, in schools that were well-kept with basic air-conditioning and heat.  We demanded small classes, more special education teachers, and humane discipline policies.  And still the powers that be continue down their destructive path of corporate education reform, ignoring the people.

The next day, it was reported how CPS had used grant money from the Walton Foundation to hire a marketing consultant group to "listen" to the hundreds of upset community members.   Parents and students, teachers and community groups who gave up their evening to come and plead for their schools, who wanted nothing more than to be heard, were given hired corporate consultants to massage the impassioned crowd instead of genuine dialogue. 

More at The Real News
And also this week, one thousand miles away, activists from Chicago joined hundreds of other freedom fighters from 18 different cities to speak directly to Arne Duncan and the leaders of our country about the injustice of school closings and the inherent racism of the Department of Education's policies.  Listen to the amazing Jitu Brown, member of KOCO (Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization) once again speak truth to power.

The people who rode all the way to Washington DC on a Journey for Justice were not slick consultants or public relations gurus.  The people outraged at school closing hearings were not part of any think tank, private foundation, or non-profit.  These are parents and teachers and concerned community members who simply want schools that work for all kids.  They have seen first-hand the destruction caused by corporate education reforms and they bring with them another, alternative, community-based, equitable vision for strong public schools.

These are the two faces of the education "reform" movement.  True, grassroots righteous anger at the status quo of inequality, racism and injustice, up against the guys in the suits. It is the working class and poor who must fight against the wealthy elites.  It is the majority black and brown communities defying the white institutions of power.  It is the largely female teachers fighting the male-dominated business world.  It is the all-volunteer local groups of parents, teachers, and students up against paid corporate consultants with shiny brochures and training in marketing. It is small, independent media outlets and education summits held in community schools fighting media blitzes and billionaire-funded reform extravaganzas held in fancy hotels and broadcast on corporate airwaves.  It is a bunch of union activists meeting in rickety meeting halls serving Cheetos and home-made cookies compared to slick corporate-sponsored events with caterers, fancy technology, complete with a corporate logo mug on your way out.

Ultimately though, this fight has brought me in contact with some of the most passionate, inspirational, justice-fighters I have ever known.  The education activists I have met are beautiful people who are humble and quiet and caring and smart.  And they are willing to fight fiercely for their students, their children, their schools, and their communities.

Thank you for all your hard work.  Thank you for your perseverance up against mountains of money and power.  Thank you for the personal money and time you sacrifice in the effort to do what you know is right.  Thank you for being willing to fight this uphill battle. 

And always remember Margret Mead's famous quote:

"A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Let's change the world, people. Keep fighting. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Teaching in the Time of Obedience

Last night on facebook, I lamented about becoming a teacher during the craziness that is corporate education reform.  I wrote: "I am in a foul mood. I feel this way anytime I look around and think about my career prospects. Why couldn't they have destroyed the teaching profession AFTER I spent my years in the classroom? I wish I had never become a teacher. #Selfish #PityParty

My friends were kind and supportive, offering many words of encouragement.  But here is what I said in response:

Thanks guys. It just pisses me off. I did things the right way, got my Masters before entering the classroom, had years of experience teaching already, spent years working with students with special need at the psych hospital. But then the year I graduate (2009) the sh!t really starts to hit the fan. I morally and physically cannot do what the job has become, especially for Sped in the inner city. I can't do it. I can't give those damn tests. I can't divert more time to paperwork than kids. I can't contribute to making kids HATE school. I can't stay silent and wait 3 years until I have tenure to speak out or work openly with the union. I can't stay up every night past midnight and get up at five, working 7 days a week. So now I am in a dead-end job, with no possibility to ever pay off my students loans, and no where left to go. Teaching should have been..different than this.

My anguish was sparked by two events.  One, a dear friend invited me to apply for a new job opening at a CPS school.  It really was a great opportunity, but I found I simply could not hit the send button to turn in my resume.  My one year of being in the Chicago Public Schools has left me with such deep scars, than simply entering a CPS building brings me near panic.  I have no doubt that I have PTSD symptoms from that absolutely horrific year of abuse. Perhaps someday I will be able to write in greater detail about the trauma inflicted on me, my colleagues, and the students at that tiny little school on the southside of Chicago.  But not yet.  I'm not ready even 2 and a half years later.

Another event was the vote on principal retention at the CPS elementary school where I sit as a community representative on the Local School Council.  Last year, the principal used every trick in the book to redefine a number of tenured teachers out of their jobs.  At the time, she claimed it was unavoidable due to the changes inflicted by the longer school day.  But the teachers who just happened to be displaced were also the teachers who had vocally disagreed with the principal at some point in the year or who were most active in the union.  And so there was a purge of staff, some forced out, others left after feeling unheard and unwelcome.  All in all, the school lost 11 good teachers at the end of the year, many parents were upset, and many tears were shed.

You'd never know anything happened if you went back to the school today.

That's the thing about purges. I'm sure life is easier now that no one speaks up about anything...ever.  If you went to the community principal retention forum, you'd think this was the best principal on the face of the earth.  Nothing but glowing praise, especially from her teachers.  Glowing praise for the world to hear while parents and some staff members cried silently in the shadows.

And I understand why those (primarily) teachers worked so hard to kiss some serious principal ass.  That is how things work, and this principal made it more than clear that if you disagree with her, you will be punished.  Nevermind if you are a phenomenal teacher, nevermind if you have legitimate disagreements, nevermind if you have tenure and have a proven track record of excellence.  The only way disagreements are  resolved in CPS is to punish and fire.

Now, I realize not every school and not every principal is as cruel, vindictive, or plays favorites the same way as the two principals I mention here.  But far too many are this way.  I don't know if the system seeks these terrible people out and rewards them with power or if it takes decent people and twists them into these monsters, but either way the result is the same.

And now the precedent has been set.  No one will ever voice their concerns, their disagreements ever again at that school.  Even if it is in children's best interest, who will be willing to risk it?  The lesson has been learned, dissent will be punished, and the dissenter will be destroyed

I can't be part of that again.  Blind, unthinking obedience is what is rewarded in this system.  And it is a symptom of a greater push toward compliant little workers throughout America.  Compliance is the greatest demand of workers from corporate America.  This corporate mindset is why corporate education reformers are so insistent on eliminating tenure and weakening union protections.  Even in a city with a union as strong as the CTU, there was no way to protect good teachers from abuse and from losing their (tenured) jobs.  This is on purpose.  Punish into compliance.

I've only been a special education teacher for a few years.  I have a long way to go before I become a great teacher. But I don't think I'll survive in the system long enough to become great.  I am not courageous to say this, I think I am a coward.  I think I am still a mediocre teacher, although I have potential to grow into something good.  I know I have deep compassion and an ability to connect with marginalized children, but I don't have any confidence that I can raise test scores.  When I taught in CPS, I was constantly torn between doing what I intuitively thought was best and what I was being told to do.  I'm simply not good at filling out the paperwork I am required to do, especially when that takes away from my job preparing for time with children.  I am lazy that way, because unlike all the other teachers in the building, after the first few months of non-stop pain, I refused to work those 12 to 16 hours days.  I said "no" after 9 to 10 hours of work.  But the work doesn't get done that way and now your bosses have evidence to punish you.  So the only way to survive is to take time away from kids.  And that feels awful.  Although I have learned my lesson about what happens to teachers who speak out without tenure, I have no confidence that I can keep my mouth shut if things aren't working for my students or for me.  I just can't do it again.

My current job at the hospital is as corporate as it can get, and I disagree with many of the practices being done there, but at least I am under the radar.  It is difficult and bad, but not to the point of abuse...yet.   But they are trying to get more and more out of us workers, to the point that things are becoming unbearable there too.  Corporate f-ing America.

Why do we all cower in fear and just take this abuse, again and again? Sure, go ahead and increase my workload with no extra pay.  Of course you can tell me to "do more with less". What else am I going to do? Say "no"?

I wasn't prepared for what teaching has become.  I chose this profession, in part, because it was NOT corporate.  I like autonomy and collegiality and debate.  I like the unpredictability that comes with working with children.  I like that everyday is new, unique, and can never be standardized.  But that is no longer what teaching is.  It is now all about compliance, productivity, data, measuring, intimidation, and fear.  This is not what I signed up for.  This is not the kind of teacher I want to be.

So I'll say it again.  I wish I had never become a teacher.