Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Grand Poobah of Illinois Plutocrats: Bruce Rauner

December must be the beginning of Education Profiteer & Plutocrat season in Illinois. First, there was the Myles Mendoza op-ed in the Tribune, and now the grand poobah of Illinois plutocrats has emerged from his cave 6,870 square foot Winnetka mansion: Bruce Rauner. And what an entrance he's made, buying up lots of TV time to show off regular-guy things like cheap watches, plaid shirts, vests, and Carhartt jackets (this item being regular if you're a real rancher or have $100 to spare for a jacket). 

Like all grand poobahs, Rauner's inflated self-regard is blaringly evident in the "No Excuses" commercial currently airing. In it, he lets the good people of Illinois know he started his own charter school! WCT probably doesn't need to tell you why he's begun his own school. Implicit in Rauner's commercial is the tired notion that every other school is failing thanks to the uncaring, excuse-making people who work there! 

Rauner reads from what seems like the only page in the Corporate Education Reform playbook and states the following:
  • There's no excuse for failing schools (not even generational poverty or entrenched violence)!
  • We (is this the Royal we?) have to care enough to fix schools.
  • Merit pay shall be used to keep *great* teachers.
  • Competition shall combat bureaucracy (How will creating duplicate schools to compete with existing schools remove bureaucratic layers? Must be the cha-ching! factor).
  • More control (i.e., choice) for parents and not union bosses (Rauner conveniently forgets that union membership has been in steep decline, but sets up the perfect bad guy to his good).
He condescendingly tells viewers, "It won't be easy, it might not be popular with some, but it's the right thing to do for our kids." We hope everyone has their bootstraps ready, because from the sound of it, we'll need to pick ourselves up by them. He also insinuates that until this very moment, parents, teachers, and citizens have been doing the wrong things for kids everywhere. 

It's no secret that those with means often subscribe to the good for thee, but not for me motto, and Rauner proves no different. While he touts charters and choice as the answer to Illinois' education woes, nothing but the best will do for his family. The best in this case being CPS selective enrollment Walter Payton College Prep which he clouted his daughter into with a phone call to then-CPS CEO Arne Duncan. That's the Everyman $pirit we've come to expect from Illinois political hack$!

No matter how many regular-guy accouterments Rauner dons, he can't shake the fact he's besties with Rahm Emanuel. They're a perfect match since neither will be happy until all traces of social foundations--schools, teachers, pensions, public servants--are dismantled in the name of choice, control, and competition.

Readers: what do you think of the ads Bruce Rauner has been running and the plans he has for Illinois? Leave a comment or email wct.tips@gmail.com.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Chicago Educational Profiteer Spotlight: Myles Mendoza!

Move aside minor plutocrats, a big hog from Denver has moved to Chicago:  Myles Mendoza!

Unlike what the corporate tran$formers would have the public believe, we teachers are not opposed to examining data,  so we examined the data on Myles Mendoza. We found the following:
  • Myles scored big with a recent op-ed published in the Trib, which dishes out the usual corporate educational tran$formation horseshit, including references to "empowering [parents] with real choices," and "inadequate traditional schools."  
  • He runs with an elite crew, which includes educational profiteers such as John Schoenig (Notre Dame Law School grad wearing the Catholic schools cloak), Kevin Chavous (partner in swanky Washington D.C. law firm), and Jack Buck (Notre Dame grad and scion of John Buck Co., a real-estate firm founded by his dad and engaged in winning public-sector projects) 
  • His Ed Choice Illinois website is top quality, featuring cool graphics and heart-warming photos of minority kids
  • On his Twitter page, Myles identifies himself soundly as bohemian bourgeois (remember readers, Bobos are rich folks who love to identify with the common man):
    • "Chicagoan" (for the past four months)
    • "Devoted dad and husband"
    • "CPS parent" (for the past four months -- at a magnet school)
    • "Indie rock fan of yore" (We're assuming Nirvana and Pearl Jam.)
  • His look is kewl: tall, sorta dark, nice name, horn-rims
Based on this data alone, Myles seems very similar, if not more well-funded,  to many of the other educational profiteers sniffing around CPS.  However, a close reading of his op-ed reveals two very alarming claims:

1. "[Chicago] neighborhoods have become either rich or poor."
2. "Key to solving Chicago's challenges is first understanding that our broken school system is not on a par with the others -- neighborhood deterioration, rising crime and unfunded liabilities -- but rather, the chief cause of them."
  • The first alarming thing is Myles' use of the pronoun "our." Ideally, Myles should have put in a few years teaching in a regular CPS school before using this pronoun, as the CPS magnet school he pulled strings to get his kids into clearly isn't broken.  But we realize that actually teaching the children whose lives one purports to tran$form is not de rigueur for educational profiteers.
  • The second alarming thing is the implicit claim that poverty is caused by traditional CPS schools. If we remember our history correctly, poverty has existed for a lot longer than schools have.  Even Jesus Christ worried about poverty, and He didn't have any schools nearby.  Unlike Christ, however, Myles Mendoza claims to have hit on the solution to poverty.
Based on the overall data, we at WCT conclude that Myles Mendoza is indeed an educational plutocrat, a hog-with-the big-nuts.  It would be more honorable if the new plutocrats like Myles had chutzpah in old-school Bill Beavers-style.  As it is, though, you'll have to look for Myles Mendoza in the society pages of the Chicago Tribune Magazine. 

Education Hotspot: Turkey?

Pack your bags, readers! Ever since Sun-Times columnist Dan Mihalopoulos exposed the intertwined stories of education, profit, and political overseas trips, we've been looking for our passports and wondering what the Turkish translation for cha-ching! is. 

We want to pad our retirements and offer our services to the newly-crowned global education profiteering capital of the world: Turkey. Since Turkey is not even a country with a PISA rating, we thought it the unlikeliest of education destination$. But, speaker of the Illinois House Mike Madigan, his corporate-raider son Andrew, and numerous other Illinois Democrats have made many trips there. Worry not, darlings, for once the taxpayers did not foot the bill for Mike Madigan's four visits. Instead, the Niagara Foundationwhose honorary president is noted Islamic cleric Fetullah Gulendid. 

Fetullah Gulen not a household name yet? Never heard of the Niagara Foundation? Good thing Illinois lawmakers have taken such a keen intere$t. After all, Fetullah Gulen has the distinction of being associated with the largest charter network in the United States while simultaneously trying to take down the Turkish government. In Chicago, the Gulen-inspired schools--Chicago Math & Science Academy and the Horizon Academy McKinley Park--are part of the Concept School Network which hopes to expand into several other Chicago neighborhoods in 2014. 

Did the Niagara Foundation and the Turkish American Chamber of Commerce show Illinois lawmakers priceless architecture from antiquity through the Ottoman Empire? Or, did they just get down to business and talk cold, hard American dollars Turkish lira? We're guessing it's the latter, because upon return from these trips the Gulen-inspired charter school network, Concept, got the green light to open their schools in Chicago. They also got a nice bonus, 33% more funding than other schools thanks to the OK from the Illinois State Charter School Commission. Cha-ching!

Chicago Public Schools initially said no to these schools due to their uneven performance, but luckily the appointee-laden Illinois State Charter School Commission said yes, or evet as the Turks would say, to this charter-seeking organization. At the recent charter schools hearing at CPS headquarters, Concept bused in rent-a-supporters who were unsure of who or what they were supporting. Positively gras$root$!

While most Chicagoans would not readily equate Chicago with Turkey, they bare a closer resemblance than you might think. The unfolding political drama in Turkey has its roots in extensive political and corporate corruption much like daily life in Cook County. It seems that members of Turkey's current government have resigned because their sons were caught up in an anti-graft sting (An anti-graft sting? Has Chicago tried this?). Pressure for this crackdown is coming from U.S.-exiled Gulen, who critics charge with trying to establish a parallel state within Turkey. We can see why the Illinois Charter Commission and Mike Madigan are so enamored with Gulen since they are trying to establish a parallel education system in Chicago.

Additionally, as fellow blogger Rogers Park Neighbors for Public Schools points out, should the ownership of American public schools be associated with the political and religious implications of Turkey's government? 

Further, what does Rahm Emanuel think? While he has seen fit to establish a task force to drum up tenants for the newly vacant Dominick's stores, he has remained entirely silent on the foreign interests encroaching upon our public schools.

Readers, do you have any experience with Concept schools? What about Rahm Emanuel and CPS's silence on Concept? Leave a comment or email us at wct.tips@gmail.com. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Tale of Two Schools

On December 16th, Arne Duncan visited Benito Juarez High School to discuss the school's improvement. Duncan's visit was notable because Juarez is a neighborhood, general enrollment high school. An article in the Sun Times presents the following talking points Juarez used in their discussion with Duncan:
  • Juarez's graduation rate this year expects to reach 90%, up from 57% in 2010
  • A 2% jump in attendance
  • Freshmen On Track rate will likely reach 100% (this is a new measure CPS uses to rate schools that measures how many freshmen are doing well enough to be on track to graduate).
On December 19th, an article appeared in Substance News claiming Juarez is a Potemkin Village. In this article, one anonymous Juarez teacher claims:
  • Attendance is rigged
  • Grades are changed unbeknownst to teachers
The article also states that some Juarez teachers have asked the Inspector General to investigate Juarez's grading and attendance practices.

One week, two articles, and two differing versions of the same school. We suspect that while the spotlight is on Juarez, two versions of many schools may be found within CPS thanks to the performance criteria schools must now adhere to. 

The former article would have you believe Juarez's efforts are a focused effort to help students succeed, while the latter article would have you believe everything is made up. So which is it?

Teachers, what do you think? Do you notice a tale of two schools where you work? Leave a comment or send an email to wct.tips@gmail.com.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Drowning In Choice

Tomorrow CPS holds the first of two community meetings at 125 S. Clark Street for plebians citizens to give feedback on new community schools. New community schools mean, of course, charters. Given the fact CPS closed 50 schools despite much community protest, we suspect many new charters will get the green light. Under the guise of choice, CP$ gets to close and open school at their whim.

While there have already been 10 charter schools approved, WCT attended a Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC) forum for Be the Change Charter School (BCCS). This school hopes to siphon funds away from the communities of McKinley Park, Bridgeport, Pilsen, and Bronzeville in order to provide an elementary school promising, "Peace, voice, and action." While CPS schools may not explicitly state these words in their mission statements, a great number of teachers and schools are already helping students realize these actions with the presence of restorative justice and service learning initiatives. 

The usual corporate eduspeak was on display from the BCCS design team: choice, equal access, high quality educational option$, success for all, choice, and yet more, choice. However, their design team made up of former CPS teachers, are working to add a few new phrases to the eduspeak lexicon. As their design team informed the crowd, "We want a $ymbiotic partnership to effect $ystemic change" as well as, "Success will no longer be traditionally defined." We're still scratching our heads about what a symbiotic partnership effecting systemic change would look like.

Despite the picture of urban educational harmony BCCS painted for the crowd, the McKinley Park NAC pointed out some serious drawbacks to the BCCS plan:
  • A scattered teacher recruitment process (only a few ads place in the paper) that would hinder the hiring of experienced teachers.
  • An "overwhelming" reliance on standardized tests (what about that non-traditional definition of success?).
  • Inconsistencies between proposed budget and actual monies needed to operate. However, a "no strings" attached grant from the reform-y Walton Family Foundation has been secured.
  • Current fundraising levels unable to meet needs for planned expansions (from $15,000 for their first year to $100,000 at year 4).
  • Only 85 of 114,000 community surveys returned indicating "yes" to the desire for another school in the area.
  • Questionable facilities: though they've retained the services of a commercial real estate broker the current proposed location is rental space in the Bridgeport Arts Center.  The Archdiocese will not sign letters of approval to use their existing neighborhood facilities. 
  • No aldermanic support from Alderman Balcer, Alderman Cardenas, or Alderman Solis.
The community doesn't want any part of the peace, voice, and action BCCS has on offer based on the Q&A session:
  • Q: Are you aware that you are taking money from the neighborhood schools that already exist? A: Yes, we are, but we're offering choice.
  • Q: How do you feel about ultimately lowering the academic quality of the whole community since you are taking money from neighborhood schools? A: The way funding works, it's the money that follows students. This is another high quality option.
  • Q: How can you ensure success? A: We've designed it that way. We will effect change.
  • Q: Are you saying change is not possible at CPS schools? A: No, it's possible. We just want more diversity.
  • Q: Since you are selling a product, are you saying you're better? A: We're not better, but we're another option. We are meeting a need.
Many such questions were directed at the BCCS by the audience, as well as boos and shouts of, "We don't want another school!" 

Office of New Schools analyst Emily Metz tried to put a stop to the rightful inquiries of the audience saying that if anyone had a specific question about CPS, it should be directed to CPS. Additionally, other people on her staff attempted to belittle the concerns of the community by: rolling their eyes at those asking questions, giving the cut sign if a speaker went on too long, and to one person said, "Do you have a question, wrap it up!"

The greatest demonstration of choice is often the choice to say no, CPS proves once again they have no intention of: ceding charter choice in favor of strengthening their neighborhood schools, choosing to genuinely invest in their communities by investing in neighborhood schools, and choosing to end the rampant corruption that charters engage in. 

Choose wisely, CPS.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Put Your Money Where Arne's Mouth Is

Readers! It looks like Arne Duncan wants to do a little hob-nobbing--but not too much--with the regular people this holiday season. His itinerary shows he will be at neighborhood public school Benito Juarez High School. He'll then dine with TFA founder Wendy Kopp in what's being billed as a fireside chat at the Hilton Hotel. If it's not the Gilded Age we're living in, then it must be Depression-era America when fireside chats were en vogue. Still, we're certain TFA (cha-ching!) will foot the bill thanks to the ad campaign they're running soliciting donations (cha-ching!). 

On the one hand, he's visiting a neighborhood public school, but on the other he's dining with TFA founder Wendy Kopp whose organization looks to put public school educators out of business. No matter, we're sure they'll have a lovely time dining with the Economic Club of Chicago talking about the benefits of a plutocracy and an underpaid workforce.

We're part of the, ahem, underpaid workforce and we can't run an ad campaign soliciting donations, but we'll happily take any bets on whether or not Duncan drops the following phrases at his appearances Monday:
  • Achievement gap
  • 21st century skills
  • School of choice
  • High standards
  • Globally competitive
  • Tran$formative education
  • White suburban moms
Leave a comment to add the buzzword you think Arne is most likely to drop, or send an email to wct.tips@gmail.com.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Twice the Tiers, Twice the Excellence?

Headed into the Thanksgiving weekend, CPS quietly announced additional school shuffling:

Frazier Preparatory Academy, a charter school managed by Mosaica Education, will move into Herzl Elementary's building and share space. Herzl Elementary is a non-charter, neighborhood school staffed by AUSL. Both of these schools are on the West side, and both have been deemed Level 3 schools by CPS. They are among the lowest performing schools in CPS based on the metrics CPS uses to evaluate schools. 

We wonder: 
  • Should Mosaica Education, Inc. pay CPS rent for the space they're using at Herzl? Thanks to per pupil budgeting, Herzl could probably use the extra cash.
  • Is it wise to make a neighborhood school in the midst of a turnaround readjust space and resources to accommodate new tenants? 
This move comes on the heels of the decision by CPS to build an $18 million dollar annex to Lincoln Elementary. This school is on the North side and is a selective enrollment, Level 1 school. Lincoln gets to choose who attends their school.

Tim Cawley, Chief Administrative Officer, in defending the district's choice to spend money on expanding Lincoln pointed out with no irony, "...it is highly disruptive to relocate people from their existing school to another school." Indeed. The many families who experienced their school closing this Fall would agree.

We also wonder:
  • Why is it OK for families and teaching staff who work on the West side to continue to experience disruption, but it's not OK for those families and teaching staffs on the North side?
  • Is a two-tier education system based on socio-economics and race being reinforced by CPS?
A few minutes of research shows that Herzl, located in North Lawndale, is made up of primarily black students and the school is almost entirely low-income. Homes sell for an average of $89,000 in this neighborhood. 

Up north at Lincoln Elementary, the students are predominantly white and less than 25% of the school is considered low-income. This neighborhood's average home price is over $300,000.

Finally, a student editorial appears in the Sun Times pointing out these inequities. Donald Rapier, a junior at selective enrollment Lindbloom Academy, notes the money thrown to selective enrollment schools , the sense of elitism, and the feeling that CPS strongly favors some schools over others. He asks, "Why can't all CPS high schools be like this [selective enrollments]?" That's a great question, and if you get an answer, please let us know.

Funding, socio-economic backgrounds of students, and race are out of the control of the teaching staff at any school. Still, the staff is made to account for such factors each day. While none of this is new or surprising, what is surprising is CPS's unwavering commitment to perpetually foster the haves and have-nots within their own district.

Teachers: what do you find to be true in your schools? We want to know! Leave a comment or send an email to: wct.tips@gmail.com.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Reclaim Reform on Monday

Where's the holiday spirit?

It's no secret that we at WCT are pro-public schools, pro-student, pro-teacher, and pro-union. 

We've begun to document the various private interests (and there are many) at work against public school students, families, and teachers. Simply, public schools should remain public.

We're also realists at WCT, and know that public schools face many difficulties and need to make changes. Instead of being told what those changes will be, teachers would like a voice, too.

Monday, December 9th, is day to stand behind our neighborhood schools and push for better, while saying no to the corporate interests increasingly entangled in our schools. Some teachers plan to wear the color blue in support, and we think that's a great idea, too.

There are events taking place across the country, and in Chicago that means meeting up at City Hall. However you choose to show your support for reclaiming reform, just show your support.

Leave a comment here or drop us a line at wct.tips@gmail.com to tell us how you showed your support!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Boot Lickers

We're taking about boot-lickers in general terms:  people who are excessively subservient to authority figures and who participate in the oppression of their own group. In schools, some teachers kiss administrative ass thoroughly, effectively, and reflexively. Like all boot-lickers, they generate disgust amongst non-ass-kissers because of their flattery and their obsequiousness.  Furthermore, urban school boot-lickers usually show a strong thirst for corporate tran$formation ideas.

After observation, we have identified some qualities common to boot-licking teachers:
  • Students don't like them
  • They like talking about data, norms, cultures of excellence and our favorite, rigor
  • They like to disapprove when other teachers appear to be enjoying themselves excessively, particularly if the revelry seems unconnected to success in the classroom  
  • They like to martyr themselves, Christ-like, to the job of generating and evaluating data
  • They like meetings, meetings about meetings, and administrative direction of their prep periods
  • They perceive their own boot-licking as honorable and heroic
For further assistance in spotting a boot-licking teacher, look for someone who:
  • Has an assertive yet confrontational personality; a wanna-be Alpha
  • Has questionable eye contact (either shifty eyes or uncomfortable, steely contact)
  • Spends a lot of non-meeting time with administration
  • Normal teachers avoid 
CPS teachers, are you aware of any boot-licking teachers in your school?  If so, comment on this post or email us at wct.tips@gmail.com.

A Work Culture of Bleh

As you know, we at WCT have chosen to remain anonymous; we love our students and would like to keep our jobs.  While we are engaged in a variety of research and documentation regarding corporate educational profiteering in CPS, we also have a few gripes regarding the work culture at our school.  It's pretty joyless.

Sure, we have posters promoting a "culture of excellence," and we like to think that we ourselves have pretty high expectations for the quality of the teaching and learning that's going on.  Nevertheless, our workplace could use a few shots of fun.  The current conditions are about as fun as a glass of room-temperature tap water.  For example:
  • When they're not looking at the ground, most teachers wear either pained or blank expressions as they scuttle through the halls
  • New non-tenured teachers spout edu-babble in every conversation to appease administrators
  • Very little friendly socializing
  • Non-directed teacher time kept to the absolute minimum
  • No common room for staff
  • Nowhere to buy something to eat or drink except the student line -- not even a vending machine
  • No more holiday parties 
  • Meetings about meetings
  • Forms to be filled out for every conceivable reason
  • No laughing; smiling is polite, appropriate, and controlled


Teachers, how's the work culture at your school? Leave a comment or drop us a line at wct.tips@gmail.com.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Pension Tuesday

All eyes will be on Springfield tomorrow as lawmakers vote on the newly drafted pension reform bill. Much has been written about the bill here, here, here, and here.

The Tribune outlines parts of the proposal:

•Establishes a payment plan to fully erase pension shortfall by 2044.
•Allows a retirement system to sue to force state to make required pension payment.
•Reduces public employee pension contribution by 1 percentage point.
•Skips some cost-of-living increases for current workers. Those 50 and older will miss one bump. Workers 43 and under will miss five bumps spread out over the years.
•Raises retirement age by up to five years for workers younger than 46.
•Creates a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan that a worker can opt into instead of continuing with the state pension plan.
The drawbacks of this proposal are many, but the main drawback is the plan's unconstitutionalityIt also places the burden on the public employees who have contributed to the plan, while the state has underfunded the pension for years.
If the plan does pass, expect many lawsuits challenging it. Also, expect Rahm Emanuel to follow suit in amending the rights and obligations Chicago has to its many workers. 
Here are emails and phone numbers to all Illinois legislators, it's not too late to give them a call.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to our readers and colleagues, we hope everyone takes time to enjoy the day. 

We're grateful to everyone who's taken the time to read the blog, offer advice, encouragement, and the hard-won, "right on!"

WCT will be back with biting commentary once the tryptophan wears off.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bootstrappin' It!

Welcome back to the Gilded Age of bootstraps, grit, gettin' tough, and the beginnings of American plutocracy.

Frank Bruni, the New York Times food aficionado (how very bohemian bourgeois) turned education expert (how very 21st century plutocrat) sounded the alarm for school-children everywhere: get tough or stay stupid! 

Yes, reader, it's time for this year's Horatio Alger speech. We know it well: only through leading lives of excellence, nobly struggling against poverty, and facing adversity will we succeed. When all of the talk of bootstraps, toughness, and grit start flying fast, it's helpful to remember Horatio Alger wrote fictional stories. His characters sometimes succeeded through the help of a benevolent, wealthy person, too. 

In Bruni's version of this timeworn tale, the struggle we must undertake is the "laudable" Common Core. This will save us from becoming a nation of over-privileged (and under-tested!) layabouts. We assume the wealthy person is played by profiteers and plutocrats everywhere, though their helpfulness is questionable.

Bruni trots out the tired complaints that we live in a "cult of self-esteem" as he cites Common Core architect Daniel Coleman who says that the Common Core is so transformative it will transform the very idea of self-esteem. Self-esteem is now newly defined as something only achieved through hard work! 

We wonder what schools Bruni visited. Having spent considerable time in urban, public schools, we can't say students are exactly self-congratulatory. Instead, we have noticed students who:
  • Enter with skills several grade levels below the grade they're currently enrolled in
  • Bring disruptive behavior with them to the classroom
  • Can't concentrate because of lack of food, sleep, or parental presence
  • Seek lots of attention
  • Work several jobs, take care of siblings, and barely stay afloat
Bruni and others of his ilk would call this making excuses, instead of acknowledging the changing reality of urban America. Embedded in Bruni's spare the rod and spoil the child plea is the notion that students need to experience failure or else they won't go anywhere "big and real." 

On the contrary, many students in your average, urban school experience repeated, large failures. Still, they continue to show up with a decent attitude. Perhaps Coleman, et. al. should consider developing a standard for failure that can be demonstrated to be sure kids everywhere work appropriately hard to simply feel secure.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Education Colonization

The Redcoats Are Coming!

Where's Paul Revere when you need him? 

Some 38 CPS schools have been visited by mega-Thought Partners Cambridge Education, LLCsubsidiary of the UK-based Mott MacDonald. Tagline: Global Engineering Management and Development Consultants. That sure has a local ring to it!

Mott MacDonald's Education division has made in-roads in the following countries: Burundi, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Uganda. Next stop: Chicago. 

One might ask why a foreign-owned corporation is advising urban, American schools?  Or, what a UK based company knows about American education? And, do urban, American schools so closely resemble the schools of developing nations they warrant advising from a global conglomerate? We're confused, but we do know that staff whose schools were visited were asked questions like:

  • How do you know students are learning?
  • What does good teaching look like?
  • How do you know you have a functioning school?
Valuable questions to be sure, but why does CPS need to pay an outside "partner" to ask these questions? Teachers do a lot of reading and thinking, and are even known to be reflective, so often teachers within a school are asking and answering these questions all the time. Since CPS has so much cash floating around, they must feel spending $2 million dollars to get such answers is wise. 

To Cambridge, districts and students are paying clients. Hence the 100+ page prospectus submitted to CPS. Highlights include:
  • $1.6 billion dollars in revenue (we're fond of this phrase at WCT: Cha-ching!)
  • Two large California charter school districts as clients (Thanks to them, California can now be rebranded "the Excellence State" instead of "the Golden State")
  • Work with Bridgeport, CT public schools (see: Paul Vallas)
The "services" they offer, aside from inquisitiveness, include baffling graphics that describe such unheard of phenomena as: 
  • The humid classroom
  • The cold classroom
  • The stormy classroom
One of the many dubious services they tout is change management. Change management is defined as, "an approach to transitioning individuals to a desired future state." This sounds like hospice to us. 

We can only imagine what CPS has in mind for the desired future state of its schools.

Teachers: Has your school been visited by Cambridge? What do you think?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wanted: Extra Large Desk for 6'6" 3rd Grader

Arne Duncan's been busy walking back his statement from Friday about his fascination with white suburban moms and their hesitance to embrace Common Core. In his opinion, their resistance stems from the fact that it might make their kids seem less brilliant and that's scary. We suspect of all the things moms find scary, their child's brilliance and its relation to Common Core is not one of them. 

You can read reactions to his statement here, here, herehere, and here. It seems people, and not just white suburban moms, are mad. 

Duncan's apology is wrapped in the guise of high standards for everyone, everywhere. So take that suburbia! Or is it the inner city! We're not sure. But, he wants everyone to sit down and have a difficult conversation about:
  • Improvement for everyone!
  • Bringing about individual brilliance!
  • The educational reality we've been hiding (we've always assumed the educational reality we've been hiding is poverty, but Duncan thinks it's a lack of high standards)
The solution to all of this is, of course, Common Core! Since Duncan is its biggest fan, we thought we'd evaluate his initial statement and subsequent apology according to the standards he's advocating for.

We made the mistake and started with the 12th grade standards for Literacy, and then began crossing out the attributes Duncan couldn't demonstrate:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1a Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas. (Points for showing up for speech!)
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1b Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual roles as needed. (Duncan does work effectively with education profiteers)
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1c Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives. (He sure has generated some conversations!)
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1d Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims, and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when possible; and determine what additional information or research is required to deepen the investigation or complete the task. (He did "apologize.")
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks. (Oops! Reteach!)
His apology indicates he may be ready to attempt 3rd grade standards (no offense to 3rd graders):

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1a Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion. (Duncan: "Research demonstrates that as a country, every demographic group has room for improvement. Raising standards has come with challenging news in a variety of places; scores have dropped as a result of a more realistic assessment of students’ knowledge and skills.")
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1b Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., gaining the floor in respectful ways, listening to others with care, speaking one at a time about the topics and texts under discussion). (Duncan: "A few days ago, in a discussion with state education chiefs, I used some clumsy phrasing that I regret.")
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1c Ask questions to check understanding of information presented, stay on topic, and link their comments to the remarks of others. (While he still needs improvement in this area, we're confident he can improve with practice!)
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1d Explain their own ideas and understanding in light of the discussion. (Duncan: "I want to encourage a difficult conversation and challenge the underlying assumption that when we talk about the need to improve our nation’s schools, we are talking only about poor minority students in inner cities.")
Readers: if you know of a good 3rd classroom for this student, please let us know, he'd be an ace on the basketball team!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Nov. 18th Means No Thanks to Plutocrats

147.9 million reasons to say no to CCSS

Fellow blogger Mercedes Schneider carefully details all of the philanthrocapitalist dabbling Bill Gates has engaged in to develop Common Core. WCT took the weekend off and we're a little foggy today, but it seems like Bill Gates-- as 21st century plutocrats are wont to--attempted to cloak his involvement in CCSS by throwing gobs of money at the four organizations who coordinated this state-led Gates-led effort:
  • The National Governors Association
  • Student Achievement Partners
  • The Council of Chief State School Officers
  • Achieve
Schneider points out that these four organizations have received $147.9 million dollars from Gates. Cha-ching! 

With all of that money, you'd think these organizations would ensure quality curriculum instead of this:
  • Choose the number sentence that shows the story (what's a number sentence?)
  • Write a number sentence that shows the missing number of marbles (is this English or math?)
  • Which is a related subtraction sentence? (The Pearson people are sure obsessed with sentences!)
One of Bill Gates' partners in plutocracy is Arne Duncan. Common Core has falsely been promoted as state-led, when in fact Duncan and the federal government are the brains of the operation. However, we can infer from Duncan't most recent comment that he doesn't have a brain:

"It's fascinating to me that some of the pushback [against Common Core] is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who--all of a sudden--their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were..."

Consider Duncan's inane, insulting, race-bating statement reason number 157 million to say no to CC.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Neighborhood Schools Fair

Today Chicago parents are hosting a Neighborhood Schools Fair at Roberto Clemente High School, 1147 N. Western Ave. in Chicago. Since the district won't host an event highlighting neighborhood schools, parents felt they had to. 

Readers: if you're considering neighborhood schools for your kids, or just curious as to what your neighborhood school has to offer, make your way to Roberto Clemente and see what it's all about. We hope there's a great turn out!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Who are Educational Profiteers, really?

Here at WCT we like to use the term "educational profiteer" to describe people and organizations who become wealthy and powerful through public education.  Lots of principals and superintendents could be considered wealthy and powerful.  Educational profiteers, however, do nothing that actually benefits the reason why schools exist:  students.

Chicago's educational profiteers come in a few categories:

1. Charter school profiteers.  For example, it is suggested that the closures of 53 CPS schools were designed to create profit-opportunities for charter profiteers, who, incidentally, don't the have inconvenience of  having to accommodate the needs of low-performing students who might have been displaced.  Cha-ching!

2. Educational coach profiteers.  These business-savvy folks make big bucks advising.  Last year, Hancock High School paid one partner $740,264.00.  Amongst other duties defined with the usual mumbo-jumbo, these profiteers:
"Provide principals with assistance and support to implement data-informed instruction, utilizing interim assessments, learning first and local assessments, to inform pedagogy."
The confusing commas and word order are part of their plan to dazzle us with words.  Additionally, these profiteers further conceal themselves with their plutocrat cloaks:  the cloak of the irreproachable do-gooder. Many educational coach profiteers wisely align themselves with  exemplary institutions like the Neighborhood Schools Program at the University of Chicago. UChicago + "serving low-income students" + corporate salary?  Cha-ching!

3. Vendor profiteers selling consulting services.  This one is complicated, so we'll break down the dubious CPS spending, as detailed on their Department of Procurement page

     A. 50 million dollars to 65 vendors for "Consulting Services." A quick inspection of one of the 65, "Brain Hurricane" tells us that:

  • They didn't splurge on their web design
  • They don't offer any ideas that a normal teacher can't think up themselves
  • They get paid a cool $2604 per student, with a guarantee of 4000 students  -- Cha-ching!

     B. 50 million dollars to 2 vendors for additional "Consulting Services."  The two vendors are "Academic Solutions" and Sylvan.  Basic internet research yields that:

  • Sylvan is a massive, nation-wide, pure-profit-based private enterprise -- Cha-ching!
  • "Academic Solutions" appears to be a conglomerate of various vendors selling tutoring, headed by CEO Jermaine Young.  Linked In helpfully notes that we should "Contact Jermaine for career opportunities, consulting offers and business deals."  Cha-ching!

To sum up A and B,  if we've done our math correctly, CPS spends ONE BILLION dollars on consulting services.  Could that be right? Granted, No Child Left Behind "requires that supplemental educational services be provided to certain low-income, low-performing students."  But we wonder -- how come they're not working?

One thing is for certain, though.  Educational profiteers everywhere have their fingers crossed for many, many more years to come of low-income, low-performing students to $erve.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Rank and Yank REACH

Stack this!

Microsoft made big news today when it abandoned its controversial, largely destructive employee ranking system called stack ranking where employees are pitted against each other to earn gold stars from their bosses. Sounds an awful lot like CPS's REACH

Stack ranking, or rank and yank, requires managers to rate employees against each other and assign a numerical rating.  These ratings usually follow a bell curve: 20% receive the highest rating, 70% receive a good rating, and 10% are rated lowest and shown the door. Critics argue this system is unfairly rigid, so we can see how it sounds like the ideal strategy to account for a dynamic, ever-changing school system!

Among the negative attributes of stack ranking are:
  • Employees unwilling to work with each other for fear of others receiving a higher rating.
  • Employees openly sabotaging co-workers so they maintain a top rating.
  • Short-term individual focus of getting the highest ranking versus a long-term focus of working toward a common goal.

As formal observations begin, we can already imagine the pitfalls of REACH:
  • Teachers who are unwilling to collaborate for fear their colleagues will get a better rating.
  • Teachers who begin volunteering for everything to score brownie points with the admin.
  • Teachers who are increasingly paranoid about the constant surveilling of their teaching practices, grades, room appearance, and attitude.
  • Teachers who no longer share a once-common goal of advocating for and helping students improve, but instead feel they must advocate for themselves first.
If schools can no longer follow the outdated model of "helping teachers teach" and must pick a corporation to follow, then they should at least follow Google's lead (and high stock price! Cha-ching!!) and encourage teachers to take time to pursue what they're interested in. However, this approach assumes that teachers are people whose thinking is valued, not just parts of the corporate education machine rolling over everything in its path all the while helping profiteers add to their bottom line.

Readers: has REACH changed your school? For our parent readers out there, have you noticed any change in teaching, good or bad? Click anonymous in the comment section and let us know!

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Textbook, You Say?

Oh, it's the teachers' fault!

We're nothing if not helpful at WCT, so we're going to give the Illinois State Board of Education and CPS a heads up: when you inevitably recommend that force schools to adopt Pearson Education and their array of CCSS products and those products just, well, suck: don't blame the teachers! 

New York City educators have pointed out numerous problems with some of Pearson's materials. Teachers found questions unrelated to the reading, missing pages within books, and tasks that were not age-appropriate such as kindergartners drawing the meanings of words like "responsibility" and "distance."

In an unoriginal move, Pearson's PR department along with the NYC Board of Ed. chose to blame these hiccups screw-ups on...teachers! Thanks, guys. Apparently, these "new" textbooks, teachers' guides and worksheets may have caused teachers to "struggle" in their implementation. Yes, because textbooks are so tricky.

Here's another tip: if it's one thing teachers aren't confused about, it's how textbooks work. Teachers struggle with textbooks because they're not very good or outdated, not because they don't get their function. 

After all, if teachers can navigate bullshit initiatives, ever-changing administrative directives, and unstable work environments, crappy textbooks are no problem. Try again, Pearson.