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.