Brown v. Board Of Education at 60: When will we achieve compliance?

The night the 1954 Brown decision to desegregate schools was announced, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund threw a party. Future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who had worked on the case was reported to have said this, ‘You fools go ahead and have your fun, but we ain’t begun to work yet.”

In 1952 my kindergarten class at Pleasant View Elementary School was located in a wooded area of suburban Wheaton MD, a working class community just outside of Washington DC. It was a child’s garden of earthly delights.

Each day brought new wonders: new songs, new stories, new indoor projects, big kids showing off green snakes from the forest and visits to the school hatchery where I watched baby chicks emerge from eggs. I loved climbing to the summit of the jungle gym where I thought it might be warmer because it was closer to the sun. I was wrong, but the view was worth it. 

Kindergarten at Pleasant View was the best educational experience of my 12 years in the Montgomery County school system. What I didn’t know at the age of 5 was that not far away, there were schools that didn’t look like Pleasant View at all. 

A local civil rights leader named Romeo Horad spoke to the Montgomery County government about these segregated African American schools saying conditions were “deplorable”:

He told the Commissioners ‘not one Negro school in the county compares favorably with any white school’. He charged [that] the county government ‘disregarded’ conditions at Negro schools which he said include no running water, outdoor privy toilets, schools located far from Negro population centers, some near railroad tracks. All Negro schools, he said were overcrowded.”—- from a 1948 Washington Post article

 photo 10587.jpg

Read more

Community groups charge possible conflict of interest in Chicago school turnarounds

May 28, 2014 by · Comments Off
Filed under: Discrimination, Society & Economy 

“We have asked the Inspectors General for CPS and the US Department of Education to examine the last votes to turn over 3 schools to AUSL for turnaround to determine if there were any conflicts of interest among board members and AUSL; to analyze the relationship–if any– between political contributions to Mayor Emanuel from AUSL board members and the significant increase in the number of Chicago Public Schools turned over to AUSL on a no bid basis…”— Valerie Leonard of the Chicago Citizens United to Preserve Public Education (CCUPPE)

In the wake of the latest Chicago school “turnarounds”, a broad alliance of community groups called Chicago Citizens United to Preserve Public Education(CCUPPE) has come together to call for a moratorium on future school actions (the Chicago term for privatization efforts) and to reverse the decision to turn over Gresham, Dvorak and McNair to the private Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL). All three schools have predominately African American students living in low income neighborhoods.”

 May 27 press conference on school turnarounds
Cathaline Gray Carter (left) and Valerie Leonard (right)

Despite widespread community opposition all three of these schools were handed over to AUSL at an April 23, 2014 Board of Education meeting. At a May 27, 2014 press conference, Valerie Leonard of CCUPPE charged that since,”…  two of the five board members present and voting during the April meeting have apparent conflicts of interest stemming from relationships with AUSL, that the vote should be nullified.”

Cathaline Gray Carter, a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) retiree and member of the Coalition of Rank and File Educators (CORE) discussed the current investigation by the Inspector General of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) into the CCUPPE allegations. It is the job of the Inspector General’s office to investigate “waste, fraud and financial mismanagement” within CPS. The Inspector General’s Office has 60 days to come up with a report. CCUPPE confirms that the investigation has begun. 

The Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Education (DOE) will not comment on the complaint brought to them by CCUPPE, citing issues of investigative integrity. The agency said it will post results of any investigation on their website when the work is completed.

CCUPPE provided evidence about these apparent conflicts of interest. For example David Vitale, who voted for the turnarounds, was Chairman of the Board of AUSL before assuming his current role as president of the Chicago Board of Education.

Then there is Board member Carlos Azcoitia, an employee of National Louis University which trains AUSL personnel. Azcoita voted for the turnarounds then adroitly abstained when the issue of AUSL administering them came up, presumably to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Of course he knew damned well that AUSL is only vendor in the process.

In addition Valerie Leonard has noted that Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley is the former managing director of AUSL. AUSL officials and their spouses have made $63,000 in campaign contributions to Rahm Emanuel from 2010 to 2014 in what some community activists charge is just another Chicago-style “pay to play” scheme.

How a school turnaround impacts a community

In a school “turnaround”, or “reconstitution’” everyone is fired including the administration, faculty and support staff. People can apply to be hired back at the newly “reconstituted” school, but  AUSL prefers younger inexperienced teachers, many of whom leave the system within a year or two. This constant turnover is disruptive to the educational process. 

The turnarounds have contributed to the sharp reduction of African American teachers and have been heavily criticized for destroying decades long relationships between schools and their surrounding communities.

CPS provides 5 years of extra support for AUSL and charter schools and only one year of “support” for welcoming schools after causing major upheavals through massive closures. Welcoming schools were supposed to receive students from the closed schools

AUSL has been able to raise test scores in some schools but its overall record is mediocre, which even the Chicago Tribune has noted. In 2012 the respected educational research group Designs for Change published a report which showed how schools  with a democratic culture of collaboration among the administration, the Local School Council and the unionized teachers far outperformed the topdown disruptive methods  of AUSL. This even though AUSL schools receive lavish financial assistance from CPS while the schools they replaced had to scramble for the most basic resources.

CCUPPE has specific  recommendations for  the Chicago Public Schools and City leadership 

CCUPPE spokesperson Dwayne Truss announced the following recommendations:

  1. Reverse the vote to reconstitute (turnaround) Gresham, Dvorak and McNair schools.
  2. Review the Board’s ethics policies to prevent a swinging door arrangement between CPS and CPS vendors.
  3. Abolish the reconstitution of schools as being expensive, disruptive and ineffective.
  4. Develop a transparent and fair process to allow addition school improvement vendors to bid, especially given the “inside track” appearance of AUSL Other bidders should include Strategic Learning Initiatives – which has a track record of success empowering current stakeholders. CPS needs to support school improvement that is led internally by the schools and communities in question, whether or not an external vendor assists them.
  5. Host public hearings by elected officials to investigate the CPS process for evaluating AUSL.
  6. Do a thoughtful fiscal and performance analysis of AUSL.
  7. Institute an immediate moratorium on all school actions, including closures and turnarounds until each school hears from all interested vendors and/or school submitted alternative plans. A Requests for Bids presentation session should be put in place for vendors and school committees to present their bids or alternative plans to a delegation made up of Board of Education representation, the Local School Council and school community members at large. The delegation would need to come to a consensus as to which option(s) to pursue for school improvement.
  8. Commit to community-teacher driven school improvement. Ultimately, we need an elected representative school board that is accountable to the citizens of Chicago.
May 27 press conference on school turnarounds
Vernita Farmer (left) and Dwayne Truss (right)

The resistance to school privatization continues

CPS is well aware that they have not crushed the resistance to school privatization by closing schools and favoring turnarounds or charters. Vernita Farmer, a community partner in Chicago’s 24th ward, spoke about the current situation at Gresham, one of the turnaround schools.

Farmer said that after a parent-community sit-in to protest the school action, the school’s locks were changed, Principal Diedrus Brown is no longer is allowed a set of keys and she must be out of the building by 6 PM. Farmer noted the increased security and the visible drop in student morale which she believes could impact their test results.

It is clear that the measures have nothing to do with actual security, but to prevent further community efforts to reverse the turnaround.

At a May 17th commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision, speakers called school closures the new “separate and unequal” and announced the release of a new research report “Death by a Thousand Cuts: Racism, School Closures, and Public School Sabotage”.


Celebrating the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education
Jitu Brown announces release of the “Death by a Thousand Cuts”

Over Memorial Day weekend, the Chicago’s Bad Ass Moms (BAM) held the Neighborhood School Picnic to remember the 50 Chicago schools closed in 2013. The moms erected signs representing gravestones with the names of the schools and information about them, often with heartfelt quotes from students, parents and teachers.

Chicago neighborhood schools picnic: May 2014
A child stands in the symbolic graveyard of Chicago closed schools

With an election coming up, Rahm Emanuel’s poll numbers are at an all-time low and his school closings and turnarounds are part of the reason. Several aldermanic candidates are making his school actions a major issue.

The recommendations by CCUPPE will require a major change in the city’s corporate dominated political economy, yet education justice activists seem undaunted by the immensity of the task before them.

“The current Board of Education is appointed by the Mayor and operates under the cloak of darkness with impunity. They have abdicated their fiduciary responsibilities of loyalty and care. They serve as rubber stamps to privatize local schools to the benefit of organizations that are aligned with the Mayor, even if it means paying a premium for services whose effectiveness has been called into question. We need to end this culture…”—Valerie Leonard of CCUPPE

Bob “BobboSphere” Simpson is a retired high school teacher and a member of Action Now.

Sources consulted

Notes from the May 27 Chicago Citizens United to Preserve Public Education CCUPPE press conference. A press kit is available here.

Notes from the Neighborhood Schools Picnic: Photos available here and here

AUSL turnarounds called ineffective, expensive by Curtis Black

Education Groups Demand Investigation Into Chicago Board Of Ed’s Ties To AUSL by Ellyn Fortino

Chicago’s Democratically-Led  Elementary Schools Far Out-Perform 

Chicago’s “Turnaround Schools” by Designs for Change

School reform organization gets average grades by Joel Hood and Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah

Fight for $15 in Chicago: Revolt in a Global City

May 21, 2014 by · Comments Off
Filed under: Global Economy & Politics, U.S. Politics, Unions, Workplace 

“I am here to remind America that it is a crime to live in this great nation and to receive starvation wages. At McDonalds $8.25 an hour, what I make is about $400 every two weeks. With that salary I have to choose between rent and food. Rent and light…but this isn’t just about me This about my grandkids and my great grandkids. If McDonalds has its way, my great grandkids will make $8.25 in the year 2050”—- McDonalds worker Doug Hunter

It was a chilly drizzly, 5:30 am in Chicago as a handful of WOCC (Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago) activists loaded batteries into bullhorns, sorted out picket signs and made sure the now familiar Fight for $15 red plastic rain ponchos were ready. WOCC is the organization for the Fight for $15 movement in Chicago. They were preparing for the planned 6 am rally at the Rock and Roll McDonalds, the city’s flagship store.

Fight for $15 in Chicago: May 16 2014


It was May 15, 2014, the day of a global strike and protest against the McDonalds Corporation for its selectively applied exploitative labor policies. In countries with strong unions and a high level of working class solidarity, a job at McDonalds means reasonably decent wages and benefits. But not everywhere. And definitely not here in the USA.


WOCC members are acutely aware of this which is why they say “Fight for $15 AND a union.” Victories won can be taken back again without strong worker organization and constant vigilance.

Soon, a sizable number of people were  gathering within the small plaza in front of the Rock and Roll McDonalds. Located in the trendy Near North tourist area close to the Hard Rock Cafe, it is an unusually large and architecturally unique McDonalds.

Fight for $15 in Chicago: May 15 2014

Although named after a music born of youthful rebellion, it is run as a tight fisted dictatorship. One Rock and Roll McDonald’s worker said they treat the employees there like “animals.”

At first McDonalds security feigned friendliness and told people they could stay in the small plaza as long as they did not carry signs. Those could only be carried on the public sidewalk in front of the store.

But when a smiling mariachi band tried to play for the growing crowd carrying nothing but their instruments, McDonald’s security pushed them and everyone else on to the now crowded public sidewalk. Fortunately the overhang over the plaza extended to that narrow public space, giving the strikers, their allies and the media partial protection from a now wind-blown cold heavy rain. Spirits remained high as workers sang and chanted.

 Fight for $15 in Chicago: May 15 2014

Forcing the media to cover themselves and their equipment against the elements was probably not the best way for McDonalds Corporation to get sympathetic coverage. Neither was the disingenuous official statement from their Oak Brook Illinois HQ:

“…The events taking place are not strikes. Outside groups have traveled to McDonald’s and other outlets to stage rallies.”

Calling their own striking workers part of an “outside group” was both disrespectful and untruthful. But the bad weather and the now unsmiling McDonalds security did not deter  McDonald’s workers like Adriana Alvarez from speaking out at the early morning press conference:

“We’re here to show to show McDonald’s and everyone else that we are not going to put up with it anymore. This is global. Not just in the United States. Not just in Chicago. Everywhere. 100+ cities and 30 countries. We’re ready. I’m here because I have a 2 year old son. I want to give the world to my son but I can’t on today’s minimum wage so I need a living wage of $15 an hour.”

Chicago: A tale of two global cities

“I am proud to see A.T. Kearney has recognized the City of Chicago has a top global city of today and tomorrow….With our access to international transportation, central location between the coasts and pool of skilled workforce talent, businesses across the world realize all of the extensive opportunities Chicago has to offer as the city continues to shape the direction of the world in the coming years.” —Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Chicago is often called a global city and as Mayor Rahm Emanuel is fond of saying, a “world class” one at that. Rahm’s vision of Chicago as a global city is a greatly enhanced version of a downtown that already exists—- only with more glittering office towers and luxury condos. Where even more expensive cars cruise streets bordered by ornamental shrubs and colorful flowers. Where still more smartly dressed affluent mostly white people peruse the fancy shops lining the Magnificent Mile and its side streets. Where armies of business leaders and well-heeled tourists from across the planet will come to marvel at this Emerald City on the Lake.

You can read about this vision in A Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs a report commissioned by Mayor Emanuel himself. Buried deep within its 58 pages is this astonishingly frank  statement:

”While the Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs will contribute to increased opportunity for individuals and more investment for communities, it is not a plan for poverty elimination and community development.”

No kidding, Mr Mayor. Eliminating poverty is not on your agenda. Neither is fair-minded community development. But what else could we expect from a “leader” whose actual constituency  consists of high rolling hedge fund gamblers, gentrifying real estate speculators, shady mortgage lenders and predatory multinational corporations like McDonalds who ply their money-making trades with a coldblooded  intensity that even Ebenezer Scrooge couldn’t match. Poverty wages are just too damned profitable. The skyrocketing wealth inequality which the McDonalds Corporation and the rest of the Chicago elite favors is dependent upon the  continued existence of poverty. 

Fight for $15 in Chicago: May 15 2014

The MacDonalds workers who went on strike May 15 have a different vision for the global city that Chicago could become, one that is widely shared by other low wage workers. While aimed specifically at McDonalds, the strike also send a message to other large corporations as well as government. It’s time for poverty wages to be raised to a living wage. The demand for a living wage is literally a fight for life. Poverty can kill, sometimes swiftly with a hail of bullets in the shadows of lonely street; sometimes slowly as stress and constant worry wears down an immune system, inviting multiple health problems that overwhelm the body and the city’s inadequate public health system.

Are you listening Ronald McDonald?

Chicago’s chronic and terrifying street violence is largely confined to the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods where unemployment, low wages and racism combine into a perfect storm of social distress. Raise wages. Cut the violence.

Are you listening Ronald McDonald?

Poverty can wound the mind as well, which is why the Chicago Teachers Union teamed with WOCC to help produce a report called “Fight for the Future: How low wages are failing children in Chicago’s schools”. From the report:

“Students living in or experiencing childhood poverty are much more likely to face significant unaddressed obstacles to classroom learning than their middle- and upper-income counterparts, and this impacts educational outcomes. In fact, data shows that family income is now the most significant predictor of academic success among students in the U.S.”

Are you listening, Ronald McDonald?

A living wage and the ability to organize a union without fear, as well fair minded investment in distressed communities would go along ways toward eliminating the poverty that is the root cause of so many human tragedies in Chicago.

Fight for $15 in Chicago: May 15 2014

Referring to a recent partial victory for the $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle, Jamie, a McDonalds worker from Rockford said:”

We’re coming together with our coworkers, and we’re fighting for the right to join a union and $15 an hour…If they can get it in Seattle, we can get it in Chicago.”

The workers of Fight for $15 want not only better wages and benefits, but work schedules which are arrived at through honest negotiation, schedules that would enable them to have more time with their families; more time for relaxation; more time for personal goals and interests; more time to improve their neighborhoods; more time to live a rich and fulfilling live.

They want a global  city of safe neighborhoods, good schools, clean well maintained parks, decent housing, affordable health care, access to nutritious food and all of the social amenities that come with a living wage enforced by a union contract.

They know such things are possible because they see people in more affluent communities having them at their fingertips.

Their vision of a global city comes with a global working class consciousness, an understanding of the power that working class people have if they unite across racial, regional and national boundaries.

You could see the fierce pride in the eyes of McDonalds worker Jessica Davis as she said:

”Just months ago we were just a few workers in a couple of cities. They thought we were crazy. Now we’re global. We’re 100+ cities and 30 countries. We are showing McDonalds that we are a force and they can’t ignore us any more”

This is not the globalization that Rahm and his wealthy friends have in mind.

Fight for $15: This is what solidarity looks like!

All day long individuals and groups came to show their support. With rain still falling in the morning, Action Now! a community organization with branches on the West and South Sides came clad in their characteristic blue t-shirts. They brought an enormous blue fist, their bullhorns and their chants as they joined Fight for $15 and marched around the block where Rock and Roll McDonalds is located.

Fight for $15 in Chicago: May 15 2014

There were people from the United Auto Workers, Chicago Teachers Union, United Food and Commercial Workers, International Association of Machinists, Service Employees International Union, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Jane Addams Senior Caucus, Brighton Park Neighbors and Albany Park Neighbors.

Representing one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city, the Albany Park contingent proudly marched up Clark Street with the flags of nations that were participating in the global strike action. The flags also represented the many nationalities who live in that North Side neighborhood.

Fight for $15 in Chicago: May 15 2014

There were the usual friendly waves from passerby, the raised fists and the horn honking. Tourists snapped pictures from their tour buses and from the sidewalk. I decided to take a break around midday from note taking and photography and held up a Fight for $15 sign on the corner. A pair of tourists asked to borrow my sign so one could hold it up while the other snapped a picture for their Facebook friends.

By the time the protest ended at 6 PM, several hundred people had participated. It was a long day, but spirits were even higher when the rally closed and the group briefly occupied the Rock and Roll McDonalds plaza in a final act of defiance.

No one underestimates the difficulties that lie ahead within the corrupted political economy of Chicago, where the vast fortunes controlled by global corporations  compete with the cry of the people demanding a better life.

Chicago needs more working class people in union meetings, in the streets, and on the picket lines. We also need more  volunteers in insurgent electoral campaigns. Independent-minded  elected leaders such as Kshama Sawant in Seattle, Washington and Marc Elrich in Montgomery County, Maryland have been instrumental in the fight toward gaining a living wage.

We need to exercise both economic and political power.

Jorge Mujica, an independent socialist candidate for city council who was on the picket line with the McDonalds strikers throughout the day, sums it up pretty well:

“We live in a working class city. It is our labor, our skills, our ingenuity, and our pride that built this city and that keep it running every day. Yet most of us are overworked and underpaid. We face a real crisis–not one of resources or possibilities, but of priorities. Until we create our own political voice, working people will remain locked out of political power.”

Whose global city? Our global city!

Fight for $15 in Chicago: May 15 2014



Bob “Bobbosphere ” Simpson is retired teacher and a member of Action Now!

Sources Consulted

Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago, a tale of two cities by Kevin Coval

Fast-food workers put their issues on the table by Elizabeth Schulte

Chicago’s world-class city complex by Jake Malooley

A Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs by the World Business Chicago (Chaired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Chicago Named Top Global City in A.T. Kearney Index by the World Business Chicago (Chaired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel

School turnarounds in Chicago: Turning against racial justice

May 2, 2014 by · Comments Off
Filed under: Discrimination, Race, Society & Economy, Unions 

The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) leadership is doing exactly the opposite of what both community activists and researchers have shown to be the most effective ways of improving public schools. School “turnarounds” are a racist privatization scheme damaging to quality education.

Tears welled up in the eyes of Angela Gordon, Local School Council President of Dvorak school as she composed herself to speak her allowed 2 minutes in front of the Chicago Board of Education on April 23, 2014.

Her school, along with McNair and Gresham schools, was about to have its entire staff fired, from the lunch ladies to the principal and then reorganized by a private management company called the Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL)

In Chicago this is called a “turnaround”. 

Gordon tossed aside her prepared remarks and pleaded for the Board to postpone the decision. Her voice filled with emotion, she told the Board they are ”all about the numbers” explaining that she was there for the students as human beings, not as statistics. 

Surrounded by Dvorak parents and children she concluded by saying.”Do not turn us around through AUSL! Give us the resources so WE we can give the students what they need!”

Representatives of the other two schools also spoke in behalf of their students.

Faces of the resistance at the April 23 2014 Chicago School Board meeting
Supporters of McNair await their their turn to speak at the April 23 Board meeting


A couple of hours later the Board went ahead and issued orders to fire everyone at all three schools and replace them.  But that had been decided long before the meeting even began. The entire morning was as one observer said,”Just a game of charades.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls the shots and communities have little input

The three schools that were chosen by Rahm’s handpicked school chief Barbara Byrd Bennett and his handpicked school board were Dvorak Technology Academy and Ronald E McNair Elementary School on the West Side and Walter Q Gresham Elementary School on the South Side.

Turnarounds differ from charters because AUSL school workers can join the Chicago Teachers Union and AUSL schools can have a Local School Council (though the AUSL LSC’s are stripped of important powers). Local School Councils are a unique Chicago experiment in local democracy where teachers, parents and community members are elected to help develop school policies. 

Individuals can apply to be rehired, but AUSL prefers to bring in its own people (usually younger and whiter) and proclaim that the school is “turned around” and on the road to success.

The criteria for turnarounds are based on test scores and racial geography. AUSL picks schools with low test scores, usually in working class African American neighborhoods. While it’s true AUSL has had limited success at raising test scores in some schools,  most of their turnaround efforts do no better than neighborhood schools and test scores have even fallen in some cases. 

AUSL’s  test score criteria for determining school “failure” is itself a failed measurement. The complexity associated with genuine learning cannot be bubbled in and quantified by the dubious tool of the multiple choice test. Low test scores do reveal the extent of poverty in a community, which research shows is mostly what they measure. But one does not need a high stakes test to know that. They also suggest the chronic under-resourcing of neighborhood schools which must struggle for such basics as textbooks and toilet tissue.

AUSL’s generally mediocre performance on test scores is despite the influx of additional money CPS puts into their “turnaround” schools. Neighborhood schools that have been denied basic educational resources like libraries are suddenly deluged with funding once they are targeted for turnaround by AUSL or to house a charter school. 

Ollie Clemons a grandmother and the guardian of two boys at Gresham Elementary explained how that worked at her school:

“It was decided last year to have a charter school come in. In the meantime over the summer they put in an elevator. They put in a new library, but yet when the charter school decided not to come, the library did not get a librarian. The librarian was totally eliminated. Our art teacher did not come back. We only have a half time gymnasium teacher yet they want us to have healthy activities for the kids…”

But ironically, when a school does receive better educational resources, that is often linked with privatization.

The turnaround proposal generated intense opposition from the neighborhoods surrounding these schools

Representatives of the largely African American Lawndale, Austin and Auburn-Gresham neighborhoods packed hearings and community meetings. They picketed the Board of Education and held prayer vigils and press conferences. They turned out in force  at the April 23rd Board meeting and testified before the final decision was announced. They proposed alternate plans for school improvement.

In Chicago where the majority of students are African American and Latino, there is no elected school board as in in the rest of Illinois. Chicago Teachers Union organizer and CPS parent  Brandon Johnson compares this to the racist voter suppression being directed at African Americans and other people of color  around the nation. A school board handpicked by the mayor and corporate elite makes it eaier to privatize education.

Parents, students and community allies rally in front of Chicago Board of Ed President David Vitale's house
Gresham principal Dr. Diedrus Brown (center)

The human connection is a key factor in quality education. Why does AUSL want to weaken that connection?

A Gresham parent told me with pride,” Gresham is a school that goes back generations.” 

A quality education requires a complex web of human relationships among all of the people who directly affect student lives including teachers, administrators, non-teaching school staff, parents and other people in the surrounding community. 

Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance talked about these longterm human relationships when she testified on behalf of Dvorak.  Dvorak’s highly regarded principal Cheryl White had only been there two years and almost half of the staff was new. Leonard quoted from a Carnegie study:

“A study by the Carnegie Foundation examined the relationships between teacher tenure and experience and student performance and found that the sheer number of novices in public school teaching has serious financial, structural, and educational consequences for public education— straining budgets, disrupting school cultures and, most significantly, depressing student achievement.”

Lisa Russell, a parent and Local School Council member from  Dvorak explained how a neighborhood school with these deep connections can be a refuge for children who have been rejected elsewhere:

“ Let me tell you about the neighborhood school, particularly Dvorak. We take anybody’s child from anywhere.. Don’t turn us around. Give us the resources. Give us the small class sizes… Our neighborhood school is more than what you know. It’s a community, as they say. We have all kinds of children at the neighborhood school. When everybody else doesn’t want them, we get them. And guess what. We teach them. We work with them.”

Lisa Russell speaks out against school privatization in Chicago
Lisa Russell speaks at a press conference in front of CPS headquarters

West Side activist Zerlina Smith made a similar point about McNair after explaining that 21% of the students at McNair are special needs with IEP’s (Individualized Education Programs), “Why would you turn around a school with that many IEPs knowing that there’s not another school on the West Side that can handle that?” At the time of the proposed turnaround McNair had no librarian, no music or art teacher and no reading specialist.

Faces of the resistance at the April 23 2014 Chicago School Board meetingZerlina Smith at the April 23rd school board meeting

There are teachers who choose schools like these because they want to teach the students whom no one else wants. The abused. The misused. The abandoned. The ones with very special needs. The ones drowning in a sea of poverty and racism. The ones that Rahm Emanuel was describing in a discussion with CTU president Karen Lewis:

“In that conversation, he [Rahm] did say to me that 25 percent of the students in this city are never going to be anything, never going to amount to anything and he was never going to throw money at them.”

Teachers who take on these kinds of challenges are being punished for doing so.

In African American communities beset by racialized poverty and segregation, school-based relationships form connections of human solidarity that are the basis not only of quality education and neighborhood stabilization, but of resistance to racial oppression.  In schools that are struggling and where these relationships are weak, they can be strengthened through the hard work of organizing. 

Protesting attacks on public education in ChicagoValerie Leonard and Brandon Johnson in front of the Board of Education

The corporate elite’s war against the Chicago Teachers Union is only partly about money issues. Under its present leadership the CTU has allied with embattled neighborhoods fighting for quality education. The CTU has shared important educational research with the city’s working class which has helped built stronger human connections among teachers as well as with the community at large. 

Brandon Johnson put it this way:

“This not simply about keeping union employees. Teaching and learning go way beyond the ability to have collective bargaining rights. It’s about the deep-rooted relationships that are critical for a child and their family to develop the trust that allows access to these family’s spaces.”

Both parents and teachers agreed that McNair, Gresham and Dvorak needed improvement

At the hearings and protests that I have attended, people constantly challenged the Chicago Board of Education to work with them on school  improvement, to provide resources, to support teacher and parent involvement, to join that complex web of relationships as a partner instead of a relentless adversary. 

But instead of working with communities, AUSL ignores their input. Here is how AUSL operates:

From the AUSL proposal to the Illinois State Board of Education 2009:
“AUSL replaces the principal with an individual selected by and accountable to AUSL as well as the district, and also brings in a cohort of specially trained new teachers from AUSL’s Teacher residency program. AUSL evaluates all incumbent teachers and staff before re-hiring any who are interested in remaining. We expect that more than half of the school’s incumbent teachers and staff would be replaced. “

  1. AUSL weakens Local School Councils (LSC’s) by taking over principal selection and budgeting. This strips LSC’s of power and makes them only advisory organizations. In addition AUSL ignores  the countless hours that parents and community volunteers have put in to obtain special grants and programs that CPS did not provide.
  2. AUSL turnarounds contribute to the sharp decline in experienced African American teachers as they replace them with younger mostly white teachers. Younger teachers of any race need experienced teachers to mentor them. Experienced teachers benefit by working with younger ones who can bring fresh ideas into the education mix. Breaking this critical relationship degrades quality education.
  3. The loss of jobs in African American communities through AUSL turnarounds contributes to the disinvestment and destabilization of Black Chicago. Along with charter school operators, AUSL also divides communities against themselves as different types of schools compete for educational resources.
  4. AUSL has a high teacher turnover rate making it harder for them to work together and develop close collaborative relations.
  5. The AUSL has a “zero tolerance” discipline policy which results in more students being pushed out or expelled, feeding the school to prison pipeline. According to Brandon Johnson, AUSL has the highest suspension rate of any network in Chicago. This is especially troubling as AUSL works mostly with African American students.
  6. AUSL does not have adequate programs in place to deal with the many special needs students in Chicago.
  7. AUSL relies heavily on high-stakes testing which cannot measure critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, inventiveness and the skills necessary to resist racial, gender and class oppression.
At the April 9 Chicago Public Schools hearing on privatizationMcNair staff members at a CPS hearing about the future of their school

Anthony Capetta who went through AUSL training said in an interview that AUSL makes the extraordinary claim that a few years of “good teaching” (as they define it) can overcome any problems that children bring from the outside: i.e the effects of institutionalized racism and poverty.

Capetta explains:

“They very much believe in a paternalistic mentality toward schooling. The parents don’t know how to teach their children. The neighborhood is bad. There is a cultural deficit. We as teachers and we as a school have to make up for that. We are going to take the place of an authority figure and we are going to do the job of raising these kids right.”

AUSL has close ties with wealthy corporations who profit off of racism and poverty. That alone tells us a lot.

There are alternatives to turnarounds, but these are rarely reported in the media

Parents and teachers at all three schools recognize the need for improvement, but asked for help that did not involve privatization. Dwayne Truss, a West Side activist, made this point when he testified on behalf of McNair:

“McNair as well as any school will admit that there is always a need for improvement. There are other alternative school improvement models and school improvement providers then AUSL…McNair is more than happy to partner with any provider to provide professional development for both teachers and parents in order to augment the efforts McNair already has in place. “

The Chicago school research group Designs for Change published a study in February 2012 which showed a much more effective way of improving school performance than turnarounds.

Designs for Change calls it School-Based Democracy. This model has achieved significant improvement at a number of Chicago schools, but like the Chicago Teachers Union plan The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve, it has received little recognition from the Chicago Board of Education, the Mayor’s Office or the Chicago major media. 

 The report compares test scores in schools that use School-Based Democracy vrs. those that used the turnaround model. School-Based Democracy showed the most significant gains even though those schools did not receive the kind of extra financial support available to AUSL.

Remember, these are gains in test scores which are the main criteria used in determining whether a school will be turned around. Designs for Change concluded the following:

“This study indicated that the high-poverty schools achieving the highest reading scores were governed by active Local School Councils who chose their principals, and had experienced unionized teachers…These effective elementary schools have dedicated Local School Councils, strong but inclusive principal leadership, effective teachers who are engaged in school-wide improvement, active parents, active community members, and students deeply engaged in learning and school improvement.”

CPS has weakened and even eliminated many Local School Councils. It has relentlessly attacked the Chicago Teachers Union and eliminated many experienced teachers. Its climate of FUD (Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt) has caused most school principals to remain silent as public education is being dismantled before their eyes.

Corporate Chicago is always hoping for an obedient racially divided working class from which to extract a fast buck. 

AUSL is using a problematic model from the corporate world. At the hearing to decide the fate of McNair, Chicago mayoral candidate and public policy expert Amara Enyia spoke about the origins of turnarounds:

“I think this model is flawed. It is adopted from business practices. And as a  business practice it does not work. In fact it has had limited to no results. So why are we adopting this method in education? And specifically, in public education. It’s problematic for a number of reasons.”

At the April 9 Chicago Public Schools hearing on privatization Amara Enyia (right) with CPS security officer (left) at the Board of Education 

The president of the Chicago Board of Education is David Vitale, former Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Board of Trade and a former board president of AUSL. Tim Cawley, Chief Administrative Officer of CPS, was a Motorola executive before joining AUSL. Mayor Rahm Emanuel with his close ties to Wall Street is an enthusiastic supporter of AUSL. Hedge fund operator Bruce Rauner, a heavy investor in Chicago charter schools and the Republican candidate for governor, is also an AUSL enthusiast.  And the list goes on…

The people who run the Chicago schools today come from the corporate world. In the introduction to her book School Reform, Corporate Style: Chicago 1880-2000  Dorothy Shipps  looked at the long history of how business interests have dominated Chicago education–and done a poor job: 

“This book asks a necessary but important question: if corporate power was instrumental in creating urban public schools and has a strong hand in their reform for more than a century, why have those schools failed urban children so badly?”

Their corporate vision for working class schooling today is massive privatization with a very narrow focus on memorization and recall. It values the ability to stay focused on boring repetitive tasks emphasizing obedience to authority. The AUSL model with its emphasis on high-stakes testing and zero tolerance discipline is a perfect example of that.

At a recent Board of Education meeting I heard a parent brag that you can walk into a classroom in her child’s AUSL school and “hear a pin drop”. Is that what we want from children? Silence?

Chicago’s corporate education model is also profoundly racist with its history of segregation and unequal allocation of resources, as well as its persistent racial discrimination against teachers and other education workers of color.

The corporate education model of rote learning mixed with politically connected real estate speculation and lucrative vendor contracts has nothing to do with actual education. 

UIC professor of education Pauline Lipman’s book The New Political Economy of Urban Education demonstrated how the destabilizing influences of  school closings, turnarounds and privatization are an integral part of the city elite’s policy of gentrification. This contributes to the ongoing exodus of the city’s African American and Latino working class. AUSL is deeply entwined with this project of replacing much of the city working class population with affluent (mostly white) people weary of long suburban commutes.

West Side Chicago defends Dvorak Technology Academy
West Side activist Windy Pearson speaks at a community hearing as Pauline Lipman listens

The income of the parent is the best single predictor of student success, yet the city elite has done nothing to raise wages on behalf of low income neighborhoods or provide the investment to create good paying jobs that keep people in the city rather than driving them out.>

Corporate Chicago apparently believes Chicago’s status as a global city depends upon economically driven ethnic cleansing.

The business world is littered with the corpses of companies that were subjected to hostile corporate turnarounds and takeovers which drained their resources, destroyed their morale and drove them to an early grave.

Is that what we want for our system of public education?

Low test scores measure the failure of this nation’s leadership to reduce poverty. Where’s their “grit and rigor” in pursuit of that goal?

“ I have a school full of wonderful teachers that care about the students…We teach the whole child. My children are not about test scores. There is more to a child than test scores. They are whole children and they deserve love. And I love my children.” –Principal Diedrus Brown of Gresham school

Love. That’s a word I’ve heard often since I joined Chicago’s education justice movement in the months leading up to the 2012 teachers strike. It’s a powerful emotion in a school setting. I know that because I was a classroom teacher for 25 yearsf. When a school is working it’s because the power of love has been nurtured and encouraged to grow.

The city power elite also understands the power of love. That’s why they want to break the human relationships that create it. Love is a threat to the city elite because it motivates people to protect their neighborhood schools and their communities.

For the city’s power elite, the biggest problem with school-based democracy and similar programs is their success in improving neighborhood schools, while empowering the communities that surround them. That kind of success stands as a powerful testament against the corporate driven turnarounds and increased privatization.

Instead of supporting the city’s teachers, many of whom work under very difficult conditions, the Chicago power elite treats them with the same contempt it has for the working class students that make up the majority of CPS. It attacks their union, a union which takes quality education for ALL children VERY seriously, apparently a cardinal sin in the eyes of those whose love extends only to power and money.

West Side Chicago defends Dvorak Technology AcademyCTU activist Sarah Chambers speaks out for the children at a public hearing

The Chicago street violence that has made headlines across the country is directly related to the poverty and neighborhood destabilization favored by the city’s power elite working through organizations like AUSL.

Both Wall Street and Washington are behind this privatization movement. It is a bipartisan project with both Democrats and Republicans supporting the educational carnage that results. Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been closely allied with Republican Bruce Rauner, the current front runner in the Illinois governors race. Democratic president Barack Obama has essentially continued the same destructive polices that came out of the Republican Bush administrations.

However it would be a mistake to see the turnarounds and the school privatization movement as simply being about short-term profit from gentrification, lower teacher salaries and bloated contracts to education vendors like Pearson. There is a distinctly ideological component that in the long run is the most dangerous.

In a nation  facing a some of the worst wealth inequality in its history and a global environmental crisis that threatens the existence of humanity itself, who would benefit from a fearful, obedient and racially divided working class that has been shorn of creativity, inventiveness and independent thinking?

Fortunately the human spirit is too strong for total subjugation. 

Chicago’s  multiracial working class will the continue to fight for quality education. They will lose some battles along the way, but as people learn through struggle and study, I believe that the privatized schools will eventually be returned to the public domain. Chicago can then develop a school system that will educate ALL children— so they can grow up to create the kind of  human society they truly deserve.

Parents, students and community allies rally in front of Chicago Board of Ed President David Vitale's house
Why we fight

Bob “BobboSphere” Simpson is a retired high school history teacher

Sources consulted

Testimony against ‘Turnaround’ of Dvorak by Valerie Leonard

Area residents oppose AUSL turnaround of elementary school by Curtis Black

Gresham challenges ‘turnaround’ verdict by Jean Schwab

Chicago’s Violence Tied to Policies of Rahm’s Past by Curtis Black

Comments to Hearing Officer on McNair Turnaround by Dwayne Truss

CPS proposes three new school turnarounds by Sarah Karp

Emanuel Continues War on Black Schools by Stephanie Gadlin

New report: LSCs and democracy outperform turnarounds  By Parents United for Responsible Education

The Free Market Isn’t Very Good at Running Schools by Anthony Cody and Xian Barrett

Chicago Public Schools’ Turnaround Plan Called Into Question By Parents, Education Activists by Ellyn Fortino

Test Scores, Poverty and Ethnicity: The New American Dilemma by Donald C. Orlich and Glenn Gifford

Interviews conducted with Brandon Johnson and Anthony Capetta by Bob Simpson

Special thanks to CPS teacher Tammie Vinson for sharing her perspective on privatization.

High Stakes Testing: The new child labor

April 5, 2014 by · Comments Off
Filed under: Uncategorized 

“Exploited without regard to their tender years, countless youngsters were working under conditions constantly fraught with danger to life and limb…The blight of child labor was widely prevalent, in dust-laden textile mills and pitch-black coal mines, in sweltering glass factories and fetid sweat-shop lofts, in filthy canneries and blazing hot tobacco fields. No industry, no region was without its “tiny hostages to rapacious capitalism.” —- from Child Labor in Textile Mills by M.B. Schnapper

“I walked past my daughter.  She looked up at me, her face red from crying, I could see that tears had been collecting at her collar ‘I just can’t do this,’ she sobbed.  The ill fitting headsets, the hard to hear instructions, the uncooperative mouse, the screen going to command modes, not being able to get clarification when she asked for it…Later on when I picked her up after her long seven-hour day, she whispered into my shoulder ‘I’m just not smart, mom. Not like everyone else. I’m just no good at kindergarten, just no good at all.’”———-Claire Wapole, a Chicago mom who volunteered as a MAP test proctor in a Chicago Public Schools kindergarten

Look how far we’ve have advanced in the use of child labor? Corporate USA doesn’t send US children to choke out their lives in the black dust of the coal mines or the brown dust of the textile mills. After long and intense opposition to that kind of child labor, Corporate USA was forced to allow working class children to attend school.

But in our Brave New World of neoliberal capitalism, Corporate USA, as represented by companies such as Pearson and McGraw-Hill,  have turned schools into testing factories. They generate mega-profits by having kids hunched over their writing desks or their computers for hours and even days at a time. Education is a big business, some estimates I have seen place it at as high as 1.3 trillion dollars.

 photo Leah-AnneThompson-kindergartenTestingFW.jpgPhoto by Leah-Anne Thompson

If the White House and Wall Street have their way, this big business will get even bigger. There’s gold in dem thar’ tests, along with the ancillary material, the training manuals, the test prep guides and the scripted curricula that goes along with the whole package.  Standardized tests have been weaponized and used as an excuse to close schools and privatize education while firing experienced and beloved teachers. Teachers? Who needs teachers? If the trend continues, a computer network technician who can read instructions in a clear voice will be all that is necessary. Think of the cost savings in salaries and benefits.

But the real mother-load will be the data collection that requires monstrous server farms, upgraded multi-state digital networks, endless software and hardware upgrades, technical support and…well you get the picture. And by the way, what do they plan to do with all of this highly personal data?

What do these tests measure BTW?

Just because something happens in a school doesn’t mean that it has anything to do with education. Today’s standardized tests grew out of the racially and class biased  IQ tests popular in the days when eugenics was considered “science.” As Alfie Cohn says about the modern standardized tests:

“The main thing they tell us is how big the students’ houses are. Research has repeatedly found that the amount of poverty in the communities where schools are located, along with other variables having nothing to do with what happens in classrooms, accounts for the great majority of the difference in test scores from one area to the next.”—– Alfie Cohn 

To those who say that students need to prepare for jobs and careers in “real life”, how many people are evaluated on their jobs based upon sweating over often inane and unrelated multiple choice questions?

Protesting standardized testing abuse in the Chicago Public Schools
Chicagoans against testing abuse

High stakes testing proponents seem to forget that schooling is not only about preparing students for careers, careers  that may not even exist when they graduate. It is also about preparing students to be active citizens in a vibrant democracy.

While it’s true that the voting booth is a kind of standardized test, the few minutes we spend there every couple of years are only a small part of our responsibilities as citizens. There is no standardized test that can evaluate the complexity of sustaining and extending democracy.

What high stakes tests cannot measure

High stakes testing cannot measure inspiration, creativity, exploration, curiosity and collaboration. Instead it is banishing these from the schools in favor of “rigor” and “grit”, the latest faddish buzzwords from hi-stakes testing proponents. 

Pardon me while I draw upon my 25 years experience as a secondary school educator and talk a little about the “rigor” that I have observed, none of it the result of high stakes testing.

Rigor is the cast of the high school musical devoting many hours of practice after and before school to make their live performance as flawless as possible. Rigor is the students in a math class exploring advanced calculations because they have been inspired by the sheer beauty of them as well as by how math has been essential to the technology they carry in their pockets. Rigor is students in an English class learning that painstakingly combining exactly the right words together can lead to life-changing insights and perhaps even result in a respectable showing at the next city-wide poetry slam. 

You can’t bubble that kind of “rigor” into a standardized test. It’s amazing how even pre-k’s and kindergartners can focus on tasks that inspire them without the intervention of high stakes testing. That kind of rigorous intensity comes from the human interaction of students and teachers in a collaborative classroom environment. 

Protesting standardized testing abuse in the Chicago Public Schools
Chicagoans against testing abuse

As for “grit”, introduce that into delicate complex machinery and it will destroy it. Grit is what wears things down and in that sense the term is a pretty accurate way of describing what high stakes testing is doing to our schools. They are wearing them out from within.  Katie Osgood is a teacher in a Chicago psychiatric hospital. Here is her take on “grit”:

“What is the value in teaching children to be able to sit for hours, to have the “grit” to finish that tedious task or long test? Why not create curriculum that is so engaging and relevant that children discover a joy in learning? No instruction on “grit” is needed when students are empowered and engaged. “No excuses” pedagogy is rooted in obedience and submission, in breaking children’s spirit, while social justice pedagogy empowers and uplifts using that spirit as an asset.”——-Katie Osgood 

Wasting valuable class time for dubious results

I often hear from frustrated parents and teachers that the endless parade of standardized tests is a “waste of valuable class time”. It’s much worse than that. The old fashioned child labor damaged children’s’ health and deprived them of an education. I fear that the new child labor of high stakes testing and its related classroom activities will be the 21st century equivalent.

How will the chronic stress affect the minds of young children as it is applied year after year? A Great Neck, New York principal named  Sharon Fougner reported visceral reactions to Common Core testing:

“We know that many children cried during or after testing, and others vomited or lost control of their bowels or bladders. Others simply gave up. One teacher reported that a student kept banging his head on the desk, and wrote, ‘This is too hard,’ and ‘I can’t do this,’ throughout his test booklet.’” —from an open letter signed by over 1500 New York state principals.

Chronic stress can kill.

It’s no secret that American schools have problems with bullying and violence. This manifests itself in different ways, some of which are related to race and social class. Troubled students often turn to favorite teachers when they are in distress. Yet, the goal of the standardized test mania is to remove the caring empathetic  human connection and replace it with a rigid scripted curricula that will literally “teacher-proof” the classroom.

I spent 15 years of my teaching career at a South Side Chicago Catholic women’s high school. My students were a multiracial mix of working class young people, many of them from distressed neighborhoods where labor exploitation, disinvestment, racism and gender discrimination take their toll on a daily basis.

I had students coming to me with serious personal issues exacerbated by the socio-economic realities around them. By working closely with the school counselors, together we were able to offer them at least some of the support they so desperately needed.

Since most of my teaching career was before the high stakes testing madness took hold, I had a lot control over the history curriculum in my classes. I was able to bring in historical examples and current events that addressed what these young people faced. I could show them how social movements had addressed and continue to address the often harsh realities of working class life in the USA. I could ask them to imagine how they would address these issues and how research and creative thought can provide some answers while also raising new questions.

How do you bubble that into a standardized test? 

According to Kathleen M. Cashin and Bruce S. Cooper of Fordham University, financially hard-pressed schools who pay for expensive testing packages:

“…are forced to cut such necessary services to students as social workers, psychologists, counselors, as well as the arts and athletics. These demands and the sacrifices they require will prove harmful to students, in the short run and the long run.”

How will this affect the school to prison pipeline as students drop out or are pushed out? How will this impact the mental health of the next generation? How many lives will be lost to suicide, street violence or domestic abuse who might have been saved with a more rational and caring educational system?

Is corporate profit really worth the loss of such human potential and human life?

Fortunately there is the law of unintended consequences 

One of the consequences of the testing mania is a growing nationwide resistance movement to the new child labor of high stakes testing. Corporate USA is giving parents, teachers and students quite an unintended education in just how far it will go to squeeze profit from even the youngest children. 

Parents are requesting that their children opt out of the tests. Teachers are risking their careers by refusing to give them. Students in Massachusetts organized their own “Be a Hero. Get a Zero” movement for test refusal.

Here in Chicago, in the midst of one of the worst winters in the city’s history, teacher Sarah Chambers stood in front of her grade school early one morning looking out from inside of her heavy parka. She was calmly explaining to the media why teachers at her school were refusing to give the ISAT test and why many parents were not allowing their children to take it. Too many tests. Too little time for learning and human interaction.

When asked what teachers planned to do with the children not taking the test, Chambers smiled and said, “We’re going to teach them.”

Teach the children. What a concept.

“There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.”——— Mario Savio at the 1964 Berkeley student strike

It’s way past time to shut down the high stakes  testing machine that runs on the labor of children and the growing anguish of adults….and turn our attention to actual education.

 photo Test-Skills-Jobs.jpg

Sources consulted

N.Y. school principals write letter of concern about Common Core tests by Valerie Strauss

Paul Tough Is Way Off-Base. And Stop Saying ‘Grit’ by Katie Osgood

Testing? Testing? by Claire Wapole

Lean Production; Inside the real war on public education by Will Johnson

Childhood Lost: Child Labor During the Industrial Revolution from Teaching with Primary Sources at Eastern Illinois University

How Wall Street Power Brokers Are Designing the Future of Public Education as a Money-Making Machine by Anna Simonton

You Can’t Bounce Off the Walls If There Are No Walls: Outdoor Schools Make Kids Happier—and Smarter by David Sobel

The case against standardized testing: raising the scores, ruining the schools by Alfie Kohn

Sacrificing Psychologists, Counselors, & Social Workers—and Athletics & the Arts—to Test Preparation by Kathleen M. Cashin Bruce S. Cooper

Testing in kindergarten: whatever happened to story time? by Ben Joravsky

They turned our schools into testing factories Socialist Worker editorial

Tests + Stress = Problems For Students by Daniel Edelstein

Next Page »