Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers #13.

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Episode #13 with in-studio guest journalist Curtis Black.

You can download the podcast here.

It is one hundred days since our first show, just as long as DT has been in office.

We have many accomplishments in spite of being blocked by Democrats and the Freedom Caucus.

They can’t stop us.

On the day Barbara Byrd Bennett was sentenced to four and half years in prison, we pondered the question of why the investigation stopped with her?

I speak with Bob Lyons who is retiring next month as the representative of retirees on the Teacher Retirement System board of trustees.

Bob and I are friends for long enough that I can overlook the fact that he is a Republican. I think it is now just habit and nobody takes a back seat to Bob when it comes to representing the interests of retired teachers in Illinois.

We are also joined by Curtis Black, columnist and reporter for the Chicago Reporter.

We spend a good amount of time talking with Curtis about the case of corrupt cop Reynaldo Guevara.

It reminds us of the CPD’s most famous torturer, Jon Burge.

As educators, my brother and I ponder how the burden of dealing with police torture fell on teachers and students, since it is now a required part of the CPS curriculum coming out of the court settlement with the City.

We have no problem with students learning about this sordid history of police torture and abuse. They should.

It just raises questions about who determines curriculum and who decides what knowledge is worth knowing and experiencing, which is the fundamental curriculum question.

Autocratic decisions by the mayor and votes by know-nothing legislators is a dubious source for sound curriculum decisions.

Another great show.

Next week our guests will be Alderman Scott Waguespack and political strategist Anne Emerson. Our guest co-host with brother Mike –  and honorary Klonsky brother – will be Harish Patel.

I will be in New York doing the 5 boro bike ride.


Karen Lewis: Our members in classrooms; our district in courtrooms.


-From Karen Lewis, CTU

The events that will unfold today in two separate Chicago courtrooms are the result of the turmoil and financial irresponsibility that has defined our mayoral controlled school district for the past six years. First, former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett will be sentenced to federal prison for her role in defrauding Chicago Public Schools by soliciting and agreeing to accept bribes and kickbacks from her involvement with SUPES Academy, a third-party contractor to which she steered a $20 million no-bid contract as the head of CPS.

Shortly thereafter, a Cook County Circuit Court judge will issue a ruling in a suit filed by the Chicago Board of Education against Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois State Board of Education over unfair funding for education in Illinois. It’s a legal challenge that has cost taxpayers both time and money, and ironically, finds its basis in the same racially discriminatory practices that have been a hallmark of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration and its policies regarding Chicago’s public schools.

For more than 24,000 Chicago public school teachers, clinicians, and paraprofessionals, however, today will be business as usual as they work tirelessly, as they do every day, to provide true sanctuary and the schools that Chicago’s students deserve. These are Chicagoans, heads of single-parent families, minority women of color and parents of CPS students themselves who have been battered by incessant cuts and indignities over the past several years—from privatized custodial services that have led to dirtier schools, to the loss of librarians and special education teachers, to the last two years of furloughs. Their jobs are challenging enough without the embarrassment of a SUPES scandal, or infantile bickering among elected and appointed leaders.

Underlying these indignities is a long-term crisis that has severely impacted school funding—our schools are simply not supported by an adequate, sustainable, progressive source of revenue. As a result, each year our members are forced to endure more cuts, and are doubly impacted as both residents and taxpayers of the city of Chicago. So no matter the outcome today in the war of the roses with Rahm and his handpicked Chicago Board of Education on one side, and Rauner and his handpicked Illinois state board on the other, unless hundreds of millions of dollars in much-needed funding accompanies the judge’s ruling, we will still face the threat of budget cuts and mass layoffs in our schools.  

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has spoken of the budget cuts he and the mayor imposed in February as “tough choices,” yet these cuts came after their foolish choice of trusting a governor who has shown no desire to invest in nearly 400,000 children—the overwhelming majority of whom are Black and Latino. Tough choices would be taxing those who can most afford it, or exhausting all avenues to secure school funding, and not balancing budgets on the backs of educators, students and their families.

The Chicago Teachers Union is part of a vital group of institutions in the city that unfailingly argues for progressive revenue to fund our schools, and despite the political landscape, we have had remarkable success winning resources and legislation for our classrooms and students. But there is much work left to do. At our Union’s last House of Delegates meeting, I told a group of reporters that nothing is off the table should the district continue its plans to end the school year on June 1. And I meant that. Our goal is for CTU members and their students to finish the year strong and enjoy the summer break they have earned.

After the courtrooms clear today, our members will return to work Monday morning, rallying before and after classes in recognition of May Day, in their positions as the real leaders of Chicago’s public schools. They understand better than most that we are in a difficult climate, but they remain committed to their students and classrooms just as our union is committed to advocating for our schools, defending our profession and demanding fair funding for public education.

Friday on Hitting Left.


On Monday I sat down with Bob Lyons to talk about his past dozen years on the board of trustees of the Teacher Retirement System. He was our elected representative. “Our” being current retirees.

Bob joined the board of trustees when wheeler dealer Stuart Levine, a bi-partisan crook, was doing his dirty work prior to getting caught and receiving a 5 year prison sentence for money laundering.

As Bob leaves the board he shared his assessment of the current situation on this recorded conversation which I will share with you on Friday.

Joining us in-studio will be Curtis Black. Curtis writes for the Chicago Reporter. Nobody knows the back streets and smokey back rooms of Chicago better than Curtis.

As always, we will be broadcasting at 11AM from http://www.lumpenradio.com and over the air at 105.5FM in Chicago. We can be listened to anywhere in the world on the internet. Once the show is aired it magically turns into a podcast at hittingleft/libsyn.com and iTunes and at MixCloud.

What better day to take a personal day than May Day?


Monday is May Day. Chicago is where it started.

In recent years our May Day march has focused on immigrant rights. Chicago is a city of immigrants. We are a proud sanctuary city.

And a union town.

The Chicago Teachers Union is among our most militant labor organizations. In response to the imposition of furlough days and a threat to close schools weeks early, the CTU had considered calling a one-day strike on May 1st.

But it has changed its plans.

Naturally, the CTU has endorsed the May Day immigrant rights march.

Monday is a scheduled work day at CPS. So CPS CEO Forrest Claypool went to the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board and asked them to issue an injunction against teachers taking a personal day on Monday.

The IELRB gave him the injunction

Now, the collective bargaining agreement between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union is pretty specific about the use of personal days.

It says they can be used for personal business.

I remember back to my days as a local union president. (“Oh, dad. Not another one of your ‘back-in-the-days’ stories.”)

Use of personal days once was an issue. Our collective bargaining language was also clear. Members could take a personal day for business they could not schedule outside of working hours. We bargained three personal days a year. Those days converted to accumulated sick days if they weren’t used in the year.

One year, principals starting demanding that our members give two days notice if they were planning to use a personal day and provide the reason they were taking one.

I picked up the phone and called the superintendent.

“Cite the page in the contract,” I said.

The dirty little secret about contracts is that administrators rarely have read it and don’t know what’s in it. They referred to it as “your contract” even though it was mutually bargained and the board president’s signature is right there on the bottom next to the union president’s signature.

I carried my contract around with me and into every meeting with an administrator and frequently laid it on a principal’s desk and said, “cite the page in the contract.” Most of the time they had no idea.

On Monday, members of the CTU who choose to will be marching for immigrant rights as part of May Day in Chicago.


After all, what’s more personal to a union teacher than May Day in Chicago?

Random thoughts. Spinners and blocks.

I’ve been away from elementary school kids for a while.  June will be the 5th anniversary of my last day in a classroom.

I’m out of the loop when it comes to the latest fads.

Over the past couple of days I have noticed that teachers on Facebook are complaining about spinners in the classroom.

I had to Google it.

They are a little fidget toy that sits on a pencil and, well, spins. I found it on Amazon for ten bucks. Not cheap.

I had a box of fidget toys in my art room. They were intended for students that were hyperactive, but any kid could get one when I was talking to the entire class or reading a story. We also had inflatable balls to sit on and cushions with little rubber spikes. The kids with Autism liked the tactile quality of the cushions, but any kid could sit on it until the newness of the idea passed and they went back to sitting on the floor or on one of our stools.

I checked with an old colleague about the spinners.

“The number of spinners last week is unreal. Stores sold out. Kids that need fidgets is one thing. Every kid spinning a spinner is crazy,” he texted me.

I understand.

I had to laugh to myself though. I used to teach color mixing with a piece of tag board and some string. We made spinners. After the second graders cut out a circle on the tag board they colored them with markers and we threaded string through two holes. They twisted the string and let go.


Color theory in action.

Sometimes we put the disks on a pencil and spun it like a top with the same effect.

I should have charged ten bucks.

I have always had good ideas. I just am never was good at finding a way to monetize my good ideas.

On another topic, I was following the debate over HB40. It passed the Illinois House yesterday.

HB40 will pass the Illinois Senate and then get vetoed by Governor Rauner.

HB40 would do two things.

It would protect abortion rights in Illinois if or when the Supreme Court ever overturns Roe v. Wade. It also expands the availability of abortions in the state to poor women.

Most Repugs in the House voted against HB40. Most – not all – Democrats voted for it. Mike Madigan wants to use the vote as a wedge issue in the elections next year.

Rauner gave Madigan a gift. He was visiting a Beer Nuts factory and chomping them down while the debate and vote was going on.

Great optics, Governor. Beer Nuts contrasted with a concern for women’s health.


A new amendment to the House Republicans’ ObamaCare replacement bill exempts members of Congress and their staff from its effects.

The new changes to the bill would allow states to apply for waivers for certain ObamaCare provisions, such as a ban on insurers charging premiums based on a customer’s health and the requirement that insurers’ basic health plans cover certain services, like prescription drugs and mental health.

The GOP amendment exempts members of Congress and their staffs to ensure that they will still be protected by those ObamaCare provisions.

Politico’s Natasha Korecki reported on her Illinois Playbook that Tribune’s Kristen McQueary gets into it (HB40) with Trisha Rich over Twitter.

Kristen McQueary is the doofus member of the Trib editorial board that wrote the infamous piece wishing for a Hurricane Katrina to destroy Chicago’s public schools.

Which I helped bring attention to.

McQueary has not been a favorite of mine for a long time. She is a long-time union basher.

When I went to her Twitter link I got this:

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I am blocked by a member of the Trib’s editorial board whose Twitter handle is @StatehouseChick.

I wonder if the state house chick was sharing Beer Nuts with the Governor.

March for visual arts.


By a student in my third grade Art room in 2012.

I missed the March for Science on Saturday.

Instead, on Saturday I was judging the artwork of students who had submitted their political cartoons in a high school competition.

I’m for science, although science would exist even if I wasn’t for it.

Truth is that as far as science courses went in school, I didn’t love them. That may have had more to do with the way Science was taught than anything else.

I ranked memorizing the periodic table of elements up there with reading Silas Marner as high school assignments I hated.

Running laps. I hated that too.

The fact is that I was a humanities guy. I loved my Art classes and Lit classes. Except the one when I had to read Silas Marner.

But that’s the thing about people and students. We care about and are good at different things. It doesn’t mean we should only have access to the things we care about and are good at.

I didn’t think I cared about anthropology until I took a class – intro to cultural anthro – my freshman year in college and I almost considered making it my major.

Which brings me to the results of the latest NAEP of 8th grade students in Music and the Visual Arts.

When comparing 8th grade NAEP scores in the Visual Arts in 2016 with 2008 they are down a point.

Compare that to Science where they are up four points in 8th grade over a similar time span, although there remains a huge gap in the scores in Science between white and students of color, both Black and Hispanic.

That gap is true in the Arts too.

Students in suburban schools tended to outperform students in urban schools, and students in private schools tended to do better than those in public schools.

So blame access and availability.

It is the details that I find troubling.

Only 42% of 8th graders had an Art class.

Only 30% said their teachers have them paint or draw.

Only 55% said their school had a dedicated Art space.

56% said that they made Art when they were not in school and 43% said that they kept an art journal or sketchbook when they were not in school.

That made me happy.

You can download episode #12 of the Hitting Left podcast.

NEA’s charter position is okay but a little like closing the doors on an empty barn. No mention of vouchers?

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NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia convened an organizational national task force on charter schools to reconsider the union’s statement adopted by the Representative Assembly in Los Angeles 15 years ago.

The wheels of the NEA turn kind of slowly. The past 15 years have seen a lot of battles around charter schools. The NEA board of directors will consider the task force’s document at their next meeting.

I posted a copy of the document last week.

In 2001, the last time the NEA took a national position on charters, there were around 2,100 charter schools operating in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Most were run by parent groups, nonprofit organizations and a few for-profit education companies. About a half million students attended them nationwide.

The landscape has radically changed.

Today, half a million students attend charter school just in California alone.

Between school years 2003–04 and 2013–14, the percentage of all public schools that were public charter schools increased from 3.1 to 6.6 percent, and the total number of public charter schools increased from 3,000 to 6,500. In addition to increasing in number, charter schools have generally increased in enrollment size over the last decade. From 2003–04 to 2013–14, the percentages of charter schools with 300–499, 500–999, and 1,000 or more students each increased, while the percentage of charter schools with fewer than 300 students decreased. Similar patterns were observed from 2012–13 to 2013–14.

So there we were. It was September of 2016. Two months before the presidential election. We had fifteen years of the Department of Education run by pro-charter secretaries like Rod Paige, Maggie Spellings, Arne Duncan and now, perhaps worst of all, Betsy DeVos, and the NEA thinks it might have something new to say about charter schools.

The NEA’s main observation is that charters are no longer mom and pop shops and have become corporate managed and profit centers, threatening public neighborhood schools and public control of what should be a public institution.

The result of these efforts has been a massive and burgeoning sector of charter schools that are not subject to the same basic safeguards and standards as public schools. Frequently the resulting charters are operated expressly for-profit, or are nominally non-profit but managed or operated by for-profit entities. These charters are nothing like the original conception of charters as small incubators of innovation within school districts. Most importantly, the growth of charters has undermined local public schools and communities, without producing any overall increase in student learning and growth.

I can’t argue with that.

Some of us have been saying it for a decade and longer.

I assume the NEA board of directors will pass it.

And then what?

Will the NEA and President Eskelsen Garcia follow her friend Randi Weingarten in school tours and seek a seat at the table with Betsy DeVos?

Or will they fight like hell against the Department of Education and its Secretary which has become the Mother of All Bombs when it comes to public, secular, neighborhood schools?

One observation: The Illinois member of the NEA task force sits on the Illinois Charter Commission, which has the authority to overturn local school district decisions to deny charter applications and which we have been trying to get the legislature to disband.

One more observation. Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration are not just charter advocates. Their other tool in the fight against neighborhood public schools is the voucher.

There is no mention of vouchers in this document.

I hope we don’t need to wait 15 years for it.