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The sad state of the IEA.

April 18, 2015

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I spent the last few days in Rosemont at the Illinois Representative Assembly as a retired delegate.

There was twenty minutes of debate surrounded by two and a half days of mostly self-deception orchestrated by IEA leadership.

One month before the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of Senate Bill 1 and pension theft, members have no idea what we might expect the inevitable next round of attacks on our pensions will be. Nor do we know how or if we are prepared to fight the attacks.

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The RA did pass a carefully worded, cautious and vetted legislative amendment on opt-out.

I posted it in full yesterday.

The IEA submitted the amendment to the legislative platform because the IEA was not in compliance with the NEA’s Toxic Testing position as adopted at last year’s convention in Denver.

Plus, they were hearing from teachers across the state that PARCC testing was taking a terrible toll on classroom instruction.

And on teachers’ sanity.

But the IEA still refuses to support specific legislation on opting out, such as HB306.

What is a legislative platform if it has no impact on current legislation?

When delegates Conrad Floeter and IEA Region Chair Marsha Griffin attempted a New Business Item calling on IEA to provide training to members for the purposes of working with parents to organize against high-stakes and redundant testing, it was quickly voted down when the leadership made clear its opposition.

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For many of the delegates who I talked with there was great frustration with the lack of discussion and debate at this meeting.

Many veterans said it was the least discussion and debate at an RA in their memory.

For many it was particularly frustrating given that we are at a significant crossroads for unions, public education and pensions. The sense of concern and urgency that I hear from teachers in  classrooms was not present in the Hyatt Regency O’Hare ballroom.

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ShiAnne Shively from Region 5 and Tim Allaire from Region 58 offered up an amendment to the IEA legislative platform that would have replaced:

The Association also remains opposed to any unconstitutional changes to the laws governing retirement benefits that diminish or impair current members benefits. However, the Association supports any proposal that otherwise creates practical and constitutional solutions which sustain the long term viability of the pension systems.

ShiAnne and Tim’s amendment would have substituted that language with:

The Association opposes any diminishment of the pension benefits for current and future members.

After several delegates, including fellow retired delegate Glen Brown, spoke in favor the the amendment, IEA General Councel Mitch Roth went to the podium and announced that if the substitution of the amendment language was approved, the IEA would have to withdraw from the We Are One coalition.

Even for an old veteran like me, this was a stunning statement. It was false but doomed the amendment.

I went to the mic and, still reeling from MItch’s statement, even fumbled his name (Mitch is a guy I have known and have had a cordial relationship for years). But I was still able to get my question out.

“How would this language put us at odds with the other members of the coalition when it is the exact language the coalition’s attorney, Gino DiVito, representing all of, used in his oral argument before the Supreme Court?”

Mitch began to answer when President Cinda Klickna leaned into her microphone and sternly told me to finish my question, apparently failing to notice that I already had finished my question and that the General Counsel was already well into his response.

It was one of many surreal moments of the weekend.

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Why was the substitute language important?

Because the IEA leadership had used the “however,” to bargain SB2404. That senate bill was the defensive maneuver that they had hoped would derail the more draconian SB1.

That strategy was wrong on two counts: It still diminished benefits that were protected under the pension protection clause of the Illinois Constitution. And it failed anyway.

Many of us wrote and spoke up at the time that this was a wrong strategy. The Illinois Retired Teachers Association refused to go along with it and were blasted by IEA leadership.

A high-level staffer in the IEA confided to me this weekend that if they had known the courts were going to rule as they did in their Kanerva decision, the IEA would never have pushed for SB2404.

In Kanerva the court ruled that state retirement health care benefits were protected under the pension protection clause and turned away the very arguments that the state argued in defense of SB1.

It is clear that the IEA leadership will never admit before the delegates and their members that they were wrong about SB2404.

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When the court rules SB1 unconstitutional, what will happen next?

Rauner’s proposal to move current employees to Tier 2 – meaning a reduction in benefits – will never survive a court challenge.

A bill is already before the legislature to amend the constitution to remove the pension protection clause.

If it passes the legislature the change in the language in the constitution will be placed on a statewide ballot.

There was no discussion of this at the RA, although it is the existential threat to teacher and public employee pensions.

Removing the protection clause will not erase the state’s current $100 billion plus pension liability. It will not directly affect current retirees.

I will likely receive my pension until I die if the system has any money.

The same cannot be said for most of the delegates sitting in the ballroom of the Hyatt or the thousands of public school teachers in the state.

The sad news was that we are not prepared to fight this fight.

The IEA has not won a political battle in 32 years.

That was 1983 when we won the right to collective bargaining in Illinois.

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In 2007 I had long discussions with the IEA Executive Director.

He told me that our union no longer had to worry about collective bargaining. He said that the main job of our Association was to stand in the forefront of quality teaching and quality schools.

I disagreed that these were contradictory. We have to fight for our right to collective bargaining every day. We fight for it with every grievance we file. We fight for it with every contract we bargain.. We fight for it when we demand needed services  for our students without fear of being fired.

The Executive Director went on to be the senior advisor to Arne Duncan.

Yet his views were not his and his alone. They have come to dominate our Association.

If what we have is an association that is impatient with discussions and debates at its meetings, how will we be armed to fight the biggest threats we have faced since winning the right to collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining and pension rights are now under attack by the most powerful forces in the country.

We are not an army trained to fight.

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Hopefully I will keep the pension we fought for.

But the members in the hall are passengers on the Titanic and the captain doesn’t even want them to know or talk about that their might be a leak.

Let alone that we are sinking.

Meet your new Chicago CPS CEO Jesse Ruiz.

April 18, 2015

Feds are expanding CPS investigation beyond BBB to corporate Chicago’s biggest names. Plus Rahm and Governor Private Equity.

April 18, 2015

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Illinois’ richest man, Ken Griffin.

The Chicago Tribune is reporting this morning that federal investigators are looking into the records of a corporate school reform outfit that includes on its board the names of Chicago’s corporate and banking giants.

Those names include the Governor and his newly appointed state school’s chief, Tony Smith.

The scandal broke late least week with news that the feds were investigating the SUPES $20 million no-bid contract negotiated by Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett and approved by Rahm Emanuel’s hand-picked board of education, chaired by banker David Vitale.

Yesterday, Byrd-Bennett took a leave of absence.

The story of the $20 million no-bid contract with SUPES was originally reported two years ago by Sarah Karp in Catalyst.

We are still waiting for Karp to receive her Pulitzer.

The story in the Trib reports that federal investigators are now looking at the records of Chicago Eduction Fund.

Federal corruption investigators looking into a $20.5 million no-bid contract at Chicago Public Schools also have asked for any records related to an elite nonprofit education group that has long been at the center of city school reform efforts — the first indication that the public relations problem could extend beyond Mayor Rahm Emanuel‘s administration.

Both Mayor Rahm and Governor Private Equity sat on the organization’s board.

The training program was launched with seed money from the nonprofit education fund. The group is made up of a broad list of the Chicago area’s most influential politicians and business leaders — all of whom have made restructuring education a top civic priority over the past decade. Many have become key political supporters of Rauner, Emanuel or both.

Indeed, Rauner himself was a board director and is currently a director emeritus. Last week, the governor’s hand-picked board of education named Tony Smith the state’s new superintendent of schools. Smith, who has spent most of his career in California, was appointed to the fund’s board of directors last year and served on Rauner’s transition team after the November election.

Launched in 2000, the group was first led by then-Chicago Tribune Publisher Scott Smith. Rauner joined the board the next year and later was its chairman before becoming an emeritus member of the board, along with future U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, a former member of the Chicago school board; and current school board President David Vitale.

Others currently on the nonprofit board include Ken Griffin, CEO of Citadel, who has financially backed both Rauner and Emanuel’s campaigns; Mellody Hobson of the powerful Ariel Investments; Helen Zell, wife of real estate magnate Sam Zell; Susan Crown, a principal of the Chicago firm of Henry Crown & Co.; and Beth Swanson, a former top education deputy to Emanuel.

Board members also include current CPS board chairman David Vitale and board member Deborah Quazzo.

IEA RA adopts an opt out position.

April 17, 2015

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Chicago teachers support student opt out, 2014

Today the IEA Representative Assembly adopted the following:

The IEA supports the right of a parent or guardian to exclude his or child from any or all parts of state and district-level standardized tests, provided the State or school districts are not financially or otherwise penalized if such students are excluded, and supports the right of educators, without suffering from adverse actions regarding their employment or licensure to:

  • discuss the impact of standardized testing with parents and/or guardians,
  • discuss the state and district-level standardized tests with parents or guardians and may inform parents or guardians of their ability to exclude his or her child from state and/or district-level standardized tests,
  • provide a parent or guardian with his or her opinion on whether or not a student would benefit from exclusion from a state  and/or district-level test and that no adverse action or discipline will be taken against a school district employee who engages in such discussion.

The IEA furthermore supports:

  • a school and its employees not being negatively impacted due to a student not taking a state and/or district level standardized test, such as by ensuring that students who are oped out of standardized tests by a parent or guardian are excluded from performance calculations for state and local accountability measures and from employee evaluations,
  • reducing the volume of standardized tests that students must take and to reduce the time educators and students spend on meaningless test preparation drills,
  • reasonable time being spent on standardized-assessments and assessment preparation drills,
  • the Governor, General Assembly and ISBE working with educators and other stakeholders to reexamine public school accountability systems throughout the state, and to develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment that do not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools,
  • The over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing in district, state and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in U.S. public schools by hampering educators’ efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in democracy and an increasingly global society and economy.
  • The over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in too many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning, reducing instructional time, pushing students out of school, driving excellent teachers out of the profession, and undermining school climate.
  • Increasing numbers of parents, educators and school districts are voicing concerns about the over-emphasis and over-abundance of standardized tests.
  • High-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of color and those with disabilities.
  • School districts throughout the state are mandated to administer standardized tests specific to grade levels.
  • In addition to the standardized tests mandated under state and federal law, school districts throughout Illinois also administer separate district-wide standardized tests throughout the year which increases the amount of annual standardized testing.
  • At present, there are no laws in Illinois which protect the right of a parent or guardian to exclude his or her child from state or district-level standardized tests.
  • At present, there are no laws in Illinois which provide employment protects to educators who discuss the impact of standardized tests with a parent or guardian.

Opt out and the first day of the IEA Representative Assembly.

April 16, 2015

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A previous IEA RA.

The good news is that Glen, Jack and I were elected as retired delegates on a common slate to the yearly Representative Assembly.

Let me quickly make the point that this does not reflect in any way on the retired delegates who were also elected but chose not to run as part of our slate or who may, unbelievably, not agree with all our points.

All of us retired delegates get along really well.

The bad news is that the first day was kind of slow, interrupted by periods where nothing much was going on.

In a moment of boredom I offered up an  amendment to New Business Item #1. NBI1 was a kind of we-should-be-at-the-table NBI that was offered up by the Board of Directors.

My amendment was totally friendly. I asked that it be considered friendly. But IEA President Cinda Klickna did not respond to my offer of friendship.

My amendment simply added verbs to the bullet points.

As in the bullet point that called for us to be at the table when school funding is discussed, I added the verb “increase.”

And where the bullet point mentioned pensions, I added the verb, “defend.”

In my mind I thought it strengthened the NBI, making it less passive and more explicit.

My amendment was defeated by an unethusiastic voice vote. It clearly did not generate much passion.

Also clearly there is a large contingent of delegates opposed to verbs.

Tomorrow we will get into the meat of things.

Like the position of the IEA on parents opting out of high-stakes testing.

While it is unlikely that the RA will take a position on an actual bill that is in the state legislature, such as Representative Will Guzzardi’s HB306, it will more than likely adopt two different positions on high-stakes testing.

Something will pass supporting opting out.

And something will pass calling for an assessment to replace the PARCC.

Common Core again will not be discussed.

I don’t mean to belittle the value of the RA adopting these two positions. And who knows? Maybe we will get a little more.

And if things get a little slow again I might put something up suggesting adjectives.

The latest CPS scandal. Sex, lies and Paul Vallas.

April 15, 2015

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The news began breaking this Wednesday afternoon.

A week after Mayor Rahm’s election.

There is a federal investigation of CPS centered around CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s involvement in a $20 million no-bid contract.

The Chicago Sun-Times:

The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago have been investigating the contract for more than a year, the source said. A grand jury has taken up the probe, the Sun-Times has learned.

Meanwhile, two City Hall sources told the Sun-Times that Byrd-Bennett’s $250,000-a-year contract, set to expire in June, has not yet been renewed nor will it be unless the investigation is cleared up. Hired in the wake of the 2012 teachers’ strike, Byrd-Bennett remained on the job Wednesday, a district spokesman said.

The awarding of the $20 million contract has repeatedly drawn sharp criticism given the perilous finances of the school system, and principals have griped about the quality of the training they received.

Why did it take so long for the feds to look into this? And why the suspicious timing, coming after the election?

Those are $20 million no-bid questions.

As far back as July of 2013 Catalyst’s Sara Karp had done an exhaustive investigation of the no-bid SUPES deal.

Yet the media barely paid attention. And this would be a year before the feds say they started investigating.

Go back and read Sarah Karp’s reporting now and you will find it hard to believe this took this long.

There are lies:

Up until April 2012, Byrd-Bennett worked as a consultant to the Supes Academy. At that time, she was brought on at CPS as the chief education advisor to then-CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, a contract position for which she was paid $21,500 a month.

In addition, Byrd-Bennett is listed as a senior associate for a superintendent search firm called PROACT Search, in documents dated August 2012—four months after taking the position with CPS. PROACT is run by the same individuals who lead Supes: Gary Solomon, the executive director, and Thomas Vranas, the president. (Update: Another Supes founder listed on its website, Tim Quinn. Quinn worked for the Broad Superintendent Center, but Broad officials say they have no connection to the Supes Academy.)

Byrd-Bennett is one of four contacts listed in the proposal for services submitted by PROACT in its bid to do a superintendent search for the Norwalk, Connecticut school district. She has an e-mail address listed in the proposal. When PROACT won the contract, an official for the company was quoted in the local newspaper touting that Byrd-Bennett, who by that time had been named as Chicago’s CEO, was a contractor with the firm.

One board member for Norwalk schools objected to the contract, saying the district’s special education department needed the money instead.

However, Byrd-Bennett denies that she ever worked for PROACT and was surprised that her name was used, according to CPS spokeswoman Kelley Quinn. Quinn says the e-mail address bennett@proactsearch.com was “generic.”

Board President David Vitale said he was aware that Byrd-Bennett worked for Supes prior to taking a job with CPS.

PROACT Search had been awarded several small contracts with CPS prior to Byrd-Bennett’s arrival.

There is Paul Vallas and a guy named Gary Solomon.

Solomon went on to be a sales associate and then a vice president for the Princeton Review, a test preparation company, and counted CPS as one of his clients.

In 2005, he ventured out on his own and created two companies, one focusing on consulting and the other on web development. In Philadelphia, he marketed the consulting company as using the “Paul Vallas method of school reform.”

Solomon’s marketing efforts stoked controversy in the Philadelphia school community. Vallas at the time was CEO of Philadelphia schools, but had no training or background in education other than his time leading Chicago schools—a job he took at former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s behest after being the city’s budget director.

Solomon later said he used Vallas’ name without permission and it was a “mistake.”

And there is even sex.

Solomon does have a background in education. But in 2001, according to a Chicago Tribune news report, Solomon, then a dean of students in Niles, accepted a settlement with Niles Township High School District 219 after being accused of sending sexually explicit e-mails to students. He was never charged criminally and denied the allegations.

What it doesn’t have at the moment is any comment from Mayor Rahm.

Bad boys.

April 15, 2015

BAD BOYS

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