Where did the IEA go?

I’m only a local president, so I’m not in the loop. But then again, neither is the rest of the rank-and-file.

For months leading up to May 2nd, we were asked by the IEA leadership to put everything into mobilizing for Capitol Action Day, our annual lobbying effort. This year was special. It was different. This was the moment. The window of opportunity.

First we were told to support the governor’s proposal: the Gross Receipts Tax. It had the best chance of passing the legislature. It had Senate President Emil Jones’ support and, besides, the governor said he would veto any income tax increase.

There was talk we were actually for Senator James Meeks’ tax swapping bill 750 before we were against it. But by the time we got to Springfield (sounds like a Jimmy Webb song) we weren’t supporting any specific bill. We were for increased, sustainable funding. But OK. We got the membership moving. Thousands showed up at the Capitol. We bombed our local state senator Kotowski with e-mails and phone calls. The IEA rank-and-file were asked to step up. And we did.

And then…

What happened? Where’d everybody go?

Go to the IEA website and you’ll find some stuff about The Burnham Plan. No more talk about mobilizing the ranks. No more mass lobbying.

Has the IEA’s leadership now changed its strategy? Did we go from a focus on mobilizing the rank-and-file, building a coalition between urban, suburban and downstate organizations involved in public school support to a focus on lobbyists, back-room political deal making, and most disappointingly, a shift to pressing accountability issues in order to prove we deserve the funding?

Please tell me I’m reading this all wrong.

Graft, kickbacks, bribery are a PR problem for the DOE.

spellingsx.jpgMargaret Spellings

Way down at the bottom of the USA Today piece on DOE Secretary Margaret Spelling’s appearance on tonight’s Daily Show is a telling comment from Andrew Rotherham of Education Sector, a right-wing think tank.

Rotherham is quoted as saying that the administration realizes it has “a pretty substantial public relations problem and that they need to get out there and try to turn it around.”

I love it when they call criminal acts a PR problem.

Thinking about Green Dot.

There’s been a lot of discussion around about Green Dot, the non-profit charter operation in LA headed by Steve Barr, former Democratic Party fundraiser and founder of Rock the Vote.

Green Dot doesn’t seem to fit the mold of many charter operations that have earned the suspicion of public school advocates. But it’s a challenge to teacher unions and supporters of public schools to figure it out.

Some issues:

  • Do they support or undermine the public sector of education?
  • Do they support or undermine quality schools in underserved communities?
  • Do the collaborate with or undercut teacher unions and the collective bargaining process?
  • Do they promote or undermine the professional role of teachers?
  • Do they encourage or discourage community and family involvement?
  • Are they held to the same standards as public schools?

Of course, most of these same questions must be asked of public schools.

I had to read Edwize again. I sure misread it the first time.

Maybe I was tired. Or maybe it’s just crazy around here as we get closer to June 6th. But I totally misread Leo Casey’s post on EdWize about Green Dot.

I thought he was supporting the view that Green Dot was an anti-union enterprise. But I got it wrong.

Casey defends Green Dot because:

  • They have tenure procedures.
  • They have grievance procedures.

If I got it right this time, that’s pretty weak stuff.

Here is what I see. A public school is taken over by a non-public although non-profit organization. Simultaneously the existing union, the UTLA, is essentially decertified and a weaker union is brought in to replace it.

For further clarification, or confusion (if I am any example), read the comments that follow Casey’s posting.

Reading First blasted by NY Times. But what about consequences?

It’s hard to work in schools without hearing two words: “consequences” and “accountability.”

When our students misbehave, their misbehavior requires “consequences.” We’re told that if you don’t hand out a consequence for misbehavior, the student will inevitably repeat the misbehavior.

Similarly, if we don’t have “accountability,” how will we know that teachers are really doing their jobs? We need “accountability,” not so much to evaluate student learning, but to detect teachers failures.

And then there is Reading First.

The New York Times ran an editorial Sunday blasting the Department of Education and its scandal ridden Reading First program.

The Times charged the DOE with

  • creating the panels that evaluate state reading programs which lacked transparency and documentation.
  • failing to enforce anti-conflict of interest policies.
  • giving room to “profit-mongers” who used ties to the DOE programs to line their own pockets.
  • DOE senior employees that also worked for and lobbied for huge publishers.
  • The heads of the DOE (one can only assume the NY Times means Secretary Margaret Spellings) knew about and tolerated the conflict of interest of her employees.

Good. So we have that straight. We know what the charges are. What about consequences and accountability?

The NY Times says:

But the only way to make sure that things have actually changed is for Congress to write the new rules and procedures into law.

Huh? What?


Conflict of interest?

Ignoring the law?

And the consequences are “write new rules.” Jeez, those guys on the editorial board of the Times wouldn’t last a day over here.

Bloomingdale Trail


The Bloomingdale Trail is a three mile stretch of abandoned elevated freight rail line that runs through the Northwest side of Chicago. It passes through the gentrified neighborhoods on the east, like Wicker Park and Bucktown. It also goes through the changing neighborhood of Logan Square (where we have lived for the past 32 years), and the working class neighborhoods of Humboldt Park and Hermosa on the West.

Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, a community group, is leading the effort to turn the line into a biking and hiking trail. For a neighborhood like ours, which has the fewest acres of active (as a opposed to passive) park space in the entire city, this would be a terrific thing.

There are eleven schools within a quarter mile of the trail and three are right next to the trail. At Yates School last March elementary students took part in a project to redesign the trail.

320212578_77b60025f9.jpgBloomingdale and Humboldt Boulevard

We’ve been told that wiithin a seven year time-line, seven access points to the trail will be designed and built with ramps and stairs, all ADA compliant. The access points, each within a quarter mile of the other, would include four new or expanded parks. The trail itself would be cleared, cleaned and landscaped.

Although it sits on city land, the elevated tracks are owned by the Canadian Pacific Railroad. But the city is committed to acquire it.

On a beautiful 80 degree Saturday afternoon, Anne and I acted as tour guides along the trail. We took half the group of thirty that signed up through the city’s “Places and Spaces” program. Another thirty were signed up for Sunday.

We were able to talk about what we knew about the trail, what we knew about the history of the city, particularly its working class history. And we were able to share the neighborhood we have lived in and loved for thirty years with others.

Just another day of teaching.

Lessons from the Chicago Federation election.

stewart06.jpgMarilyn Stewart

There is all the difference in the world between the Chicago teachers’ union and our little band of teachers out in Park Ridge, a Chicago suburb. But as president of my local I try and look at the similarities as well as the differences. I try and take away some lessons.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Marilyn Stewart, the incumbent who beat the challenger, Debbie Lynch, won over 70% of the vote. Four years ago, Stewart beat Lynch, who was then the incumbent, by only 500 votes.

What happened?

I think Stewart, who is a long standing member of the United Progressive Caucus which has run the Federation for over 30 years, was able to convince members that Lynch was more interested in being at the table discussing educational reform then in the nitty gritty issues of collective bargaining, getting a good contract, job protection and health benefits.

I’m certainly in no position to know how true that is. But true or not, that’s the way the members seem to have seen it.

The tension that exists (see the Green Dot stories) between traditional membership concerns with working conditions and compensation on the one hand and issues of school change and reform on the other, permeates the teacher union movement. It exists in both the AFT and the NEA. Chicago is just the most recent example.

I have had long discussions with some leaders in my own Illinois Education Association about these same issues. Some have argued that the fight to win collective bargaining rights has been fought and won. It was won in Illinois over 25 years ago. Now the union, they argue, must move on and be the leaders in reform, particularly in the area of teacher quality and accountability. If we don’t do it, they argue, then those opposed to teacher unions will.

In my mind, the problem with this line of thinking is that we seem to be fighting the fight for collective bargaining rights all over again. The drive towards charter and contract schools, the Chicago Renaissance 2010 plan, the privatization plans by Bloomberg and Klein in New York and corporate raids like Green Dot in LA, all are real threats to union collective bargaining rights and the very existence of teacher unions.

Stewart’s victory seems to represent a circling of the wagons by Chicago teachers who correctly see their hard fought union rights being threatened. While I certainly think we need to be at the table when non-negotiated issues of teaching and learning are being discussed, union leadership that fails to reflect the traditional concerns of their membership appear to do it at their own peril.

Let ’em know. NCLB fails to make AYP.

FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, is organizing a campaign and is sounding the alarm that the Bush group and its friends in Congress are attempting to fast track reauthorization of NCLB.

Contact your own representatives and members of the House and Senate Education committees to let ’em know how you feel about NCLB.

End arbitrary and unrealistic “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) requirements used to punish schools not on track to having all students score “proficient” by 2014. AYP should be replaced by expectations based on real-world rates of improved student achievement. Academic progress should be measured by multiple sources of evidence, not just standardized test scores.

Reduce excessive top-down testing mandates. The requirement that states assess each student every year in grades three through eight (and once in high school) should be reduced to once each in elementary, middle and high school. Over-testing takes time away from real teaching and learning.

Remove counter-productive sanctions. Escalating punitive consequences, which lack evidence of success, should be eliminated. These include requirements to spend money on school transfers and tutoring, as well as provisions calling for the replacement of teachers or privatizing control over schools.

Replace NCLB’s test-and-punish approach with support for improving educational quality. This includes holding schools accountable for making systemic changes through locally controlled professional development and family involvement programs. Federal funding should be more than doubled so that all eligible children receive support.

Congressional contact information is available on the FairTest site. Don’t let them make a deal in the dead of night.

Green Dot as a union buster: Is there a case? (Updated)

barr_sm.jpgSteve Barr of Green Dot

In an earlier one of my posts on Green Dot and Locke High School in Watts, LA I tried to describe all the tensions and contradictions at play. Was Green Dot a union buster? Yes. Are the teachers who want to leave UTLA acting without reason? I don’t think so. Are there real conditions that drive Watts’ parents to support Green Dot? You bet there are.

Leo Casey who posts on Edwize addresses the issue:

Someone might take the trouble to read the Green Dot contract, and compare it what is done in non-union charter schools, including those which Rotherham faithfully promotes in his capacity as a board member of the union-busting New York Charter School Association.
The management of anti-union charter schools insist that the only acceptable standard of employment is “at-will employment,” under which an employee can be dismissed at any time for any reason whatsoever – good, bad or indifferent. Such a standard comes in handy when anti-union charter school managements want to fire teachers for such high crimes and misdemeanors as sharing with their colleagues information on salaries in district public schools and supporting their student’s desire to read a poem about Emmett Till during Black History Month.

Making a deal on school funding.

A gross receipts tax or a tax swap? Those have been the two choices facing the Illinois legislature on school funding. The governor swears he will veto a tax swap. The state house of representatives has already voted unanimously against the gross receipts tax.

What is the path to compromise?

It appears that both Republicans and Democrats, business groups, both teacher unions along with their allies among public school advocates are all pushing for something to come out of this session. The 8,000 demonstrators that filled Springfield streets May 2nd certainly helped.

There seem to still be a few, like our own Senator Kotowski (call his office at 847 797 1192), who still refuse to accept the need to increase taxes, balance the books, enhance education funding and do something about healthcare coverage. But a tipping point may have been reached.

As Ralph Martire of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability says,

Some combination of the approach in House Bill 750 that increases income taxes, expands the sales tax base, provides property tax relief and targets additional tax relief to low- and middle-income families on the one hand, and satisfying the governor’s desire to make big companies pay their fair share by levying a reasonable alternative minimum tax on the other, will finally get the job done.

Ralph Martire is executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a bipartisan fiscal policy think tank. His e-mail address is rmartire@ctbaonline.org.