Bloomingdale Trail

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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.

The Prophet.

497px-khali_gibran.jpgKhalil Gibran

Reading about the controversy surrounding Khalil Gibran Academy in New York and the intolerance exhibited by those like Diane Ravitch who attacked it for having an Arab cultural focus while being open to all students, I was reminded of the The Prophet. Back in the early sixties when I was in high school, everyone was reading The Prophet. As young kids, trying to find our way, it struck something inside of us. But Ravitch may have missed the sixties, and so might learn something from it, even today.

Children

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.”

And he said:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Edward Kame’enui quits DOE as Reading First scandal finally gets some traction. Who’s next?

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From EdWeek by subscription only.

A former adviser to the federal Reading First program will leave his current position at the U.S. Department of Education at the end of next month, the agency announced one week after a congressional report questioned whether he had gained financially in that previous job by promoting certain commercial products.
Kame’enui will resign as the commissioner of special education research at the Institute of Education Sciences, which is a division of the department, at the end of June, the IES said in a May 16 statement.
Mr. Kame’enui had been serving under a two-year agreement at the institute, which was set to expire at the end of next month, and he had already planned to leave the institute at that point, IES spokesman Mike Bowler said. He will return to his faculty position at the University of Oregon, in Eugene, according to the statement released by IES Director Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst.
Controversy swirled over Mr. Kame’enui’s previous role as a technical-assistance adviser to the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program, which was established as part of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 to improve reading instruction in the early grades. A report released May 9 by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said that Mr. Kame’enui served as a high-level federal adviser to states while promoting a commercial reading program that he had written.
During that time, Mr. Kame’enui was responsible for providing advice to states about the kinds of texts and assessments that would meet Reading First requirements. Between 2003 and 2006, he earned at least $150,000 a year in royalties and compensation from Pearson Scott Foresman, which publishes a textbook he wrote with another university professor, according to the congressional report.
Senate investigators described financial gains acquired by Mr. Kame’enui and three other researchers who served as regional service directors of Reading First. Overall, outside income “soared” for the researchers between 2001 and 2006, when they were serving as consultants to Reading First, according to the report released by Sen. Kennedy, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
Following that Senate report, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, called on Mr. Kame’enui to resign. Rep. Miller said Mr. Kame’enui had been “less than candid” in earlier testimony before his committee in April, which explored alleged improprieties in the implementation of Reading First. . . .

What world does Diane Ravitch live in?

ppl_ravitch.jpgDiane Ravitch

What would you say about a person who has written about American education for decades and says in an editorial in the NY Daily News:

But, above all, let us not create public schools that separate our students into ethnic and cultural enclaves. That way betrays the purpose of public education.

You might say she was a progressive proponent of social justice and so was editorializing fervent opposition to racial and cultural discrimination. You might think she sees the segregated nature of America’s urban and suburban schools and is writing to oppose it. You might suppose that she is aware that in the dozen largest urban schools districts, most white kids go to majority white schools and mostly non-white kids go to majority non-white schools more than fifty years after Brown vs Board of Education.

But you would be wrong.

Instead she is writing an attack on a plan to open a public school in New York called the Khalil Gibran International Academy.

The school’s organizers state the following as their mission:

The Khalil Gibran International Academy’s mission is to prepare students of diverse backgrounds for success in an increasingly global and interdependent society. Our focus is on holistic student development and rigorous academics. Through our multicultural curriculum and intensive Arabic language instruction, students graduate with the skills they need to become empowered independent thinkers who are able to work with cultures beyond their own. Students graduate with a deep understanding of different cultural perspectives, a love of learning, and a desire for excellence, with integrity preparing them for leadership in today’s constantly changing global world.

But Ravitch says:

There is no question that our nation needs more people who can read and speak Arabic. This is a good reason to establish Arabic classes in public high schools. But it is not a reason to create a school that is centered entirely on Arabic studies.

I don’t know what America Ravitch lives in. But the America I know already has lots of public schools that separate students into “ethnic and cultural enclaves.” These enclaves are the result of years of forced segregated housing practices and outright racist admission practices. For years these schools have been illegal. Still they persist. How hypocritical then is it to attack a proposed school, open to all, that has an Arab cultural focus?

Unless, of course, you had another agenda.

Reading First scandal just keeps on getting worse.

us_reading_prog_mn.jpgRandy Best

I just keep wondering when will be the First Indictments for Reading First? Are there date certains, time-lines or just bench marks?

It just keeps getting more sordid.

ABC reports the riches to riches story of Randy Best. Randy was a Bush “pioneer.” That means he donated more than $100K to the Bush campaign.

In return what did Randy get?

After receiving the Reading First contracts, Best was able to sell his company, Voyager Expanded Learning, for $360 million. According to his critics, the company was valued at only $5 million a few years earlier, a figure Best disputes.

“Their friends and cronies, and they ended up not designing the best program for America’s schoolchildren,” said Congressman George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

In a congressional report the inspector general for the Department of Education found gross and repeated examples of conflict of interest in the Reading First program.

Edward Kame’enui, was receiving consultant fees from Best’s company and also received $400,000 in royalties from publisher Scott Foresman, which produced reading programs.

A spokesmen for Margaret Spellings, head of the DOE, was quoted by ABC as saying that the department was, “committed to results.”

I wonder if that’s true about the Department of Justice?

“Have a nice day,” says Senator Kotowski.

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After we returned from Springfield, many of our PREA members wrote to Senator Kotowski, asking his views on school funding.

In one form or another, they recieved this answer:

Sorry that it has taken some time to return your email. As you can imagine, I received hundreds of emails per week, and it is difficult to respond to everyone in a timely manner. I appreciate your understanding and your patience.

I support increased, fair and sustained funding for Illinois Schools. I believe that state can better make this case for funding to taxpayers by first paying for its unfunded Medicaid liability, addressing the $41 billion pension obligation due teachers, state police officers and other state employees, and shining the line on contracts awarded in the State of Illinois (SB 767 passed the Senate last week).

I appreciate your contacting my office. Please get back to me if you have any additional thoughts or questions.

Have a nice day.

Sincerely,

Dan

So, much like he said in our phone conversation, he says he’s not doing anything about school funding until medicaid, pensions or whatever are fixed.

Keep writing. He’s wrong about this.