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My afternoon at the Network for Public Education Chicago conference.

April 25, 2015


Diane Ravitch and Yong Zhao at the NPE Conference.

I am just back from my afternoon at the Network for Public Education conference at the Drake Hotel on Chicago’s north Michigan Avenue.

Over 500 education activists are gathered there this weekend.

It is part reunion, part seminar, part action planning and part good time.

And that is coming from someone who can’t sit too long in one place and has a short attention span at meetings.

I had a chance to hear Yong Zhao’s big-room presentation that entertainingly punctured holes in testing, narrowly prescribed curriculum and Asian stereotypes.

You know something good is happening when a professor of measurement can get a room full of educators to stand and sing Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and use that as a metaphorical critique of current education practices.

You should have been there.

Meanwhile I was honored to have shared a panel with Milwaukee school board member and activist Larry Miller, Bronzeville organizer Jay Travis (who I can guarantee is getting ready to beat State Representative Christian Mitchell in 2016) and my new Chicago alderman-elect Carlos Rosa.

I shared my experience with the pension fight in Illinois, including a critique of state teacher unions. Larry talked about the fight in Wisconsin against both the right-wing agenda of Scott Walker and that of the neo-liberals in the Democratic Party. Jay focused on the role of gentrification in Black communities and its impact on schools. Carlos linked his election and the growth of progressive electoral politics in the City with the movement generated by the 2012 Chicago teachers strike.

The paragraph above reduced a great discussion to far too few words.

But again. You should have been there.

Keeping retirement weird.

April 25, 2015


Glen Brown (left) and me at last week’s Illinois Education Association’s Representative Assembly.

I’m still reflecting on the recent IEA Representative Assembly held a week ago in Rosemont.

Except for the 2013 and 2014 RAs, I have been attending these affairs as a local elected delegate for over 25 years.

In 2013, the IEA forgot to move my membership from active to retired so I was ineligible to run.

In 2014 I ran and lost. I volunteered to do the IEA Retired table instead and then sat in the back on the hall as a guest to watch the Rauner/Quinn debate.

To represent at the IEA RA as a retired delegate you must run state-wide. I ran this year with four other IEA Retired members as a slate of candidates committed to issues: defense of pensions, greater union transparency and democracy and opposition to the corporate education reform agenda.

You would think that those would already be the agenda of the union.

But, they’re not.

Three of us were elected.

The truth is that one of us, Jack Tucker, is the past chair of IEA Retired and he would have been elected anyway. But Glen Brown and I were also elected from our slate.

I am used to being a minority voice at these meetings. I am used to being ignored when I go the microphone and ask to be recognized.

On the other hand, IEA presidents are like school administrators in the sense that if you stay long enough you outlast them all.

IEA presidents Anne Davis, Ken Swanson and Cinda Klickna have all tried to ignore me.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

To be fair to Bob Haisman, who was IEA president in the 90s, he didn’t so much ignore me as he did not worry about me. He was firmly in control and I was a newbee back then.

As the IEA  and Haisman led the fight against NEA merger with the AFT back in the day, I was the single IEA vote for merger.

One vote wasn’t much of a threat to Haisman’s leadership.

Although Hais and I have battled loudly over the last couple of years, he sat right behind me in the Retired section during last week’s RA and we had many long and cordial conversations.

We even agreed on some stuff.

Actually we agreed on a lot of stuff, although not on much that came up at the RA.

Bob Nelson – who I do not think I know – commented on a previous post about the RA:

“Retirees are highly respected. Their experience and institutional knowledge are quite valuable. But time marches on. It’s someone else’s time. It’s someone else’s era. A younger generation is now in charge. They see the work, and the union, in a different way than do those who started teaching in the 1970s.”


But I hope that is not true. In fact I know that there are tons of younger teachers who want the union to be what many of us who are retired fought for and still want: A fighting organization that militantly defends collective bargaining and opposes the corporate education reform agenda.

Looking up at the podium last week it was clear to me that it was not the younger generation who are charge.

A lot of the younger teachers were somewhere else.

Nelson went on to criticize me for not staying in my seat during the entire meeting and for not coming back on Saturday to hear President Klickna’s speech.

I never have attended the RA to stay in my seat. I spend a lot of time in the lobby talking with other delegates, making connections and building networks.

And at the mic on issues that are important to me and those who elected me.

I try to make every important vote.

But Nelson may have a point. Perhaps I did not represent those who elected me as best as I could have.

I do find these meetings more and more frustrating. I do have less patience with the bad behavior of the leadership, their parliamentary game-playing, their surly treatment of those delegates who dare to object to their concessions on pensions and education policies. And their outright lies.

A note to Bob Nelson: I considered your criticisms of my role as delegate.  I did not sit in my seat for the entire show nor did I come back and listen to Cinda’s closing address on Saturday.

More importantly, I do not feel I was successful in representing the interests of those who elected me.

So, I will not take a reimbursement for my expenses.

The reimbursement check from the IEA is sitting on the kitchen counter in an unopened envelope.

It will be returned to the IEA in Monday’s mail

Now, it is true that i did not stay at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare. So there was no cost there.

I commuted from home.

I spent $30 on parking and $12 for a chicken sandwich on Friday. Glen bought me lunch on Thursday.

But I think returning the check is the right thing to do.

Troy LaRaviere: Corrupt public servants. SUPES and Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

April 25, 2015


– From Troy LaRaviere’s blog. Troy is a principal at Blaine elementary school in Chicago.

An Invitation

In July of 2013–along with hundreds of principals across Chicago–I received an email with the subject, “Leadership Launch with Dr. Barbara Byrd-Bennett.”  The email implored principals to join Byrd-Bennett “for the comprehensive launch of the Chicago Executive Leadership Academy (CELA).” CELA was the title given to the series of professional development workshops organized by SUPES Academy under their $20+ million no-bid contract with Chicago Public Schools (CPS); a contract that is now under federal investigation. The launch was a huge event, staged at the UIC Forum. It was advertised as an “invite only” affair for which we had to reserve a ticketed seat (see mine above).

The Boiling Point

As expected, the event did not open up with any discussion of the SUPES training. Instead we got what we had come to expect at the start of every principals meeting: talk of an impending budget apocalypse that can only be solved by CPS defaulting on its obligation to provide a secure retirement for its teachers.

The meeting opened up with CPS board member and former school principal, Dr. Mahalia Hines.  I’d heard her twice before; her primary function seems to be to tell stories that convince her listeners that Rahm Emanuel actually cares about south and west side children from low-income households.  However, during the CELA launch, her comments were aimed at preparing principals for budget austerity.  During her talk, she mentioned a couple principals who had written grants and gotten external funding.  She praised these principals efforts because, in her words, “You can’t rely on the board to get funding for your schools.”  Yes. She actually said those exact words. Having succeeded in convincing many of the best principals in the room to consider looking for more secure employment in the suburbs, she then introduced Barbara Byrd-Bennett who continued the austerity theme with empty corporate speak about principals “leveraging partnerships” to get free or low-cost services for our students.

“Did she really just say that?” I thought.

Read the entire post here.

“Rauner has chosen the wrong group to attack. My union brothers and sisters are ready for a fight, and will not back down.”

April 24, 2015


Union members in Livingston County at board meeting last night.

The Livingston County board has rescheduled a vote on Governor Private Equity’s no-union zone resolution several times. But that didn’t stop union members from the Pontiac area from showing up last night to express their anger and opposition.

Reports the Pontiac Daily Leader:

The public commentary session near the end, however, doubled the length of the meeting as a number of union activists, of the hundreds filling the bleachers, spoke out against right-to-work, prevailing wage, and the encompassing Turnaround Agenda proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

    The Turnaround Agenda advisory vote was taken off the County Board’s revised agenda for the rescheduled Thursday night meeting despite its appearance on the prior agenda.

    Still, union workers filled the high school’s parking lot by 5 p.m., and shortly before the meeting took place an hour later, most filed into the building and squeezed into the bleachers of Crowley Gymnasium on either side of the County Board members, who stretched in a line at the south end of the gym.

    Little more than 20 minutes after the meeting began, County Board Chairman Marty Fannin opened the floor to the public, and each person who chose to speak was given two minutes to air his or her grievances.

    Illinois Education Association Retired President Janet Kilgus cited a number of statistics from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, most of which suggested a detrimental effect to the middle-class, women and minorities should the states adopt right-to-work polices.

    Another IEA member, Becky Dunham, was critical of the board’s decision to drop Rauner’s controversial proposal from the resumption of the postponed meeting.

    “I feel (the agenda was changed) in the hope that the union members would not gather tonight in a public forum and question the intent and integrity of the county board,” Dunham said. “There is argument over whether this resolution is constitutional or not. I would hope that an elected body would at least wait until the court’s ruling on constitutionality before addressing this resolution.

    Others were critical of Rauner’s perceived attack on prevailing wage.  Illinois Valley Building and Construction Trades Council President Steve Conrad suggested that taking away prevailing wage for construction bids would not save money, but would decrease the quality of work and safety of such jobs.

    Fannin thanked the public speakers for their comments and politely asked all non-board members in attendance to vacate the gymnasium while the board discussed an executive session item.

The IEA is out of step on opt out.

April 24, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 9.19.55 AM

Out-going Illinois school superintendent Christopher Koch is warmly hugged by IEA President Cinda Klickna after receiving the IEA’s Friend of Education award. Koch threatened CPS and other Illinois districts with funding loss if they failed to implement PARCC.

It is likely that HB306, the Illinois opt out legislation, will come to the Illinois House floor for a vote today.

It arrives without the support of the state’s largest teacher union, the Illinois Education Association.

Is the IEA out of step with its parent National Education Association?

A New York Times article on Monday reports that opposition to high-stakes testing is our union’s highest priority.

Secky Fascione, director of organizing for the National Education Association, the largest nationwide teachers’ union, said reining in testing was the union’s top organizing priority. In the past month, Ms. Fascione said, chapters in 27 states have organized against testing, including holding rallies; petition drives; showings of “Standardized,” a documentary critical of testing; and sessions telling parents they have a right to keep their children from taking tests, as tens of thousands of parents around the country have done.

“Does it give us a platform?” said Karen E. Magee, the president of New York State United Teachers. “Absolutely.”

But when IEA RA delegates Conrad Floeter and Region Chair Marsha Griffin offered an NBI calling for the IEA to organize anti-testing partnerships with parents, it was shot down. Nobody from leadership spoke in support.

In a post for this site Conrad wrote:

The debate on our opt out legislative amendment got bogged down in pointless discussions on what exactly is a standardized test and the inclusion of district testing which isn’t the issue and is not included, for good reason, in HB306. Debate was closed before my yellow card was called. But it seems like other delegates had similar questions to mine, which included “Is there any specific statutory language that gives DOE or ISBE the  authority withhold funding based on opted out students?, “Will IEA aggressively defend members disciplined for sharing opt out information with parents” and “Does this amendment mean IEA will lobby for HB306?”.

We got our answer Saturday morning when our President, Cinda Klickna, told us that she had heard those questions and that our legislative platform amendment did not support any specific legislation (like HB306). That opting out students could put us at risk of losing funding and that members were vulnerable if they spoke to parents about their opt out rights. So what exactly does our support of opt out mean?

The answer is that their claim of support for parents and teachers means nothing.

Ralph Martire: Helping those with autism is not “non-essential,” Governor Rauner.

April 24, 2015

Ralph Martire

– By Ralph Martire. Ralph is the executive director of the Center for Budget and Tax Accountability. This column originally appeared in the Springfield Journal Register.

Governing is a lot more difficult than campaigning.

On the campaign trail, a candidate frequently benefits from using vague rhetoric that sounds good but provides little in the way of detail. Just ask Gov. Bruce Rauner.

As a candidate, he pledged to get Illinois’ fiscal house in order, primarily by rejiggering its budget to focus state spending on “essential” services, while cutting “nonessential” programs.

Candidate Rauner insisted this was needed because Illinois has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, which sounded pretty logical.

Unfortunately, after getting elected, a candidate’s broadly appealing yet superficial campaign rhetoric usually gets exposed for the sophistry it is. Reality is tough that way. In the case of Rauner’s campaign rhetoric, the inevitable exposé is coming from an unexpected source: the governor himself and key members of his administration.

Start with the contention that Illinois has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. If that were truly the case, it indeed would be possible to redress a significant portion of Illinois’ fiscal woes by cutting “nonessential” spending. So when confronted with a $1.6 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year, you’d expect the governor’s team would identify all those “nonessential” services and propose giving them the ax. And you’d be wrong.

As the Rauner administration quickly discovered, it’s difficult to categorize things like child care for working parents, staffing levels at prisons and court reporters as “nonessential.”

This in turn led to a deal with the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to avert some $1.3 billion in potential cuts by raising that amount in revenue through a sweep of various special funds. Mind you, this left $300 million to cut, an amount Rauner apparently believed was too severe. Shortly after announcing the deal, he emphasized that “our administration had actually advocated more sweeping and fewer cuts.”

This is interesting because it shows, in both words and action, that Rauner recognizes that two core aspects of his campaign rhetoric don’t pass the reality test.

First and foremost, it demonstrates that spending on nonessential fluff isn’t the problem. Indeed, the services being cut are crucial for many Illinois families. And if he didn’t get that before Good Friday, he certainly did after.

In what’s been dubbed the “Good Friday Massacre,” Rauner’s administration proposed trimming an additional $26 million from the current budget, in part by cutting services for individuals with autism and burial funds for the indigent. One can describe in many ways the programs that allow poor families to bury deceased loved ones with dignity or that help autistic individuals attain a basic quality of life, but “nonessential” isn’t among them.

Predictably, the public outcry forced reconsideration of the cuts.

Second, there’s the implicit recognition by Rauner that more revenue is needed to support core services. Apparently, this need is so glaring that it justifies using one-time revenue obtained through fund sweeps to plug the current spending gap — which works, of course, only for the current year. Next year, there will be no revenue available to support the $1.3 billion in spending that was so “essential” this year that special funds had to be raided to cover them.

Why settle for this implicit acknowledgement of Illinois’ unambiguous need for more revenue, when explicit recognition is readily available? Objecting to some proposed cuts that would hit poor children particularly hard, Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, asked Rauner appointee Gregory Bassi, acting director of human services, whether money was “more important than the children of Illinois.”

In his response, Bassi acknowledged that children “are obviously more important, but you can’t support the children of the state if you don’t have the resources to do it.”

He’s exactly right. The problem isn’t wasteful or nonessential spending. It’s a lack of revenue. And it’s the governor’s job to deal with real problems, no matter how inconsistent with campaign rhetoric.

Opt out courage, threats and cowardice.

April 23, 2015


I was proud that my newly elected State Representative Will Guzzardi’s first bill was one that clarified and supported the right of parents to opt their children out of high-stakes tests like PARCC.

With Will Guzzardi working with his Springfield colleagues and pressure from parents around the state, HB306 got out of committee. It appears to be headed for a floor vote in the House in next couple of days before going over to the Senate side.

Greg Hinz is reporting today that the Governor has threatened to veto the bill.

Guzzardi, in an interview, said children nationwide are balking at tests “and will continue to do so” whether officials like it or not. Rather than creating “chaos in the classroom “—and “bullying” students by forcing them to sit in an empty classroom for a day if they refuse the test—officials should recognize reality and let parents have the final say, Guzzardi said.

But Rauner has a different take. His secretary of education, Beth Purvis, late today sent lawmakers a memo saying that the state could lose $1 billion a year in federal aid and control over federal anti-poverty funding if more than 5 percent of students refuse the tests.

“While this administration understands concerns that parents, educators and lawmakers have about how students are evaluated, (Guzzardi’s bill) is the wrong vehicle through which to address these issues and has the potential to significantly disrupt the education of Illinois children.”

Guzzardi said federal law is “unclear” on financial penalties and said he hopes to call the bill for final action tomorrow. The bill so far has drawn an eclectic coalition of co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, including Chicago progressives such as Greg Harris, conservative Republicans like Ron Sandack and Barbara Wheeler, and African-Americans such as Democrat Mary Flowers.

This is an important piece of legislation. It should be passed and enacted.

However there is a lot of symbolism being played out here.

A new progressive legislator courageously proposes what he promised he would do.

A rare thing in Springfield.

If the law is passed, Rauner has threatened to make it the target of his very first veto.

And the state’s largest teachers union, the Illinois Education Association, stands on the sidelines claiming neutrality. IEA President Cinda Klickna gave the same argument as Purvis in explaining the IEA refusal to support the Guzzardi bill.

A story of courage, threats and cowardice.


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