Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Common Core Fight

How to Fight Common Core? 
By Jim Vail

I have raised concerns on this news blog about the Chicago Teachers Union upholding its resolution to fight the Common Core corporate agenda tied to excessive testing.

I like to criticize the union when it does not uphold what it promises its members. It's what the media is supposed to do - hold those in power accountable.

But it is also imperative as a teacher and a delegate to the union, to be involved in the fight to protect our jobs and public education and offer solutions.

So there is opportunity for myself and other teachers to get involved in the fight to stop Common Core.

But the question was asked, what do the teachers think about the Common Core.

I can say that many at my school and I'm sure throughout the system are overwhelmed with the attacks hitting us from all corners. We have the onerous Reach evaluations, the constant monitoring, the network demands, not to mention having to teach the children, many of whom have their own problems and special needs.

So the Common Core - devised by the corporate people out to destroy the public school system as we know it - was slapped on our desks with a set of standards tied to "rigor."

We are told we need to focus on "complex texts," implement rigorous instruction, use higher-order questioning that is focused on the text, not the children's outside experiences. The writing is no longer about personal experiences, but using sources to support your thesis.

Text evidence!  Right teachers?

Well, who can argue with tougher standards. Who can disagree that we shouldn't have high expectations for the children. 

But once the mist of it all clears away, we see the true intentions of the architects of this new set of standards.

First and foremost, most students will fail the new Common Core tests. Only about 30 percent will pass the new tests. It happened in New York, and so the governor there who as a faithful democrat supports the CC, called for a 5 year moratorium on the grueling tests due to parent outrage. 

This perhaps led to the election of Bill De Blasio who campaigned against charters schools and other parts of the education reform platform. Well, look what's happening to him now? When the armed forces of the city turn their backs on their chief in public, you got problems. 

The CC outrage hasn't happened yet in Illinois. It will with the PARCC test set to hit our schools soon.

Educating our English Language Learners and Special Education children has never been easy. It took fights in the courts to help these students. The PARCC and Common Core have no need for them as their assessment will throw them to the wolves.

Not to mention that Common Core is collecting lots of personal information on the students and diverts precious dwindling resources in the classroom to software companies to implement the computer tests, while many urban students have little access to such technology during the school year.

In other words, it's a trap. This whole new set of standards is set up to prove public education is bunk.

And of course our sleek oil salesmen have their remedies immediately available: charter schools, private operators of schools, online education and more technology to replace these dinosaurs.

So we need to educate our teachers and others fooled by the lack of CC analysis in our corporate media. 

But next spring may see an army of faculty ready to fight this onerous assault on our public schools and public school students.

It is the crisis that makes us all see clearly what it is we are facing and that we need to fight it! 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Red Gay Scare!


By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) - According to an 'anti-gay activist', Timur Isaev, he has ousted 28 teachers from educational institutions.  He threatens to fire two teachers from Moscow schools by exposing them to educational officials. However, a music teacher from School Number 565 for disabled students in Saint Petersburg who was illegally fired is taking officials to court. A fight back is beginning. The case is taking place against rising  homophobia in Russia confirmed by a recently published report by Human-rights watch,  'License to Harm'. Second City Teachers investigated this disturbingly rising anti-gay trend.

A female music teacher has just been fired from her job. She was dismissed not for incompetence, or physically assaulting students or failing to consistently turn up for work. She was dismissed because an oddball by the name of Timor Isaev intrusively entered her facebook, down-loaded a photo of her kissing another girl and gathered material on her sexual orientation and then handed over the material to the headmaster as well as educational officials. In the letter Isaev states, 'An unhealthy person is working at your school who has a psychiatric inclination incompatible with the norms of teaching. You need to fire her to the extent her immoral example represents a rejection of the family values of the school.'

Isaev claims that he has been attempting to oust gay teachers from schools for a considerable time. He boasts that he has driven out 29 teachers and is at this moment of time working on getting 2 teachers in Moscow dismissed. Timor Isaev has yet to produce a list of the names of all those 29 teachers he has exposed. What Isaev does is scan the facebooks of teachers and attempts to obtain as much evidence as possible pointing to their sexual orientation and then sends the material
and letters to the teacher's headmaster and officials at the local school board insisting they be fired. The main basis for dismissal is seen as a new law passed in June 2013 against 'Gay propaganda'.

After this correspondence, with the acquiescence of officials and headmasters, the teachers is invited into a room and pressurized to resign or face being sacked. Most have resigned until one brave music teacher refused and decided to go to court. Not only this. The teacher took a dictaphone and recorded her meeting with the headmaster, Stanislavsky Vinograd. The recording is very revealing.

During the interview the headmaster admits that Timor Isaev is 'a psychopath' but that he is under pressure to dismiss the teacher with great reluctance. The recording indicates a headmaster under great pressure from officials who seek to fire a teacher who he admits, works very diligently. What the recording reveals is a rather surreal situation where a disturbed bigot can run a school rather than officials or teachers. Indeed, the Russian Ministry of Education has lost its crown!  The music teacher, 'Tatiana', has been illegally dismissed from school and has a solid case. Tatiana states, 'I 'm not an activist and have never been to an L.G.B.T. demonstration. I simply want justice.’ All the teachers and parents of children feel sorry for Tatiana and want to support her case, but Tatiana expressions reservations
over whether they will turn up in court to support her at the end of December. Her lawyers have informed her she has a '50-50 chance' of winning her case.

The case itself exemplifies the stark problems of many Russian teachers. For the hard-pressed teacher has to get by on three jobs; one as a shop-assistant, another as a private tutor and another job at the music school. Due to Tatiana's work, many musical choirs have won competitions and medals. Tatiana's main reason for taking up a position at the Music school was because she has a disabled brother and genuinely wants to greatly assist her students. She really puts her heart and soul into her work. One begins to wonder on what basis was Tatiana fired? Certainly not on a rational or intelligent basis. It is futile to ask the headmaster as he is conveniently busy. During the interview, the headmaster announced he was firing her under 'Article 81, Point 8 (workers in education carrying out immoral acts incompatible with work.'

However, despite his vain boasting and posturing, Timur Isaev does not always get his own way. In one case where he tried to have a Spanish teacher, Katya Bogach, of School Gymnasium 67, fired, officials could not find any evidence of gay propaganda and absolved her. She is still teaching!


A new report by Human Rights watch 'Licenced to Harm', was launched on December 15th. The study reviews 78 cases of assaults on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in 16 cities throughout Russia since 2012. The report represents disturbing as well as disquieting reading. We hear of gays being insulted, humiliated, beaten up and in the worst cases, tortured by being taken into a forest, stripped naked and having toenails pulled out. The report claims, 'L.G.B.T. people in Russia face stigma, harassment , and violence in their everyday lives, and most people who spoke with Human Rights watch said that this intensified in 2013. In some cases they were attacked by anti-L.G.B.T. vigilante groups that sprang up in late 2012 across Russia.' Those groups have been recorded as pouring urine over their victims and forcing them to drink it, calling them 'pedophiles', receiving threatening phone calls, being beaten up and being hounded out of their jobs. As many as 22 of the victims interviewed claimed to have developed anxiety and deep depression following attacks.


However, it is the attacks on teachers which mostly concern us.

'Human Rights watchdog documented 7 cases in which vicious smear campaigns sought to pressure L.G.B.T people or supporters of L.G.B.T. rights to resign from their job as educators in schools, universities or community centres for children. In almost all cases, the campaigns accused the victims of trying to spread what they called propaganda. Most eventually lost their jobs as officials. For example, one geography teacher called Aleksander Ermoshkin, a secondary school teacher  in Khabarovsk, told H.R.W. he had lost his job as a result of an alleged petition by a group of unknown people. They had sent a letter to educational officials calling for Ermoshkin to be dismissed on the grounds he was openly gay and a political activist.

The school forced him to resign on the basis his presence in the school violated the federal Anti L.G.B.T. 'propaganda ' law because he presented homosexuality and equality for L.B.G.B.T. in a positive light.' Officials claimed they had obtained a petition of 700 names on it against him. When Ermoshkin asked if he could see it, the officials declined. So Ermoshkin lost the job he had held for the past ten years. In another case, Olga Bakhaeva was forced to resign from her teaching job in the city of Magnitogorsk after a long sustained campaign of harassment. She received an unpleasant phone call threat, 'I know how to destroy someone's life'. She eventually resigned because, 'I could no longer stand working in an increasingly hostile atmosphere.'


How bad is this hostility to gays ? It is important to put this in proper perspective. One can easily overestimate or underestimate the level of homophobia in Russia. For example, one young Russian student who visited Amsterdam expressed astonishment at how Russia is portrayed by the media as wholly homophobic. 'They think we all hate gays and this is just not true '. One problem is officials don't
go out of their way to compile records of attacks on gays and very little research on how Russians actually feel about gays has been carried out. Violent assaults against gays are viewed as little more than 'hooliganism'. I asked one gay teacher, 'Dima', 'How bad is this prejudice against gays?' Dima stated, 'I would not say the situation is critical. Russia is by tradition mainly a homophobic country. This is not new. But the main problem is not in the cities where people tended to be educated, but in the countryside. There the prejudice is far worse.

This prejudice is certainly making our relationship with European countries problematic. The people in Saint Petersburg are having a problem with an insane senator called Vitaly Milonov'. Incidently, the recent repressive law on gay propaganda was his brainchild.

The attitudes to gays in Moscow is certainly not homophobic but complex. Not all Russians are against gays. There is also a lot of ignorance. Many people believe being gay is just 'a disease' or 'a fad'. The presumption is the person chooses to be gay. One teacher told me, 'This gay culture comes from the west. They are trying to force us to become gay. Look at all the support which America and Europe are giving gay marriage. We will never accept that'.

Some educated person I came across even warned me, 'Be careful that this gay does not molest you'. In fact, this gay person was the most harmless and pleasant person I have met.

One Russia teacher, 'Olga', informed me, 'When I asked my school students, 'What do you think of gay marriage', they answered they had nothing against it. I was shocked by the response. I never expected such an answer!' I also got the same response from one school student.

So the attitude to gays in Russia is much more ambiguous and varied than we think. A lot of Russians might respond with, 'I don't know what to make of 'gays' or are baffled by it. They can scratch their heads rather than become indignant or self-righteous. It is likely that homophobics are in a minority and that the term 'homophobic Russian culture ' is an oversimplification as well as misleading generalization. Nevertheless, it only takes a small group of unpleasant oddballs to inflict widespread misery on countless people. Homophobia has undoubtedly been increasingly as officials either condone or turn a blind eye to violent assaults on gays.

Not all officials and judges make decisions against gays. In fact, the Spanish Russian teacher in Saint Petersburg won her campaign against the self-styled 'Parents of Russia' who were attempting to dismiss her for allegedly being 'a supporter of perverts'  and claiming that she was harmful to her students' psyche'. Over 100 former students signed a petition in her support and two deputies of Saint Petersburg expressed their support for Bogach. Bogach won her case. She kept her job! The case demonstrates that dismissed or pressurised to resign teachers can win their cases if people actively and ardently support them. Trade unions such as 'teacher' should staunchly defend the cases of fired teachers irrespective of whether they are members or not. Dima stated that 'Trade unions could do a lot to defend dismissed teachers by heightening public awareness of the problems they face'.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Banks & Schools

Banks and Schools - Is there any difference?
By Jim Vail

Chase Bank or School No. 9?

We all know the banks play a big role in today's society.

They also play a big role in terms of running the schools. 

They issue bonds to finance the schools, including the latest scandal where Bank of America and others set up toxic interest rate swaps that officials estimate will cost the district more than $430 million over the lifetime of the agreements.

Second City Teachers sat down with a relationship banker on the northwest side and discovered how similar banks and schools are.

He explained that Chase Bank branches compete with each other in terms of performance.

So if a particular Chase Bank branch is not doing well, it can be closed.  Sound familiar teachers? 

Each individual is rated on their performance in terms of how much business or clients they generate. 

The employees are monitored constantly, the relationship banker told me. He rolled his eyes when he said this, emphasizing the constant vigilance.

I swear I thought I was speaking to a teacher about the Reach evaluations, our performance ratings that we are constantly subjected to.

For teachers, instead of how many clients or fees you generate, it's how how much did your test scores go up.

Chase Bank also hands out bonuses to its employees who exceed expectations. Believe me, that will be a prominent part of the next teachers union contract - Merit Pay!

The bank branch I went to brought in an outside 'star' manager to help 'turn it around,' my banking colleague told me. 

Ah, turnarounds - fire everyone in the school and watch it get turned around!

But I asked him if he thought it was fair to expect a certain branch bank in a depressed part of the city to do as well as another in a wealthier part?

I felt I was right at home, questioning how you can rate low-income schools fairly when there are so many outside factors.

The relationship banker agreed, and said he thinks the bank takes that into account.

Hmm ... I wonder about that.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

teacher vacancies

Teachers Vacancies - Is this for Real?
By Jim Vail

How can there be so many teacher vacancies when so many people are looking for a job?

This is one of the absurdities of the Chicago Public Schools. 

The Chicago Teachers Union sends out every so often a long list of teacher vacancies. 

Many of these vacancies are special education teachers. Some schools go a whole year with nobody serving the children with an individualized education plan.

So I asked a few people why can't CPS fill these positions. Answers varied from we can't hire higher paid veteran teachers because of the per pupil budgeting, to there are not enough good candidates available.

The CPS has certainly made the hiring process much more difficult. Now principals have to seriously look at ratings where teachers who have received two satisfactory (developing) ratings become unsatisfactory teachers as well as their budget.

Just to become a teacher today is not easy. The basic skills test to become a certified teacher is much more difficult to pass and now student teachers must submit a video tape of their teaching and some outside committee supposedly controlled by Pearson will decide if they should be worthy of getting a teacher's licence. 

Imagine tons of employee vacancies in a company. Then again, when you think about it some more, businesses want more and more part-time workers you can compensate a lot less. And certainly CPS is taking its cues from the corporate world which do not want unions or pensions or full-time employees.

In the meantime, many schools in Chicago do not have enough regular staff to teach their students. 

This is a travesty. It is horrible to hear substitute teachers rather than regular teacher taught a class for an entire year. The children need a 'highly qualified' stable teacher they see every day. Building a relationship with their teacher is very important.

I think this issue should be brought up before the Chicago Board of Education and demand an answer.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ruble Plunge!

By Stephen Wilson

The Russian currency has plunged.
(Moscow, Russia) - For all of 2014, the ruble has been gradually declining from approximately 40 rubles to the dollar to 55 rubles last Friday to 58 and then suddenly to past 64 rubles on the 16th of December when people felt it had completely collapsed!

               All kinds of rumours, hearsay and reports throughout Moscow suggested it might have been fallen to 100 rubles in some places. The rumours sent a tremor through the capital which has been anxiously and alertly observing the often erratic fluctuations of the depreciating ruble.

               Although most Russians are seldom prone to panic, some of them appeared to be a little edgy and at times anxious about whether they should rush to the banks to exchange their rubles. Second City Teachers attempted to gauge the mood in the capital.

               Some people called it 'Black Monday' after the values of the ruble appeared to plummet from 55 rubles to either 62, to 64 and then in some areas 80 rubles. By Tuesday 16 Dec when rumours were in the air that it had plunged to 100 rubles, some people got really alarmed. The ruble seemed to be steering out of orbit if not utter control!

               A Russian English teacher Oksana Chebortareva told me, 'One of my bosses at the Institute of Power and Energy asked me for advice as to whether he should convert his rubles into dollars or not. I told him that the ruble was not going to get any stronger so it was not a bad idea. I also was told by a head teacher at my school that there were long queues of people attempting to spend all their rubles on real estate property.’

               When I came across Andrei, a journalist , he told me 'I'm in the process of buying a new apartment, but the problem is the cost of borrowing credit from the bank. The interest rate is too high.' Andrei seemed to be a little distraught and somber about the impending economic crisis. He told me 'If the ruble actually falls to 100 rubles, then we could have a Russian Maiden. That is there won't be enough credit to pay thousands of workers who will be laid off. If people are pushed against the wall, they will rise up. I dread to think of the horrific results.'

               The current sliding of the ruble has evoked painful memories of the drastic devaluations of 1991, 1998 and 2008.  Andrei certainly can't forget those times. He told me, 'In 1991 it was terrible. A pensioner who had worked all his life and had the equivalent savings which would allow him to buy two good apartments in Moscow suddenly found that overnight his savings were barely sufficient to buy a fur coat!'

               Many in Moscow fear those days are back. I recently discovered that my mother in law, who had kept all her savings in rubles, had lost the equivalent of 4000 Euros.  For some reason, she insisted in keeping them in rubles as the government had told people the situation would 'stabilise' after summer. Well, it has not!

               However, a world crisis where a barrel of oil has plummeted from 115 dollars  in June to a current 60 dollars , the pressure of sanctions in depriving Russians of cheap food exports and western credit, a rising inflation rate which may be 15% or more, static wages and mass redundancies has led to a mushrooming of poverty throughout Russia where it may be from anything like 33% to 40 % of the population. This is not Russia's lucky year.

               Nevertheless, people have been reacting to the crisis in many ways. Some people are just too busy to bother about it. They are oblivious to the news.While some are economizing by skipping a holiday to the west, others are purchasing some computers and gadgets 'before shops double the prices and it is too late.'

               The problem is that in Moscow, the price of a particular good can differ so sharply that it is unclear what the 'average ' price for this good is. For example, one week ago I ended up paying 150- 200 rubles for one kilogram of mandarins. Later, outside Lefortovsky market a street trader sold me the same for 100 rubles and when I visited a local supermarket in my locality the cost was even less.

                WHO IS TO BLAME ?

                It is fair to state that the Russian government has been taken by surprise by the dramatic and abrupt pace of events. They did not anticipate a war in Ukraine or taking Crimea nor the threat of sanctions. This has rudely upset their long-term   economic plans and they don't have a clear strategy of how to cope and control the new situation. In fact, they hope to just muddle and grope their way through the dark. In regard to responding to the question 'who is to blame’ they either accuse speculators, the West, and if that fails 'the natural laws of supply and demand ' which seem beyond anyone's control.

                Despite increasingly troubled times, Putin still enjoys high ratings because he is one of the few leaders who stands up to America. The Russian leaders are counting on the old celebrated Russian virtues of patiently bearing problems, enduring and adapting to the worst scenarios. This undaunted spirit does in deed exist and might well help Russia get through another crisis. Sanctions, rather than weakening Russia , is actually strengthening and fortifying a spirit
of nationalism. Anti-Western resentment has soared in Russia as Russians note the double standards of America and Europe on human rights issues such as how the
police adopt a 'shoot to kill ' policy against blacks not to mention their failure to 'condemn the glorification of Nazism' at a United Nations session.

                A few weeks ago many Russians began to flock to the shops to purchase a traditional Russian stable food called buckwheat.  Despite the fact that you can usually buy a kilo for as little as 50 rubles (just less than a dollar), some sellers increased the price to more than 100 rubles and beyond. Despite being informed of so called 'shortages' of buckwheat, I found plenty of different varieties of buckwheat available at my local supermarket at normal prices. (A soldier's saying is 'Shchi and Kasha is our fare' or 'Cabbage soup and buckwheat is our fare.)

                What might well be the most decisive factor in determining how Russians react is not the actual economic situation, but how people mentally perceive problems. I have heard Russians boast 'Unlike in the West, we have developed a strong immunity system to even the worst economic situation. We can put up with anything'. Whether this is just bravado or play acting remains to be seen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Common Core

Prepared remarks: To the Chicago Board of Education meeting on Dec. 17, 2014 from Neal Resnikoff from Albany Park, North Park, Mayfair Neighbors for Peace and Justice. 

     There was a strict two-minute limit, and I was cut off a little more than halfway through. --Neal

     I want to address the issue of Common Core. This is a set of standards that is to be reflected in high stakes standardized tests and that will narrow the curriculum and education that our students get, unless it is beaten back. 
    Common Core is an attack on public education by corporations. You, like Governor Quinn, who signed onto it, did not take up your responsibility to organize  the necessary debate and discussion before imposing it without the knowledge or permission of parents, teachers, and other concerned people in the city.
     People have the right to decide what kind of  education our children should receive. You repeatedly violate that right:
     You have made devastating decisions, against strong community opposition, to recently close 49 more neighborhood schools, to install a military academy to replace a popular community school in Logan Square, and to increase the number of privately run charter schools-- which are taking money away from our neighborhood public schools.
     But now you have a chance to deal with the problem of Common Core and its unscientific  and oppressive standardized test known as PARCC,  to be administered in the spring.        
     Common Core is a program  initiated and funded by the biggest corporations in the U.S.  Some 25 years ago one of their main organizations,  the National  Business Roundtable,  made clear that they need students who will help them make more profits. They then worked hard to impose programs such as No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and now Common Core.  The corporations want  students trained to  be obedient employees with a narrow outlook and set of skills,  or soldiers who follow orders for the wars launched for the corporations’ greater profits and power.  
     But these corporate goals are not what most parents or teachers want for their children.
     Those running Common Core have actually warned parents that up to 70% of children will fail Common Core tests such as PARCC.  This is a barbarity.  Failure can only discourage and humiliate children--especially poor and minority children. Teachers are forced to teach to these tests, and are terrorized because they and their schools will be evaluated based on invalid student scores.  
     Why are the federal and state governments so insistent on implementation of  these Common Core tests --which are designed and sold to school systems like ours by monopoly corporations such Pearson? 
     The Chicago Teachers Union is on record against Common Core, with a unanimous vote of their House of Delegates.  Many parents and other teachers have organized against Common Core here and in many other states, some school boards and school administrators.  Here in Chicago people are organizing to oppose and opt out of this year’s PARCC test.   
     How about representing the people and join in with those who are opposing the PARCC tests.  A school board that represents the people would support discussion by those who are bringing out the damage that Common Core will be doing. 
     This damage of Common Core includes the narrow standards that exclude truly critical thinking and consideration of history and social justice issues, that exclude creativity and art. Common Core ignores the developmental realities of children. The program violates the needs of special education students and English language learners. The Common Core program is providing sensitive private data on children and their parents to all sorts of  vendors and others.  
     I have a fact sheet on all this and would be happy to answer your questions.
     What do you think about what I’ve just said? 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Media Matters

Media Matters: Who is Telling the Story?
By Jim Vail

Karl Marx

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.”

― Karl MarxThe German Ideology

When it comes to reading our newspapers, nothing is more frustrating than people getting upset when they read an article that bashes teachers or faults unions for the problems in this country.

How could they do this? 

Especially when they then read now and then excellent reporting, such as the recent article in The Chicago Tribune about how the corrupt toxic swap deals have cost the Chicago Public Schools perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars.

Well, that just goes to prove we have a free media and we can trust what they write.

Not exactly. In fact, not at all!

As Mr. Marx states above, we lack the means of mental production. We do not own the media. Hedge Funds, billionaires, and corporate entities own the media. And they do not want unions, a redistribution of the world's wealth or worker's rights that conflict with their profits.

But it all has to look legitimate. So we read papers like the Chicago Tribune and the Sun Times, and read good reporting now and then. We even read about corruption and how politicians like Congressman Luis Guitierrez made millions on real estate deals in the city while serving as an elected official with his close ties to developers.

We educators can read Catalyst which also features good reporting on the Chicago Public Schools.

But then we run into problems. The Chicago Tribune writes an editorial lauding the closing of 50 public schools. The Sun Times runs a feature about how well charter schools perform while failing to mention that public schools outperform charters. Time Magazine whacks teachers once again with a cover picture of a rotten apple implying we have too many bad teachers. Or Catalyst's latest story by Teach Plus about the need to give the PARCC test a chance despite the protests and problems.

When I started to work for the public schools I immediately became interested in a monthly newspaper called Substance News because it was our media. It was and is published by George Schmidt who writes stories from the teachers' perspective and not the board of education. He features editorials lambasting the businessmen who issue bonds to destroy the public schools and calls out charter schools for what they are - anti-union privatized entities promoted by the business class to destroy public education, teachers unions and democracy (no local school council elections!).

Unfortunately, Substance has not been up and running lately due to technical difficulties.

Heck, even our city's alternative paper The Reader has been bought out by the very corporate people who bought the Sun Times and have close ties to mayor Rahm Emanuel. Gone are the days of excellent cover stories on police brutality. I'm sure the owners are waiting for excellent reporter and staunch public schools defender Ben Joravsky to retire soon. The Tribune replaced our city's most beloved columnist Mike Royko with libertarian John Kass; the Reader can do the same.

I just wish people would understand that what we read should not be trusted. Sure, we need to get our news from the newspapers and other online sources. But we should critically evaluate what we are reading and understand that our corporate media is owned by the very businessmen who cut jobs, and health care and do not want unions. They want us to think their way.

Second City Teachers education news blog, and others like it, want to tell readers that we teachers and workers, the people, need to fight for our rights, for our jobs, for health care, etc. because those who own the media do not believe we are entitled to any of this.

And we need to start by understanding what we are reading today.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Flu of Dead Souls

Vaccinating Dead Souls
By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) - At times the hazy, heavy and dense fog hanging over Moscow never seems to lift. It penetrates the thickest clothing biting or chilling people, rendering them more exposed to yet another all - engulfing flu epidemic. So some people can be heard   incessantly sneezing, coughing and blowing their noses around the city. You might have thought that more Muscovites would be willing to accept free flu vaccinations. You would be wrong. Most people are shunning them. They provide all kinds of reasons, such as 'It doesn't work against new viruses', or 'the long-terms risks don't justify it,' or 'It weakens your
immunity system'.

               Unfortunately, the chiefs of medical care in Moscow have purchased a lot of anti-vaccination substances as well as equipment. The result is that in some local Moscow hospitals the preventive medicine lies unused.

               Very few people are rushing to medical care centres to get vaccinated, even when it is free of charge! So what is to be done? Do the Medical chiefs apologise and tell the world they made an error in purchasing such medicine from drug companies? They should but they don't. Instead, they pretend it has not been ill-spent. They maintain they vaccinate 'patients' or rather 'dead souls.' One nurse called 'Nadia,' who works at Hospital 133, told Second City Teachers, 'Since very few patients come into our clinic to be vaccinated against the flu we ended up going into a room and destroying all those test-tubes in the spring. Staff also began compiling lists of patients who had supposedly been vaccinated but those 'patients' were not real, but were long dead patients who died 20-30 years ago. So we can then tell our bosses that we have vaccinated all those 'dead souls' on this list.'

               In other words, money used to purchase drugs is simply squandered or laundered. This might please some officials and drug companies which sell this unwanted medicine.

                AN OLD PRACTICE

               There is nothing sensational or astonishing about this phony work practice of pretending to have attained this false work target. It reflects a deeply rooted work practice known as 'Tufta'. The word Tufta is not easy to translate. The word reflects a practice where workers cheat and deceive their bosses by pretending to do work or reach labour targets       which they never accomplished. This practice prevails in not only hospitals, but schools, prison camps and factories.

                In hospitals, doctors pretend to treat, and patients pretend to 'recover', teachers pretend to teach and pupils pretend to learn. For instance, I heard that one private school had teachers who always awarded their school pupils 'fives' even when they did badly on tests. Now when some of those pupils moved to a school with honest teachers, their marks   plummeted to the twos and threes. In Solzhenitsyn's 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,' the hero attempts to avoid working in order to survive. However, because many prisoners were overworked to the death it was understandable. The only way some prisoners could survive the camps was by avoiding work. In this context, work was certainly a wolf! The hero of the novel 'Ivan' argues, 'Work is what horses die of'. Like the hero of English folklore, 'Lazy Lawrence', he defends encouraging workers to be lazy by claiming he saves their lives from relentless and remorseless overwork.

                In the case of Hospital 133 ,and other medical centres this logic does not apply. This is especially true at a time when officials are attempting to justify a highly controversial austerity problem where as many as 28 medical centres and 15 hospitals are rumoured to be threatened with closure. As many as 7000-10,000 local doctors in Moscow might lose
their jobs by 2015. The deputy Mayor Leonid Pechatnikov has made public statements claiming that the local government is prepared to 'retrain ' those doctors for newly required specialities which the government urgently requires such as radiologists, anaesthesiologists and general practitioners. 'We don't need urinologists ' he pleads.

                Patients at existing local medical centres are being warned to re-registar by the end of this December or they could be forced to pay for services the following year. When I
asked local people if they had heard of this proposal, most of them admitted they were in the dark. So a lot of people may inadvertently find themselves paying for medical care next
year should the message not get through to them! They are not the only people who don't know what changes are taking place in medical care ! Anna Kogteva, a teacher ,told me

                'Because of the reforms, the hospital which my 81-year-old grandmother is being treated with Parkinson's disease, Number 49, is about to 'merged' with Hospital 68. We asked staff at Hospital 49 about the arrangements of how my grandfather would be transferred to this new hospital but we got no information or directions. Even the staff at this
hospital could tell us nothing about those changes'.

                Anna told me how her family were very worried about the fate of their grandfather. Parkinson's disease is not something which can be faked away or cured. 

                Officials and local government politicians should come clean about what their exact proposals for medical reform entail and how they intend to implement them. For the families of patients and medical staff don't know where they are clearly heading in this fog of confusion.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Win or Lose?

Is Winning Everything?
By Jim Vail

The Chicago Teachers Union is focused on winning in the elections. But is this the focus this union should be pursuing today?

The CTU has endorsed some very problematic politicians who have "won" and then whacked the union hard.

Let's first look at the federal level where President Obama was endorsed by the teachers unions. He then implemented Race to the Top - a total attack on teachers union forcing states with financial incentives to evaluate teachers harshly and incorporate more non-union charter schools.

The CTU endorsed Illinois house speaker Michael Madigan, no lover of public schools. He wears UNO Charter school hats in public, a big sponsor of corporate education reform that favors charter schools, not to mention his work on pension reform that hurts the retirees. 

On the city council level, the CTU endorsed Will Burns. Burn has then burned the CTU, in particular the fight to save Dyett High School. He hides from the public and CTU members in particular from listening to their wishes to keep the school open.

Today we see the CTU quickly abandoned alderman Bob Fioretti who marched with the teachers on strike and has been a big backer of the CTU for years, in favor of little known county commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who the union believes can "win."

Then we have a couple of teachers who are running for alderman who have not been endorsed because, again the question - can they win.

Tammie Vinson and Ed Hershey are CTU activists who have been fighting the fight for public education. They have done what CTU president Karen Lewis asked of them, to run for public office.

Except now the union is withholding an endorsement for both candidates because they are questioning whether or not they can "win."

But what is winning if you still lose?

What is the point of continually backing outside democrats tied to big money if they still hit you hard.

How true is the union fight if it's just about winning?

When I joined CORE before it won the elections to lead the Chicago Teachers Union, I and many others did not join to win an election. We signed up to fight the fight! And we said the fight would continue regardless of the outcome of the CTU elections.

CORE helped lead the charge to fight school closings and turnarounds. The board of education had to respond and take some schools off the list.

We won some of those fights. But it wasn't via an election - it was via a true fight where the people in the streets is far more powerful than casting a vote and going home, only to return in three or four years for the next election.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Don't PARCC?

Don't Park the Parcc?
By Jim Vail

The usual suspects are lining up to stop the growing movement to postpone the upcoming Common Core test the Parcc Exam.

Teach Plus, a Gates funded education reform group that supports Common Core, held a conference a few weeks ago to laud the new Parcc exam.

The teachers who attended, though, expressed their frustration with the new test that they say will be too difficult for special education and English Language Learners, among many other problems.

Catalyst magazine then featured a recent article written by Teach Plus entitled, "Don't park the PARCC" stating that despite the many problems, the test should still go on.

"There is no doubt that a great deal of hesitation and skepticism surrounds the roll-out of the PARCC. Concerns range from the difficulty and rigor of the new assessment to the technical and bandwidth capacities of Chicago Public Schools and individual schools within the district. These concerns will not go away by postponing the test for another year. Piloting the PARCC now provides us with the opportunity to address issues head-on and find solutions."

The Catalyst article says it will be "amazing" that Chicago will be able to pilot the PARCC exam, despite the fact that even the Chicago schools chief asked also to postpone the exam that will prove to be a very rigorous test. Only 30 percent of the students in New York passed this Common Core test last year.

A great education activist commented about the inaccurate portrayal of the Teach Plus event in the Catalyst article. She cited our Second City Teachers report on the meeting two weeks ago.

Very Inaccurate Account of Teach Plus Event

I was one of the teachers at this event, and the Teach Plus account of what teachers were saying is absolutely false. To be clear, Teach Plus NEVER asked the group if they thought we should park the PARCC. The entire presentation was about how PARCC compares to ISAT, and then the feedback section only asked us to look through a sample and rate how well it met different pre-determined criteria. There was no chance to voice general dislike of the entire test nor how it's already negatively impacting our classrooms.
Also, keep in mind that Teach Plus purposefully tries to bring in an unrepresentative sample of teachers (the event was held at an UNO charter and many of the teachers seemed to be AUSL or charter teachers. Plus many of the people I met were Teach For America members/alums.) The event was not an open call, but rather private emails send out to people who had already attended Teach Plus events and asking them to invite friends (who are more likely to be partial to corporate education reforms like Common Core.) Still, of the teachers that spoke out in the large group setting, many spoke angrily about how awful this test is. Teachers at my table all agreed that we should throw this test out, even the reform-friendly folks.
Here's what another teacher wrote about the event:http://secondcityteachers.blogspot.com/2014/11/teach-plus-parcc.html
"During the feedback time, teachers then took the mic to complain about the test that many would like to see delayed, or dismissed all together.
The first teacher said the stories are divorced from meaning and so preparing for these demanding tests makes her students hate reading.
Another teacher said questions broken into two parts are vaguely written and confusing to understand.
One teacher asked how can this test possibly help special education (diverse learners is the new lingo) and bilingual students.
Another teacher said the technology needs to be taught to the students on how to take the exam; for example, not being able to find the right key to go back to the story is very problematic.
A high school teacher noted that they have been training students to take the ACT test for so long, and now have only 24 months to teach the PARCC Test while there is still lots of confusion.
Another asked, what if the computer freezes? Will this affect the children's test?
While Teach Plus's goal may have been to promote the Common Core and its assessment the PARCC exam, they certainly got an earful of negative feedback on this new test that will rock the schools once it rolls out."

The Catalyst article is at:  http://www.catalyst-chicago.org/news/2014/12/05/66236/dont-park-parcc-exam

Thursday, December 4, 2014

CTU HOD Meeting Dec.

CTU HOD December Meeting
By Jim Vail

Chuy Garcia addresses CTU HOD Dec. 3. Photo by Jim Vail

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis addressed her first House of Delegates meeting Wednesday December 3.

A loud resounding roar of applause met her entry and exit as she looked quite frail and half the vibrant fiery union leader who lead the first city teachers strike in over 20 years.

She introduced CTU endorsed mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia to address the delegates.

Unlike Lewis, Garcia's entry was met with a not so quite hearty round of applause. There was certainly an air of uncertainty about the Mexican legislator who touts his days of taking on the machine and working to elect Mayor Harold Washington. Garcia's choppy sentences reminded teachers that he is a Cook County Board commissioner, and far from the fiery orator and passionate leader Karen Lewis, who was ready to knock out Rahm Emanuel.

While Garcia touted his progressive credentials, such as supporting an elected school board (so did Gov. Pat Quinn), and stopping charter schools (I would double check that one!), I took note when during the question period he said "there are serious revenue problems in the future" and "nothing is off the table."

That certainly sounded like the machine candidate he is today, the floor leader for Cook County president Toni Preckwinkle. Nothing is off the table means teachers, pensioners, workers and anyone who is not making 6 figures will be hit hard. Garcia has been presiding over austerity cuts at the county board, not much different than the Board of Ed closing schools and pink slipping veteran teachers.

The CTU then once again pushed people to go out and vote. The night reminded me of the American Federation of Teachers national convention in Detroit a few years ago when it appeared the whole purpose was to support the re-election of President Barak Obama. Vice president Joe Biden attended the convention to rally union support. 

Delegates then reviewed proposals for a new teachers contract that will end this school year. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Protest Mexican Massacre

Resolution of solidarity with the 43 disappeared students in Mexico

A student wearing a wrestler's mask takes part in a demonstration in Mexico City over the 43 missing students in Guerrero State Nov. 5, 2014. 
WHEREAS, there has been international media coverage of the disappearance and probable murder of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Teachers College — a progressive rural college whose graduates teach in poor rural areas of the State of Guerrero — with the direct complicity of the mayor and the police of the town of lguala (e.g., Los Angeles Times, “Mexico Reels, and the U.S. Looks Away,” 11/16/2014); and
WHEREAS, there has been widespread condemnation and tumultuous street protests throughout Mexico against this outrageous act of state repression against young teacher trainees intent on transforming civil society through their work in poor communities; and
WHEREASparticipants at the first regional gathering of the “Workers Economy” organization of North America held in Mexico City on November 7-8, 2014, unanimously adopted the following eloquent statement of solidarity:
We, workers, activists and academics from Mexico, the U.S.A, Canada and other countries,  wish to express our pain, dignified rage and condemnation of the forced  disappearance of 43 student teachers of the Ayotzinapa teacher training college, which was perpetrated  in lguala, in the state of Guerrero, on Sept. 26 last, by the Municipal Police of Iguala and Coculca and by an as yet unidentified  “group of civilians,” which could be members of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel and/or of the Mexican military ...
We express our solidarity with the struggle of the families of the disappeared students and of the persons murdered by the security forces of the Mexican State and our support for their demands for the return alive of the 43 disappeared students, for the revelation of the full truth on what happened and for the punishment of those responsible for these heinous crimes of State at every level of the Mexican government, including if necessary, of the chief of the Mexican security forces, President Enrique Pena Nieto ...
Finally, we wish to express our support for the struggle of the Ayotzinapa social movement made up above all of millions of students and youth in Mexico and around the world who share the same demands, and our solidarity with those who have been unjustly repressed and arrested and who must be immediately released.  “Alive they were taken, alive we want them back!”
therefore be it
RESOLVED, that the UFT endorses the above solidarity statement of the Workers’ Economy conference in Mexico City and will send copies of this resolution to the relevant authorities in Mexico and the United States, as well as to the faculty and students of the Ayotzinapa Teachers College.