Sunday, November 30, 2014

War in Ukraine


Refugees are often returning to ransacked homes and missing cars. Some have become disenchanted and disillusioned by the rebels as they ask 'what has become of our property?

By Stephen Wilson

The war in Ukraine lingers as refugees try to deal with everyday life.

(Moscow, Russia) 'I used to support the rebels until I discovered that they had taken over our homes when we were away and helped themselves to our possessions. My neighbours
have found their houses have been broken into and their homes looted, if not damaged. Those people are just crooks', said a refugee to Second City Teachers who refused to be named in case of reprisals. I was told by 'Olga' that 'It is no longer wise to buy an expensive car as cars in the rebel areas are often stopped at gunpoint by the rebels who just take away their cars for their own reasons. So now people buy only the cheapest cars!'

              It is clear that the situation in Donbass has hardly returned remotely to anything like 'normality' where people can use basic utilities such as water, electricity, gas or obtain a decent meal never mind the on-going threat of the resurgence of a full scale war which appears an increasing likelihood. Sanctions continue, both sides blame each other for either firing, sniping or bombarding. Nevertheless, many refugees have been returning from Russia to check up on the condition of their apartments or property as the vast majority of refugees don't relish the prospect of living, or rather, attempting to scrape by in Russia.

              LIVING IN RUSSIA

              Refugees in Russia can face insurmountable obstacles. They are prey to con men, the rapine of landlords, slave labour, and in the worst scenarios rendered homeless. According to some of the refugees we encountered, it was extremely difficult to acquire work in Russia in many towns which suffer from mass unemployment. 'There is not even work for local residents,' stated Anna, a refugee who came to the town of Kulebaki (in the Nizhigorodski region of Russia). 'I managed to get work at a plant for 6000 rubles a month. Of course, it is very difficult to live on that kind of money'. 

              The relations between refugees and locals can assume a tense and at times bitter character. The hostility can arise from either side. I was reminded of this when a Russian
called Tatiana kindly brought a lot of warm clothes for the refugees we have been trying to aid. She turned up at the metro and asked me, 'Isn't it difficult to help the refugees?

              'Can they sometimes be a bit difficult to handle? I mean I have a friend who workers as a doctor at a Polyclinic who got a visit from Ukrainian refugees. They insisted that we help them for free because it was the Russians that caused the war in Ukraine!' I answered that I had not encountered such an attitude. I even expressed my doubts whether those Ukrainians were genuine refugees. For most of the refugees I encountered blamed the 'Junta in Kiev'. On the contrary, I found that rather than insisting on helping the refugees could have them be too proud to ask for it. I had to be especially tactful not to offend their dignity by treating them as 'helpless children' in a patronising or condescending way.

               However, many Russians have offered generous support to refugees, even giving up their apartments or dachas to families, not to mention much food, clothes and toys.

               This is no romantic myth but concretely confirmed fact.

               It is due to the problems encountered by refugees that in recent days 'The Union of Refugees from Ukraine' has been founded. It is largely the brainchild of Oleg Tsarev, who aims to take the Ukrainian government to the European Court of Human Rights In Strasburg for the damage inflicted on the property of local refugees. A lot of work awaits him! By some estimates the refugee problem has not declined, but continues to reach alarming proportions. Oleg Tsarev believes that as many as 4.3 million moved from Ukraine to Russia and then 3 million returned (based on the estimates of Russian federation border officials). 'More than one million Ukrainians remain in Russia. Where the other million is inexplicable, but we need to help them all.' Hence the vital need for some pressure group to defend and aid them. Tsarev predicts that as many as another two to three million Ukrainians could come this winter to Russia and by the end of 2015, the figure could reach 5 million.

               In practise, it is almost impossible to anticipate how events will unfold. At this present moment of time the signs are that the peace agreement is breaking down and a full scale war might erupt. In this case, a new massive never ending exodus of refugees might well surface.


               It is not all bad news. I found that the refugees whom I encountered were decent, polite and very grateful to anyone who helped them. 

               They were certainly not the naive or helpless refugees that some imagined. On the contrary, they are remarkably resourceful, competent and prudent in organising themselves. I have observed how one clever refugee managed to organise the transfer of a whole village
to Russia. When I visited her on the 4th November, she had moved out of an improvised  refugee centre and was renting a pleasant and beautiful apartment. What is more, she had found work for her children as well as fellow villagers. She accomplished this without practically any state aid. Russia certainly needs such practical down to earth organisational skills. To not only organise the flight of refugees over the border, but find them rented accommodation and work without proper documents is no mean achievement.

               The neighbour of Oksana Chebotareva whose nephews were from Lugansk had also found a new job and home. They were doing not badly. So some refugees have accomplished a feat which we can only marvel at!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Substitute Teaching!

Q & A with CTU Substitute Delegate
By Jim Vail

CTU Sub delegate Burma Green spoke with Second City Teachers about the perils of subbing in CPS.

Second City Teachers spoke with Burma Green, the Chicago Teachers Union substitute delegate about the problems substitute teachers face here in the city. As more schools close and veteran teachers lose their jobs, more teachers must substitute. Yet the schools continue to face a shortage of substitute teachers, which a grievance filed by Susan Zupan, a delegate at Taylor Elementary School, revealed how the Chicago Public Schools have withheld money from adequately funding the cadre pool where day to day subs can stay at the school.  

Second City Teachers:        How long have you been a teacher? 

Burma Green:                            I started my career at Joseph Medil Elementary School in 1993. 

Second City Teachers:        Why are you a substitute teacher now? 

Burma Green:                       My position closed. 

Second City Teachers:        What are the problems with being a substitute teacher? 

Burma Green:                      The problems with being a substitute teacher is low pay, no benefits and the lack of respect by students, staff and colleagues.  The first person we meet is usually the clerk. The majority are rude and insensitive to substitute teachers. Many times we are not allowed to follow the teacher schedule, and if you ask why, it seems as though you are asserting your authority. As a result, you are told to take it or leave and don't come back. Or they may have security escort you out of the building. I was called garbage by an administrator at an elementary school in Pilsen and yelled at. At another school, I was escorted out by security when I asked why I was being removed from 1st to 8th grade. More recently, I was given 6 classes at a high school with no compensation. As a result, that school is on the Substitute Teachers Committee DNR list.

Second City Teacher:            Any other problems?

Burma Green:                         Numerous, I'll name a few more - disrespect from students, clerks, administrators and other staff. I have had security yell at me. Issues - one member who is retired had her car stolen at a high school.  
You can be put on the dnh list (Do Not Hire) without your knowledge.
Due to the lack of a place to store belongings, my valuables were taken from the classroom in one school.  Few schools feel friendly and inviting, and supportive. Many of our colleagues talk to you, if at all, in a demeaning way.
You are expected to work without a prep and not be compensated. If you question why, you are told to leave, or don't come back.

Second City Teachers:           What are you doing with the union to address the problems of subs?  

Burma Green:                          CTU has in place a displaced substitute teacher committee that I chair. We meet monthly to discussed the issues faced daily by our members. Grievances are filed for compensation, as well as schools that we suggest to other subs they should avoid. 
Recently, a member who had no credentials in special education taught all year. He was compensated for working as a full time teacher, but received provisional substitute pay.
Our issues are sent and discussed with the city wide delegate Dr. John Kugler and the substitute liaison Z. Foster.

Second City Teacher:             Where are you subbing now?

Burma Green:                          I sub in the west and northern suburbs. There are ten CPS high schools that I go if I'm available.

Second City Teacher:              How are the schools where you sub in the suburbs? 

Burma Green:                           The suburban schools climate where I work is 100 percent better. The pay is aligned to teachers salary.  Student and staff show respect for everyone. Subs are respected and academic standards are high. You are the teacher, as a result the students know that instruction continues.
In conclusion, subbing in CPS schools is extremely stressful. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Common Core Problem!


Albany Park, North Park, Mayfair Neighbors for Peace & Justice. Contact us:  or 773.250.3335                 
--or is it just another annoying scheme
that will go away without a fight?
1) Corporate members of the National Business Roundtable started planning Common Core in 1989, because they need employees who are narrowly trained to be obedient workers, and they need inventors, engineers, and managers to make their global enterprises competitive against rivals from Japan, the European Union, Russia, China, etc. Their stated aim is to produce graduates “ready for college and careers.” (Most parents have broader, more complex goals for their children. Bill Gates and others are now spending millions to counteract mass opposition to Common Core across the country.)    (;
Funders & initiators of Common Core:  Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Exxon, Chevron, Eli Broad Foundation, McKinsey Consulting Corp, Walton Foundation (Walmart), Boeing, GE Foundation, State Farm Insurance, Nationwide, Eastman Kodak,  Ford Motor Co. Fund, IBM, Xerox, Pearson Education Corp, Bank of America, Citi, etc
2) Instead of educators making basic decisions about public educationjust 29 people were chosen--not classroom teachers and education researchers, but mainly employees of testing companies--to secretly set Common Core standards acceptable to big corporations for each grade. This was done behind closed doors without using the internationally accepted methods for setting standards: transparency, balance, consensus, due process. A thoroughly undemocratic process (See:
     For example, they set this kindergarten standard--“Read emergent reader texts with purpose and understanding.” Many 5 year-olds are not developmentally ready to read, and there is no research to support the teaching of reading in kindergarten. (Copple & Bredekamp, “Developmentally Appropriate Practice,” National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2009) 
3) Big businesses like Pearson Corpare creating and selling curriculum modules, books and computer programs  for each subject in every grade to school districts--all aligned to the unscientific Common Core standards. Their reading lessons often omit contexts; for example, focusing on The Gettysburg Address without talking about the Civil War.   
They are also selling huge data gathering and storage systems--with parents having no say on what is permanently recorded or who is allowed to use it--such as businesses, the military, employers, colleges, etc.  In 2012, Obama issued an executive order which weakens the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act-- giving education officials permission to decide who outside of public schools can be given  access to children’s confidential records,  which can include such things as mental and emotional health, discipline problems, family income, divorce issues, etc. (
4) Corporations like Achieve Inc and Pearson are making, selling, and grading tests that are aligned with the Common Core standards and curriculum to state school systems. Education researchers, teachers and parents--who were not involved in the basic decision-making for any part of the process of creating Common Core--question the validity and reliability of these tests, saying that they are worse than the long-discredited standardized tests(
5) The CC tests are to be taken on computers--meaning that every school district will have to buy enough computers for all the PAGE 2  (Continued: Common Core-- education by corporations for corporations.)
children to take the many required tests. This means that more education dollars will be diverted away from hiring additional teachers for smaller class sizes and to teach art, music and physical education--classes which are now being eliminated in many schools. 
     Meanwhile,  all of the corporations directly involved will enjoy wind-fall profits.  The estimated increase in the education “market” for the ed-tech sector is doubling, to $13.4 billion, by 2017 (Silicon Valley Business Journal, 11.12.13).   
     NO--because Common Core tests are based on its unscientific standards and the narrow curriculum which is based on those  standards Common Core is a total package designed to suit the needs of the private corporations which initiated and oversaw its development. No changes or exceptions on these copyrighted materials--on state or city levels--can be made without their permission.
     Testing corporations have chosen cut-off points designed to insure  that only 30 % of school children will pass.  So poor African-American, immigrant and other working class students will “fail” more often and be more systematically humiliated-- made to feel they are “inferior human beings.” They can then be channeled into low-paying jobs.
     This means teachers have to focus single-mindedly on training students for CC tests--with no time for lessons based on the specific needs of children, or for nurturing creativity (Jane David, “High-stakes testing Narrows Curriculum,” Educational Leadership, 3/11, p.78-86).    
     If the self-serving aims of corporations are reached, we will have more obedient soldiers and workers,  and fewer people who refuse to obey harmful or immoral orders, or are concerned about issues of war and peace.  Narrow, skills-oriented education will not teach our children to value equality and democracy nor to be creative, thoughtful people capable of making humane decisions and improving our society.
     (By the way, the claim by the corporations that U.S. students are behind other countries has been shown to be based on faulty statistical analysis--where the much higher percentage of  U.S poverty--with disadvantaged students often getting low scores-- is not considered.)
     YES & NO-- the corporate creators of CC got around the Constitution’s provision that education is left to states by having the National Governors Association (NGA)  take charge. The NGA is a non-governmental organization (NGO) and private trade association that is not accountable to the public or required to reveal minutes of meetings, etc. The NGA convinced 45 governors to adopt CC for their states. State superintendents oversee implementation. Note that election campaigns of governors were funded by money from private corporations.
     The federal government wasn’t directly a part of writing the new standards, and they don’t have the legal right to decide how each state runs its educational system.  However,  President Bush used “No Child Left Behind” and President Obama used “Race to the Top”  before CC was put into 45 states.  They promoted the main educational features  now in Common Core. Rewards were given only to states which agreed to adopt common educational standards.  “Race to the Top” is a contest with prize money-- open to all states if their governors promise to:  open more charter schools, require standardized testing, and use student scores to evaluate and punish teachers and schools (“Race to the Top Executive Summary,” U.S. Dept of  Ed, 11/09).  Note that corporations that wanted such education programs funded the elections of Bush and Obama.
     NOT REALLY--It’s vital that we build a strong mass movement against the Common Core program and for the kind of education we want for our children--at the same time.  It would be very unfortunate if  a governor decided to drop out of the Common Core, and then the people felt the fight was all over. It’s dangerous to assume that what a governor and other public officials then decide to put in place would be what working people need.  For example, a system very similar to CC could be set up, or they could go back to an old system that does not meet the needs of a modern democratic society. This is why we need a lot of public debate and fresh thinking about public education that is not under the control of corporations or  government officials who are beholden to them. Unless we educate and empower ourselves, we will not be prepared to exercise our democratic right to make decisions about all the things that deeply affect us. So if we want the best for our children, we have to remain active participants and stand against the privatization of public education in its many forms.
     Overall, if corporations succeed in completely taking over public education across the country, it will greatly increase the control the 1% already have--over the economy, the media and the government.  If we don’t want our children to suffer under a training program for the benefit corporations, we’ll have to keep up the fight to bring decision-making under the control of working people.
WHAT YOU AND OTHER CONCERNED PEOPLE CAN DO:  Let’s join all the parents, teachers, students and other concerned people across the country who are organizing against the CC,  thousands opting out of harmful standardized tests, and more and more refusing to have massive data collected and used against our children.  Contact us to participate in educating ourselves and others to oppose the whole Common Core program of privatization on steroids.

Albany Park, North Park, Mayfair Neighbors for Peace & Justice. Contact us:  or 773.250.3335

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Elections - Lesser of Two Evils or an Alternative?
By Earl Silbar

Your exposing the lesser-evil, 2 party setup is a good starting point. Posing alternatives are needed, not just saying "NO". Nothing is not a substitute for something.

Elections are tricky, both for the message sent by running, and if your candidate/party gets elected. 

When independents run, does that carry the message that elections can solve our important problems, from growing poverty, privatization, power of huge concentration of wealth/power, endless wars, etc?

If you run as an 'independent', does that mean your campaign is also independent of the 1% super-rich capitalists? Or, does it mean you think/work within their parameters, but don't run on the usual party line?  

If candidates run promising to fight for reforms, as in Seattle, then you're involved in the tricky business of finding allies, making deals, and explaining to your supporters. It's very easy to get lost in this. The tensions are many; for one, do you make tradeoffs to get support and weaken your goal? Do you make alliances with union leaders for short-term gains, but cover up how they actually limit and sabotage the fight? The Seattle situation is filled with this and more, and there are important lessons here for us all, including how to actually organize around working class issues, not just hold rallies and marches.

The other left model is to run in order to explain what steps you/your organization stands for and explain what it will take to get there. That makes it more purely propaganda and you/your org. says, in effect: elect me/us and we'll expose what's going on, champion the struggles, like Ferguson, masses undertake, and explain how the power is outside the elections. DEbs' Socialist Party campaigns had strong elements of this. (At the same time, they were unclear about how the working class could achieve socialism- reform via elections/strikes or revolution. (see William Pelz's book on Debs for good info.)

The Russian Bolsheviks, for example, did run  for (and win seats in) the Duma between 1907-14. (see Bolsheviks in the Duma for info). They ran as 'tribunes of the people' to generate support for people's struggles, oppose all oppression, and expose machinations of exploiters. This was secondary  and they did it only under conditions of  the 1905 revolution's defeat and widespread demoralization. 

That approach requires a revolutionary party with established roots in the working class from its independent, non-electoral work. Otherwise, in my opinion, it's pretty much impossible to avoid the reform deals needed and being sucked into it with all its limits. (Popular saying: "If we could change it with elections, they'd make them illegal") 

American experience shows that mass movements, frequently deemed illegal, and always outside elected bodies win reforms, not insider deals. The illegal mass strikes and sitdowns of the 1930s forced FDR's New Deal reforms on a frightened ruling class and their politicians, not vice versa. Same for civil rights' mass pickets, boycotts, shootouts vs Klan, and mass demonstrations rooted in organizing back in the '50s. Ditto anti-Vietnam movements both civilian and active military (see "Sir! No Sir! for a good picture of that, although it wipes out the anti-imperialist consciousness of the activists)

It's common to call for/work for a labor party for reforms like single payer, free higher education, and taxing the rich. That's where the Brits won National Health back in the 40s, etc. In fact, there was a Labor Party startup in the US back in the mid-90s. I was a delegate for AFSCME 3506 and actively participated  Despite support from many union locals and some citywide union bodies, the larger unions paid for staff and completely strangled local initiatives. But, that's a whole different discussion.

As for Occupy as an alternative, that focus on "the 1%" did spark widespread sympathy as even some cops and active duty soldiers came forward against the elites who run both the police and military. After all, the banks triggered the "great recession" in '08 and got $2.7 Trillion in free money while 15 million were laid off and millions lost our homes. Occupy hit an important chord.  But it also didn't overcome it's limitations like meetings that were easily blocked by a small minority. There's a great book by Mark Bray, an early Occupy activist called "Translating Anarchy." Occupy did resonate deeply and shifted focus to the 1%, which is not class conscious, but does/did point to class power in populist terms.

Monday, November 24, 2014


New York House of Delegates Report
By Marjorie Stamberg

The UFT bureaucracy was playing to the left tonight (last week); one of those rare occasions when they pretend to be oh-so-democratic. Three new motions came to the floor: 1) from me on Ferguson, 2) from M.O.R.E, for support to the NYC teacher diversity petition and 3) from supporters of Progressive Labor, asking UFT endorsement for a demonstration, in protest against the kidnapping and murder of Mexican students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico. The demo is this Friday 4 pm (Nov. 21) at the Mexican consulate.

There was a unanimous "resolution calling on Time Magazine to apologize to the nation's teachers," about their recent teacher union-busting front page showing a gavel smashing an apple (i.e., teachers are rotten apples).  Don't hold your breath waiting for that apology!

I'm attaching here the three motions that came on the floor tonight..

It's an interesting political moment:  all three of these issues resonate so strongly in the union that the bureaucracy felt it had to give lip service, while making sure they were covered from actually doing anything.

On Ayotzinata, the motion to support the demonstration actually passed, but only with an "if" clause added, i.e., IF the national AFT agreed to support it.  It's possible the AFT is feeling enough pressure from the teachers unions in Mexico to actually come out and protest this cold blooded murder of students.

There was an amusing exchange with Abe Levine, the longtime Shachtmanite (supporter of Max Shachtman, who, by the time he became a mentor of Albert Shanker, was a screaming anti-communist supporting the Bay of Pigs). Abe rose to say, hey not so fast, this motion calls to support the "Ayotzinata social movement" and we really don't know what that is...    I hollered out, hey Abe, I know and I'll tell you, earning me stern looks from the podium. (Remember Abe is the guy who brags about how the UFT never came out against the Vietnam War).  Joan Heymont spoke and said Abe was correct in that it definitely was a struggle of left-wing unions, and the UFT has a history of only supporting yellow unions

The teacher diversity petition was presented by Megan Moscop. It is based on the research compiled by Sean Ahern and others that documents the increasing gap between the 67.5 percent black and Latino student body of NYC, and the whitening of the teacher force, notably due to preferences given to TFA and the Fellows program (and the evident fact that they are not hiring as much out of CUNY).
The bureaucracy's tactic here was to get out in front of it, with Leroy Barr speaking about the UFT's on-going projects on the diversity issue; whereupon they voted the motion down.

On Ferguson, I was given the floor and read a motion of three sentences, including the "RESOLVED, that the UFT affirms its solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Missouri, its opposition to racist repression and its rejection of any restrictions on the right to protest."

The vote on the motion was close, but it was declared to be voted down. Then Mulgrew spoke and said essentially the reason he didn't vote for it was the motion had to come from AFT national, but they are very involved. I said I wanted to get it on the floor anyway.  

After the meeting a number of delegates and staffers came up to talk. There was a widespread sense that the preventive state of emergency bodes something very bad. "You kill a black child and then you want to criminalize all protest" was one remark.  "Yes, and this is happening around the country" another person said.  It was interesting to listen to the very dominant opinion of these teachers. 

The rest of the meeting was Mulgrew's continuing praise of Carmen FariƱa's new regime and how we supposedly have a voice now, and should use it.  And that labor will get hammered with all the Republican governors who have been elected...and in NY too, he added.

In the Q&A period, I asked for details on the UFT/DOE deal over Automotive HS and Boys and Girls HS, where the entire teaching force has to reapply for their jobs.  I said it seemed like the union was agreeing to create more ATRs.   Mulgrew said the deal is a little more complicated, notably with teachers who don't reapply or are turned down getting full-year school placements for up to five years. And no 50% cap on teachers being hired back, as in the previous agreements which landed several thousand in the ATR pool.  But the bottom line is, they're still going to have more ATRs, and the union is still dead opposed to a functional ATR chapter.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

New Uniform Policy

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) - From the November the 1st, all students and staff will be forced to observe a severe and some would argue excessive dress code where they must wear traditional white medical caps and white overcoats! Should the students at Moscow's Medical institute Imeni Pirogova violate this code, they could be either expelled or fired.

              The new order has irritated and even angered Muslims who perceive the ban on any religious headdress as a direct slight of their religion.

               The draconian order has certainly alarmed and woken up students. The order which is published in the university's web-site ,might strike outsiders as being eccentric, erratic and authoritian than prudently thought out.

               The order strictly forbids the wearing of short skirts, clothes with bright colours, tee shirts with drawings or slogans, shorts, transparent blouses, untidy haircuts, excessive make up or strong perfume.

                Any clothes which show you belong to a particular nationality and religion are taboo. Visible tatoos are out and so are any piercing of noses or mouths.

                What you are obliged to wear is a white cap and white medical coat. Anyone who violates this order could be either expelled from the university or if they are a member of staff, be dismissed.

                The rector who drew up this order, Andrei Kamkin, claims that the university aims to return to our glorious customs of medical practice which was observed in the past and appears in all European Medical institutes.'

                 But Kamkin is no Peter the Great and he has already showed himself willing to compromise with the Muslims after some religious representatives met him to express their indignation at those proposals.

                 However, if you read the published order properly you won't find any specific reference to banning Islamic headdresses or the 'hijab.' On the contrary, the ban forbids any overt expression of religious or political belief. So the wearing of a crucifix could also violate the order.

                 The supporters of this order claim that the wearing of 'neutral clothes ' is less likely to offend or annoy patients and they will also be taken more seriously. In fact a tidy and clean appearance is an important aspect of Russian culture and Russians spend a lot of money 'keeping up appearances.' Compared to other nationalities they can come across as 'too immaculate ' and less laid back. But woe to the man who forgets to dress smartly on a first date in Moscow. It is perhaps no mean claim to maintain that the Russians must be the most well-dressed people in Europe.

                 Many foreigners are amazed at how well-dressed and very tidy Russians are. They are always looking at their reflections in mirrors and get annoyed when they get a speck of dirt on their trousers. They even keep a special pair of shoes or trousers at work should their clothes get dirty on the way to work! So why is there any need to introduce such an order in the first place? Perhaps some of the tee-shirts which students dawn might appear offensive. One of the strangest fashions is the wearing of 'Union Jack tee shirts.’

                 Perhaps the order has been issued mainly to remind staff and students who is boss and that using forceful orders and exerting new rules implies improvement.

                 The order distracts people from more fundamental issues such as the quality of medical training, care and access!

                 One member of staff stated that, 'This is a medical institute, not a disco'. More is the pity! Perhaps if the doctors danced with some of the patients from time to time the atmosphere would be improved in some     psychiatric wards.

                 This medical institute is not alone in attempting to introduce draconian rules. Universities are becoming more inaccessible and less open to visitors as well as students. For example, in the Department of Foreign      Languages at Moscow state University if you want to organise a course or cultural gathering you need to spend days in advance preparing a list of all the names of the people who will attend such a function so that the list can be given to security men at the door. Anyone not on the list won't be admitted. So people stop organizing such events.

                 Much more seriously is the fact that students who return too late to their student hostels have been banned from entering. This means they are forced to trod around the cold and perhaps dangerous streets until the morning comes.

                 This petty curfew threatens the safety of students. It seems almost certain that the order at the medical institute violates the law of the Russian Federation as the Russian constitution forbids discrimination against any religions not to mention the suppression of freely expressing religious views.

                 It is not only some Muslims which are offended by this order, but also the Orthodox Christians. 'Those atheists are trying to suppress our religion again,' said a teacher  called Olga who would not give her surname. She told me that, 'They were discussing whether to ban the wearing of crucifixes in Britain. They thought about forbidding children from wearing crosses. That would be like returning to the days where Christianity was persecuted'.

                 A school student called Anna said, 'Well if it is an old Russian custom then it is okay to revive it!'

                 For most students the annoying thing is not the issue of expressing views, but having to fork out extra money on a new dress they can ill-afford.  The extreme punishment also seems over the top! Why should a brilliant member of staff lose his job because of untidy hair or a badly chosen tee shirt!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Teach Plus PARCC

PARCC Test Road Show at UNO Charter School
By Jim Vail

Teach Plus hosted a seminar on the PARCC Exam.
Teach Plus, an organization funded by the Gates Foundation which claims its mission is to add the teacher's voice to education reform, hosted a meeting with teachers to get their feedback on the upcoming PARCC Test this past Wednesday, Nov. 19, at the UNO Tamayo Charter School.

The meeting began with the UNO Charter "director" claiming he has turned around this UNO school that went from "one of the worst scoring schools" to "the best scoring school." 

No specifics were provided, such as the best of what? Recent data has shown public schools outscore the charter schools.

Joshua Coffman, the director of Teach Plus Chicago office, told the teachers that "we want to add your voice to the PARCC exams and assessments."

He then provided a power point presentation to show how the Common Core curriculum and the PARCC assessment are far superior to its predecessors in terms of rigor.

It appears the Gates Foundation and other education reform backers are now paying teachers to attend seminars and conferences on the PARCC test as the criticism heats up around the country.

Teach Plus is comprised of a teaching fellows program to nurture new teachers, hosts network events, helps teachers implement the Common Core and features a teacher turnaround team called T3, Coffman told over 100 teachers.

Coffman said they helped with the teachers contract in Indianapolis because "the union was too weak."

They said the Common Core was designed because there were inconsistent state standards, a push to complete college because only 30% of those enrolled graduate and the need for new assessments.

We heard once again how the traditional assessments placed little value on text complexity, while rarely asking for text evidence.

One of the examples on the overhead showed to the teachers was a question about opinion. The old test asked the student to identify an opinion, while the PARCC test assumes the student knows what an opinion is who then must synthesize an opinion to determine how it affects a certain outcome.

Demanding and rigorous? Indeed!

One teacher remarked, "These are great questions for higher level students."

The PARCC writing prompts now demand that students incorporate sources into the writing rather than writing a simple argumentative essay, for example, that relied on the student's own knowledge.

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.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Park the PARCC!

CTU Says to Park the PARCC!

By Jim Vail

Perhaps feeling the sting of criticism for not fighting the Common Core corporate school curriculum hard enough, the Chicago Teachers Union quickly issued a press release to its members to join forces with Raise Your Hand to demand a federal waiver to suspend the PARCC test.

"Tell ISBE: PARK the PARCC!" the CTU press release stated sent out to its 29,000 plus members.

The PARCC test is the Common Core test set to be given next March for Grades 3-8. Many believe it will hit the public schools hard as it did in New York when only 30 percent of its students passed the tests. It forced NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who originally backed the Common Core,  to demand a five year moratorium on the test due to the growing protests from parents all across the state.

Interestingly enough, the Chicago Public Schools very own CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett sent a letter requesting a waiver to issue the test this school year but was denied by the Illinois School Board of Education (headed by former mayoral candidate and Chicago Board of Education president Gery Chico).

ISBE stated Chicago would jeopardize receiving Title 1 federal funding.

“The purpose of standardized assessments is to inform instruction,” Byrd-Bennett said and reported in The Sun Times. “At present, too many questions remain about PARCC to know how this new test provides more for teachers, students, parents, and principals than we are already providing through our current assessment strategies.”

So the CTU and Raised Your Hand are in good company demanding that this very hard test be temporarily stopped.

Certainly, the CTU must have felt some pressure after we at Second City Teacher questioned why the union has remained eerily silent on criticizing the Common Core curriculum after a resolution passed by its teacher delegates last spring demanded that they take actions to inform its members about the problems with this corporate driven curriculum that is wrecking havoc around the country.

More and more reports are coming out of the corporate media that Common Core is not what the people want, nor its tests like the PARCC which do not take into account special needs children or English Language Learners, for example.    

Raise Your Hand will host a press conference Friday, Nov. 21 at 11am at the Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St, to once again ask ISBE and the Illinois General Assembly to seek a waiver from the US Dept of Education to delay implementation of the PARCC exam.

According to the press release, parents will also be seeking legislative support for a bill that will ensure that parents can opt-out their children from PARCC or other state mandated tests without fear of legal or academic repercussions.

This calls into question part of the Resolution to denounce the Common Core that the CTU delegates passed, which called on the union to lobby state officials about the problems with Common Core.

"Districts around the state have been calling on ISBE to delay this test for months, and it has fallen on deaf ears," the Raise Your Hand press release stated. "Based on inadequate time for field-testing, inadequate technological and Common Core readiness across the state, test length and lack of administrative support, there is widespread agreement that the test is not yet ready for statewide, mandatory administration."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Common Core Fight?

Will the CTU Still Fight Common Core?
By Jim Vail

This past year the Chicago Teachers Union joined several states to say No to Common Core. The CTU delegates passed a Resolution to Oppose the Common State Standards in May.

This past summer the American Federation of Teachers blocked the CTU's resolution to denounce Common Core at the AFT convention in LA. The CTU delegates fought hard but the AFT leadership is too connected to the democratic party and Common Core.

However, teachers may have no idea today that our union opposes the Common Core. 

Instead, we get announcements for professional development classes at the union's Quest Center on how to properly implement Common Core curriculum. 

But the union recognized that Common Core is simply a way for those at the top to privatize education with punitive measures to destroy public schools.

I understand teachers will continue to fight the insanity of over testing with the ominous PARCC test looming on the horizon.

Parents started to get active after the Common Core tests in New York came out last year that showed the majority of students had failed.

But this crazy testing is tied to the corporate sponsored Common Core curriculum the public schools are forced to implement.

A curriculum that focuses on 'rigor' while not addressing the needs of diverse learners (special education) or English Language Learners, or the many others struggling due to difficult home environments. 

They say resolutions are ways to pacify activists who want the union to take a stand on something that it may not want to take. While its parent union AFT continues to support this ludicrous corporate curriculum, the CTU leadership joined the delegates to courageously pass a resolution to denounce CC after repeatedly sending it back to committees.

That said, the CTU has followed some of the dictates of the resolution, such as submitting the resolution to the AFT convention. 

But is the union adhering to the following points in its resolution that it is bound to uphold, such as lobbying the Illinois Board of Education to eliminate the use of Common Core State Standards and organizing members and affiliates to increase opposition to the Common Core?

Resolution to Oppose the Common Core State Standards:

Whereas, the purpose of education is to educate a populace of critical thinkers who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to lead good and purpose-filled lives, not solely preparation for college and career; and

Whereas, instructional and curricular decisions should be in the hands of classroom professionals who understand the context and interests of their students, and

Whereas, the education of children should be grounded in developmentally appropriate practice, and

Whereas, high quality education requires adequate resources to provide a rich and varied course of instructions, individual and small group attention, and wrap-around services for students, and

Whereas, the Common Core State Standards were developed by non-practitioners, such as test and curriculum publishers, as well as education reform foundations, such as the Gates and Broad foundations, and as a result the CCSS better reflect the interests and priorities of corporate education reformers than the best interests and priorities of teachers and students; and

Whereas, imposition of the Common Core State Standards adversely impacts students of highest need, including students of color, impoverished students, English language learners, and students with disabilities; and

Whereas, the Common Core State Standards emphasize pedagogical techniques, such as close reading, out of proportion to the actual value of these methods - and as a result distort instruction and remove instructional materials from their social context; and

Whereas, despite the efforts of our union to provide support to teachers, the significant time, effort, and expense associated with modifying curricula to the Common Core State Standards interferes and takes resources away from creating developmentally appropriate and engaging course of study; and

Whereas, the assessments that accompany the Common Core State Standards (PARCC and Smarter Balance) are not transparent in that teachers and parents are not allowed to view the tests and item analysis will likely not be made available given the nature of computer adaptive tests; and

Whereas, Common Core assessments  disrupt student learning, consuming tremendous amounts of time and resources for test preparation and administration; and

Whereas, the assessment practices that accompany Common Core State Standards - including the political manipulation of test scores - are used for justification to label and close schools, fail students, and evaluate educators; therefore be it

Resolved, that the Chicago Teachers Union opposes the Common Core State Standards (and the aligned tests) as a framework for teaching and learning; and be it further

Resolved, the Chicago Teachers Union advocates for an engaged and socially relevant curriculum
that is student-based and supported by research, as well as for supports such as those described in the Chicago Teachers Union report, The School's Chicago's Students Deserve; and be it further

Resolved, the Chicago Teachers Union will embark on internal discussions to educate and seek feedback from members regarding the Common Core and its impact on our students; and be it further

Resolved, the Chicago Teachers Union will lobby the Illinois Board of Education to eliminate the use of the Common Core State Standards for teaching and assessment; and be it further

Resolved, the Chicago Teachers Union will organize other members  and affiliates to increase opposition to the Common Core State Standards, and be it further

Resolved, that a copy of this resolution be sent to the Illinois State Board of Education, the Chicago Board of Education, the Governor of Illinois, and all members of the Illinois legislative branch; and be finally

Resolved, that should this resolution be passed by the CTU House of Delegates, an appropriate version will be submitted to the American Federation of Teachers for consideration at the 2014 convention.