Monday, September 28, 2015

School Blues

Singing the Chicago Public School Blues 
By Jim Vail

I often shake my head and wonder about how much the public schools have changed over the years.

What do I remember from my days in grammar school? I remember running out of class at full speed to the playground for recess. That was Number 1!

I remember climbing the ropes, doing summersaults and running around during gym class. That was every day!

I remember the art teacher telling us how precious her 'junk' was to create wonderful artistic masterpieces out of little knick-knacks with glue and glitter and whatnot.

I remember gathering around the piano in kindergarten and singing songs all day long.

That was school in the eyes of a student!

Of course, I learned to read and write and do arithmetic and now have a Masters degree in elementary education.

But today I look around the public schools in the city and see that all that is being reversed.

Many of our schools do not have an art or music class. How is this possible?

The children have gym class once a week. Let me repeat that - Once a Week! You sit in a desk for how much longer with our longer school day and only have gym class once a week in elementary school? If you're lucky. How about the schools like ours where they are constantly repairing the roof and gym is in the classroom. 

Thank God we at least have recess. But again, if you don't have full use of your gymnasium, or an outside playlot, then kids are once again sitting, not running around like they should be.

Today the focus is on tests. Standardized tests. High stakes tests.

And less on being children, and enjoying life. Learning to appreciate the beauty of life through art and music. Developing not only the mind, but the body as well, through physical education and sports.

Sports? The Chicago Public Schools eliminated the elementary sports program. I didn't think in my 13 plus years teaching in Chicago they would actually do this, but they did.

Believe me, the people who run the public schools today will not stop there.

It is a business to destroy public education and the joy of children and implement their plans to privatize education and make money.

If we don't fight this, then believe me, it will only get worse. 

And school, as it is becoming more and more, will turn the beauty of children's dreams into a nightmare.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Seattle Strike Settlement

Seattle Education Association members ratified the new contract

What we know so far is that at the General Membership Meeting this evening, members of the Seattle Education Association voted to ratify the new agreement with Seattle Public Schools.
Per the Seattle Education Association’s website, the highlights of the contract include:
  • Recess: Guaranteed 30 minutes of recess for all elementary students.
  • Reasonable testing: New policies to reduce the over-testing of our students.
  • Professional pay: Base salary increases of 3 percent, 2 percent and 4.5 percent, plus the state COLA of 4.8 percent
  • Fair teacher and staff evaluations: Test scores will no longer be tied to teacher evaluations, plus there is new contract language that supports teachers’ professional growth.
  • Educator workload relief: Additional staff to reduce workloads and provide student services.
  • Student equity around discipline and the opportunity gap: Creating race and equity teams at 30 of the district’s schools.
  • The administration’s proposal to lengthen the school day: Teachers will be compensated for additional work.
It was a great time in Seattle during the strike with parents, students, the Seattle City Council, legislative districts, community organizations, other workers’ unions and citizens showing their support for our teachers.
Now it’s time to settle back into the new school year but something has changed and I believe we are all better for it.
We met, made new connections, showed pride in our teachers and our school communities, shared laughter and concerns, shared our food, our homes, our time and energy with our teachers and now they return to the classrooms knowing we appreciate them and are here for them.
We have their backs.
Dora Taylor

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Immigrant Children Victory


By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) -- The Human Rights Organisation Civil Action managed to arrange for the study in school of 40% of the children of parents of refugees and migrants who had appealed for their help. As many as 64 parents of refugee and migrants had previously complained that their children had been refused the right to study at schools. This was because of the notorious order number 32 which insists that children can't enter school without proper registration. However, this order so bluntly violates article 43 of the constitution where 'Everyone has the right to an education,' that some judges, politicians and headmasters have told people to ignore it.

            At the beginning of the new school year, civil right activists went around the school with a copy of a recent legal statement made by officials which basically acknowledged and approved of the right of headmasters or headmistresses of Russian schools to accept school children regardless of whether they had registration. 'After the court decision we took the resolution of the court to school. As a result, we managed to arrange for the study of 40% of the children of the parents who helped us' (The recent court resolution declared that registration could not be grounds for refusing children the right to an education), stated Civil Action spokesperson 'Anastasiya Denisova'. One such child  accepted at school recently was the 8-year-old daughter of Syrian refugee Nasser Kavthar at a school in Pushkino. This represents another small victory for the rights of the children of refugees and migrants who have constantly been deprived of the basic right to learn at schools due to a combination of dense red-tape, racism, fear ,corruption and the ignorance of incompetent officials and xenophobic politicians.


            The dire predicament is not only experienced by the children of foreign migrants and refugees but even Russians themselves.

            For instance, Yelena Kudracheta , who came from Donesk in February 2014, could not get her son Misha allowed into any  school located in Moscow. Yelena stated, 'We went to around 20 schools in Moscow and outer Moscow and everywhere they demanded we show proof of registration again and again. .... They don't give political refuge in Moscow, only in the regions!' Yelena took her complaint to the President of the Russian Federation who actually answered that you should simply take your child to school and they must accept her. However, Yelena instead 
managed to get her child into a school in Belgrade.

            Another parent with problems is Afganistan refugee Kharun Shakh, who during the war there lost all his documents. He has 9 children, several whom are studying at the Centre of Adaptation, who offer free courses in Russian, English and other school subjects for children. His ten year old son Mukhin Shar was one of the children who was denied a right to enter school this September. Asked whether he would like to enter school, the boy thunders back bitterly, 'Of course I want to go to school. I would like to learn maths, English, History and Technical Drawing.'


            Unfortunately, not everyone agrees that children should be allowed into Russian schools. A recent headline by a Russian newspaper, 'Sovershenno Secret ', 1st -8th Sept,2015,(361), asks 'Why children arriving in schools turn into big problems for Russian schools? ' The article which claims to be 'a special investigation', with dubiously selected examples, claims that the children of migrants and refugees can't fit into schools because of their own culture which is incompatible to Russian.

            The article then goes on to blame migrant children for most of the crime, disorder and hooliganism in schools (similar to leading U.S. republican presidential candidate Donald Trump who also blames immigrants for crime). However, the countless examples of how many migrant children not only fit in to schools but excel in their education are not even examined or considered. If they had bothered to interview many teachers and civil rights activists, they would have been offered countless concrete positive examples. But they could not be bothered.


            Civil activists and supporters for the rights of migrant and refugee children should not be disheartened or depressed by many setbacks. If they are patient and persevere with a lot of hard work they will attain some significant results. Whether this agitation amounts to petitions, teaching, legal actions or going around the schools attempting to persuade school headmasters to let children enter schools it will pay off in the long-term. However, we can't be complacent. We still have a long daunting struggle ahead of us!  However, it is not in vain.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

HOD Strike Call

Chicago Teachers Union Looks Ready to Strike
By Jim Vail

The Chicago Teachers Union leadership had this message to welcome back its members at last week's House of Delegates meeting.

"Fasten your seat belts because it's gonna be a humdinger of a year," CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told the packed crowd of over 500 delegates.

Sharkey, who spoke to the corporate titans at the City Club of Chicago recently and sparred with the multi-millionaire governor on television, turned in arguably his best performance at the HOD since his slate CORE defeated the UPC in 2010 to gain control of the CTU.

His impassioned speech, mixed with humor and thoughtful rhetoric, lightened up the crowd and drove home the point that the teachers should fight the Chicago Board of Education's proposed 7% cut by asking that the teachers pay the 7% pension pickup that the board currently pays.

While the board demands teachers take pay cuts, they do not demand a tax on the rich or trading stocks to raise revenue, something the CTU has been vocal about.

Sharkey noted that the board has under-funded the teachers pension fund 13 of the last 20 years.

"This is a crisis by design," he said. "They have borrowed over $1 billion this year. They didn't raise taxes, they just put it on their credit card and borrowed against the pension fund."

Sharkey said this manufactured crisis was last seen in 1979 when the school system was also broke by design, when the Chicago School Finance Authority was created, to address the budget crisis by eliminating 10,000 Chicago Public School jobs.

The union during the reign of Mayor Harold Washington then went on strike for the next four or five years in the early 1980s to restore teacher's rights, dignity and compensation.

"The crisis was whether or not there would be public schools," Sharkey told the delegates. "(Like today) this is a crisis they are using to destroy the public schools."

Sharkey noted that the CTU history goes back to the 1890s, and whenever there was a crisis, "we have fought."

"We're the ones who will have to do the same to defend public education," he said. "I don't relish picketing in February, but we will do it. There is resolve for the union leadership to fight!"

His words helped pump up the delegates. At the end of the meeting many delegates told their colleagues that 100% of their school colleagues voted in favor of a strike. While these mock strike votes are not official, they are a barometer of teachers feelings about who should pay for the current fiscal crisis.

CTU President Karen Lewis followed Sharkey with her presidential report to the delegates, focusing on the nuts and bolts of how teachers should proceed in the face of a possible strike.

She said it is important to work with the parents and stay positive.

"Talk to teachers about your pensions without your head down," she said. "Defending your pensions is important. It is simply deferred pay."

Lewis said she has met with new schools chief and former CTA president Forrest Claypool and said he used to people just falling down when he wants something.

"In no disrespect to the bus drivers and city transit people, their union was just weak," Lewis said.

The earliest the teachers could strike would be sometime this winter after mediation. Teachers should save their money and keep their schools unified, she said.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Lateness = Fired?

By Stephen Wilson 


(Moscow, Russia) --  Many Russians would not consider him late in the first place.

             On August 19th, an arbitractor in a New Jersey court firmly rejected an attempt by the Roosevelt Elementary School to dismiss Arnold Anderson, a maths teacher for allegedly being 'late' for school, 111 times over a period of two years.

             Instead, Arnold Anderson was suspended without pay into January 2016. The case appears to have baffled many Russians who fail to see what the fuss was about! Second City Teachers wondered what Russians thought of this case.


             Roosevelt Elementary School finally lost patience with maths teacher Arnold Anderson who accomplished the amazing feat of being late for school 111 times in the space of two years!

             For some reason, the educational authorities are affronted at Anderson's lack of punctuality considering it an example of 'unprofessional behaviour' unbecoming of a teacher. The media as if in tacit collusion with educational officials, often support the case for dismissing the maths teacher not on a rational basis, but often in a hysterical, illogical and absurd way which raises countless questions.

             For years many politicians and officials have been attempting to introduce stronger legislation which would allow them to to not only fire teachers at will but practically remove every statutory legal protection of their jobs from unfair dismissal.

             One such legal measure has been the Tenure Reform law signed by Governor Chris Christie in 2012 with the aim of removing what he calls 'Ineffective teachers'. One such teacher in a high-profile case which made International
headlines was the case of Arnold Anderson.

             The educational authorities case against him was that he was late 46 times this year, and 65 times the previous year. He was late for school but not class.

             Arnold Anderson presented quite eloquently convincing arguments in his defence. Firstly, he argued that being late did not prevent him from delivering a brilliant educational experience which inspired his young students. Therefore he was hardly 'ineffective'. In fact, 'being late for school ' was reduced to being irrelevant to the point of sounding petty and pedantic!

             The second point that Anderson made was that he was only one or two minutes late to school 'at the most'  but was always prepared and was never late for class. The latter point is so subtle it appears to have been either overlooked or ignored by some journalists and by angry critics.

             The third line of defence which Anderson made attracted the most media attention. Anderson stated, 'While eating my breakfast I lost sense of time'.

             THE VERDICT

             Although the arbitrator in New Jersey found Anderson's arguments unconvincing, he rejected the case for dismissal and instead chose to suspend Anderson from school without pay until January 2016. This is by no means a light punishment.

             The Arbitrator came to the conclusion that the district school had failed to give the teacher adequate warning so that he could correct his behaviour. The district authorities have to provide a teacher with 'due process' by giving him a formal warning of his incompetent behaviour and allowing him a period of 90 days to correct his behaviour. A teacher can only be charged with inefficency after two consecutive
annual  evaluations. The arbitrator in this case decided that the educational authorities had failed to observe the proper letter of the law and hence felt obliged to give a verdict of 'progressive discipline'. In other words, don't fire the teacher
without warnings, but give him an opportunity to improve his
behaviour. This seems quite reasonable. That is not how many officials see things. Chris Christie states, 'Think I'm tough on the teachers Union? This is what we are dealing with in New Jersey. ' In his eyes being late for school represents a cardinal crime comparable to murder or rape. Being fired is the least one could do, Christie would argue, the fact that you are dismissing an seemingly confident and inspiring teacher for the children be damned!

              Many critics complained about the alleged injustice of Anderson being paid 90,000 dollars a year. The view is 'How dare teachers be paid 90,000 dollars a year!' ,' Those teachers get away with murder' and the  teachers union has too much power.  Strangers who are unacquainted with Anderson were quick to claim he was an inefficient  teacher despite the fact they have no teacher qualifications, no knowledge of the case and have never observed him in action.

             RUSSIAN VIEWS

             Many of the Russians I spoke to were not so harsh. And this is in a country which many Americans accuse of being 'authoritarian'. Firstly, they take issue with the fact that
Anderson was late.

             'I thought Anderson was late for class and let his students down but he never. He was just late for school. Most of the Russian headmasters will forgive you for being late for school if you are not late for class.  Of course, I try to go to school earlier before the classes starts so that I can relax and plan the lessons better. Russian schools are more
concerned about you being late for class than school. If a teacher is late often another teacher will take over for you. At the universities the situation was not so strict.

             I remember how many university lecturers were late for classes and even one teacher who was two-hours late for
an exam. But we waited. At the Institute where I currently
teach English, students are permitted to leave if the teacher
does not turn up after 15 minutes, stated Russian English
teacher Oksana Chebotareva.

             Leonid Perlov, a representative of the Union 'Teacher', stated in a recent interview that 'there are good and bad reasons for dismissing a teacher. For example, being late for breaking your leg is not a good reason to be fired'. However, like many Russians, the excuse of being late because of spending too much time at breakfast might well leave him stumped.

             A Russian teacher, Olga, who runs a thriving language company called 'Linguist', asked, 'I'm not sure how Russian schools deal with such cases. What I would like to know is what the teacher was having for breakfast?'

             What is clear is that a Russian teacher won't get into trouble for being late for school but for not turning up for class or being constantly late for class. Most teachers agree that being late for class tends to serve as a bad example to the pupils. The main point is not to be late for class! So they
largely agree with Anderson's defence.

             However, there are quite legitimate reasons for being late. In Moscow there are constant traffic jams and many fatal accidents are caused by people hurrying to avoid being late for work. But if being late for work has no connection or
relation with Anderson's performance as a teacher then how
can officials genuinely claim he is ineffective?

             However, all the Russian teachers I spoke to kept on asking me, 'What does Anderson eat for his breakfast? ' A Russian pupil screwed up his face saying,  'It certainly can't be that horrible buckwheat that our parents force us to eat!'

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Resolution to boycott Bank of America

CTU Delegates Pass Resolution to Boycott Bank of America
By Jim Vail

The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates met last Wednesday, September 9, 2015, and passed an important resolution to boycott Bank of America.

Certainly the union is intent on taking on the banks by publicizing the fact that Bank of America profited to the tune of roughly $200 million via risky credit swaps and loans while the Chicago Public Schools had to cut many teacher positions, among them teacher and assistant teachers who work with children with learning disabilities. Those cuts amounted to about the same $200 million.

As the delegate representing Hammond Elementary School, I rose in full support of the resolution. However, I said a boycott means not getting on the bus, hitting them in their pocketbook. So I then asked the packed room of more than 500 delegates if any had money in the bank. Surprisingly, only a few score of hands went up (maybe 50 or so).

CTU President Karen Lewis said she has her mortgage with Bank of America. The fact that BofA has bought out so many smaller banks, and thus rolled over mortgages that originated elsewhere could very well have been Lewis's dilemma.

So I said the union should encourage the delegates and ask their members in the schools to take their money out of the bank.

I encourage all teachers to get their money out of this toxic bank. 

However, I also said where to put one's money is important because there are other 'too big to fail banks' like BofA that don't deserve our hard-earned teacher money. 

Lewis suggested teachers put their money into the Credit Union that represents the CTU.

Retiree delegate and Substance editor George Schmidt told delegates to put their money into community banks. He put his money into Parkway Bank on the North side and recommended that CTU members do likewise.

So teachers and delegates reading this, if you know of colleagues or even friends or family who believe in public education, and have BofA bank accounts, encourage them to take that money out and put it in the Credit Union or a good community you feel comfortable with. 

Then we are really boycotting this bank!

CTU Resolution to Boycott Bank of America

Whereas, since 2003, CPS entered into a number of detrimental interest swap agreements or variable rate bonds with various Wall Street banks, including Bank of America, which did not adequately disclose the risks associated with these deals to CPS officials, and

Whereas, over the course of 12 years these agreements have cost CPS schools a total of at least $237 million, and $32 million of that has gone to BofA; and as a result of its credit rating downgrades, CPS will now have to pay more than $228 million in swap termination fees, including $38 million or more to BofA, and

Whereas, the City of Oakland is currently boycotting Goldman Sachs because of the banks's refusal to renegotiate a swap that is costing the city $4 million a year; while entities like the city of Detroit, Jefferson County Alabama, and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, have successfully renegotiated or canceled their swap termination fees using legal and economic leverage, saving these entities hundreds of millions of dollars in exorbitant rates and fees, and

Whereas, due to these risky financial deals, and other types of fiscal mismanagement CPS has created a fiscal crisis that has resulted in the Board of Education borrowing up to $228 million to pay swap termination fees, which is roughly the same amount that was cut from Special Education programs and school budgets; while CPS is also laying off close to 1,500 teachers and support staff, and under-resourcing our schools; and 

Whereas, the Board of Education has resisted the CTU demand that the Board stop shifting the blame for its dismal financial position, junk bond status, and loss of credibility to a so-called "pension crisis" and call upon the BoA to act as a responsible corporate citizen and fairly renegotiate these toxic swap agreements, therefore be it

Resolved, that we as educators, concerned for the fate of our public schools and the communities we serve DEMAND that BofA act as a responsible corporate citizen and negotiate with the Chicago Board of Ed to cancel the swap deals, abolish the termination fees, and refund the $70 million it owes our students, school and educators, and be it also

Resolved, that CTU members will advocate for and lead a BOYCOTT against BofA until such time as BofA meets these demands to cancel the interest rate swaps, forego the termination fees, and refund the exorbitant costs of these contracts that have helped to starve our public schools of resources, and be it further

Resolved, that the CTU will appeal to the public, the media, our community partners, and other organizations and unions to widen the boycott to state and national levels.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Black Parents Should Opt Their Children Out of High Stakes Testing

Obama became the biggest public school privatizer of all time, wielding executive power to force the states to establish more charter schools or lose federal education funds.

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

"This is a battle for democracy in public education."

The movement by parents to opt their children out of high stakes testing is growing by leaps and bounds, but remains largely white and suburban, despite the fact Black folks are the primary targets of the destructive testing regime. Almost two decades ago, the corporate world began pouring millions of dollars into a massive campaign to split the two pillars of the Democratic Party: teachers unions and Black voters. It began as a mainly Republican strategy to divert public funding to private school vouchers -- an idea that was never very popular among Black parents. But, corporate Democrats discovered that public education could be privatized even more effectively -- and much more profitably -- through chartering the schools. Charter schools are a capitalist's dream, in which the public provides all the money, private companies get rich contracting services, teachers are deprofessionalized and deunionized, and Black parents lose all democratic rights concerning their children's education.

In one of the great ironies of recent U.S. history, the Democratic Party took the lead in what had begun as a Republican project to vilify teachers and privatize schools in Black neighborhoods. High stakes testing became a weapon guaranteed to fail the students, fail the teachers, fail the neighborhood schools, and fail entire school districts in largely Black cities. Everybody loses except the hedge funds and other billionaire investors in the charter school marketplace. These are the people whose interests President Obama has served for the past six and a half years. Obama became the biggest public school privatizer of all time, wielding executive power to force the states to establish more charter schools or lose federal education funds.

"A scam to destroy any semblance of democracy in inner city schools."

Studies show that charter schools are not better than public schools, but they are great sources of wealth for big investors, while the public -- mostly, the Black inner city public -- takes all the risk. But, because Obama is Black, and Democrats are the party pushing hardest for charters, the established civil rights organizations are urging Black people to opt in to the high stakes testing madness. Twelve of these misleadership groups signed a letter in support of high stakes testing, including the national offices of the NAACP and the Urban League.

At root, this is a battle for democracy in public education. The white parents that make up the bulk of the anti-testing movement are accustomed to democracy in their school districts, through active and empowered local school boards. They know their rights, and they exercise them. However, the whole charter school scam is based on destroying any semblance of democracy in inner city schools, many of which are already under the control of the states or strong-mayor forms of government. The testing regime is crafted to make local control of schools an impossibility -- forever -- and to reduce the teaching staffs of inner city schools to temporary drones, not educators.

Black people desperately need to opt-out of this nightmare.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, find us at

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at
— Glen Ford
Black Agenda Radio

Black Lives Matter on School Privatization?

Where's #BlackLivesMatter In the Struggle Against School Privatization?

Submitted by Bruce A. Dixon on Wed, 09/02/2015 - 09:00

By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

#BlackLivesMatter's national board promptly reacted to a fulsome DNC endorsement with an apparent repudiation. While rhetorical opposition to Democrats is fine, on-the-ground work against their concrete polices is a step further. Apart from the prison and police state itself, no Democratic policy affects our communities more adversely than school privatization, which urban Democrats are forcing upon black communities from coast to coast.

Where's #BlackLivesMatter In the Struggle Against School Privatization?

By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

“Asking where the leaders of #BlackLivesMatter stand on school privatization is not an “attack” on #BlackLivesMatter...”
So where IS #BlackLivesMatter on the burning issue of school privatization? It's not a hostile question, it's a question of practical politics. It's a question of where they stand on the urgent needs of African American communities like the south side of Chicago, where the #FightForDyett parents have entered the third week of a hunger strike against the closing and privatization of their neighborhood high school.
Asking where the leaders of #BlackLivesMatter stand on school privatization is not an “attack” on #BlackLivesMatter either, though some of its true believers frequently construe any question from their left in that manner. The question is a constructive challenge, a challenge to step up and take their places on the front lines of already ongoing struggles for the very existence of the communities they claim to represent.
As Glen Ford eloquently explains, turning public education into private profit centers for charter school and testing companies, and the firing of tens of thousands of qualified, largely black educators in African American communities across the land have been cornerstones of the bipartisan agenda of the American right for more than a generation now. Busting teachers unions with 21st century scab outfits like Teach For America, turning over public school property and black children to shady unaccountable charter operators and the “run the schools like businesses” crowd are polices championed by corporate media and both parties, and forced down the unwilling throats of black communities by the black-led Democratic urban regimes of cities like Chicago, Philly, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston and many, many others.
Apart from the brutal prison state itself – and the Black Agenda Report crew was popularizing the term “mass incarceration” a full decade ago, well before Michelle Alexander's “New Jim Crow,” it's impossible to name a public policy that has wrought more devastation upon black lives and communities.
“If they felt similar urgency, the #BlackLivesMatter board in the next 48 hours could issue a statement supporting the #FightForDyett Chicago parents on hunger strike....”
It's one thing to rhetorically denounce and repudiate the Republican and Democratic parties, as #BlackLivesMatter's national board did in response to the transparently hypocritical endorsement of the Democratic National Committee last weekend. It's another thing entirely to engage in long-term, on the ground organizing against the concrete and actual policies of racist Republicans and urban Democrats. Their prompt reaction to the DNC endorsement proves this is something #BlackLivesMatter CAN do if they WANT to. The question is will they? That's why the question is a challenge.
If they felt similar urgency, the #BlackLivesMatter board in the next 48 hours could issue a statement supporting the #FightForDyett Chicago parents on hunger strike. They could demand Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel give them back their high school, reconsider and reverse some of the other school closings and disinvestments in that city's black communities. Will they? The clock is ticking.
It's time for #BlackLivesMatter to find a way to step up and engage the enemy on this important front.
In 2009 President Obama came into office declaring he would close and privatize 5,000 public schools, something like ten percent of all the public schools in the nation. That's been done, and he has another year in office to go. Under this president the federal Department of Education has become the prime resource, enabler and advocate for privatizers through its signature education program, called Race To The Top and itsturnover of school district accreditation to the US Chamber of Commerce.
“If we imagine ourselves as part of a movement responsible to the needs of our people, it's up to us to learn the lessons of the past and present and to meet challenges as they come....”
Some #BlackLivesMatter leaders were doubtless in New Orleans this past weekend. Surely they recall that Obama's Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pronounced Katrina the best thing that ever happened to public education in New Orleans. Certainly they remember that eliminating the schools that held neighborhoods together was a major part factor discouraging the return of more than a hundred thousand African American residents from the city after the man-made disaster.
Some disinformed souls imagine there was no struggle, no movement before #BlackLivesMatter, and if it crashes for whatever reason there will be nothing afterward. That's silly. There's a long tradition of organizing and struggle out here that predates and will outlive all of us, full of fits and starts, successes and failures, dead ends and opportunities. Organizations, ideas, movements rise and fall. SNCC and the Black Panther Party came and went. The old line civil rights organizations pretty much got on the corporate and Democratic party tit and remain there to this day. Whatever we build today will endure tomorrow, or maybe not. If we imagine ourselves as part of a movement responsible to the needs of our people, it's up to us to learn the lessons of the past and present and to meet challenges as they come.
If #BlackLivesMatter is to stick around a little while longer, it would be nice to have them on the right side of the struggle against school privatization. If this is something they decline to get involved in, it would be interesting to hear why. Again, it's not a niche or side issue. As #FightForDyett's Brotha Jituexplained in last week's Black Agenda Report, it touches the very life and death of our families and communities. School privatization, along with high stakes testing and the galaxy of “run the schools like businesses” practices are the concrete policy of the two parties #BlackLivesMatter rhetorically denounces. They are carried out mainly by urban Democrats and championed by a Democratic administration. They are a crucial test of whether #BlackLivesMatter's repudiation of the DNC endorsement was any more sincere than the endorsement itself.
We'd like to take the #BlackLivesMatter board at its word. That ball is in their court, and the clock is ticking.
It's a constructive question, not a hostile one. It's not a question that can be dismissed with spurious accusations of homophobia or patriarchy. It's a question that needs an answer. Where is #BlackLivesMatter on school privatization?
Whither, #BlackLivesMatter?
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Russian Teacher Woes

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) -- The 1st of September,known as 'The Day of Knowledge' in Russia, is always an anxious day of endless frantic activity where parents prepare their children for the first day of school and many reluctant children mourn the passing of summer.

            Due to the mounting financial costs of school equipment, fees and constantly changing rules, many Russians are not in a festive mood. On the contrary, according to one poll by the research centre, 2015, as many as 22% stated that they felt annoyed and bitter about the 1st September because of financial difficulties in preparing children for school as well as feeling sad at performing the drudgery of household chores.

            But the good news is that 51% states they still  felt some joy so it could be far worse. When asked 'Do you think that the modern school education system is better than 10 years ago?,' 64% answered it was worse, and only 10% thought it had improved!

            This points to a huge mood of disappointment and discontent with reforms. Second City Teacher followed the experience of one school teacher who has been preparing for a tough year ahead.

            A THANKLESS JOB

            When I dropped into her apartment I found the 40 year old teacher of English, Natasha (not her real name), who has two children , one 17 and another 12, hunched over a computer either preparing future lessons or answering the questions of some parents about their children's education. I have witnessed the situation so many times that, that I wondered if  Natasha ever takes a rest. She is almost always busy . To support her family, Natasha performs at least three jobs as well as being a mother to two children. Over summer she translated some Russian texts into English as well as teaching. She teaches English at a private school which brings in just 10,000 rubles and at an institute which brings in as little as a few thousand rubles.

            Only the income derived from private students as well as an allowance from her ex-husband can keep her going. In addition, she is studying to update her diploma in Linguistics. 'By getting this diploma I have less chance of being fired by an institute or school', she said. She has good grounds to feel anxious.

           'Whole faculties of the English Department have been closed down and many teachers have had their hours cut to virtually nil. Any teacher who protests about this has already been threatened with being fired.' I asked Natasha 'Why carry on working there? The pay is so low and the atmosphere is so bad ?!  'It is still represents an income and I might get more classes ,' she answers.

           One thing is evident. The reason she continues to teach at a private classical gymnasium where the pay is abysmally low is that her two children can study free of charge in exchange for teaching English to the pupils. However, Natasha has just received bad news! The headmistress has just informed her, 'You will have to pay 4000 rubles a month for fees. We can't afford to let you study for free as the school badly requires money to make repairs'. All the other teachers who have made similar agreements are also having to cough up more money in fees.

           This is by no means the only financial headache. Natasha has had to pay 3000 rubles for a new school uniform as officials have recently insisted all school students now have to wear school uniforms. She also must buy alot of stationary such as notebooks, textbooks and pens. According to one director of the Institute of Educational Development, Irina Abankina, the cost of preparing children for school consumes approximately 5-7% of the family budget.

           Natasha, like many parents, often hires tutors for her children.

           The history teacher has increased her fees up from 2500 rubles a lesson to 3500 rubles. So Natasha has decided to discontinue with this tutor and opt for cheaper private tuition at 1000 rubles via skype.

           As she scans her computer she finds that a message from the transport police is demanding she pays a 3000 ruble fine for a wrong detour on the road. She wonders if she had already paid such a fine and that the police records have made another mistake. Many drivers have paid the same fine twice because they don't have the time or energy to open up a court case against the local police. She pays the fine.

           She keeps asking herself, 'How will I best keep my job? Should I write this school play for performance? Or should I write articles for a school website that is being started?'

           A message is sent from the institute asking her to supervise some exams. However, Natasha states she is too busy with preparing children for school. This task which can last for hours is an unpaid and a thankless job.

           Natasha has already been charged 12,000 rubles by  a dentist for fixing one of her daughter's teeth. Since she can't afford to get the other teeth of her daughter seen to she discontinues treatment. Dental treatment for children is free but Natasha distrusts the quality of free treatment.

           Everytime Natasha leaves her apartment to go to work or church she crosses herself and makes a prayer for luck. Her rooms are full of many icons such as 'Saint Nicolai, or Saint Catherine, or Tatiana. The last icon is the patron saint of students.

           Natasha is not the only teacher anxious about her dwindling pay and job insecurity. According to Andrei Rudoi, a teacher, pay has been cut by as much as 3-7 thousand rubles', and in one working schedule, a teacher at Kareli can receive a miserable 14-15 000 rubles a month. This falls short of the promise made by the Russian Ministry of Education, Livanov, to raise the average salary of a school teacher to 32,000 rubles a month throughout Russia.

           Even job security is something which can' t be taken for granted.

           Although Livanov promised that the number of school teachers would be increased by 500- 600,000 a year, the opposite has been happening. One teacher is often not only performing his own job, but the work of teachers who have been made recently made redundant. For example, there was a huge teacher protest demonstration at Cherepvtse in April. As many as 3000 teachers went to a meeting to protest at a situation where one history teacher was left in a school which previously employed four history teachers! The remaining teacher was paid far more.

           The aim of course, was to divide and rule teachers. Vsevolod Lukhovitskii, of the Union 'Teacher', claims there exists an absurd situation where teachers are asked to take classes beyond their subject because the administration don't want to employ the necessarily teacher. So a biology teacher is also asked to teach chemistry, and a history teacher, the
'Foundations of Religion' or 'World Art and Culture'.

           Despite shortages of teachers in many existing core subjects such as Russian, more new subjects are being introduced. The latest subject to be introduced into 5 pilot regions is 'Financial Literacy'. In addition, a new standardised state history book is to be introduced to the 10th form.

           The head of the Russian Ministry of Education has recently made a speech insisting that all schools should provide children with courses in two foreign languages as learning a langauge helps 'stimulate logic and improve the memory of children'. This proposal has not been taken seriously by most experts and teachers. If the government lacks the resources to instruct children in how to learn their own native langauge, Russian, then how can they cope with this ambitious almost grandiose vision?

           In many cases, school students are returning to schools which are dilipidated and going to rack and ruin. As many as 40% of schools are in critical state as to pose a threat to the safety of children. In those schools, the ceilings might suddenly cave in, seats break and doors come off the hinges. Many of those schools were built 80 to 85 years ago. Unfortunately, officials, rather than seriously addressing those issues, purchase a lot of new technical gadgets which nobody needs or requires to use. So idle and unused beautiful machines loiter around the ruins of old schools.


           There is an old Chinese proverb which states that you should not try and improve the drawing of a snake by adding on legs so as to make it a more beautiul lizard. If the picture is a good enough snake, why do you need to change it? Many Russians, indeed maybe most, believe the old Soviet System provided school children with a far more sophisticated education than the newly imposed one.

           Olga, a manager of a small company, Linguist stated, 'One of my colleagues stated she attended a recent conference on International Education. The Finnish delegate told a Russian, 'We largely based the development of our education system on the Russian Soviet Model.We learnt alot from it'. This is ironic.
Just as the Russians were abandoning the old Soviet System during the years of Perestroika, the Finnish educational officials were borrowing feactures from it. The Finnish education system is currently regarded as one of the best in the World! The Finns don't understand why the Russians abandoned a system which largely worked and took a western model based on crude tests
and evaluations which leave both teachers and pupils far more 
stressed out and less literate. 

             For all its faults, the old Soviet system offered pupils a high level of knowledge in physics, maths and Russian literature. It did not require endless evaluations, exams and tests which often fail to measure a pupil's real knowledge .

           For Natasha, the year ahead is going to be a daunting one.

           It means preparing students for the ever changing Unitary State Exams. It means being evaluated on whether her students perform well on those exams regardless of the unique situation which every student finds him or herself in.