Sunday, April 30, 2017

Charter Disaster

Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing

New Orleans is the nation’s largest and most complete experiment in charter schools.   After Hurricane Katrina, the State of Louisiana took control of public schools in New Orleans and launched a nearly complete transformation of a public school system into a system of charter schools.  Though there are spots of improvement in the New Orleans charter system, major problems remain.
Many of these problems were on display in New Orleans when the NAACP, which last year called for a moratorium on charter schoolsuntil issues of accountability and transparency were addressed, held a community forum in New Orleans on charters.  The New Orleans hearing, which can be viewed here, featured outraged students, outraged parents, and dismayed community members reciting a litany of the problems created by the massive change to a charter school system.  The single most powerful moment came when a group of students from Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools took the podium and detailed the many ways the system has failed and excluded them from participating in its transformation.
“We really wanted to share what happens in our schools” writes 18 year old Big Sister Love Rush in an article on the challenges the students face. “How the few permanent teachers we have work so hard for us, how so many classes are ran by short term substitutes, how food runs out at meal times, and how we worry if our school’s reputation is good enough to support us in getting into the college or careers we want.  We shared how we face two hour commutes to and from school, are forced to experiment with digital learning with systems like Odyssey, are punished for having the wrong color sweater, or how we worry about being able to attend a school that will give us the education we need.”
In summary, the NAACP heard that they charter system remains highly segregated by race and economic status.  Students have significantly longer commutes to and from school.  The percentage of African American teachers has declined dramatically leaving less experienced teachers who are less likely to be accredited and less likely to remain in the system.  The costs of administration have gone up while resources for teaching have declined.  Several special select schools have their own admission process which results in racially and economically different student bodies.  The top administrator of one K-12 system of three schools is paid over a quarter of a million dollars.  Students with disabilities have been ill served.  Fraud and mismanagement, which certainly predated the conversion to charter schools, continue to occur.  Thousands of students are in below average schools. Students and parents feel disempowered and ignored by the system.
The birthing of the charter system occurred in 2005 when the community was displaced by Katrina.  Control of the public school system was taken away from a board which had an elected majority of African American officials and was given to the white majority board of the state system.
The first casualty of the abrupt change was the termination of theSouth’s largest local union and the firing of over 7000 most African American female teachers.  Attorney Willie Zanders told the NAACP of the years of struggle for those teachers which, though initially successful, ended in bitter defeat years later.  The city’s veteran black educators were replaced by younger, less qualified white teachers from Teach for America and Teach NOLA.
The change to charters reduced the percentage of black teachers from 74 percent to 51 percent.  There are now fewer experienced teachers, fewer accredited teachers, fewer local teachers, and more teachers who are likely to leave than before Katrina.  Five charter schools have tried to unionize with United Teachers of New Orleans.  Though two schools cooperated, two other charters have said they are exempt from NLRB – a position rejected by the National Labor Relations Board. One of those charter schools shut out the public in 2016 by meeting privately and online over how to respond to unionization efforts.
New Orleans now spends more on administration and less on teachingthan they did before Katrina.   One charter school executive, who oversees one K-12 school on three campuses, was paid $262,000 in 2014.  At least 62 other charter execs made more than $100,000.  This compares with the salary of $138,915 for the superintendent of all the public schools in Baton Rouge.
Admissions have been dramatically changed.  In the new system, there is no longer any right to attend the neighborhood school.  86% no longer attend the school closest to their homes.  Siblings do not automatically go to the same school, and no one is guaranteed a spot at their local school.  Many families are frustrated by the admission process.
Seven select high performing schools do not use the system wide application process, called ONE APP.   The “lotteries” run by these super select schools are not transparent but complex screening devices.  The most selective, highest performing, and well-funded charter schools have many more white children attending them than the system as a whole as a result of special non-transparent admission processes.  This is so well known that a local newspaper article headlined its article about some of the schools as “How 3 top New Orleans public schools keep students out.”
This special admission process has significant racial impact.  Most white students in public schools attend selective public schools that administer special tests that students must pass to be enrolled.  Tulane University reported the charter system in New Orleans remains highly segregated in much the same way as before Katrina.  This seems to be reflective in schools across the country where thecharter school movement has been charged with re-segregating public schools.   One select New Orleans charter school, Lusher, reported its student body was 53% white, 21% economically disadvantaged and 4% special education in comparison to the overall system which is 7% white, 85% economically disadvantaged and 11% special education.
Another result of eliminating neighborhood schools is New Orleans students now have nearly double the commute and the system is paying $30 million to bus students compared to $18 million beforeKatrina.  Dr. Raynard Sanders notes the elimination of neighborhood schools can be observed in the early morning hours. “We now have thousands of children beginning their school day travel at 6:15 and ending at 5:15 PM, with many students spending hours or more traveling to and from school. This insane strategy puts kids in harms way daily as students cross major thoroughfares in the early morning hours, which resulted in one five year old’s death to date.   Despite numerous complaints from parents stating they want neighborhood schools state education officials have ignored their cries and continue this dangerous daily student migration.”
One of the more dramatic and well-documented problems in the changeover to charters is the absence of services for students with disabilities.
The Southern Poverty Law Center sued over disability violations in 2010…  The original complaint is here.  Children with disabilities had been denied enrollment altogether, forced to attend schools ill-equipped or lacking resources to serve them, and suspended without procedural protections.  A third grader with emotional problems was locked in the school closet and similarly a seventh grader expelled for emotional disabilities.   After suit was filed it took an additional four years to set up a system to uphold the educational rights of students with disabilities.  Now, there is a district-wide consent decree in place overseen by an Independent Monitor who reports to the Court.
Yet, the disability problems remain.  In 2017 a charter was rebuked forsuspending a student who the school thought was depressed.  In 2016the State found that the school was engaging in special education fraud by illegally taking public money by artificially inflating special education services, while at the same time ignoring special education students, telling staff they were “to be a secondary priority to students who were more likely to pass the state assessments” and that some kids “don’t count.”  At another charter, since closed, the State identified egregious special education violations.  Staff refused to screen students, tried to keep them from enrolling, put them in rooms with nothing to do, deprived students of their services, and faked records to cover it up. Yet another charter was accused of telling students with disabilities to stay home.
Discipline has been an ongoing problem.  One charter in 2012-2013 had a suspension rate of 68% meaning over half of the student body was suspended out of school at least once in a school year. In 2017 another charter used handcuffs to restrain a 9 year old boy.
Fraud and mismanagement continue to plague New Orleans under the new system.  A detailed 2015 report found systemic financial fraud and mismanagement of millions of dollars in local charter schools.  The report documented numerous instances of fraud in charter schools in amounts ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars at ten different schools.  These problems resulted from a dramatic underinvestment in oversight, reliance on self-reporting of fraud and mismanagement, insufficient auditing techniques, and understaffed and overworked auditors.
Transparency is a problem.  The State of Louisiana has beenwithholding basic school data about economic disadvantage and language issues until a recent court decision made it public.  There have been problems with lack of compliance with Open Meetings Law even into 2017.  The overall whiteness of the education reform movement in New Orleans, which has been pointed out by scholars, was also criticized at the NAACP forum.  The authorization process for starting charter schools has been criticized by African Americans in New Orleans as actively working to keep local African Americans from operating charter schools.
The NAACP was offered hours of painful evidence that the charter system has significant problems with transparency and accountability.  These problems led Representative Joseph Bouie of New Orleans, the head of the Louisiana Black Caucus and former Chancellor of Southern University in New Orleans to insist to the NAACP that the experiment of charters schools imposed on the children of New Orleans was similar to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment conducted on African Americans.
No doubt many students are being left behind in the charter school experiment. Thousands of students are attending schools rated C or below.  According to a 2016 report on Grades for the public schools in New Orleans: 8 schools received F; 21 received D; 26 received C; 11 received B; 12 received A.
The Stanford Center for Opportunity in Education issued a report on the system in September 2015 which concluded:  “Successful reform must also support school improvement in ways that ultimately create a set of schools that are worth choosing, in which every child will choose and be chosen by the schools that meet their needs. That system has not yet been created in New Orleans. Time will tell whether it can be developed. It is likely that acknowledging the realities of the experiences of the most vulnerable children is a necessary first step in that direction.
NOLA reforms have created a set of schools that are highly stratified by race, class and educational advantage; this impacts the assignment to schools and discipline in the schools to which students are assigned.  Fully 89 percent of white students and 73 percent of Asian students in New Orleans attend Tier 1 schools. However, only 23.5% of African American students have access to these schools. And whereas 60% of students who are above the poverty line (i.e. those who can pay for their school lunch) attend Tier 1 schools, only 21.5% of students whose family income is low enough to be eligible to receive a free lunch have access to these schools. Not only do Tier 1 schools rank as the best in the city, they consistently rank among the best schools in the state of Louisiana.”
As the New York Times reported in an article titled “The Myth of the New Orleans School Makeover,” “The New Orleans miracle is not all it seems. Louisiana state standards are among the lowest in the nation. The new research also says little about high school performance. And the average composite ACT score for the Recovery School District was just 16.4 in 2014, well below the minimum score required for admission to a four-year public university in Louisiana. There is also growing evidence that the reforms have come at the expense of the city’s most disadvantaged children, who often disappear from school entirely and, thus, are no longer included in the data.”
The students in the system are taking matters in their own hands.  AsRethink student leaders write: “Youth lives, voices, and futures are not being valued. A stand for justice needs to be took and the time is now! Youth are the experts and we deserve to be treated like we are… We want curriculum that represent us and people like us.  We want input from youth of color on curriculum and teacher trainings.  We want educational infrastructure to support youth entrepreneurship, youth cooperatives and business opportunities that support the communities we come from.  And we want real youth and community input and veto power on all decisions regarding school openings, closings, leadership, and locations.”
The NAACP hearing certainly documented many of the problems.  The question remains as to what will be done about them.   The students are not waiting.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

No leaders at Chambers Rally

Where was the CTU Leadership at Sarah Chambers Rally?
By Jim Vail

The CTU leadership decided to not attend the rally to save delegate teacher Sarah Chambers job last week.

Why didn't CTU leaders show up at a rally to save Sarah Chambers job last week at Saucedo Elementary School in Little Village?

It certainly looked a bit strange to me that there was Chuy Garcia, the Cook County commissioner who ran for mayor in the last election at the prodding of the union, to be speaking out on behalf of activist teacher Sarah Chambers, whom the Chicago Public Schools is trying to fire.

But not one CTU officer made it to the rally.

They suspended Chambers from teaching at the school and a rally was held in which about a 100 people came out to defend her.

I first asked Sarah, and she said to ask the leadership.

So I emailed our vice president Jesse Sharkey, who stated:

"It was not a dis. We've been doing a lot of work on Sarah's case (and several other cases too, btw which we think are part of a pattern by Forrest Claypool to target outspoken teachers), but there was a conflict last week so we had to miss the rally."

To which I replied in an email back:

"With all due respect, I'm wondering what took precedence over showing public support for arguably the union's top activist teacher on the firing line."

Sharkey replied that, "we are running a big union and there was actually both an urgent matter that will directly impact 25,000 members and the entire staff AND an appointment that was required by a resolution of the HOD."

Am I arguing the four officers need to be personally present in order to demonstrate our committment to her case, Jesse asked me.

Absolutely YES!!!  Sarah has been on the firing line to defend teacher and union rights, and CPS decision to suspend her and possibly fire her is a huge attack on our union.

I'm not saying every officer should have been at Saucedo, but to not send at least one high-level elected officer to show support for our union doesn't seem right.

When one of your best 'rank and file' soldiers goes done, you want your captain right there to show your troops we will fight back.

That didn't happen and it's disappointing to say the least.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Save Sarah Rally!

Chicago Public Schools Suspends Activist Teacher Fighting for Students
By Jim Vail
Special to Chicago News

About a 100 people attended a rally to save Sarah Chambers job.

Students, parents, teachers and community members gathered at Saucedo Elementary School this week on the Southwest Side to demand that the Chicago Public Schools reinstate their beloved special education teacher and fiery student rights activist Sarah Chambers who was suspended a week ago.
“I’m appalled that they are trying to make her an example because of the great job she is doing here,” said Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia, who ran against Rahm Emanuel for mayor in the last election. “I have seen first hand what she has done here. She’s a known advocate for public education and the rights of special education.”
The school board is taking steps to fire Chambers but have not said the exact reason why. CPS made a statement that she has violated school policies.
A rally took place at Saucedo Elementary School on Tuesday where parents, students, politicians and union activists spoke about a wonderful teacher who has touched many of the students’ lives by fighting the system on their behalf to stop special education cuts, excessive testing, school closings, etc.

Delegate and super activist Sarah Chambers was suspended from teaching.
“She’s awesome,” said Chris Baehrend, a teacher and president of the union of charter teachers who attended the rally. “CPS doesn’t like people who defy authority.”
Chambers helped lead a boycott against the PARCC exam, a state mandated test that many believe is harmful to the students. Most states have dropped the test. She has also been an outspoken opponent of cutting special education services.
Chambers is an award-winning special education teacher who is consistently rated distinguished – the highest, and for many, unattainable rating a teacher can get.

Lindblom delegate Ed Hershey holds a sign at the rally.
The Chicago Board of Education earlier fired Troy LaRaviere, an outspoken award-winning principal at Blaine Elementary School on the North Side after he criticized CPS policies that he said hurt the children.
Many speculate that LaRaviere - who constantly blasted the mayor – may want to run for mayor. He was seen as one of the city’s most outspoken critics and thus a threat to the mayor who runs the city’s public schools.
Chambers, who has told the media she just wants to return to the classroom and be with her students, is another top critic of the city’s educational policies. However, she has no political ambitions beyond fighting to save public education. 
“We believe that she’s been targeted because she’s been an effective leader,” said Rod Estvan, with Access Living, the largest disability rights organization in the city.
Chambers says CPS is making false allegations that she encouraged students to opt out of taking the PARCC exam and said she will fight it at her upcoming hearing which has not yet been scheduled.
However, another teacher at the rally was Anne Carlson who like Chambers helped lead a boycott against the PARCC test at Drummond Elementary School. She told Chicago News that CPS never took disciplinary action against her.
Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia attended the rally.
The parents and students at Saucedo say they want their beloved teacher to return as soon as possible.
“She’s touched the lives of a lot of people,” said Saucedo associate union delegate John Toman.
Chants of “Let Sarah teach!” rang outside the Little Village school as her supporters marched with banners in support of her.
Others at the rally speculated that Chambers has been a leader for gay and lesbian rights for students and this made her a target.
She tells people her activism against Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s educational policies is the reason why they want to fire her.
“There’s really an attack against me, because I’m an outspoken union activist, and especially an outspoken special education advocate,” she said. “They cut special education by $80 million at least this year alone, and it’s really hurting our students. I’ve spoken at the Board of Education, and brought parents and students to speak at the Board of Education, and frankly they want teachers to be silent. You know, they want them to follow their orders, and I can’t be silent, because it hurts my students with disabilities.”
The board first took action against Chambers when they changed the special education students’ schedules and tried to double the number of students she would service. CPS claimed it was a “more stringent approach” to identify and educate the students. But Chambers, like always, successfully fought back so she could continue to work with her 8th grade students.
She also led a successful fight against merging Saucedo with Spry High School.
She is a formidable foe to the city’s hierarchy.
When word hit social media that the board was moving to fire her, facebook, twitter and other online forums lit up in support of their unofficial leader to defend public education.
“Mrs Chambers escucha!, estamost con tu lucha!” wrote one comment on the facebook page promoting the rally. “Mrs. Chambers listen! We are with you in the fight!”
More than 3,400 people have signed a petition in support of Chambers.
Chambers has not only fought the city powers to defend public education. She has also spoken out against the Chicago Teachers Union leadership for agreeing to a contract that includes the special education cuts and earlier making a deal with legislators called SB7 that many felt sold out the teachers’ interests such as seniority rights.
Another speaker at the rally noted that Chambers just recently returned from Brazil where she attended meetings to support public school teachers there.

“She’s indefatigable,” Baehrend told Chicago News.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Politics in Classroom

By Stephen Wilson

Moscow -- A Russian school pupil from Bryansk was pulled out of the classroom during a lesson, by the police , for making and putting a video recording on the social network 'V Kontact'. According to the headmaster, pupils don't have the right to their own opinion or the right to use provocative 
sources of information (i.e. opinions at odds with the government) . This incident led to a petition signed by 26,000 people calling for the headmaster to be fired. At around the same time, students at Moscow State Conservatory recorded a speech by a lecturer who lectured students on the dangers of a fifth column in Russia of alleged traitors'. The conflict between the students and the teacher which followed forced the lecturer to resign. Those incidents, along with numerous others , serve to emphasize growing tension between the
conflicting views of teachers and their students. What has angered many Russian pupils is the role of some Russian teachers condemning those who are attending opposition rallies and worse, even threatening reprisals or calling the police. An increasing number of students are incensed at the
double standards where it is okay for teachers to lecture them on patriotism and obedience to authority yet condemn the opposition.
In one strange incident, at school number 114 in Samara, one teacher thundered at a pupil who had participated in opposition meetings that :
"Do you like it when everything is in order? When you are the centre of attention, Yes? Against corruption in our country we need other methods so that we don't demoralise the country". When a teacher was showing a film about Ukraine, the teacher told a pupil: "If you don't want to watch, shut your mouth and get out. Don't prevent others from watching it. Off
you go to the headmaster's office."
Before the rallies of the 26th of March students had recorded many pro-government monologues by their teachers . They were then put on social networks and watched by many. What comes across is the authoritarian presumption that the pupils are not allowed to question or challenge their teacher's political views in anyway. It was such recordings, as well as a
popular anti corruption documentary which was watched by over 18 million Russians that led to many young people attending demonstrations.
Instead of listening to the grievances of pupils, some teachers, officials and the police are attempting to punish them , and even in some extreme cases, arresting them in the classroom.
The parents of many of those children claim that the preaching of politics or religion should have no place in the classroom. If pupils don't have the right to express an opinion in the classroom, then why should teachers be allowed to preach their own views?
Who is at fault? According to the Law on Education, part 3 , article 43, teaching staff are forbidden to use educational activity for political purposes . However, they can express what is a historical fact. While having political opinions they
are expected to keep them to themselves and certainly not provoke unwanted conflict in the classroom. It is not the case that teachers and pupils are forbidden from holding political opinions but only using schools as a means to promote their opinions. However, many teachers appear to forget that it
is not illegal for pupils to hold anti-government views. Yevgeny Bunimovich, a teacher and advocate of the rights of children states: "When I inform teachers by quoting from the Convention of the Rights of Children that 'children have the right to freely express their opinion ', and 'the state must respect the rights of children to free thought,' many of the
teachers listening become dumbfounded. After the detention of children on the 26th of March, I approached teachers, the police and a commission on the activity of minors, saying it is not necessarily to frighten pupils or launch a witchhunt. Yes , of course you need to explain to them that climbing lamp-posts .... is a violation , but it is worth considering why 
children feel they have to climb lamp-posts to get answers to their questions".
Part of the answer to this is that Russia and other countries lack a philosophical culture where questioning is encouraged. One of my students , Olga, who helps special on-line techonology courses for undergraduates at five universities
in Moscow informed me: "Students at university are often afraid of their professors. They are afraid to ask them questions. Our role is to try and encourage students not to be afraid of asking questions so they can later adapt to the world of work following graduation". This statement hardly surprised me! At Moscow State University one of the students who attended my folklore course deeply apologised for disagreeing with me. It took a great effort to persuade him that I did not take such arguments personally and even welcomed opposite views. I mean it is boring if everyone agrees with you all the time.
It is important to stress that the attempts by officials and teachers to threaten, intimidate and punish outspoken pupils don't come from the top. More often they come from local zealous teachers who overreact to any form of disagreement. Such teachers are often ignorant of basic laws of the Russian
constitution not to mention the rights of school children.
The uneasy relationship between politics and the classroom is hardly confined to Russia. I heard how a British teacher in Moscow was dismissed from his post by the notoriously conservative British Council for simply having a political discussion with a student . He defended himself by claiming: "But everything is political. How can you avoid speaking on such subjects?" He was not preaching. This can't be said of an old acquaintance called Donald Anderson who was accused of using the teaching of Scottish history as a 
propaganda platform for the nationalist cause. The authorities did not fire him but simply forbade him from teaching history. He was allowed to go on teaching English. What is evident is that the line between preaching and teaching can often be a thin one. Is freely expressing an opinion to pupils an attempt to make political propaganda or just being frank ? Surely not ! An old English rule of making conversation once insisted it was taboo to speak on two issues: politics and religion ! This proverb may have dated from the English Civil War when the English had become cautious about provoking unwanted strife.
However, one of the results of this was that some people became too inhibited about being forthright in expressing opinions. There was less conflict but also less genuine free discussion. Perhaps it is how we disagree which is more
important than what we disagree with. Listening silently to a disagreeable opinion should not imply consent. Just because we disagree does not preclude possible or future friendship on other matters we share! 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sarah Chambers

CPS Attempts to Fire Teacher Activist
By Jim Vail

Saucedo Teacher & Star Activist Sarah Chambers

The Chicago Public Schools informed Saucedo teacher delegate and activist Sarah Chambers that she is being removed as a teacher at her school and will go on trial.

Chambers is one of the Chicago Teachers Union's strongest activists - protesting school closings, special education cuts, merging Saucedo with other schools, etc.

In the meantime, a petition has already neared its goal of almost 2,000 signatures from people across the country, and other parts of the world.

"Public schools are underfunded and under attack. Teachers and staff are fighting to provide quality education to their students. Sarah Chambers, a distinguished award winning teacher from Saucedo Academy, is one of the leaders in this fight. She has been especially vocal in advocating for special education students and LGBTQ students. Now Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has accused her of encouraging students to opt out of the PARCC Test, an accusation that Sarah denies.  CPS has suspended her and is moving to fire her for her courageous advocacy on behalf of her students. Stand up, be counted and say NO to this injustice."