On transferring public money to investors…

This letter from Jay Rehak, CPS National Board Certified Teacher and elected President of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund was not published by the Trib or the Sun-Times… It was published by Substance News where you can read the whole letter. 

February 6, 2016

To the editor:

This summer, when thousands of Chicago teenagers are without meaningful employment, consider what a 30 million dollar jobs program might have provided. Consider a summer jobs program that hired students at $10 an hour to clean the schools or help paint over graffiti tagged on public buildings, or hired students to be a part of a creative arts program. That 30 million dollars would have provided 3 million hours of honest work for many thousands of otherwise idled, unemployed teenagers. But where would Chicago find 30 million dollars? According to the Governor of Illinois, the Mayor and the business community, the City is broke. Chicago could hardly be expected to come up with an extra 30 million dollars for a jobs program. Right? Well, how about this: What if instead of CPS borrowing 725 million dollars at 8.5 percent interest, what if CPS had borrowed that money at 4%?

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, on Wednesday, February 3, 2016, the Chicago Board of Education borrowed 725 million dollars at an astounding interest rate of 8.5 %. This means Chicago will pay, this year alone, $61,625,000 in INTEREST. That 61 million dollars will provide Chicago school students absolutely nothing and every cent of that interest payment will be sucked out of the Chicago economy forever. The absolute tragedy of that high cost borrowing is the City could have done better and would have done better if the political leaders of this City and state had not driven up the interest rate with their own irresponsible rhetoric and irresponsible inaction.

That’s right, over $61 Million in interest in one year. This sort of borrowing is akin to a family charging rent, food and transportation expenses on a credit card.

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In preparing for my AP Psychology class unit on intelligence and testing I came across this blog post by Nicholas Meier about Stephen Jay Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man.” We’ll be reading the introduction to this critical book in class.

Source: Intelligence

What is intelligence? Can we measure it? Do some have more of it than others?

I have just started to reread Stephen Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man” If you have not read it—it is a must read, especially for anyone who calls themselves an educator.


Our ideas of intelligence are socially and culturally created as well as historically situated, as Vyogtsky pointed out almost a century ago. Intelligence is only what we define it as. Our ideas of what it is are firmly entrenched in our belief systems, in our cultural paradigms. And also due to this any test of intelligence is to some degree a tautology. How do we prove someone is intelligent? Their score on the IQ test. How do we know that the IQ test is valid? We designed it so that those we “knew” were most intelligent got the highest scores and those we “knew” were less intelligence got the low scores. This is as true today of IQ tests as it was of the previous methods of measuring intelligence (craniology for instance). New versions of intelligence tests and even other forms of standardized testing are assessed on whether the same group that did well on the previous version do well on the new versions, and the same for those who did poorly—the curve needs to stay the same. If a different group does better on new test items (which are beta-tested first) those items are discarded as invalid (unless of course the test designers decide they want a different group to do better or worse).

And I agree with Mr. Meier about his conclusion.

Because of these attributes of intelligence, I find the use of any measurement of intelligence highly suspect. When used to sort people in any official way, it is dangerous to a democratic society.


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Why CTU still doesn’t have a contract.

Two days ago I posed the question, “Does CPS have a contract?” The answer is clearly a strong “NO.” The Chicago Teachers Union 40 person Big Bargaining Team unanimously rejected the tentative agreement that CPS had proposed.

The CPS offer basically froze compensation for most teachers for four years. I was OK with that… even though CPS has taken about $2 Billion from teachers in the past five years. I like the idea of getting rid of the pension pick-up, but don’t want teachers to suffer 7% pay cuts to achieve it. Some teachers would have come out with a tiny increase over 4 years, other teachers – longer serving teachers-  would have had to take a significant pay cut.

CPS’s offer also included a requirement – added at the last minute – that over 2000 CTU members take early retirement with the provision that if that number didn’t leave the profession the contract would be re-opened. In other words… the whole thing would be scrapped. To me this seems like a poison pill. How could CTU agree to a contract that forced a 10% reduction in teachers and school staff? How could CTU agree to a contract which had a self-destruct clause in it? 

There were good things in the contract proposal; things for which our bargaining team has been fighting for over a year. There was some movement on issues like standardized testing, teacher paperwork, REACH evaluation and other non-monetary concessions by CPS. This is good. These things are not small. These matter to our students and to our ability to do our jobs.

But in addition to the forced retirement/self destruct clause there was one other factor that made it impossible for the CTU teachers, clinicians and PSRPs on the bargaining team to give this proposal a thumbs up.  The lack of trust we have for Rahm, Rauner and CPS really sank the deal. As Reagan said about nuclear arms negotiations with the Soviet Union: “Trust but verify.”

The CPS tentative agreement’s “charter freeze” sounded like a great win until folks realized it was completely unenforceable because the IL Charter Commission can override CPS on charters. The promise to avoid “economic layoffs” seems too good to be true. In the past, CPS has gotten very creative in finding ways to lay off teachers.

We don’t have trust and many of the things that made this tentative agreement seem like a serious offer at first turned out to be unverifiable.

Today Rahm’s fuzzy sweater came off. We’re seeing the CPS that was always under the surface… the CPS that is headed by Rahm’s downsizer in chief Forrest Claypool. Today CPS said that, because we did not accept their proposal, that they’d unilaterally force principals to lay off $50 million dollars worth of teachers and support staff while forcing us to take a 7% pay cut by ending the contractually defined pension pick-up. This isn’t a negotiating position, it’s a direct threat that is supposed to go into effect in the next 30 days.

CPS Letter Feb 02

Forrest Claypool’s 2/2/16 letter to Karen Lewis

Why is it, when banks use deceptive practices to sell CPS toxic financial instruments Rahm rolls over and makes no effort to fight for the taxpayers; but when teachers reject a faulty contract proposal his first instinct is to threaten cuts that will explode class sizes, further demoralize teachers and cripple schools that have already suffered budget and staff cuts for years?

Our response… CTU’s response is to organize and oppose Rahm and Rauner. We will be rallying downtown on Thursday afternoon. We’ll be putting the financial sector in the spot light. CPS is broke on purpose. CPS will be soon spending way more on financing debt than it will be spending on pensions. The lack of political will to raise revenues in a fair and transparent way is a real culprit here. Diverting TIF money from schools, libraries and parks to what amounts to a real estate developer subsidy is a real culprit here. Decades of pension theft via “pension holidays” is a culprit here.

Rahm has taken his sweater off. 20,000 teachers and supporters are putting their red shirts on.

See you on Thursday. I’ll be the one in red.


Posted in Corporate Style Education Reform, Social Movement Unionism | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Does CTU have a contract?

The short answer is “no.” The slightly longer answer is “maybe… it depends on the details.”


Photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

I’m seeing some teachers criticizing CPS’s contract offer as it’s being portrayed in the media. At this point we don’t know the details of the offer, and the details matter very much. The proposal is 40 pages long, yet folks are debating a paragraph or two we’ve seen on the CTU website or in the media. All we have are very general and vague descriptions. I really hope that we can all maintain perspective and look at the proposal with an open and critical mind when we get the details.

Negotiations don’t produce a 100% win for either side. I hope that this contract will be one that we can all live with. I hope it defends our profession. I hope it protects our members from abuse. I hope it strengthens our schools for our students and our communities.

Much of the criticism I’m seeing isn’t terribly well founded. I don’t know exactly what economic concessions are part of the current offer, but keeping steps and lanes is huge and having any cost of living raise is a significant economic win in this climate. My guess is that any reduction in the pension pick-up or increase in health insurance costs will cancel out some of those gains, but just breaking even at this point – along with some enforceable protections is a pretty good deal in my opinion. Of course “enforceable” can be a slippery thing with Rahm and Rauner. Does this mean that if they close a school, those teachers will be given other jobs in the district? What about enrollment based layoffs? How will that work?

My feeling is that we need to get rid of the pension pickup one way or another. CTU never should have approved it back in the day. People don’t understand it and it makes us look bad… like we’re getting some kind of sweetheart deal. You and I know this isn’t true, but it’s misleading and makes us look like we’re getting something for nothing. It needs to go, but we’re not willing to take a 7% pay cut to make it go away, and CPS can’t afford what amounts to a 7% raise to make it go, so we need some kind of compromise phase out.

We all know that CPS is broke. Yes they’re broke, in some measure, on purpose; but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re truly broke. A financial transaction tax or a progressive income tax would have to be approved by Springfield. TIF reform is long-term and returning the TIF surplus is only a short-term bandaid that doesn’t address the real problems. We need to keep up the fight fund schools fairly, but we’ve been working without a contract for nearly a year and this needs to be resolved ASAP.

CPS didn’t fund their side of the pensions for decades. Our pensions were FULLY funded in 2001, and now they’re only 50% funded. Teachers didn’t cause that, but we do have an interest in seeing that it’s fixed. I also think that the CTU played a role in this mess from the mid 80s to 2010. We allowed the pension holiday to happen with little protest. We took significant raises knowing that the system was not sustainable without major tax increases or funding reform… yet we didn’t fight for that reform. Former CTU leadership and Daley were scratching each others’ backs while the system was getting to a tipping point. It’s tipping now.

I look forward to seeing the details of the offer. I trust that our Big Bargaining Team will have critically analyzed each and every aspect of the offer before they send it to the House of Delegates. If we see the details and we can’t live with them our representatives will vote “no” on approving the offer. I sure hope that the offer is a reasonable one that will strengthen our profession and our schools, so we can vote “yes.”

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A Call for the Next Phase in the Resistance

“In short, as I have argued about the Common Core debate, the resistance has reached a point when we must forefront rational and evidence-based alternatives to a crumbling education reform disaster.

dr. p.l. (paul) thomas

Teachers at every level of schooling have struggled against two powerful social claims: (i) education has always been labeled a failure by political leaders and the media (notably in the context of international comparisons and despite such claims being at least misleading if not completely false) and (ii) that K-12 teachers must not be political while university professors should also focus on their scholarship and not drift into public intellectual work.

The consequences of these dynamics include an essentially passive teacher workforce and an increasingly dysfunctional bureaucracy driving how schools (K-12 and universities) are run, that dysfunction primarily grounded in that non-educators make most of the structural educational decisions and thus the education system is done to (and not by) the professionals themselves.

Over the past thirty years, this process has become more clearly codified and federalized, the seeds of which were planted in the early 1980s commitment to…

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Video: Bill Gates “Explains” Common Core

The inimitable Mercedes Schneider has become expert at unraveling connections between various education “reformers.” In this post she uses a video of a speech Gates gives to the American Enterprise Institute as a jumping off point to demonstrate how Common Core is really about “unleashing free markets” more than any sort of evidence based way to improve education for kids.

deutsch29: Mercedes Schneider's Blog

In the following six-minute video at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in March 2014, Bill Gates demonstrates his privileged view of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Gates has contributed over $4.3 million to AEI, with over $1 million in 2012 for “exploring the challenges of Common Core,” among other issues, so it is only fitting that AEI should promulgate Gates’ CCSS opinions.

Allow me to counter Gates’ billionaire view with my hundredaire reality.

Gates opens with CCSS as “not a curriculum” and that CCSS does not “tell teachers how to teach.” Nevertheless, according to his 2009 speech to legislators, Gates anticipates that CCSS will lead to curriculum and assessments that set teachers at the mercy of “market forces”:

When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first…

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Day 2 – NYS/Pearson Common Core ELA Exam

A preview of things to come…

Critical Classrooms, Critical Kids

3rd grade ELA example

reading passage sample courtesy of @ The Chalk Face and engageny.org 

Today I administered DAY TWO of the 2014 NYS/Pearson Common Core ELA exam to 5th grade English-language learners (ELLs) and former ELLs who are entitled to extended time (time and a half) on state tests. Like yesterday, they sat in the testing room for 135 minutes (2 hours and 15 minutes).

Today’s ELA booklet (there are 3 in total) was comprised of three unrelated reading passages, seven multiple choice questions, three short response questions and one extended response question.  As is the nature of these standardized tests, the students were not necessarily emotionally invested in the subject matter of the reading passages.  The students may or may not have had prior knowledge of the topics, and there may not have been opportunities for them to make text-to-self connections.  This is NOT the style in which I teach.  My teacher-created assessments relate…

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What if Common Core Had Followed the Democratic Process?

deutsch29: Mercedes Schneider's Blog

On December 2, 2013, I posted a piece that focused on the governor-business hybrid nonprofit, Achieve, Inc. The post also included information on one of the “lead writers” of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Sue Pimentel.

I followed the post on December 3 with CCSS Validation Committee member Sandra Stotsky’s response to my post.

Based upon my CCSS investigations and resulting writings, I maintain that teacher involvement in CCSS development was both peripheral and cosmetic.

In the early morning on December 4, I had a comment on my initial post to the effect that I was wrong, that teachers were indeed a part of the CCSS developmental process. I ended the exchange with the following comment:

Here’s the true test:

Could teachers vote to not adopt CCSS in the first place?

No. It had been decided. Teachers were not “lead architects” and were not even in the work groups.

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Petrilli’s Hammer & the poverty has nothing to do with PISA argument

Mike Petrilli’s argument that poverty has nothing to do with PISA scores gets brilliantly hammered by Bruce Baker at School Finance 101.

School Finance 101

Mike Petrilli over at TB Fordham has made his case for why differences in national economic context do little to substantively explain variations in PISA scores.

He frames his argument in terms of Occam’s Razor, as if to sound well informed, deeply intellectual and setting the stage to share profound logical argument, summarized as follows:

“among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”

Petrilli asserts that while some might perceive a modest association (actually, it’s pretty strong) between national economic context and average tested outcomes in math, for example… like this…


…that it is entirely illogical to assert that child poverty has anything to do with national aggregate differences in math performance at age 15.

That is, the various assumptions that must be made to accept this crazy assertion – that economic context matters in math performance – simply don’t hold water in…

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More on Failing Writing, and Students

Very interesting post on authentic writing by P.L. Thomas

dr. p.l. (paul) thomas

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, I taught English in the rural South Carolina high school I attended as a student. Many of those years, I taught Advanced Placement courses as part of my load (I taught all levels of English and usually sophomores and seniors) and was department chair.

Over the years, I worked hard to create an English department that served our students well. We made bold moves to provide all students in each grade the same literature textbooks (not different texts for different levels, as was the tradition, thus labeling students publicly) and to stop issuing to students grammar texts and vocabulary books (teachers retained classroom sets to use as they chose).

And a significant part of our English classes was the teaching of writing—having students write often and to produce multiple-draft essays. I stressed the need to end isolated grammar instruction (worksheets and textbook exercises) and urged…

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