True Educational Improvement

When I was in high school, in a white middle class area, three consecutive junior classes had lost someone in a car crash.   During my sophomore year the topic would sometimes turn to “who do you think will die when we are juniors?” Morbid? No doubt, but these accidental deaths caused students to worry about their own mortality.

Fifteen years later, as a high school teacher in Englewood, I see the same worry in my students – but it’s not about car accidents.   Growing up black, on the South Side, my students are guaranteed to experience a tragic event to someone that they know and care about. Let me repeat this, my students are guaranteed to experience a tragedy. Many of them have already experienced the loss of multiple tragic and violent deaths of their classmates and loved ones.

My students are the smartest people I know. They know what route to take to and from school to reduce their chances of witnessing or being caught in a tragic event. There is no clear “safe” path, but there are better routes than others. My students, because they are from Englewood do not have the privilege of safe passage.

How is it possible to truly have the same opportunities as students in other parts of the city, state, and country when you have to think about your own mortality EVERY day as you walk to and from school?  The policy leaders of Chicago actively choose who is of value and who is not.  Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and his appointed officials decide whose life is important and whose life is expendable. Harsh?  No, just reality..

Emmanuel found the money to create plans for a $100 million river walk downtown. He found the money to create a $55 million park downtown for Maggie Daley. These improvements would be good if there weren’t more pressing needs, if there weren’t people dying in certain parts of the city where brown and black people live.  Some say, “you can’t just throw money at a problem”.  That’s true, but if our elected officials cared they’d develop a plan and use the money effectively.  With a $100 million you could bring together experts from around the world to create solutions so that my students in Englewood would have the freedom of safe passage to and from school.  With $55 million the policy leaders could create real change with programs and services in the communities where they are underserved or nonexistent.

As a teacher I know many students who, in spite of their neighborhood, family, or personal situation, were able to make it, go to college, and be successful. But as a human I want people to have the privilege to not have to hear “in spite of” when they tell their story about where they are from and where they are now. Because for every “in spite of” story we hear, there are hundreds of people who did not “make it”. Blaming the victim will not fix the tragic problem. Placing budgetary, political, and moral priority on this problem can.

As a teacher, parent, and citizen I want nothing more than to improve education in Chicago. As a teacher, parent, and citizen I also realize that before we can truly improve education we have to place priority on giving students all over of the city, regardless of zip code, the “privilege” of knowing no matter what route they take to school they will be safe.  It just comes down to the question “Does Rahm Emmanuel want to truly improve education?” If he really does then he needs to improve the lives and communities of the students and families that he is obligated as mayor to represent.  Rahm Emmanuel needs to give my students and every student the privilege of not having guaranteed tragedies to overcome.

Schools of Choice?

School Choice or Voucher Programs are again gaining appeal among politicians and the media. The idea seems logical enough, parents/kids should be able to choose the “best” school. The money connected to that student (which would normally go to their neighborhood school) would follow the student to their choice of school.  This would occur whether their choice school was public, charter or private, and variables such as attendance boundaries would not matter.

The very definition of School Choice means some students will be able to go to the school of their choice, while the other students will be left behind. The idea of School Choice is another top down policy brought in from the business sector. Essentially, the premise is that competition will make all teachers and schools “work harder”.  The belief in school choice means that schools under this policy would have to compete for students (read money – under this plan students become walking dollar signs) and that all schools would get better.

As someone who has dedicated my life to working in education, I can tell you that schools are already working very hard to get better.  Improvements in education are needed, but the School Choice/Voucher Program is not an improvement.   It is a program designed to maintain or actually increase the disparity in education.   Some students will gain access to schools with new technologies, books, libraries, a full rich curriculum, and services and supports needed to give students an amazing education.   Other students will continue to have schools with no library, broken computers, and a severe lack of resources and supports needed to truly improve the quality of life for every student.

Schools in disadvantaged communities will stay disadvantaged, because they will not be able to “compete” for students. Parents who have the time and knowledge about how school choice would work would be able to get their student into a school of their choice as long as that school wasn’t full. Parents who either lack sufficient time, knowledge, or political leverage to get their student into a “better” school will be labeled as “bad” parents who have made poor choices for their children. It will allow the system to continue to blame parents as well as teachers for the short comings of the school system, city, and state.

School Choice will also make schools financially unable to have smaller class sizes. Since each student is a walking $ sign, larger classes mean more money.  Having smaller class sizes (25 max in high school, 20 max in elementary) is significant because class size and teacher experience are the only two factors proven to increase student educational growth.

Voucher programs will continue to provide unequal education.  Some students will have access to schools in “good” neighborhoods, while other  students will be left in “bad” neighborhoods. Voucher programs will also negatively impact students of color more than their white counterparts. Through our country’s policies there has been a much easier path to success for white students than students of color. The School Choice/Voucher program would in no way reverse this historical disparity.

Voucher programs claim they will reduce the achievement gap in our country.  They will, in fact, widen this gap. A small number of students from disadvantaged neighborhoods will no doubt find schools of their “choice”, but this is not because of a voucher policy.  This is because these same students, based on their elementary school grades and test scores, would be able to attend magnet schools anyway.

The logistics of making every school a “choice” school is untenable.  Why would a white parent from the north side choose to send their student to a school in Englewood regardless of how good the school is? How quickly will the seats fill up at Northside College Prep, Whitney Young, Walter Payton etc. compared to Robeson, Harper, and Hope? Parents who have the clout and where with all will not send their kids to schools in Austin or Lawndale.  While parents whose students attend schools in Woodlawn and Auburn-Gresham will find that there is no space at the schools they want to send their kids to so they will return back to their original school or a school nearby. Through all this rhetoric of choice and vouchers the real issues plaguing education, our society, and country will still remain. School choice does not address the root causes of poverty, violence, racism, and oppression. Vouchers will not magically make the neighborhoods our students live in safe.

There is no magic solution or new idea that will drastically change education.   All that is needed is commitment to the premise that we are “all created equal” and then fully fund education accordingly. A budget is not a financial document, but a political one. A budget is about priorities and choices. Although the claim of budget deficits is repeated over and over there are significant funds available to be used to truly make our schools equitable for all.  The question becomes: are the policy makers actually interested in doing that?

Chicago Promotes Educational Apartheid

The use of the word Apartheid conjures up blatant injustice and horrible conditions. As a history teacher I was selected to travel to South Africa a few years to study Apartheid and how the effects of Apartheid still impact much of South Africa. I traveled to schools in wealthy suburbs both public and private and to public schools in incredibly poor townships. I was able to see the outrageous differences between the haves and the have nots. In the United States we do not have people living in shacks in huge numbers like all too many people live in, in the townships in South Africa. However, we do have huge differences between fully funded schools and school districts and the schools and school districts that are not fully funded.

Chicago is suffering educational apartheid.

Rahm Emanuel sends his kids to elite schools where the kids have everything. All kids deserve the same programs and advantages in school. The school I work at in Englewood has one nurse who comes on Fridays, for a half day.  So in reality my student can only get sick or injured on Friday afternoons .

Rahms kids go to a school in a safe neighborhood. In Englewood the kids are often not even safe walking to and from school.

We have a library with no librarian.  We have a social worker that is shared between 3 schools.  He is at our school two days a week. We have just had one of the most violent summers in Chicago history. I am offended as a parent, a teacher, and as a person that there are only 370 social workers, psychologists and nurses for 400,000 students. Demanding that every school be staffed with a nurse, social worker, and psychologist daily is a necessity.

Our school has one counselor for all 500 students. He is required to help kids get into colleges, do test prep, help kids with social and emotional issues as well as many administrative tasks. We have to literally beg the school board for additional Special Ed positions.  Even though we have a high Special Ed student population.

Our school had to let go of our attendance clerk and our school’s accountant, because we didn’t have the money to fund their positions.

My school is not unique.

Chicago has educational apartheid.

Schools in Chicago routinely have 30-40 kids in classrooms especially at the lower elementary grades. I interviewed at an elementary school to teach 7th grade and was told I would have 42 kids in my classes.

We do not have funds available to make sure books are ready the first day of school.  We have to wait until the 20th day of school to get the full funding.

Think about the school you attended and the community you grew up in. Did you grow up having more than the kids I describe in Chicago? Would your community and parents have allowed these gross injustices to occur? Or did you grow up in Chicago where parents, students, and teachers have been doing the best they can with what they are given and in the process they often forgot the advantages that they didn’t have?

Chicago has educational apartheid.

Teachers right now are being portrayed as greedy teachers. I’ll admit it, I’m a greedy teacher. I’m greedy to give my students an education that they deserve. I’m greedy to give every student the same opportunity across the city of Chicago. I know as a teacher I can create amazing lesson plans and engage my students, but I also know as a teacher that I cannot give them fully funded schools that every parent would be proud of. I’m greedy for my students to get every opportunity and advantage that Rahm’s kids get.

Why is Chicago allowing this to happen? Why has the city let the students of Chicago mostly black and brown students go to disadvantaged schools like the one I described? Why does the mayor always claim he has no money to make schools better? Where is all the money going? How can he allow this to occur? A budget is a political document not a financial one. A budget is all about priorities. Clearly the mayor has his priorities elsewhere.

We cannot and will not let this go on any longer. What is happening in Chicago is racist, elitist, and flat out Educational Apartheid and this city will not take it anymore.

Help the city to get an elected school board, ask your alderman to demand for transparency when schools are put on the chopping block to be closed.


Chicago has educational apartheid that teachers are fighting to end, but we need your help to get the word out.

What’s At Stake for Chicago Public Educators?

You have undoubtedly heard the news reports, radio attack ads, CPS representatives, the “CEO” of Chicago Public Schools, and the Mayor saying how teachers are walking out on the students if we strike. Parents, students, residents of this city, as a teacher let me tell you, comments like that rip teachers to our core.   As cliché as it sounds teaching is a calling. It’s not as if one day we just said, “I guess I’ll just be a teacher.”  It takes skill and dedication to stand in front of 30 (sometimes more) young people in a classroom and truly care and be able to teach every one of them. It is not possible to just be mediocre when it comes to teaching students. A young person is the first to let you know if you aren’t doing a good job at teaching the lesson, not getting graded work passed back quickly enough, heck, they will even let you know if you look bad that day.

Teachers just can’t punch in, start thinking about kids then punch out and stop. Teachers are always trying to improve our lesson plans, grade, figure out ways to reach the students who are withdrawn, quiet, confrontational or disrupting class. We just can’t shut our students out of our lives when the bell rings.

Unless you are a teacher you have no idea the pain, frustration and intrinsic anger we feel when some paid radio ad claims, that “teachers are walking out on students”. Some days after teaching, I honestly wish I could walk out on my students and never come back. But no matter how frustrating our day may have been it is the kids that always bring us back. Teachers spend our lunch periods, before and after school helping, coaching, and listening to our students.

After days of teaching we spend nights in grad school, trying to make ourselves better teachers. We raise children and think about how we want our own child to be like __(insert name here)__ that we taught a few years back.

There is nothing about our careers, our schools, and our students that we take lightly.

So please understand, teachers are trying to teach you that our careers and professions are under attack. Please understand we are trying to teach you about how your child’s education is under attack.

You may find this dramatic, but education is at a crossroads in our country and our neighborhood, our city is right at the intersection of these crossroads. There is an attempt to make schooling privatized, charter-ized, and more inequitable than it already is. There is an attempt to get rid of experienced teachers who have built relationships with families, who truly know how to teach and replace them with less expensive inexperienced teachers who likely will only be at the school for two years.

There is an attempt to teach through testing, to make your child so bored in school from over standardized testing that students aren’t excited for school anymore. There is an attempt to further cut librarians, counselors, nurses, PE, World Language, Art and now classroom teachers, in order to “save” money.  A budget is a political document, not a financial one, it’s about priorities.  Some priorities obviously need to be re-evaluated.

Teachers in no way shape or form want to strike, we want to be working with and educating your children. The CTU, which represents and is elected by 26,000 educators across this city has had over 50 negotiation meetings with CPS since November 2011. In all of that time “CEO” Brizard has attended zero of those meetings, which means there was no one from CPS at the bargaining table with any educational experience.

So I ask, how do you bargain on what is best for students with people who have never taught students?

At stake is way more than pay. At stake for us is doing what is right for our community, our city, and yes our students, because as teachers it is always about the kids.

Aurora Colorado & Chicago Shootings

I am truly sorry for the people and families who lost their lives in the Aurora Colorado shooting. I know it was a horrific event that deserves national attention. I wonder though, in Chicago since Memorial Day over 130 people have been killed, hundreds more shot. Just Friday night 3 people were killed and 21 were shot. Why is this Chicago violence not getting national attention? Why is this violence not even getting local attention other than to say another shooting happened and then move on to the next news topic? Are the shootings not getting attention because most of the shootings take place in the South and West sides of the city? Are the shootings not getting attention because the people being shot and killed are black? Are these questions making you uncomfortable? Are you trying to think of other answers of why these shootings are not getting attention? Are you blaming the victims? Are you trying to say it was all “gang” related? Are you trying to say it isn’t because of the areas of the city where the shootings are taking place? Are you trying to say it isn’t because of race?  How can it not get national attention that more people have been shot and killed in Chicago by gun violence than in the war in Afghanistan? Maybe even the better question is what are we as citizens in this city, state, and country really doing about it besides making excuses, ignoring it and going on about our daily lives or being thankful that we don’t live in “those” neighborhoods?

Informational Teacher Pickets

We educators always prepare and plan ahead. We plan our student’s lessons, units, and curriculums weeks and months in advance. So of course we have been planning that if CPS continues to belittle, offend, and generally not put the best interests of students and teachers first then we will strike if necessary. We don’t want to strike so we have planned events along the way to avoid one, we have held marches, parent town hall meetings, written letters to newspapers, been on tv, and now we are holding informational pickets just in case CPS continues to not understand how to effectively educate children. CPS is pushing for merit pay, which has been proven ineffective in study after study. CPS is funding charter schools ahead of public schools, even though studies show charters do no better than public schools. CPS is trying to eliminate language in the new contract on class size and teacher seniority even though studies show class size and teacher experience are the two things that lead to dramatic student educational growth. We are teachers and we know these things, because we read and prepare. In another recent study it shows that teachers actually work on average 18 hours a week on our own unpaid time being prepared. So this week nearly every Track E school will have teachers outside picketing a school system that has no idea what it is doing, because it is a school system with a board of education who were never even educators in the first place. We teachers are prepared to do what is best for the students even if it means doing what is painful for us and them and that is going on strike.

“Teachers Would Walk Out On Students”

You have undoubtedly heard the news reports, radio attack ads, CPS representatives, the “CEO” of Chicago Public Schools, and the Mayor saying how teachers are walking out on the students if we strike. To teachers who have dedicate our entire professional lives to students that comment and comments like those are beyond offensive.

Teachers just can’t punch in and think about kids and punch out and not think about kids anymore. We, teachers are always trying to improve our lesson plans, grade, figure out ways to reach the students who are withdrawn, quiet, confrontational or disrupting class. We just can’t shut our caring about young people off when the bell rings.

Teachers in no way shape or form want to strike, we want to be working with and educating your children. The CTU which represents and is elected by 26,000 educators across this city has had over 50 negotiation meetings with CPS since November 2011. In all of that time “CEO” Brizard has attended zero of those meetings, which means there was no one from CPS at the bargaining table with any educational experience. So how do you bargain on what is best for students with people who have never taught students?

So in 10 days if we strike, we will be walking out for and in some cases with the students not out on them.