Featured in The Guardian: A Day’s Work

I was featured in The Guardian in the “A Day’s Work” section. I had to answer 6 questions then live respond to questions from the readers.

Please make sure to read the comments as that was the most fun part of the whole thing.

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The Intentional Impoverishment of Neighborhood Schools in CPS by CPS

Over the past 6 years I have seen the public high school I work at on the South Side, TEAM Englewood, lose funding little by little, that is until this year. Our school was part of Arne Duncan’s Renaissance 2010 plan which was based on the faulty premise that one could simply make education better by closing schools, firing everyone that worked in the building and opening a new school. Being new to Chicago and not knowing anything about this plan, school closings and turnarounds I decided to work at TEAM Englewood (which replaced Englewood Tech Prep). I chose to work in the Englewood community, not because I didn’t have job options of where to work, but because I wanted to work in the Englewood neighborhood.

Our school’s motto is simply “Opportunity”. We want to give our students in Englewood the same opportunities that students all across the city get. I am one of the original teachers who started at this school when it first opened.

During the past six years I have seen our school do amazing things. Maybe the most impressive is that we average about a 93% graduation rate for our senior classes. However, the opportunities that we are able to give our kids are slowly dwindling and being taken away by CPS and this city in the name of “mandatory” budget cuts.

These cuts started small. 4 years ago we had two counselors, we had to cut one. In that same year, we had to cut our librarian (we are “lucky” to be a school that actually has a library). 3 years ago we cut our Assistant Principal position. Last year we did get an Assistant Principal back, but we cut our College Readiness Coordinator. Also that year we had to cut our attendance clerk, school accountant, and tech coordinator.

The implied message from CPS was to do more with less.

Obviously little by little our computers stopped working, school staff had to take on more and more roles. Our Curriculum Coordinator now became in charge of fixing technology, organizing all the CPS mandated standardized testing we are forced to give, helping teachers, observing classrooms, acting as an administrator, among other roles.

All these cuts though very large and detrimental at the time now pale in comparison to the cuts CPS is forcing our school (and all CPS public schools to make) this year. Our school of 500 students had our budget reduced by about 15%, which translated into a $400,000 budget deficit. So now our school, due to the CPS budget, is being forced to eliminate 3 teaching positions and 3 non-teaching positions (for example: clerks, deans, assistant principal, curriculum coordinators).

Now that we have less staff, larger class sizes, and less resources our school will be demanded to improve or have the threat of being “turned around”.
Every neighborhood school in the city is facing similar or even worse cuts.

Our city claims it doesn’t have money to fund schools or teachers’ pensions. Yet our city has money to build new stadiums, river walks, give $85 million to charter schools, and a host of other “necessities”.

I agree with the late John Henrik Clarke who said, “Powerful people cannot afford to educate the people that they oppress, because once you are truly educated, you will not ask for power. You will take it.”

The people who run this city truly do not want a fully educated public. They want great magnet schools that are fully funded with experienced teachers for a select few and neighborhood schools that are poorly funded with an inexperienced teaching staff for the majority.

This is not some conspiracy there is historical precedent for the actions of limiting educational opportunities in lower income communities of color around the world. What this city is attempting to do is a human rights violation. If what was going on here in Chicago was happening in a different country we would easily classify the actions of this city as a human rights travesty.

As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon in which you can use to change the world.” Our city clearly agrees as it is restricting the education of the majority to keep in power a powerful largely white minority.



The Real Status Quo of Chicago Public Schools

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Mayor Emanuel, and Becky Carroll the CPS spokesperson have used the justification (among many others over this year) that we must close schools that children are in under-utilized schools. They have even blasted the Chicago Teachers Union saying that, “union leadership remains committed to a status quo that is failing too many children trapped in underutilized, under-resourced schools.”

As a high school history teacher in Englewood for the past six years I agree that we must break the status quo. We (parents, teachers, and tax payers of this city) must break the status quo that CPS and our Mayor allow to go on. The status quo of having a mayor control the school system. If as a mayor you have to close any schools you obviously are failing at running the schools. If as a mayor you have to close the most schools in the history of our country you have obviously failed at running the schools.

The status quo that allows the Mayor to give lucrative deals to his friends like dodgy head of UNO Charter Schools Juan Rangel who in turn has had millions of dollars of state funding cut off, because he was caught giving tax payer money to his relatives businesses.

We have to break the status quo of having the dubious distinction of being the only school district in the entire state with an appointed handpicked NOT elected school board. The mayor not only controls the schools, but then he gets to pick who will be on his school board. The appointed school board is made up of people who do not send their children to public schools and in some cases do not even live in the city. As I teach my students this is called Paternalism. An outsider who claims to know what is best for everyone.

Speaking of outsiders and the status quo we also are on our 4th CEO in 5 years. Barbara Byrd-Bennett who replaced Brizard, who replaced Manzany, who replaced Huberman in 2009 is not even from Chicago. In fact she is still registered voter in Ohio. So like the school board someone not from Chicago telling Chicago parents and students what to do. To see Byrd-Bennett’s true policies just look at her brief but damaging time spent in Detroit.

The notion that students are trapped in under-resourced schools is partly true. I disagree with the trapped part of the statement but the under-resources part I strongly agree with. CPS and the Mayor say to get more resources for our schools we must close 50 schools. Yet the status quo is allowing some schools to be fully funded using TIF money and other schools like mine and many in the black and brown neighborhoods of this city to not be fully funded.

You see with TIFS the neighborhoods with more political clout are allowed to keep their TIF money and have it used for the purposes it was intended such as funding schools. In other neighborhoods the TIF money that is supposed to be used for schools is actually be siphoned from the neighborhoods that really need it and that money is taken downtown for building things like the $100 million River Walk, $300 million to a private university to build DePaul’s new stadium, $55 million for the new Maggie Daley Park.

The status quo allows the mayor to take from the poor and give to the rich. The status quo allows school board members like Penny Pritzker to use TIF money to build new hotels while having her bank accounts located in the Bahamas. This means that the status quo allows her to make decisions for schools, take money earmarked for schools, and then not pay taxes that in part should be helping schools.

So when the regurgitated rhetoric comes from our CEO, Mayor, or anyone high up in CPS about the Teachers Union wanting to keep kids trapped in the status quo, remember that the Teachers Union is made up and run by 40,000 people who work with students and have committed our professional lives to improving the opportunities for our students. We want our kids to have every opportunity and resource possible. We have a plan for education in this city unlike the Mayor. We demand that instead of closing schools to get the resources our kids should have had all along that the status quo of how the resources are allocated be changed. Since teachers are forced by law unlike the appointed school board and certain higher ups in CPS to live in Chicago these are our children. Barbara Byrd Bennett while talking a good game and using catchy sound bites is really just pretending to care about other people’s children, because like her CEO predecessors she will be gone shortly too.



Live From the Heartland Radio Show

This is the video version of my radio interview this past Saturday morning on the Live From the Heartland Radio Show on 88.7 FM here in Chicago. I am talking about school closings, unions, and education in Chicago.

The coolest part is that my dad Arny Stieber was on the same show talking about Veterans for Peace and the militarization of Chicago Public Schools his interview starts at 32 mins.

The Night That We Were Shocked, That We Were Shocked….By CPS

Performed at the LTAB 2013 Coaches Slam

Our skin has become thicker
From Chicago
Thicker from the winters
Thicker from the corruption
The lies and double speak
From sacrifices demanded by our city
The violence
The violent sacrifices of our students
Of spirit — Antoine, Terrell, Dre
Of body—Patrice
Of life—Trevell

We know our skin is thicker
It has to be
We know you CPS
Perpetuators of Educational Apartheid
Our Chief Officer
“Graduation Rates?
College Acceptance & Persistence?
Those matter less
Standardized test scores that’s what shows a quality school.
Our CEO says
Trust Us
I come from people like you
I am you
We will listen to you
We are with you
She baptizes Englewood with her lies:
Like she did Detroit

We know you CPS
Been to your bogus meetings before
Seen people yell at you about your budget and supposed deficit
Saw your arrogance (no questions while god is speaking)
Heard your disrespect (25% of kids won’t amount to anything to Rahm?)
Paternalistic tendencies

That Monday night our skin wasn’t thick enough
School field trips
Yellow busses
100’s of kids/teachers K-8
Thousand parents
In Englewood
On a school night
Going  to church

Picture the alter, elevated , on the stage
Only the CPS anointed are allowed on this alter
Protected by position
By power
By the pastors prayers of appropriate worship
Picture the anointed
Security guarded
Suited up
Salaried up
Faulty dated  up
Walton family funded
Bull shitted up

Picture the congregation, coming to pay homage, or bear witness
To repent for their sins
Being Poor,
Being Black,
Being  from Englewood
They have come to beg for mercy
Their souls must be saved

Forgive us CPS for we have sinned
Is that what you wanted to hear?
You give the people 6 minutes of your holy ear

Picture confession
Confessions of children
“We will find the space you say we have if you let us stay open”
“I’m in the 2nd grade please don’t close my school”
They know their god is a just god
A father says, “I challenge you to let your children walk in our children’s shoes”
Their penance
Confessions of parents & students; teachers
Presentations, speeches
Data, testimony
Just visit our school —-you will see

You demand confessions
But on your time
Just 6 minutes                        ( Fiske, Stagg, Bontemps, Banneker, Davis)
Times up
Next in line
Still not enough
You must tithe 33% of your schools
No more public schools in, Auburn-Gresham, Woodlawn, Lawndale, Englewood
Let the children walk longer to school
It is in god’s hands now
Make them cross major streets, neighborhood lines, gang lines,
Make them bus
If they want it bad enough they will go
Make them pray about it
God will guide them

But last night in Englewood a thousand people
Realized they were not the sinners
Realized you were just playing
Just playing god
They flipped the script
When you asked for two minutes
They gave you ten seconds
They counted you down
10 all the way to 1
They will not listen
Will not stand by
Will not let this happen
God no longer
Times up


The “Justification” for Closing Chicago’s Schools

To be honest and straight to the point, closing a neighborhood school means the city has failed that neighborhood. It should come as no shock then that all the school closures in Chicago over the past decade have been in black and latino areas of the city. Many of these neighborhoods, like Englewood where I teach, have been ignored, underfunded, and blamed for their own problems for decades.

Logic says that CPS should be trying to help improve struggling schools, but using logic and CPS in the same sentence is a fallacy. As CPS Chief Operating Officer Tim Cawley said publicly, “If we think there’s a chance that a building is going to be closed in the next five to 10 years, if we think it’s unlikely it’s going to continue to be a school, we’re not going to invest in that building.” So CPS admits that if a school needs help there is no way that they are going to fund that school.  Since the vast majority of underperforming schools are all in poorer communities, CPS has, through its own policies, decided to give up on the schools in those communities.   They look at a school as a business investment, not a community investment.

This city has consistently failed communities.  Instead of trying to improve, fully fund, and help communities and their schools, Rahm and Barbara Bryd Benett, following the previous policies put in place by Mayor Daley and “CEO”s Vallas, Duncan, Huberman, Mazany and Brizard (wow that is a lot of turnover), believe to really “help” a community it is best to close their schools.   It’s like a doctor saying that you’re really sick, but it’s better for your family if you die.

We are currently in the most violent year in the history of the city of Chicago. Chicago has significantly more deaths than any other major city. If we apply the “logic” of school closing to violence in Chicago then we should close the police stations too? I mean the police must be failing our citizens right?

Schools, like churches, are integral parts of neighborhoods. Schools are places that are used for community meetings and gathering places. Many former students come back to see their teachers and show their former schools to their children and grandchildren. The research shows that when a school is closed it further destabilizes a community. If CPS did any real research they would know that closing a school in impoverished communities harms the community.  Yet contrary to doing real research the CPS PR department claims that school closings, among other things, help neighborhoods.

Chicago continues the proven ineffective practice of closing schools. In the past, when a school was closed, a new school was opened in the same building with new teachers, new principals, new security, new custodians, and new lunch workers yet with worse results than the school it replaced.

Rahm and Barbara Byrd Bennett have claimed at various points in the past few months that they are going to close schools that are underutilized and also that they are going to close underperforming schools, or a close combination of the two.

So if we have an underutilization problem why are they promoting and opening more charter schools? Wouldn’t the logic be that if schools are underutilized we don’t need more schools? Why are they promoting Charters that are underutilized themselves? Charters are proven no more effective than public schools and in many cases they actually perform worse than public schools.

So they are closing public schools to open more charter schools and closing “failing” public schools to open even more failing charter schools? Confused yet? The “logic” of CPS only gets worse.

Another consequence of closing schools in black and latino neighborhoods and firing the entire school staff is that experienced teachers of color are disappearing in CPS.  They are typically replaced with young (read much less expensive), white teachers. So not only are schools being closed, but students in CPS are losing role models that look like them and are often times from the same neighborhoods.

But you say to yourself, come on, they must be closing schools for some good reason, right? At least we can all agree that closing a school will save CPS lots of money, right? I mean Rahm, Barbara Byrd Benett, and CPS spokesperson Becky Carrol said that closing schools will save the district money. I mean if CPS and the Mayor said it, it must be true, right? Well actually closing a school does not save money either.

So closing school does not save money and does not improve the education for students. Charters do not perform better, the schools that replace the closed schools do not do better, so……what are we missing?

What is the incentive to close “underperforming, underutilized” public schools?

The Chicago Appointed Board of Education (none of them are educators) tells teachers, principals, and school staff how to best run their schools.  On top of that the Board also tells parents and community organizations that they may live, work, and have a vested interest in their community but they, the community, do not know what is best for their school – only the Board knows. This model used by the Board of Education of “you don’t know what’s best for you” goes way back in history and is steeped in racism and oppression. In fact, Chicago is the only school district in the entire state that does not have an elected board.

Barbara Byrd Benett in her campaign to convince the public to trust in CPS and trust her just said that no charters will be opened in any closed public schools…well that is likely not true either. In an attempt by CPS to appease the public (who do not want schools to be closed) they are offering an “agreement”. Their “agreement” is that if they can close schools this year there won’t be any school closings in the next five years. That may sound appealing to some, but CPS can still close as many schools they wish this year. In addition, the language of the their proposal to not close schools after this year just says they won’t close schools based on underutilization – they left themselves a loophole to still close schools based on “under performance”. So once again CPS is just providing a “nice” sound bite.

Rahm continues to lie and disrespect the citizens, taxpayers, and voters of Chicago and since Barbara Byrd Bennett is forced to do what Rahm says there is no reason to trust anything coming out of CPS headquarters.  We have had 6 different “CEO”s in the past 11 years who come in and change policy, the message, and vision of CPS at their whim.  In addition since the school system is controlled by the mayor, the “CEO” has no real power.  Just look at Brizard who “decided to move on” conviently after the first teacher strike in 25 years in Chicago. Barbara Byrd Bennet like Paul Vallas, Arne Duncan, Ron Huberman, Terry Mazany, Jean Claude Brizard will move on somewhere else or be blamed and let go. All the while the students in Chicago Public Schools will suffer, because CPS will blame the teachers and blame the schools instead of fully investing in the schools. The answers are not simple, but in every community in Chicago there are organizations, parent groups, educators, and committed citizens passionate about improving education in this city. It is sad that we allow a Mayor to run education when he is clearly not interested in helping all kids. I mean didn’t Rahm say that, “25% of the students in Chicago aren’t going to amount to anything” anyway? That comment shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially since after his most recent comments about people can “choose to drive” if they can’t afford public transportation.  Rahm has no concept of the needs of the vast majority of the people of Chicago. He lives in an ivory tower and tells us to eat cake.



I Teach

Performed at the LTAB 2011 Coaches Slam

I teach…
I teach because it pisses me off every time you say you teach where?
With that shocked expression on your face
Thinking damn you’re white how do you survive?
“Those” kids need good teachers too… bless you
Thinking but not asking
Why teach there?
Why teach “those” kids?

I teach because you are probably scared of my kids
even though my kids would probably be the first to help you
when they do… you will probably say something like
Wow they are so well spoken…
Which is code for you didn’t think that black kids could talk how you deem proper

I teach because Englewood… is a part of the city too
because Englewood… produces genius
I teach because you …Media….say Englewood… produces death
because you turn your shoulder on Englewood

To prove you didn’t forget about that part of the city
You…Chico…say the city opened military schools and started ROTC programs for those kids
In case you don’t get it and you don’t…
You’re saying my kids don’t know how to act
That it is okay to have them be the first to die in war

I teach because even though our city is one of the most segregated in America you…Daley… still claim the segregation is by choice alone…
That redlining doesn’t impact us still
That your father didn’t tighten the Black Belt

I teach to prove I can teach…..because my kids have built in bullshit detectors
They can smell your shit as soon as you step into the building
I teach because my kids have heard what you think about them
And because you think your shit so much and control the media
some of my kids started to believe the things you have been thinking about them

I teach because I don’t want you to cross the street, hug your purse, check your wallet when you see my kids
But still I teach because you…Eugenics …say that black people are better in sports
That the NBA is their key out
That sports are a black males only choice
You are not telling them to be teachers, doctors or scientists
You are telling them to reach for that hoop dream
That even though there are only 432 players in the NBA
you are still teaching all black males to go for it

I teach because you say racism is gone…
That what I am saying is outdated…
That race is equal….
That America has a black president

Well I know my skin still cashes checks…
That my history is still legal to teach in Arizona….
That I am not speaking for all white people because I am in front of a mic…
That society is still duped into believing that Jesus is white….

You like your role of eternal helper
Saving the Savage
Manifest… Destiny
“Helping” those you deem less fortunate
Because you say it is their choice to live like that
Because your right… is right
Because your right… is white
That if they work really hard they can still go to the top
That there is no ceiling….
Just because you can’t see how clean the glass is
The ceiling is still there

I teach because even this whole conversation about race makes you uncomfortable…
You don’t see color……
Then I teach…
So you can

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.



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.