Published: Friday 21 September 2012
“Nowhere was this more clear than when the 800-member House of Delegates — empowered teacher representatives from each CPS school — called a two-day timeout to carefully review the tentative agreement that had been initialed by the Chicago Teachers Union leadership on Sunday.”

 

A few hours before the Chicago teachers’ strike was suspended on Tuesday, I had a chance to chat with Mary Zerkel, a colleague and longtime antiwar campaigner at the American Friends Service Committee, whose daughter attends a Chicago public school. Mary had been on the picket line every day since the strike began on September 10, and when we talked she had just returned from a “Parents 4 Teachers” march to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) headquarters, where teachers and their allies tried to deliver 1,000 postcards to CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard supporting the strikers’ demands. Though Brizard did not appear — and no one else from CPS bothered to come down to collect the bundles of messages — Zerkel’s enthusiasm was not dampened. For her, this was another exercise in people power — one more small step in a long campaign to save the soul of public education in Chicago and, quite possibly, the nation.

For Zerkel, this week of picketing, meetings and downtown marches and rallies was a bracing experience of democracy. Nowhere was this more clear than when the 800-member House of Delegates — empowered teacher representatives from each CPS school — called a two-day timeout to carefully review the tentative agreement that had been initialed by the Chicago Teachers Union leadership on Sunday. The devil is in the details, and this agreement, being more devilishly detailed than many, warranted a thorough going-over.

Democracy is not snapping fingers. It is sometimes slow and messy and doesn’t always follow the plan. This, however, does not seem to be Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s take on the democratic process. When the delegates decided to take their time to get clear on what the union was gaining — and what it was giving up — the mayor’s lawyers briskly strode into court on Monday morning looking ...

Published: Thursday 20 September 2012
Pointing fingers and placing blame is not the way to build partnerships, and it's not the way to move forward on education.

 

“We are striking to improve the conditions in the schools. Right now the children are getting a raw deal.”

That statement came from a striking member of the Chicago Teachers' Union... in 1969. It still resonates in September 2012, when the CTU's members have again walked a picket line. Although it has often been obscured in the news headlines and in the rhetoric of city officials, the real message of the strike of the past two weeks is simple: We're for good schools; we're for kids; and, yes, we're for teachers too.

There's no shame in teachers standing up for their self-interest. When one is devoted to working for the common good over the long haul, taking care of oneself is a necessary part of being a good steward. People who go into the teaching profession don't do it to get rich. They do it with the goal of inspiring and educating the next generation.

By framing the strike as being about greedy teachers threatening the public well-being, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his lieutenants have not only done long-term damage to the cause of repairing our schools; they have engaged in a practice that, sadly, is all ...

Published: Tuesday 18 September 2012
Published: Tuesday 18 September 2012
In any society where wealth and income concentrate overwhelmingly at the top, the affluent will almost always come to sneer at public services and the men and women who provide them. In Chicago, those men and women have pushed back.

Last year state lawmakers in Illinois did their best to make a Chicago teacher strike impossible. They passed a new law that required at least 75 percent of the city’s teachers to okay any walkout in advance.

How did Chicago teachers respond? In advance balloting early this June, 92 percent of the city’s teachers voted, and 98 percent of those teachers voted to strike if contract negotiations broke down.

This near-total teacher support for the walkout that began last week shows just how intensely frustrated the city's teachers have become. They've been teaching for years in schools woefully ill-equipped to serve the city’s students.

The vast majority of these students, 87 percent, rate as “low income.” Many have no books in their homes and no ...

Published: Thursday 13 September 2012
For people who are wondering where Occupy is today, just look at the streets of Chicago.

Unions are under attack in the United States—not only from people like Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, but now, with the teachers strike in Chicago, from the very core of President Barack Obama’s inner circle, his former chief of staff and current mayor of that city, Rahm Emanuel. Twenty-five thousand teachers and support staff are on strike there, shutting down the public school system in the nation’s third-largest school district. This fight now raging in Chicago, Obama’s hometown, has its roots in this historic stronghold of organized labor, and in the movement started one year ago this week, Occupy Wall Street. The conflict presents a difficult moment for Obama, who will need union support to prevail in his race with Mitt Romney, but who is inextricably linked, politically, to his brash, expletive-spewing former aide, Mayor Rahm-ney Emanuel.

At the heart of the conflict is how schools will be run in Chicago: locally, from the grass roots, with teacher and parent control, or top-down, by a school board appointed by Emanuel. Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, worked as a board-certified chemistry teacher at King College Prep High School in Chicago. She understands how the system works. Months before the strike, I asked her about the situation in Chicago. The newly elected Emanuel had an appointed board comprised mostly of corporate executives, the Academy for Urban School Leadership. Lewis told me, “One of the biggest problems is that when you have a CEO in charge of a school system, as opposed to a superintendent, a real educator, what ends up happening is that they literally have no clue as to how to run the schools.” The AUSL not only relies on business executives ...

Published: Wednesday 12 September 2012
“In a nearby neighborhood, a charter school, part of the city system, had complete freedom to hire.”

 

In a school with some of the poorest kids in Chicago, one English teacher–I won't use her name–who'd been cemented into the school system for over a decade, wouldn't do a damn thing to lift test scores, yet had an annual salary level of close to $70,000 a year.  Under Chicago's new rules holding teachers accountable and allowing charter schools to compete, this seniority-bloated teacher was finally fired by the principal.

 

In a nearby neighborhood, a charter school, part of the city system, had complete freedom to hire.  No teachers' union interference. The charter school was able to bring in an innovative English teacher with advanced degrees and a national reputation in her field - for $29,000 a year less than was paid to the fired teacher.

 

You've guessed it by now:  It's the same teacher.

 

It's Back to School Time!  Time for the ...

Published: Monday 10 September 2012
“This is not a strike I wanted,” Emanuel said Sunday night. “It was a strike of choice ... it’s unnecessary, it’s avoidable and it’s wrong.” 

Many teachers walked out on their students Monday in Chicago.  The Chicago school district is the third largest school district in the US.  The Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel and the Secretary of Educationand Arne Duncan, are being challenged by public school teachers that have gone on strike recently.  Mayor Emanuel says, "This is not a strike I wanted, it was a strike of choice… it's unnecessary, it's avoidable and it's wrong."

Published: Sunday 9 September 2012
The stage here was set by the militant opposition caucus that took control of the Chicago Teachers Union in 2010: the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, or CORE.

Most unions these days celebrate Labor Day with a parade. But this year, nearly 20,000 Chicago teachers and allies rallied and marched to say “Enough is enough” —  enough with educational privatization, enough with inadequate investment, enough with the blame of teachers instead of poverty, and enough with the blustering tactics of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his unelected, 1-percenter school board. A key to both the revitalization of the labor movement and the rethinking of public education in places well beyond the city itself may be found in the chants ringing out in recent days that “Chicago is a union town.” And on September 10, it is highly likely that 26,000 Chicago teachers will be on strike, making it the largest teachers’ strike in the nation since the 1989 Los Angeles teachers’ strike.

The stage here was set by the militant opposition caucus that took control of the Chicago Teachers Union in 2010: the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, or CORE. After taking control of the CTU, however, the neoliberal agenda for Chicago Public Schools continued apace. The Democratic governor and legislature passed a bill limiting the teachers’ collective bargaining rights in June 2011, and Mayor Emanuel proceeded to unilaterally extend the school day and take back the raises that they were legally obligated to receive in the contract. After this series of affronts, the membership, led by the charismatic Karen Lewis, decided that the threat of a strike was the only thing that could change the balance of power in public education.

The impending strike of Chicago teachers will set the stage for much of the future conversation about the nature of public education in the United States — and possibly even globally. At a time when the right to public education, the right to strike (especially in the public sector) and the right to dissent are actively being suppressed on a scale ...

Published: Saturday 8 September 2012
“The Democratic governor and legislature passed a bill limiting the teachers’ collective bargaining rights in June 2011, and Mayor Emanuel proceeded to unilaterally extend the school day and take back the raises that they were legally obligated to receive in the contract.”

 

Most unions these days celebrate Labor Day with a parade. But this year, nearly 20,000 Chicago teachers and allies rallied and marched to say “Enough is enough” —  enough with educational privatization, enough with inadequate investment, enough with the blame of teachers instead of poverty, and enough with the blustering tactics of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his unelected, 1-percenter school board. A key to both the revitalization of the labor movement and the rethinking of public education in places well beyond the city itself may be found in the chants ringing out in recent days that “Chicago is a union town.” And on September 10, it is highly likely that 26,000 Chicago teachers will be on strike, making it the largest teachers’ strike in the nation since the 1989 Los Angeles teachers’ strike.

The stage here was set by the militant opposition caucus that took control of the Chicago Teachers Union in 2010: the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, or CORE. After taking control of the CTU, however, the neoliberal agenda for Chicago Public Schools continued apace. The Democratic governor and legislature passed a bill limiting the teachers’ collective bargaining rights in June 2011, and Mayor Emanuel proceeded to unilaterally extend the school day and take back the raises that they were legally obligated to receive in the contract. After this series of affronts, the membership, led by the charismatic Karen Lewis, decided that the threat of a strike was the only thing that could change the balance of power in public education.

The impending strike of Chicago teachers will set the stage for much of the future conversation about the nature of public education in the United States — and possibly even globally. At a time when the right to public education, the right to strike (especially in the public sector) and the right to dissent are actively being ...

Published: Tuesday 5 June 2012
“There are many lessons to be learned, strategies to be tweaked and tactics to be re-worked, but — for a moment — let’s celebrate the pivotal moment that the #noNATO protests were for anti-militarism movements and struggles for economic justice. ”

 

It was my mother’s first protest, and we were both moved to tears as, one by one, the veterans threw back their medals to the generals and politicians meeting behind the militarized police lines and high perimeter fencing under the no-fly zone of the NATO summit. As thunderclouds began to roll in, I glanced at my phone and told my mom that she should probably start moving toward the outside of the protest zone because I didn’t know what was going to happen once the permitted rally ended. It’s a good thing she did.

There are many lessons to be learned, strategies to be tweaked and tactics to be re-worked, but — for a moment — let’s celebrate the pivotal moment that the #noNATO protests were for anti-militarism movements and struggles for economic justice. Let’s celebrate the fact that 15,000 people took to the streets to protest against austerity and war, in spite of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s and the Chicago Police Department’s fear-mongering. Let’s celebrate the courage of the 45 veterans who threw back their medals as a sign of peace and healing. Let’s celebrate that a few hundred occupiers were able to nonviolently shut down the Boeing Corporation. Then, let’s do the hard work of reflecting on where we’re at and where we’re headed.

Predictably, a number of critiques and defenses of Black Bloc-style tactics have begun to circulate. The question of tactics must not devolve into the tired debate of diversity of tactics that tends to get mired by ideological frames. Rather, tactics should be informed by a ...

Published: Sunday 26 February 2012
“Michael Milkie, the charter’s superintendent, said the fines help pay for having a dean of discipline and for the costs of after-school detention supervision.”

Would you pay $5 as a penalty for your kid neglecting to have shoelaces tied at school?

Chicago is buzzing over a controversial practice aimed at forcing inner-city school kids to follow rules. The Noble Network of Charter Schools, which has received high praise from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is charging its mostly low-income students five bucks for violating certain rules, which reportedly include bringing “flaming hot” potato chips to school, chewing gum and falling asleep in class.

A group of parents whose kids attend Noble’s 10 Chicago charter high schools rose up this month to publicly object to the practice, which they are denouncing as both overkill and a cynical way for the company to collect extra money, according to reports in 

Published: Tuesday 25 October 2011
The CEO of Caterpillar, one of the largest companies in the country, complained that he could not find qualified hourly workers for his manufacturing facilities.

Those who follow the rants from our business leaders and their allies in politics and the media have been struck by a disquieting cry in recent months. We have been repeatedly told that, even though we have more than 25 million people unemployed or underemployed, businesses are unable to find qualified workers. 

For example, last week New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman took us to Illinois where Doug Oberhelman, the CEO of Caterpillar one of the largest companies in the country, complained that he could not find qualified hourly workers for his manufacturing facilities. Oberhelman went on to complain that he also could not find engineering service technicians or and even welders.

Friedman also recounted a conversation with Chicago’s new mayor, former Obama chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. According to Friedman, Emanual complained about "staring right into the whites of the eyes of the skills shortage." Friedman recounts a story from Emanuel about two young CEOs in the healthcare software business who claimed that they have 50 job openings today, but can’t find the people.

There are many other accounts like the ones in Friedman’s column of businesses who find their growth prospects stunted by their inability to hire good workers. There are two parts to this story that should bother people.

First, in spite of all the complaints in the media about businesses not being able to find good workers, this problem doesn’t seem to show up in the data. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall ratio of job openings to existing jobs is just 2.3 percent. This is down by almost a third from its pre-recession level.

Mr. Oberhelman’s experience at Caterpillar doesn’t seem to be common among his peers; the job opening rate in ...

Published: Wednesday 3 August 2011
"The Illinois DREAM Act attempts to alleviate that burden through scholarships that don’t cost the state government any money."

Undocumented youth in Illinois received some good news this week as Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed the Illinois DREAM Act into law, making the state the 12th to pass legislation that will help young people without papers pay for college.

The bill provides a private scholarship fund for undocumented young people who attended high school for at least three years in Illinois, have at least one immigrant parent, and want to attend private or public universities in the state.

In an interview yesterday, Quinn said, “Illinois has to be a welcoming society here in the 21st century [for] everybody with nobody left out, and that’s really what this bill stands for.”

One of the biggest barriers to undocumented youths’ college attendance (at least, in states that haven’t banned their attendance) is the prohibitively expensive price of higher education, as most are ineligible for financial aid to help pay their way through college. The Illinois DREAM Act, like other similar bills, attempts to alleviate that burden through scholarships that don’t cost the state government any money. The issue of providing full citizenship for those youth, however, remains unresolved.

The ceremony yesterday was attended by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who indicated on the campaign trail that he would support such a bill. In a statement, the mayor plugged his new Office of New Americans, which will help immigrants to Chicago open new businesses. Emanuel has taken heat from immigrants rights groups in the past for his ...

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