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Rauner email: Half of CPS teachers ‘virtually illiterate’ – Chicago Tribune

21 Jul

Gov. Bruce Rauner once told some of Chicago’s wealthiest and most influential civic leaders that half of the Chicago Public Schools teachers “are virtually illiterate” and half of the city’s principals are “incompetent,” according to emails Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration released Thursday under a court order.

Rauner made the assertion five years ago when he was a wealthy private equity executive and an active participant in Chicago school reform. His emails were part of a discussion with affluent education reform activists connected to the Chicago Public Education Fund, including Penny Pritzker, now U.S. commerce secretary; billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin; Chicago investment executive Mellody Hobson; and Helen Zell, the wife of billionaire real estate magnate Sam Zell.

“Teacher evaluation is critically important, but in a massive bureaucracy with a hostile union, where 50% of principals are managerially incompetent and half of teachers are virtually illiterate, a complete multi-dimensional evaluation system with huge subjectivity in it will be attacked, manipulated and marginalized – the status quo will prevail,” Rauner wrote in a December 2011 email arguing for a strong system of teacher and principal evaluations in the district. “It’s much more critical that we develop a consistent, rigorous, objective, understandable measure and reporting system for student growth upon which all further evaluation of performance will depend.”

Asked about the governor’s characterization of Chicago educators, Rauner spokesman Lance Trover issued an apology. “Significant change can be frustratingly slow; this is especially true in public education. Many of us, at one time or another, have sent hastily crafted emails containing inaccurate or intemperate statements,” Trover’s statement said in part. “This particular email was sent out of frustration at the pace of change in our public school system. The governor regrets writing it and apologizes to CPS educators for making an unfair, untrue comment.”

Rauner’s remarks were included in a batch of emails the Chicago Tribune requested from Emanuel’s office last year in connection with its reporting about a CPS principal training program at the center of former district Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s federal fraud conviction last year.

The mayor’s office either heavily redacted some of the messages or withheld them entirely. The news organization then sued the Emanuel administration, and this week Cook County Judge Anna Demacopoulos ruled the mayor’s office largely had violated the state’s open records laws and ordered City Hall to turn over the emails.

The Rauner emails were included in the release because they included a reference to the SUPES Academy, and the Tribune had sought messages connected to the corrupt principal training organization.

In his emails, Rauner made the case for more widespread reforms than had been considered by the education fund, a non-profit with a mission of improving public schools. Rauner recommended the fund do a “very deep-dive analysis of CPS strategic plan,” pick out the “most critical elements” and then focus “aggressively on effective implementation.”

Pritzker, a billionaire businesswoman who since has been tapped by President Barack Obama to serve as commerce secretary, pushed back on Rauner, the emails showed. Pritzker argued that projects the fund had chosen to back — including training district executives and improving classroom technology — were important, aligned with CPS initiatives, and endorsed by the district’s leadership, including then-Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard.

Rauner countered in favor of more sophisticated research to overhaul the district and noted that other wealthy businessmen, including Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, had failed to transform public schools despite spending millions.

“The good news and bad news is that dell/gates/broad have wasted close to $1 billion on public school improvement while we have only wasted less than $200 million in Chicago,” Rauner wrote. “We should be seeking their advice and coordination now – with our great mayor and solid management team, we should be aiming for world-class transformation.”

Rauner’s reference to Emanuel as a “great mayor” has some irony now, as the two friends who once vacationed together have spent much of the last year sparring over the future of CPS and its precarious finances.The governor has a long history of railing against the Chicago Teachers Union, both as a citizen and politician.Appearing at a panel discussion in September 2012 as teachers were on strike, Rauner outlined a long-term plan to try to split “good teachers” from organized labor’s grasp using the issues of evaluations and merit pay.

“The good teachers know they’ll do fine. They’ve got the confidence. I’ve talked to them. I know,” Rauner told an audience of business and political leaders at a seminar held jointly by the Dallas-based President George W. Bush Institute and the right-leaning Illinois Policy Institute. “It’s the weak teachers. It’s the lousy, ineffective, lazy teachers that — unfortunately there are a number of those — they’re the ones that the union is protecting and that’s where there’s a conflict of interest between the good teachers and the union bosses.”

A week earlier, Rauner penned an opinion piece for the Chicago Tribune saying the strike “provides us all with a clear opportunity to examine the grossly inadequate performances of many public school teachers and highlight and reward the great performances of other teachers.”

“I have sat in a CPS math class and watched division being taught incorrectly. I have seen the standardized test scores of CPS teachers that indicate many of them aren’t even capable of scoring 21 on the ACT, the absolute minimum score needed to be ready for college. How can we believe that these teachers can prepare our children for success?” Rauner wrote.

Rauner also has publicly lamented how little his donations have done to improve education.

“My wife and I have spent more than $20 million trying to donate to teacher training, principal development, charter schools,” he told an education conference in 2012. “And I would say probably 80 percent of the dollars that we donated have been wasted. Lost. No result.”

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has fired back over the years, including a controversial address in April.

“Rauner is the new ISIS recruit,” Lewis said in an address at a packed City Club of Chicago luncheon, using a term that refers to the Islamic State terrorist group.

“Yes, I said it, and I’ll say it again,” Lewis continued. “Bruce Rauner is a liar. And, you know, I’ve been reading in the news lately all about these ISIS recruits popping up all over the place — has Homeland Security checked this man out yet? Because the things he’s doing look like acts of terror on poor and working-class people.”

The Tribune’s FOIA request that sought the emails was centered on the city’s handling of the contract with the SUPES Academy. The two co-owners of the academy, Thomas Vranas and Gary Solomon, were accused in federal court in Chicago of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to Byrd-Bennett while she was schools CEO in exchange for steering no-bid contracts to their company.

Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty in October to a single federal count of wire fraud. She faces up to about 7 1/2 years in prison when she is sentenced, but her sentencing has been postponed until the charges against Solomon and Vranas are resolved.

Vranas pleaded guilty in April to one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery. He faces up to five years in prison. Solomon has pleaded not guilty but reportedly has been negotiating a deal with prosecutors.

At the same time, the Chicago Board of Education is seeking more than $65 million in damages and penalties in a lawsuit against Byrd-Bennett, Vranas and Solomon. SUPES Academy and Synesi Associates, education consulting companies owned by Vranas and Solomon that won more than $23 million in no-bid contracts, are also named in that suit.

Source: Rauner email: Half of CPS teachers ‘virtually illiterate’ – Chicago Tribune


Illinois legislative hearing on edTPA tomorrow. Send a witness slip. Say no. | Fred Klonsky

9 Nov

An Illinois House committee has scheduled a hearing on edTPA for 10:30 tomorrow morning.I have been writing on the problems with edTPA all through this past summer and into the Fall.All the posts can be found here.edTPA will become the way teachers in Illinois will be certified and licensed.Rather than emphasizing the practicum and student teaching component, those wishing to become teachers will be evaluated by an outside evaluator, one who never meets the student or cooperating teacher or who knows the classroom, the students, the community or the school. The certification will be based on a one-size-fits-all rubric and a video-tape. And it will cost $300 with the money going to the private for-profit education monopoly, Pearson.This morning Jim Broadway writes: All this for a job that’s never been paid comparably with private sector jobs demanding similar skill levels and imposing similar levels of responsibility, that now lacks the job-security component formerly enjoyed by those who survived a four-year probation period (tenure), a job whose once-comforting promise of economic security in retirement has been conspicuously eroded and remains in dire jeopardy today. Good luck with that. This experiment has future findings of unintended consequences all over it.Yet aside from that it is just plain bad practice. More…

Source: Illinois legislative hearing on edTPA tomorrow. Send a witness slip. Say no. | Fred Klonsky

Special Education Call to Action > Bev Johns

9 Nov

Unless you take action, on November 17 a legislative committee will give final approval to changes in the Illinois special ed regulations. The changes would completely abolish ISBE review and approval of local school district policies and procedures for special education, eliminate any consultation on any RTI plan changes, allow a school district to take 75 percent of the 60 days allowed for ISBE to investigate a special ed complaint to just reply to that complaint, deletes the date of referral for evaluations. The changes would not address current delays in evaluations,and deletes the date (the 2009-10 school year) by which ALL local schools districts were to have an effective process to limit the Work Load of Special Educators (Chicago and many other school districts still have NOT done it, and others have an ineffective plan).

On November 7, 2015, the Board of the Illinois Council for Exceptional Children (Illinois CEC) voted unanimously to oppose the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) proposed specific changes/additions to the following sections of Part 226, the Illinois special education regulations:

(1) 226.735 Work Load for Special Educators; (2) 226.570 State Complaint Procedures; (3) 226.130 Additional Procedures for Students Suspected of or Having a Specific Learning Disability (known as the Response to Intervention – RTI – mandate); (4) 226.110 Evaluation Procedures; (5) 226.710 Policies and Procedures.

PLEASE CALL the following State Senators and State Representatives saying: On November 17 please vote to prohibit the filing of changes to 735, 570, 130, 110, and 710 of Part 226, special education regulations, so there is time and the incentive for the State Board of Education to work with Illinois CEC and other organizations to improve the current Part 226 regulations. 


Co-Chair–Senator Don Harmon, Oak Park, 708-848-2002

Co-Chair–Representative Ron Sandack, Downers Grove, 630-737-0504

Senator Pamela Althoff, McHenry, 815-455-6330

Senator Bill Brady, Bloomington, 309-664-4440

Senator Karen McConnaughay, West Dundee, 847-214-8245

Senator Tony Munoz, Chicago, 773-869-9050

Senator Ira Silverstein, Chicago, 773-743-5015

Representative Gregory Harris, Chicago, 773-348-3434

Representative Louis Lang, Skokie, 847-673-1131

Representative David Leitch, Peoria, 309-690-7373

Representative Andre Thapedi, Chicago, 773-873-4444

Representative Michael Tryon, Crystal Lake, 815-459-6453


(1) With 226.735, Work Load for Special Educators required local school districts to have a plan 6 years ago (by the 2009-2010 school year) limiting the total work load for a special education teacher and other special educators. 

Eight (8) years ago Case Load limits (strict limits on the total number of special education students that a special educator could serve in any way) were eliminated.

Nothing has replaced Case Load limits in too many school districts.

Now, six years later, Chicago and an unknown number of other school districts have NO plan, or no effective plan, that limits the Work Load for Special Educators, and ISBE wants to remove the 2009-10 date.

We oppose that removal because it highlights the failure of ISBE to implement this important regulation, and points to the need for immediate action by ISBE.

(2) With 226.570 on State Complaint Procedures, ISBE wanted absolute discretion to decide how long it could allow a local school district to reply to a  special education complaint filed with ISBE by a parent, teacher, or organization.  

As of October 28, ISBE proposed to JCAR staff to set a 45 day limit.

That is unacceptable. ISBE has a total of only 60 days to investigate and make a decision. Giving 45 days to the school district to reply to a complaint leaves only 15 days for ISBE to investigate after it has both sides, after it knows the facts.

Instead of 45 days, the limit should be no more than 15 days.

Instead of making complaint resolution faster, more informed, and with complete information early in the process, the ISBE proposal may result in even longer than 60 days being taken by ISBE, making ISBE even more out of compliance.

Parents (and their child) deserve fast and informed action by ISBE on a complaint about the lack of proper action by a local school on the education of their child.

Increasing the time allowed to investigate a complaint could delay services to students or prolong inappropriate placements.

(3) 226.130 Additional Procedures for Students Suspected of or Having a Specific Learning Disability (known as the Response to Intervention – RTI – mandate)

First, note this regulation requires RTI ONLY for students suspected of having a Learning Disability (LD), although ISBE is encouraging school districts to use RTI more generally.

RTI is being abused by some school districts all over the country. This is true in Illinois.

Response to Intervention (RTI), also known as MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support), varies all over Illinois.

Some schools have short, intensive RTI, but others have “RTI classes” OR use RTI to delay and deny evaluation of students for special education for months or years (in violation of IDEA).

ISBE proposes to eliminate consultation with certain education organizations as it changes its RTI plan, which it certainly needs to do.

Instead of being eliminated, consultations should instead be EXPANDED to include statewide special education teacher (Illinois CEC) and parent organizations.

(4) In 226.110 ISBE proposes to eliminate from Evaluation Procedures the date of referral as being the date of written parental consent for an evaluation.

Instead ISBE should be addressing all the problems with special education evaluations: no limit between the 14 days that a school district has to decide whether it will evaluate a child, and the 60 days the school district has for the actual evaluation.

So some school districts delay that evaluation by weeks or months by having a specific written form that the school district must send to the parent (there is no limit in Illinois regulations on how long the school district can take to send the form) and the parent must fill out the form and send it back to the school district.

ISBE staff have given conflicting answers, even before the Illinois Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on Special Education, as to whether the parent’s hand written note requesting an evaluation AND giving consent for that evaluation starts the 60 day clock.

(5) In 226.710 ISBE proposes to completely eliminate its receipt AND approval of Policies and Procedures of local school districts for special education, and changes therein.

ISBE attempts to justify this by saying IDEA does not require it, and that ISBE does not have the staff to do it.

The entire purpose of Part 226 is to have Illinois regulations that exceed the Federal minimum requirements.

IDEA only sets a floor – many topics are not addressed at all, but left to the people of each State to decide.

As far as staff, in special education ISBE has staff paid for by part of the 25 percent of IDEA Part B funds that ISBE retains each year.

The problem is that far too many of those staff persons are devoted to Special Education Focused Monitoring which for over 5 years has had only ONE criteria for deciding whether to monitor local school districts: the percentage of all special education students spending at least 80 percent of their school day in the regular general education classroom.

The use of a single criterion has many negative consequences for children. IDEA requires a Continuum of Alternative Placements (COAP) be considered so that each individual child is educated in the least restrictive environment where he/she can receive the specialized instruction needed to meet their needs, as required by IDEA.

Placement in the least restrictive environment (LRE) for an individual child along the Continuum of Alternative Placements is where that individual child best receives a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

What ISBE proposes in 226.710 is a move to effectively de-regulate special education. It cannot be done.

While many local school districts are under financial pressure to reduce special education as it costs more than general education,

IDEA and its legal protections for students and parents will not go away.

If ISBE were to be successful in 226.710, the result would be more complaints filed by parents, teachers, and others, and more due process actions started by parents with all the resulting costs to local school districts (if a school district loses due process

it may have to pay the attorneys’ fees for BOTH sides in the case plus all the other costs in expert testimony, staff time, etc. in the due process proceedings).

The best and cheapest way to comply with the law is to have local school district policies and procedures that comply with Federal and Illinois special education law and regulation from the beginning.

To ensure compliance ISBE needs to continue to approve the special education policies and procedures of school districts and any proposed changes to them.

Without this review and approval by ISBE, compliance will not always occur due of lack of specific detailed knowledge of special education law and regs by some school district attorneys and school staff.

ISBE says school districts are required to follow special education law and regulations, but Federal and State special ed law and regs are quite extensive and complex.

ISBE says it may monitor a local school district, but in reality that is the exception not the rule.

There is no alternative to the regulation of special education.

The marketplace will not effectively compete for special education students, particularly higher cost students. Therefore we need effective and efficient regulation, and by prohibiting ISBE from filing the proposed changes in the five (5) areas listed at the beginning of this message, we will have time to attempt to reach more effective and efficient regulation.

Report: State has problem hiring, retaining quality teachers – CBS 5 – KPHO

7 Feb

Coming to a state near you!


The Department of Education just released a report on whether Arizona makes the grade when it comes to recruiting and retaining quality teachers. From the looks of it, the state is failing.

“I teach because I love it,” said Beth Maloney, who teaches in the hard-hit Dysart Unified School District. She spoke in a panel Thursday night on how to attract and retain teachers.

“We’ve had some incredible staff members let go and it’s incredibly heartbreaking,” Maloney said.

Though she was just named Arizona’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, she always worries she could be next.

“It’s hard to say any of us are really safe at this time at all,” Maloney said.

A state education task force published startling statistics from surveys conducted by the Arizona School Administrators Association.

They found 62 percent of 79 districts who responded had open teaching positions. There were 938 positions filled by substitutes in the 2013-14 school year, an increase of 29 percent from the previous year; 53 percent of districts reported teachers breaking their contracts during the 2013-14 school year; 42 percent of districts said teachers who left reported moving on to careers with higher pay; 24 percent of the workforce in education will be eligible to retire within four years.

“Currently a lot of money is going to corporations on the pretense of growing more jobs, which has not happened,” said Andrew Morrill, the president of the Arizona Education Association. He said he’d like to see fewer tax breaks for big companies so education could get the funding it deserves.

“Is the priority educating our students or is our priority sending money out of state as entitlements to corporations?” Morrill asked.

“I don’t think it’s as poor as it’s made out to be,” said state Rep. Paul Boyer, who is a teacher. Although the task force also reports Arizona spends far less per student than the national average, Boyer said paying teachers more is a nice idea, but is not an overnight fix-all solution.

“I do think sometimes it can be more of a marketing problem. “We should be talking more about what we’re doing well,” Boyer said. More…

via Report: State has problem hiring, retaining quality teachers – CBS 5 – KPHO.

Tenure haters’ big delusion: Why Campbell Brown and co. are wrong about teaching –

6 Aug

In a New York Daily News Op-Ed announcing the suit, Brown argues that New York’s teacher tenure laws violate students’ “right to a sound education” by making bad teachers difficult to fire. Brown notes that it takes an average of 520 days to get a tenured teacher fired in New York — 830 if they are charged with incompetence — and that teachers are eligible for tenure after “just three years.” In addition, Brown says, the state’s “first in, last out” policy when it comes to layoffs prioritizes seniority over performance. The lawsuit resembles another case brought by the New York City Parents Union the two are likely to be consolidated. It also comes on the heels of last month’s decision in Vergara v. California, in which a judge found California’s teacher-tenure laws violated students’ right to “equality of the educational experience.” To publicize her efforts, Brown’s new group has hired the Incite Agency, a P.R. firm founded by former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.

But academics who study education say Campbell’s effort stems from a quixotic view of how education works. Audrey Beardsley, an associate professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, started her career as a teacher. “I fell into such a utopian ideology, believing that schools and teachers can change and inspire everything,” Beardsley says. “But current research suggests, unfortunately, that teachers only truly impact about 10-20 percent of student achievement.” Other factors with a larger impact include parental income and education, which account for about 60 percent of the variation in student outcomes.

This not to say, of course, that teachers make no difference, or that every child doesn’t deserve a competent instructor in the classroom. But the fact is that it takes a lot more than Hilary Swank with a stack of journals to help our neediest kids.

“I would love — love — to believe teachers could account for more like 90 percent of student achievement, but this is simply not reality,” Beardsley says. “Until others realize this, pretty much all efforts at reform will continue to disappoint.”

It turns out that figuring out who’s a good teacher is pretty difficult. Starting in the George W. Bush era, policymakers began experimenting with what are known as “value-added” models that try to gauge teacher efficacy while controlling for factors such as family income and education. They’ve come up with dizzying mathematical formulas to try to tease out how much of a difference an individual teacher makes while excluding things like parental income. But so far these “value-added” models have been unreliable. Teachers rated excellent one year are found to be underperforming the next, and different “value added” formulas will yield wildly different results. Thus far, the most reliable methods we have for gauging teacher performance are evaluations by other professionals.

All of this is to say: A good teacher is no panacea, and it’s unclear how removing job protections for the large majority of experienced instructors — all on account of a few incompetent ones — will do anything but make teaching a less desirable profession. More…

via Tenure haters’ big delusion: Why Campbell Brown and co. are wrong about teaching –

Fact-checking Campbell Brown: What she said, what research really shows – The Washington Post

4 Aug

Former CNN correspondent Campbell Brown appeared on The Colbert Report last week in her role as head of the new Partnership for Educational Justice, an advocacy organization that is supporting seven parents in a lawsuit against New York State’s teacher tenure laws. Supporting may be underestimating what the group is doing, given that she called the parents “our plaintiffs.” Colbert asked her some good questions but her answers were, well, questionable. In the following post, Alyssa Hadley Dunn, a former high school English teacher who is now an assistant professor of teacher education at Michigan State University, fact-checks Brown’s answers. Dunn researches urban schools, educational policy, and social justice.

By Alyssa Hadley Dunn

Fact check time: On Thursday night, Campbell Brown, a former journalist and CNN correspondent, appeared on The Colbert Report. Stephen Colbert’s questions seemed difficult for Ms. Brown to answer. She was there to talk about her Partnership for Educational Justice, whose first initiative is supporting plaintiffs in a lawsuit against New York State’s teacher tenure laws. Others have written about the ongoing debate between Ms. Brown and teachers’ unions leaders and about the connections between Ms. Brown and Michelle Rhee. Here, however, I am more interested in checking the “facts” that Ms. Brown uses to make her case. Quite simply: there is no research demonstrating causation between teacher tenure laws and lower rates of student achievement, which is the entire argument behind the lawsuit.

Let’s look at what she said versus what research actually shows.


“All the research shows the least effective teachers are being centered in the most disadvantaged schools, so the poorest… So what the tenure laws do combined with these dismissal protections is make it almost impossible to fire a teacher who’s been found to be incompetent.”


What does Ms. Brown mean by “effective”? Presently, many states around the country determine teacher effectiveness using complex and controversial measures called “value-added models,” or VAMs. This means that, in addition to principal observations, teachers are evaluated based on students’ growth on test scores over time. Many states agreed to use VAMs to secure federal Race to the Top funds, yet research continually questions the use of VAMs. Organizations like the American Educational Research Association and the American Statistical Association cite years of research demonstrating that VAMs are inaccurate and unstable in determining the effects of individual teachers on student achievement. Even the Department of Education found a high rate of error with VAMs! Just to be clear: teachers, union leaders, and teacher educators are not against evaluating teachers. We simply differ—often very strongly—with Ms. Brown and others on the way that teachers should be evaluated.

Now, if she meant to say “underqualified” or “least prepared” teachers are centered in high-poverty schools, then she would be partially correct, but not for the reasons she identifies. True, there are more first-year teachers, more teachers working outside of their certified fields in high-poverty schools, and more teachers from agencies like Teach For America, who place their “corps” members in schools after only six weeks of preparation. But teacher tenure laws are not to blame. In fact, teachers in these schools have higher turnover, and a majority leave before the three to five years required to get job security in many states. More…

via Fact-checking Campbell Brown: What she said, what research really shows – The Washington Post.

Rauner On Education | WGLT

4 Aug

The Republican candidate for Illinois governor says he’ll soon be talking more about his top priority – education. Bruce Rauner has been involved in education for years – giving lots of money to schools and programs he believes in. But expanding his vision in Illinois’ political climate is another matter altogether.

Bruce Rauner – the Republican venture capitalist – has made a name for himself in education – literally. Rauner College Prep is a charter school on Chicago’s near west side. He’s been recognized by education groups for his philanthropic work. Here’s Rauner during an ABC 7 / Univision debate in the Republican primary.”Education is simply the most important thing we do together as a community. There’s nothing more important. It’s our future. It’s our democracy. It’s our income level. It’s at the core of every challenge that we face.”

Sources say Rauner was active behind the scenes in one of the biggest education policy initiatives to pass the state legislature in recent years. Senate Bill 7 was later signed into law by Rauner’s now-Democratic opponent – Governor Pat Quinn. The legislation dealt with teacher strike votes….evaluations…tenure. But when negotiations around those issues veered away from Rauner’s own vision, he distanced himself from the bill. Some who’ve worked closely with Rauner on education issues say….debates like that are why he is running for governor. To have the authority to put his stamp on education policy.Bruce Rauner”More charter schools…”

But a governor’s accomplishments…are rarely solitary efforts. It’s a pretty unique example…but ten years ago – then-Governor Rod Blagojevich was in full rhetorical mode for an hour of his State of the State address–while he trashed the state’s education board.”The Illinois State Board of Education is like an old, Soviet-style bureaucracy.”

Blagojevich called for a new Department of Education…under him. The idea went nowhere…Blagojevich didn’t get legislators…or interest groups on board. That bit of history points to the political structure Rauner would have to work with. More charter schools? That means getting the legislature’s okay. School vouchers? That’s also a legislative issue. And paying teachers based on the quality of their work? He’d likely have to get lawmakers on board.”I think whether this is a Governor Rauner or a Governor Quinn, what we’re finding is there’s a lot more support by legislators quietly to support some transformative policy.”

Myles Mendoza is with Ed Choice Illinois – a non-profit that wants to expand educational alternatives for families. He says a good example of the bipartisan movement around education change is Governor Quinn’s Democratic running mate – Paul Vallas. Vallas ran public schools in Chicago, New Orleans, and Philadelphia.”Both Paul Vallas and Bruce Rauner have really been aligned, very, very similar in their thinking of how they would approach education policy.”

I asked Mendoza if it’s weird – seeing Republicans and Democrats aligned that way.”It certainly does scramble the radar.

“What he means is that Vallas – a Democrat – and Rauner – a Republican – have taken similar stands against teachers unions and the Democrats who traditionally support them. Dan Montgomery heads the Illinois Federation of Teachers – a union that represents about 80-thousand teachers in the state – including charter schools. Montgomery says politics has framed the debate around education in the wrong context.”The challenges we have in this state are not about tenure. You know? They’re not about merit pay. The challenges we have in the state are parents who look around and they say, ‘How come my kid’s school doesn’t have a library?”

He says Bruce Rauner has made unions the enemy – and his economic and tax policies are examples of the misguided debate. Mntgomery repeats something Quinn’s campaign often says..that Rauner’s plans will lose the state millions – and he’ll end up having to cut education funding. Montgomery says unions should get ready to find support in the legislature to resist negative education changes if Rauner’s elected. But they should also be ready for another tactic – that Rauner would go around the legislature altogether with executive orders.

via Rauner On Education | WGLT.

“Stupid, absurd, non-defensible”: New NEA president Lily Eskelsen García on the problem with Arne Duncan, standardized tests and the war on teachers –

31 Jul

For years, politicians and policy leaders have been running the nation’s public education system basically by the seat of the pants, drafting and passing legislative doctrine that mostly ignores the input from classroom teachers, research experts and public school parents.

Just the latest example of this fly-by-night leadership came from Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky and expected GOP presidential contender. According to the Politico newsletter, Paul is “planning a major push on education reform, including ‘education choice, school choice, vouchers, charter schools, you name it.”

‘Gotta love the “you name it” proposal, don’t you? So reassuring to parents. “Relax, we’re enrolling your kid in the ‘You Name It’ program this year. Everything will be fine.”

In an astonishing display of incoherence, he told the Politico reporter how much he, and his children, had benefited from traditional public schools – “I grew up and went to public schools. My kids have gone to public schools” – and then suggested we create something that looks nothing like them.

“Have one person in the country who is, like, the best at explaining calculus … teach every calculus class in the country,” he rambled, in belief, somehow, that having “2 million people in the classroom” would ensure more children “have a teacher that may be having a more hands-on approach.” Really?

Have education policies from the Democratic Party been any better?

Apparently, most teachers don’t think so. As Politico, again, reported, teachers are organizing at an unprecedented level. Through their unions, teachers have amassed “tens of millions in cash” and have acquired “new data mining tools that let them personalize pitches to voters,” in an effort to “run a huge get-out-the-vote effort.”

Education Week suggested that a “new era” in teacher organizing has begun, with “a remarkable policy convergence, portending what could indeed be a more unified response to national and state education issues.

“The convergence, observers say, is the product not only of the unions’ need to assume a defensive posture in the face of legislative and legal attacks, but also of the pressure brought by internal factions that have urged the unions to take a tougher stance against market-based education policies.”

What’s got teachers stirred up? How real and potent is this upsurge of their activism? Why should people who identify with progressive causes care? Salon recently posed those questions, and others, to Lily Eskelsen García, the new president-elect of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, at the recent Netroots Nation conference in Detroit.

First of all, congratulations on becoming the new NEA president.

Still president-elect. I take office Sept. 1. We have an incredible president, Dennis Van Roekel, who basically said a transition period should be a transition period, not go stand in the corner. So he gave me the president-elect title and told me I would take the press calls, go to Netroots, meet with Arne Duncan, start establishing where you want to go and be as vocal and as visible as you can possibly be. Our members have asked NEA to step up and take things to another level. There’s too much at stake for us. There are policies that need addressing and we have some of the best policy expertise in the nation, but those ideas need a face to the NEA, a face for the American teacher that is channeling the voices of these 3 million educators, and when you hear the words come out of her mouth it’s not just her opinion — it’s a whole lot of teachers and support staff who are saying here’s an important thing for the American people to hear and an important thing for Arne Duncan and President Obama to hear. So he told me to start being that voice today.

The voices of these teachers are important, aren’t they? And too often we don’t really hear their stories about what it’s really like to teach in American schools, do we? For instance, I was just at a meeting of the American Federation of Teachers, where a teacher told us about showing up to school one morning and finding a man had been shot to death in front of the building the night before. The body was still on the sidewalk as the kids were coming to school, and the teachers had to decide how they were going to handle this with the children. So many of our teachers are really serving as first responders for kids, aren’t they?

That’s true. So how did the teachers handle this? More…

via “Stupid, absurd, non-defensible”: New NEA president Lily Eskelsen García on the problem with Arne Duncan, standardized tests and the war on teachers –

Incoming NEA head inherits tension with Education Secretary Arne Duncan | MSNBC

19 Jul

Former elementary school teacher Lily Eskelsen García will become president of America’s biggest labor union, the National Education Association NEA, on Sept. 1. In the meantime, she already has plenty of work to do.

The soft-spoken educator was elected president of the NEA on July 4, and she has spent the subsequent two weeks preparing for a major battle over U.S. education policy, particularly with regard to standardized testing. That battle will pit her not only against the forces of the right, but also the current presidential administration. Tensions have never been higher between teachers’ unions and President Obama’s Department of Education, and those tensions have already become García’s problem.“This year it had a critical mass of people that said enough is enough.”

So far, García – who previously served as NEA’s secretary-treasurer for six years, followed by another six years as its vice president – has made no effort to downplay those tensions. In fact, her first remarks after being elected amounted to a broadside against the largely bipartisan policy of evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores.

“We must measure what matters and put students’ needs at the center of the system once again,” she said. “We can no longer allow politicians who have never stepped into a classroom define what it means to teach and learn.”

And she took the same message to this year’s Netroots Nation in Detroit, where it was greeted by raucous applause. In a speech during Thursday evening’s opening keynote ceremonies, García told an audience of progressive activists that she “cannot exaggerate the social justice crisis in our schools today.”

“ALEC loves this model,” she said. “They love the uncertainty of No Child Left Untested. They got a critical mass of politicians to believe it is possible for 100% of children to be above average, because all things are possible to people who don’t know what they’re talking about.”

That hard-line stance has placed García and the people who elected her into direct conflict with Arne Duncan, Obama’s secretary of education. Duncan is perhaps the nation’s foremost proponent of using test scores to judge teacher performance, to the growing consternation of teachers’ unions. The dispute came to a head at the same NEA conference where García was elected. In addition to electing a new president, the union voted in favor of a resolution calling for Duncan’s resignation.

“This has been ramping up,” García told msnbc. NEA members have proposed similar resolutions at prior union assemblies, but 2014 marked the first year that a majority voted in favor.“This year it had a critical mass of people that said enough is enough,” García said. “And I think the frustration is they don’t see that the Department of Ed, with Secretary Duncan at the head of it, are at all impressed with the scientific evidence, the research, that says: Wait a minute, the best countries in the world … don’t rank their teachers, their kids, their schools, by standardized tests.”

Publicly, Duncan brushed off the vote of no confidence.

“I always try to stay out of local union politics,” he said. “I think most teachers do too.”

Yet a Department of Education spokesperson told the press that Duncan was looking forward to working with García, and she says that went to meet with him shortly after she was elected. She characterized her conversation with him as “interesting” and “honest.”

In conversation, García is soft-spoken but firm. Based on her description of her conversation with Duncan, neither side is likely to yield on the issue of standardized testing anytime soon.

“I made it clear to the secretary that I don’t want to demonize anybody. He’s sincere and he’s absolutely wrong,” she said. “We agreed at the end of that meeting; we were very clear. He was very clear that he thinks we need to stay on what he calls accountability. I believe that has come to mean you hit your number and there’s a consequence for not hitting your number. That’s disastrous, I let him know that I would keep telling people that’s disastrous.”

Despite the education secretary’s outwardly nonchalant reaction to the NEA vote, García says he seemed “hurt” and “surprisingly confused.” In her estimation, he didn’t realize the level of anger he had conjured up.

“Arne Duncan is not a bad man,” she said. “I think he sincerely believes this stuff.”

Despite their differences, says García, they ended the meeting with a hug.

via Incoming NEA head inherits tension with Education Secretary Arne Duncan | MSNBC.

Teachers Unions Turn Against Democrats — NYMag

8 Jul

The Obama administration’s education reforms have been almost completely absent from the national political debate because neither Party has an incentive to talk about them. Republicans don’t want to admit that Obama has carried out policies — more charter schools and teacher accountability — that they have spent years endorsing. Democrats don’t want to call attention to an issue that alienates teachers unions, a core element of their base. And teachers unions themselves don’t want to force their own members to choose between the union’s agenda and Obama’s.

But the unions are growing increasingly obstinate in their opposition of the sorts of accountability and pressure that Obama has helped bring upon them. Last week, the National Education Association held a convention where it elected a new president, Lily Eskelsen García, and also officially called for the resignation of Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan. The delicate balancing act within the Democratic coalition is beginning to fray.

The main vehicle for Obama’s education agenda is Race to the Top, a portion of stimulus money it used as a lure to encourage states to overhaul their schools, and which produced sweeping changes. That Race to the Top was tucked into a massive bill that passed very quickly, in the midst of an economic calamity, further obscured the scope of Obama’s agenda. That revolution has continued to proceed, often carried out by a cadre of center-left education-policy reformers allied with the administration. The reformers, citing evidence that good teachers can teach the same class of students dramatically more than a poor teacher can, have introduced new methods to bring talented recruits into the teaching profession and to weed out ineffective teachers. They have also encouraged the spread of public charter schools, which experiment with new pedagogical methods.

One of the most effective innovations used by the best charterschools is a longer teaching day. More school time has been found especially helpful for low-income children, who receive less academic support at home. In Washington, D.C., school chancellor Kaya Henderson has made longer school days a priority, and urged teachers to embrace it — not only will they be paid more directly for their additional teaching time, but the likely improved student outcomes will also increase teachers’ bonus pay. The Washington Teachers Union has blocked Henderson.

The leaders of the teachers unions have generally taken care to placate the demands of their most implacably anti-reform members without opening an irreparable breach with the administration. The unions have strong, clear-headed reasons for their caution. However strongly they disagree with Obama and the education reformers about the design of education and teacher pay, they do agree on the principle of paying teachers more. This is in contrast to Republicans, who generally support all the reformers’ accountability measures and lower public budgets as well. And the leaders recognize that the hard-line unionist position — tenure rules that make it impossible to fire even the worst-performing teachers — are nearly impossible to defend with the public. More…

via Teachers Unions Turn Against Democrats — NYMag.

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