Monday, March 19, 2007

Charters Are Bad Places To Work


No Union.

Simple isn't it? Read this (full story here) and tell me that getting rid of unions is a good thing:

Administrators at a Los Angeles charter school forbade students from reciting a poem about civil rights icon Emmett Till during a Black History Month program recently, saying his story was unsuitable for an assembly of young children.

Teachers and students said the administration suggested that the Till case — in which the teenager was beaten to death in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a white woman — was not fitting for a program intended to be celebratory, and that Till's actions could be viewed as sexual harassment.

The decision by Celerity Nascent Charter School leaders roiled the southwest Los Angeles campus and led to the firing of seventh-grade teacher Marisol Alba and math teacher Sean Strauss, who had signed one of several letters of protest written by the students.

The incident highlights the tenuous job security for mostly nonunion teachers in charter schools, (Italics mine - Ed.) which are publicly financed but independently run. California has more than 600 charter schools, and their ranks continue to swell. According to the California Teachers Assn., staff at fewer than 10% of charter schools are represented by unions.

"I never thought it would come to this," said Alba, who helped her students prepare the Till presentation, in which they were going to read a poem and lay flowers in a circle. "I thought the most that would happen to me [after the event was canceled] is that I'd get talked to and it would be turned into a learning and teaching experience."

School officials refused to discuss the particulars of the teachers' firings but said the issue highlights the difficulty of providing positive images for students who are often bombarded by negative cultural stereotypes.

Without a union you are nothing more than an "at will" employee, like a McDonald's fry cook.

There is a good discussion of this story going on over at Kevin Drum's place at the Washington Monthly (read it here). Here is an excerpt from Kevin:

...I was struck this morning by Megan McArdle's latest plea for liberals to support a voucher system:

Come over to our side, outline a voucher plan you'd accept, and as long as it doesn't include "all schools must employ union teachers under centrally negotiated contracts that protect seniority and outlandish grievance procedures", I'll sign on. Central testing? Fine. You want to make sure they serve organic seaweed salad in the lunchroom? If that's what it takes to get you and other liberals into the voucher camp, I'll agree to that too. Double spending per student, for all I care.

Now, I'll confess that my support for unions isn't the most full-throated you're going to find. Personally, I have a lot of sympathy for unionization efforts in low-wage service industries, a little bit less for old-line manufacturing unions, and less still for public sector unions. But even so, I find this remarkable.

Double spending per student, for all I care. Sure, sure, this is hyperbole, but even so it represents a pretty straightforward admission of what many of us have always suspected: voucher proposals are really just a stalking horse to bust teachers unions. It implicitly assumes that the biggest contributor to poor public education in America -- so big that it's worth literally anything to get rid of them -- is the existence of grievance procedures and seniority.

Unfortunately, there's no evidence to back this up. (Bold face mine - Ed.) Unions appear to have, at most, modest and variable effects on student outcomes. Even the most hostile reading of the evidence doesn't come anywhere close to suggesting that unions are the single biggest obstacle in the way of educating our children properly. And it doesn't come within light years of suggesting that it would be worth doubling spending to get rid of them. This is anti-unionism run wild. Hating teachers unions because they oppose policies you like is one thing, but hating them even if you get your favorite policies enacted is crazy.
Why would any sane professional educator tolerate the lack of unions?

Here's two things I think should happen regarding charters in Chicago:

1) Unionize all charters. I know that they can't become members of the CTU, but they can form their own union. Someone should call the AFT or the NEA and get field organizers out here on the double.


2) Redouble lobbying efforts in Springfield to get the law changed. I don't care if it takes years, if the school is operating in Chicago and is publicly financed, they should be union schools. There can be no compromise on this issue. Public financing = union schools.

I know I risk sounding like a broken record, but the CTU did tons more to make me a better teacher than CPS ever did (continual kudos to Lynn and the NTL gang and to the man who dedicated his career to making the Quest Center the finest - Dr. Allen Bearden).

In Chicago, the teachers union is a place where improving practice has long been a big part of what they do. The CTU is more than just grievances and seniority. CPS should know better.

And that is why CTU members oppose charters.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Why is one outstanding educator more valuable than another?

I ask this because of the glaring discrepancy I see between how the Board of Ed. treated Bernie Eshoo at Lincoln Park and Jerryelyn Jones at Curie.

Both of these outstanding women were beloved by students and staff.

Both received outpourings of support at LSC meetings.

Both received outpourings of support in protests at Board meetings.

Only one was selected to have the support of the Board and the Mayor.

So what is the difference between these two amazing educators?

One is a teacher. The other is a principal.

Kinda makes you think that the people downtown don't really care about teachers, doesn't it?

Here is the text of an email sent by Ms. Eshoo to Mr. Vaughn, CPS Spokesperson:

Dear Mr. Vaughn,

I read, with interest, your comments about your/the Bd. disappointment over the Curie HS LSC vote.

A comparable situation occurred at Lincoln Park in the early fall. Nearly 900 students signed a support petition and the vast majority of staff members supported my reinstatement, the Friends of LPHS group supported me - as well as many parents, alumni, and community members.

When we contacted to the Bd . for assistance, it turned its back and hid behind “the process”. You were televised with statements supporting the fact the process of my termination was handled in a correct manner. Now that it is a well regarded competent administrator being terminated, you/the Bd. find it a disappointing and regrettable situation.

You/the Bd. should not flip flop on your evaluation of the “process”; it makes you and the Bd. members appear to be hypocrites.

Ms. Bernie Eshoo

Makes you wonder just how much the Board cares about "quality" in the classroom.

Your thoughts?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Has Curie LSC Folded on the Jones Firing?

Complete story here.

From today's Tribune:

The chairman of the Curie Metro High School local council announced Thursday that he plans to reconsider his vote to oust popular principal Jerryelyn Jones.

He attributed his change of heart to students' and parents' response to the decision, and not to pressure from Mayor Richard Daley.

Tom Ramos, who made the announcement with Chicago Public Schools Chief Arne Duncan standing at his side, said his relationship with Jones has been "difficult and combative" over the years."

But that's not a good enough reason to shut out the voices of children. We have to find another way to work together," said Ramos, who has served on at least three local school councils in recent years.

The Curie council will meet Saturday morning, and vote on whether to reconsider the Feb. 10 decision not to renew Jones' contract for another four years.
See you Saturday. This will be interesting.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

PURE Calls For Mediation Re: Curie

From a PURE email sent today:

PURE calls for independent conflict resolution at Curie High School
Contact: Julie Woestehoff, PURE executive director, 312-491-9101

In an urgent memo sent today to Chicago Public Schools top officials, Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) called on Arne Duncan and Donald Pittman to bring in Chicago’s Center for Conflict Resolution to help manage the chaotic situation at Curie High School. The Center’s executive director, Marilyn Smith, has agreed to pitch in if asked.

PURE raised the concern that CPS officials and Mayor Daley have publicly taken the principal’s side in the dispute caused when the Curie LSC voted not to renew the principal’s contract. The problem has been exacerbated by accusations of racial discrimination.

PURE has learned that Mayor Daley and the Rev. Jesse Jackson may attend the upcoming Curie LSC meeting on Saturday morning, potentially adding fuel to an already explosive situation.

There are positive, tested ways to resolve community-based conflict. Two years ago, CPS, PURE and the Center for Conflict Resolution piloted a conflict resolution program for LSCs and schools. CPS chose not to continue the program, even though situations at both of the schools participating in the program came to a satisfying and peaceful resolution.

CPS cannot act as a neutral broker in this conflict, because Arne Duncan has taken a public position on the principal’s side.

An independent body must be brought in. It is essential for the turmoil at Curie High School to end. The principal has asked the LSC for a written statement of their reasons for non-renewal, and for independent arbitration of their non-renewal decision. The LSC has a very limited time frame in which to hire and meet with a lawyer and prepare the statement and their case, all of which is their legal duty. They must be given the opportunity to do their job.

Above all, the school must be able to continue to educate children during this process.

Bringing in independent, professional mediators at this point would help assure the thousands of LSC members across the city that the Mayor’s involvement in this situation is not an attempt to use a complex, racially-sensitive situation to further an anti-LSC agenda, and that he would not show such disrespect to the hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours LSC members spend working to improve our schools.

Letter to Arne Duncan follows.

To: Arne Duncan
From: Julie Woestehoff
Re: Curie LSC problems
Date: March 8, 2007

I urge you to engage with the Center for Conflict Resolution immediately to begin work on a real, community-based resolution to the Curie High School principal selection matter.

I'm sure you agree that the situation is dire, and that the students, the school and the community are suffering.

Having the Mayor and the CEO of the public schools take sides in this matter does not help. Screaming headlines do not help. Fanning the flames of racial tension is a disservice to everyone involved, and to the city as a whole.

We have learned enough about the climate at the school and with the LSC to believe that there is not just one side to this story, and not just a handful of people affected by racial intolerance, but that the school as a whole needs reconciliation.

The pilot program run out of the CPS School and Community Relations office with the Center for Conflict Resolution and PURE two years ago was a success to the extent that, unlike Curie, both situations were managed quietly and came to a satisfactory resolution.

Marilyn Smith, the executive director of the Center for Conflict Resolution, has offered their services, and PURE is available to participate in any and all appropriate ways.

It would be a shame if the school community and the students were further exploited for political ends, when a better way is available.
Eight O'Clock in the morning Saturday is sounding more and more interesting.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Rumor About The Mayor and the Curie LSC

Doing anything Saturday morning?

Check out this email I got from PURE:

We are hearing that the Mayor is planning to attend the next Curie LSC meeting which is going to be this Saturday, March 10, at 8 am. Curie is located at 4959 South Archer Avenue. It would be good for some of us to show up and let the mayor know that we won't let him attack LSCs.


I hope the Mayor tells the Curie LSC all about just how many outstanding principals there are in the CPS pool. Too few I say. Too few to just throw one out on the assumption it will be easy to find to excellence again.

Rubes and fools, everyone of them.

See you Saturday? Might just be fun.

Contract Round Up Time

As the CTU contract is about to end and a new one to begin, I thought a few words were in order.

Main features of our current contract:

* Raises of 4% a year for 4 years (total=16% over 4 years).
* Health Care premiums rose from 8% to 9%.
For those who forget or weren't around, those were the biggest raises negotiated in a long long time. And the UPC along with Marilyn Stewart ran a campaign attacking Debbie Lynch and PACT for the increases we would have to pay in our health care costs.

UPC and Marilyn won and are in office. For now.

Since they have no contract or other significant achievement to run on and continue to criticize Lynch and PACT for the previous contract (without I might add, having to stand up and show what they have negotiated) I thought it might help to take a spin around the ole USA and see what other big cities have accomplished in contracts recently.

Let's have a look shall we?

Boston - March 2007: After barely avoiding a strike, BTU comes to the membership with a contract for their approval. Main features?

Under the contract, salaries would grow 13 percent over four years and employees' share of heath insurance premiums would increase from 10 percent currently to 15 percent by 2009, according to Menino. - Source: WCVB-TV Boston
Let's see, Debbie Lynch got the CTU 16% over 4 years and held down health care premiums to only 9%. Wow, that was terrible negotiating, wasn't it?

How about another big city?

Detroit - Sept. 2006: Full CNN story here. My original post on this here.

The financially struggling district initially sought a 5.5 percent pay cut over two years, part of $88 million in concessions it wanted from the 7,000 teachers and 2,500 other unionized professionals. The district has a $1.36 billion budget and is trying to close a $105 million deficit.

The union wanted raises after years without them.

The two sides eventually agreed on a one-year pay freeze, followed by increases of 1 percent the second year and 2.5 percent the third. Veteran teachers will start paying 10 percent of their health insurance costs, something that only those hired since 1992 had been doing. Teachers will lose three days' pay for three preparation days that were canceled because of the strike.
Freeze for a year, and paltry 1 and 2% raises?

And the UPC folks have been dropping hints of "strike" every couple of weeks in the press without any reason for it, since there have been no negotiations with the Board to date.

Vote PACT. Restore sanity and dignity to the CTU.

CTU and CPS Contract Negotiations...The Inside Dope

Maybe I should have said poop. Inside poop that is.

Everyone is aware that Marilyn Stewart and the UPC crowd have been all over the media dropping hints like lead bricks about a strike.

But over what you ask?

No one knows. And the UPC folks aren't talking.

I for one would like to know what I am going to give up a month's pay for if we strike. Health benefits? Raises? Class size? Charters and the privatization of education in Chicago?

At the last House of Delegates meeting Marilyn was asked for clarification. What is going on regarding the negotiations she was asked.

Her response?

Nothing. Turns out the Board of Education has yet to submit their proposals to the union, so no negotiating, no talking, no nothing has happened.

I repeat. Nothing.

This has been your source from deep inside the House of Delegates.

We now return you to your regular programming.

P.S. - Are we now supposed to cheer for the clueless? Like Hogan's Heroes? Hey Hey UPC! (They Respond: I See Nothink)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Can't Take Chicago Winters Anymore?

How about financial subsidies to live and teach in New Orleans?

Full story here.

Democrats propose N.O. teacher incentives

Details of legislation unveiled on eve of Bush trip to Gulf Coast
Thursday, March 01, 2007

By Bill Walsh

WASHINGTON -- As President Bush heads to New Orleans today to tour a school and talk about education, House Democrats are preparing to unveil legislation that would pour $250 million into the city's hurricane-ravaged school system over the next five years.

The Democrats' plan, details of which were provided to The Times-Picayune late Wednesday, would grant financial incentives to teachers and principals to stay in or move to New Orleans. It also would pay $500-per-month housing subsidies and authorize as much as $500 million in grants to universities and colleges closed by flooding after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Well, what does the south have that would attract teachers? Warm weather..ok. Right to work states...duh. Would you think of doing this?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

"Just because they are a very good principal doesn't mean you have to retain them."

"Just because they are a very good principal doesn't mean you have to retain them."
- A direct quote from Tom Ramos, chair of the local council at Curie High School.

Mr. Ramos must suffer from a deficit knowledge of how many outstanding principals there are in the CPS pool. You can read the full Tribune article that has Mr. Ramos' demonstration of knowledge here.

I used to think I had it bad when at my old school (Chicago Vocational) we had 6 principals in two and a half years. Then I read an article in Catalyst where I learned that other schools had just as bad or even worse:
Sojourner Truth Elementary School in Cabrini-Green is on its seventh principal in three years. The local school council blames central office for the turnover. Teachers blame them both. “We’ve been left out to dry,” says one. “That’s the general consensus.” Without skilled leadership at the school, tensions between factions escalated, slowing school progress.

Go on. Read the whole thing.

And Mr. (or is it Chairman) Ramos thinks finding a great principal is easy?

Schools that have great principals should do everything they can to keep them.

Instead Ramos has jettisoned a principal that is respected by staff, students, and everyone who has had the privilege to work with her.

Curie, and the community at large, is the poorer for this action.

I urge you to check out Russo's on-going coverage of this issue here, and here.
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