IL Passes Civics Bill, still needs timeline for implementation

Below is a lengthier version of a blogpost written for Mikva Challenge.  The signed Act now has a trailer bill to define a timeline for implementation.


Towards the end of August Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed into Law a requirement for all high school graduates to have equal access to high quality civics courses starting in school year 2016-17.  The law defines high quality as a “one semester course” that teaches the “skills, knowledge, and attitudes” need to become “competent and responsible citizens” in the 21st century.  The Illinois CivicsRequirement inherently recognizes that Civics must be an active learning process calling for “simulations, service learning,” and opportunities for youth voice and empowerment.

The urgency for the law is apparent: only 49% of Illinoisans voted in the most recent Gubernatorial election, and only 31% of the votes came from Millenials (18-35 yr olds.)  Even beyond voting, there is a general feeling of in-efficacy and non-agency in government and politics.  When I ask students who have never taken a civics course if they want to vote, volunteer, or debate issues in their community, I often get a response similar to “Why should I vote/care, nothing will change anyway.”   However, across the board those numbers jump when young people have a chance to participate in action civicsand service learning in the school setting.  So much so that in the March 2014 Gubernatorial Primaries -which traditionally records low voter turnout- new voters (17 & 18) out-voted their parents across the state!
To use the Table metaphor, if we want to ask young people to sit at the table with us, we have to show them how dinner is better when they’re in attendance. Or as my colleague says, “Democracy is reserved for those who show up.”  If we as a society believe school really is for everyone, than civics – like drivers ed, health, or math- should be required, and particularly so in a time of heightened racial and economic discord when citizens across the United States feel like we couldn’t be farther from the opposite ends of the table on our issues. Action Civics in the classroom can provide a safe space for young people to explore issues that matter to them, and engage in democratic methods to impact society.
Unlike other states such as Arizona, which have recently reduced Civics to another high stakes test, the classroom teachers who aided in design of the bill language purposefully omitted a testing component because of the recognition that Action Civics cannot engage young people via only pencil and paper.  While some believe that might take away the teeth what some call this “Civics Mandate” I believe it instead provides classroom educators the autonomy to generate engaging, meaningful lessons that are responsive to the needs of each student and school community in Illinois.
Currently, Illinois law requires two social studies credits to graduate, one of which must be United States History, and students must pass a Constitution Exam to graduate. That requirement does not change.  But the social sciences has been struggling recently: we have been forced to retro-fit our curriculum to Common Core Reading and Writing standards, which some parents and educators -like myself- argue devalues the content we teach.  Compounded by budget cuts, like other schools and districts across the state, my former principal found it necessary to cut Social Studies elective courses.  In the past students were able to enroll in one of eleven different electives (Geography, Law, Latin American History, etc. ), but due to budgetary restrictions from every revenue stream, we now offer only three.  The Civics requirement can guarantee that each school offers another high quality elective course in my school and across all Illinois schools.
But as we know well, mandates alone can be problematic for schools, educators, and of course students.  This will require tremendous supports in the form of professional development. Chicago and some suburban schools have gotten a head start from the body of curriculum developed by teachers, professional development support network like the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, and content specialists like elected officials, attorneys, political scientists who dedicate their time and energy to talking with teachers and students.
Already Chicago Public Schools is in its third year of employing the innovative and adaptive Global Citizenship Initiative, and has been so successful that more than sixty teachers will be using the curriculum this school year.  The GCI curriculum combines action civics and financial literacy content, and outlines different “tracks” teachers may choose depending on the goals of the class.  Curricula like this combined with high-quality professional development is what will support teachers in making this new Civics requirement a success.
This could not have ben achieved without the demand from young people, and the engaging instruction of educators with the energetic support of civics-oriented non-profits collaborating across Chicagoland and Illinois like the Mikva Challenge, Constitutional Rights Foundation, and the youth-led Chicago Votes Education Fund.  Brought together by support from McCormick and similar civic-mission foundations, and led by Shawn Healy of the McCormick Foundation, the Illinois Civics Requirement Law is really a collaborative effort of everyone from young people and teachers in the classroom to curriculum developers to foundations and government supporting the health of our democracy today and for generations to come.
John Dewey the 20th century philosopher credited for the design of contemporary American education system once declared that “in order for democracy to thrive, it must be reborn each generation, and education is it’s midwife.”  I applaud the Governor and General Assembly’s foresight and expediency with which they acted, as well as the educators, and educator support network that worked hard to design strong language that honors what high quality civics should look like in our schools in the 21st century.

Posting the 2014-2015 Chicago Public Schools Testing Calendar here

CPS SY15 Assessment calendar-district schools

Hard to access unless you’re an employee.

Includes: REACh performance tasks, NWEA, TRC+, dibels, mClass, Math, IDEL, ACCESS, PARCC, Explore, Plan, ACT (EPAs), ACCESS, NEAP, DLM + STAR, COMPASS, IB, &  AP exams.

Chicago Teachers Union Rejects Common Core Standards

…and all the testing that comes with it.

Below is the Press release from the Chicago Teachers Union.   Proud of all the hard work we put into this over the past couple of years.  Especially the work done by @msgunderson, @PhillipCantor @XianB8 @AnthonyCody. @Sarah4Justice (Chambers).

See y’all at AFT in July.  Anyone want to hit up NEA in Denver on the way out?

2012 Suzuki C50T, my other ride is my father's Honda CB750...needs work but pictures to come!

2012 Suzuki C50T, my other ride is my father’s Honda CB750…needs work but pictures to come!

Chicago Teachers Union joins growing national opposition to deeply flawed Common Core Standards


CHICAGO – Today, members of the House of Delegates (HOD) of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) passed the following resolution that enjoins the city’s educators to growing national opposition to the Common Core State Standards, saying the assessments disrupt student learning and consume tremendous amounts of time and resources for test preparation and administration.

Now that the resolution has passed, the CTU will lobby the Illinois Board of Education to eliminate the use of the Common Core for teaching and assessment; and be it further and will work to organize other members and affiliates to increase opposition to the law that increases the expansion of nationwide controls over educational issues.

Common Core’s origins can be traced to the 2009 Stimulus Bill which gave $4.35 billion to the federal Department of Education which created the “Race to the Top” competition between states. In order to qualify for funding, the states needed to adopt Common Core  with the added incentive that participating states would be exempted from many of the more onerous provisions of George Bush’s “No child left behind” program.

“I agree with educators and parents from across the country, the Common Core mandate represents an overreach of federal power into personal privacy as well as into state educational autonomy,” said CTU President Karen Lewis, a nationally board certified teacher.  “Common Core eliminates creativity in the classroom and impedes collaboration. We also know that high-stakes standardized testing is designed to rank and sort our children and it contributes significantly to racial discrimination and the achievement gap among students in America’s schools.”

The official text of the resolution follows:

Resolution to Oppose the Common Core State Standards

WHEREAS, the purpose of education is to educate a populace of critical thinkers who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to lead good and purpose-filled lives, not solely preparation for college and career; and

WHEREAS, instructional and curricular decisions should be in the hands of classroom professionals who understand the context and interests of their students; and

WHEREAS, the education of children should be grounded in developmentally appropriate practice; and

WHEREAS, high quality education requires adequate resources to provide a rich and varied course of instruction, individual and small group attention, and wrap-around services for students; and

WHEREAS, the Common Core State Standards were developed by non-practitioners, such as test and curriculum publishers, as well as education reform foundations, such as the Gates and Broad Foundations, and as a result the CCSS better reflect the interests and priorities of corporate education reformers than the best interests and priorities of teachers and students; and

WHEREAS, the Common Core State Standards were piloted incorrectly, have been implemented too quickly, and as a result have produced numerous developmentally inappropriate expectations that do not reflect the learning needs of many students; and

WHEREAS, imposition of the Common Core State Standards adversely impacts students of highest need, including students of color, impoverished students, English language learners, and students with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, the Common Core State Standards emphasize pedagogical techniques, such as close reading, out of proportion to the actual value of these methods – and as a result distort instruction and remove instructional materials from their social context; and

WHEREAS, despite the efforts of our union to provide support to teachers, the significant time, effort, and expense associated with modifying curricula to the Common Core State Standards interferes and takes resources away from work developing appropriate and engaging courses of study; and

WHEREAS, the assessments that accompany the Common Core State Standards (PARCC and Smarter Balance) are not transparent in that –teachers and parents are not allowed to view the tests and item analysis will likely not be made available given the nature of computer adaptive tests; and

WHEREAS, Common Core assessments disrupt student learning, consuming tremendous amounts of time and resources for test preparation and administration; and

WHEREAS, the assessment practices that accompany Common Core State Standards – including the political manipulation of test scores – are used as justification to label and close schools, fail students, and evaluate educators; therefore be it

RESOLVED that the Chicago Teachers Union opposes the Common Core State Standards (and the aligned tests) as a framework for teaching and learning; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union advocates for an engaged and socially relevant curriculum that is student-based and supported by research, as well as for supports such as those described in the Chicago Teachers Union report, The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union will embark on internal discussions to educate and seek feedback from members regarding the Common Core and its impact on our students; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union will lobby the Illinois Board of Education to eliminate the use of the Common Core State Standards for teaching and assessment; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union will organize other members and affiliates to increase opposition to the Common Core State Standards; and be it further

RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be sent to the Illinois State Board of Education, the Chicago Board of Education, the Governor of Illinois, and all members of the Illinois legislative branch; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that should this resolution be passed by the CTU House of Delegates, an appropriate version will be submitted to the American Federation of Teachers for consideration at the 2014 Convention.

CICS CQ4U UPDATE: Action Tonight!

The staff of CICS ChicagoQuest, who announced in December their decision to unionize  is holding a public meeting for all stakeholders in CICS to speak about the lack of accountability from the CICS Board and the failure of school management to recognize their union and address school issues impacting their students.
Today they will start with an action outside their school because they had their approved space in the school abruptly cancelled by their CEO, even though the school is a CPS building. The meeting will then be held nearby at Seward Park.
Below is a media advisory, and if you’d like to get the day-of press release, please let me know. Here are some links that might be useful. 
Media Advisory

April 25, 2014
Carlos Fernandez, Chicago ACTS 773-450-4176
Kenzo Shibata, IFT 312-296-0124
Teachers at CICS Chicago Quest Charter Schools Demand Accountability from Out-of-touch Board of Directors
Teachers, parents, and students organize to speak out against the Chicago International Charter Schools’ unaccountable bureaucracy
CHICAGO MONDAY – After months of school management holding meetings at times when most teachers or parents couldn’t possibly attend, teachers from ChicagoQuest and other CICS schools will be holding their own public meetingon Monday night. They invited the CICS board to hear concerns over the lack of accountability to parents and students and to demand respect for teachers’ right to unionize. After agreeing to provide space in the school, the CEO suddenly retracted the offer. Now, teachers will be joined outside the school by parents and community members to express concerns over how CICS practices such as its management fees and subcontracting negatively impact students learning and well-being. Planned meeting to be held after at alternative site.
Who: Teachers, parents, students from CICS ChicagoQuest School
When: Monday, April 28th at 6:00 PM
Where: Outside ChicagoQuest Charter School, intersection of Clybourn and Ogden Avenues, Chicago, IL 60610
The CICS network includes 15 schools governed under a Board that does not include a CICS teacher, staff, parent, or student. CICS board meetings are at 3:30 PM during the workday downtown, making access nearly impossible for teachers and the community. Teachers organized this event in the neighborhood at a time more convenient to working families. They will be joined by community members to speak out about the lack of accountability to parents and students and to demand respect for teachers’ right to unionize. In December, more than 97% of the staff at ChicagoQuest signed union cards, the fourth CICS school to do so, motivated by their wish to address issues that impact their careers and the students they serve. 
To address issues impacting the staff and students of CICS ChicagoQuest, the school staff decided almost unanimously to unionize in December 2013, the fourth CICS school to do so. They seek the kinds of voice and support the teachers at the 3 other schools have won, but their CEO will not recognize their decision or reach agreements to assure a first contract. The CICS Board of Directors has rebuffed the staff’s requests to get involved and to make its decision-making more accessible. The ChicagoQuest staff call on their CEO and the CICS Board to reach agreements with its union and include staff, parents, and students in its decision-making.

“Charter School Teachers on a Mission for Change”

When I first started teaching it was in a charter school, and I quickly learned what Right to Work meant, when I attempted to stand up for my students against oppressive Zero Tolerance policies and was summarily relieved of my teaching position.  Fired.  For standing up for students.

I applaud the members of the American Federation of Teachers Alliance for Charter Teachers and Staff (AFT-ACTS), and their newest members in Chicago both of UNO Charter Schools and Chicago Quest.

Below is a letter form the teachers of Quest, and I do hope you will take the time to support their cause.  

Better teacher conditions are better learning conditions, and we are all Chicago teachers.



“Teachers on a Mission for Change”

“There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.—Indira Gandhi

“32 of the 33 educators at CICS ChicagoQuest declared that they are organizing a union at their school to strengthen the relationships between the school, teachers, school management, and other stakeholders to ensure student-centered policies” (ACTS story). For over three months, Civitas Education Partners has failed to recognize the union that our teachers and staff have formed.Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 11.44.38 AM.png

On December 18th, in a powerful demonstration of unity and commitment, our staff stood together at a staff meeting, reading one line of our mission statement at a time to our administration. We wore union buttons and revealed our “beautiful people flyer,” with each union member’s picture and quote explaining why we want to unionize. We announced three demands:

1. that ChicagoQuest, Civitas and CICS recognize our union.

2. that ChicagoQuest, Civitas, and CICS bargain with us under the terms of the existing Civitas union contract, with Quest-specific addenda.

3. that CICS agree to terms for future organizing and bargaining at other CICS schools.

CICS and Civitas have disregarded all three demands. Representatives from our union, Chicago ACTS, and Stacy Beardsley (CEO of Civitas) have had three meetings to negotiate recognition and terms for bargaining. Instead of respecting our unified voice, Civitas has stalled on making forward progress.

Ms. Beardsley’s response is unreasonable, illogical, and disparaging. She says our game-like, 21st century-learning school is too unique to operate under the existing Civitas contract. Yet our sister school Quest2Learn, in New York City, is operating successfully under the UFT (United Federation of Teachers) in NYSUT (New York State United Teachers). The only concrete reason she has given that CQ can’t be in the Civitas union is a “financial” or “monetary” one (meaning she wants to continue having pay freezes instead of offering fair pay).

Chicago International Charter Schools has also disregarded our demands.  On February 18th, three parents and twenty-six ChicagoQuest staff members showed unity at the CICS Board of Directors meeting and spoke to the board. The board claims they cannot respond to our demands because they are not the direct employer of CICS ChicagoQuest (deflecting the issue back to Civitas).

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 10.51.15 AM.png

While Civitas has been stalling, the ChicagoQuest staff is already focused on union actions to improve school conditions for staff and students. In January we signed a petition demanding that the school create an Emergency Response Plan (since, over 6 months into the school year, our school had no instructions or drills for fires, tornados, lock-downs, etc.). The school responded in one week, supplied all classrooms with laminated plans, and we have recently held safety drills. We are emboldened by the fact that our union is already making important improvements for our students!

We are calling on all allies of our union to support us and help put pressure on Civitas and CICS to recognize our union. We requested that CICS change the date, time, and location of the April board meeting so that more stakeholders can attend (as it is difficult for parents to attend a meeting during work hours, at 4pm, and it is also during the CICS spring break, so many staff members will be out of town).  They said NO to our request.

How Can I Support the CICS ChicagoQuest Union?

1. Write a public letter to CICS & Civitas demanding that they recognize our union and change the April Board Meeting for ALL CICS teachers, staff and parents (write to or call them privately, and publicize your request in any media to which you have access)

Aubrey Monks (School Director)

Stacy Beardsley (CEO of Civitas Schools)

Beth Purvis (CEO of CICS)

2. Attend an alternative board meeting we are proposing to CICS on April 24th, 6pm, since CICS refused to move the April Board Meeting to a reasonable time and date.  Location TBD (check our facebook page for updates). Encourage any colleagues to attend as well.

3. Attend the April Board Meeting even though CICS would not change the date and time.

4. Like our facebook page and spread it around!

In Unity,

The members of the CQ Union



I just took the Practice PARCC exam, and boy, do I feel…

On March 13th, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers published sample PARCC tests, and so I decided to make an *honest* attempt at it tonight.  But I also took notes along the way in case you’re interested.  Most might not make sense…until you take it yourself (which I am hoping you do, so we an rant about it over beers next week!)

SPOILER ALERT: Whatever I did or didn’t do (sign in so the NSA can track me, perhaps?), I don’t actually know my results.  I don’t know why.  At this point, I really don’t care.  I am pretty sure I blew it though.  Yeaaap, so.   Now it’s time to cry myself to sleep.



Notes as I take the ELA Practice PARCC for 11th graders.

3/25/2014 ; Start: 6:10pm

23 two-part questions.

Why does this start out with a question about DNA and enzymes.  We won’t study this in social studies class.  Like ever.

Questions are way too complex, response options don’t make sense. 

Took me four times to drag and drop supporting evidence.  Said “not all supporting details would be used,” but all of them were.

“Add enzymes” vs add enzymes to a sample being studied” (but this was a summarized option), very confusing.

Question asks for “steps required in DNA ident…”  but how did this turn into, “why it’s possible,”  and  “how easy it’ll be.” for Part B?

Daedalus & Icarus….Only cause I already know the story does this make ANY sense.

Instructions: “Today you will read two poems about Greek Mythology” but the second is actually an Anne Sexton poem.

Central idea: Only bc I know the context of what Icarus’ story has inspired.  Incredibly complex! I feel like I’m flying into the sun right now.

13 questions in…I’m pretty tired.  Stamina low…now, TWO essays.  Holy crap.

Abigail Addams “stood up for those who lacked power like slaves, women, and the colonies.”  Um, OK, so now the test is making sweeping judgments about complex systems of race, sex, and diverse communities, & who has power within them?!

Frankly I am disappointed in the historical reading.  This is low-grade textbook stuff, rife with assumptions about the Addams’ and early American society that the reader is to take as truth, without citations.  No document based analysis.

I skimmed this piece…getting exhausted.  Don’t care about how well I do, just going to guess (6:48p, question 15).

I just realized (Question 18) that I am supposed to be reading a new document- a letter from Abigail Addams (primary source), but I had no idea.  Looks the same from the instructions.

Question 19…just guessed.  Test fatigue set in.

Question 20, I think these are all different letters from Abigail.  This is boring as shit, and I always love teaching about the Addams’ !

Question 22, I used the “Evidence” to justify the claim, even though it said to to do the opposite…we’ll see if that little bit of test-trickery pays dividends!

And then I was instructed to write 3 essays to which I simply wrote, “I hate you PARCC, I hate you Common Core, I hate you TestNav.”

I ended the test at 6:59pm. (49 min.)

Tried looking for an answer key and I couldn’t find one.

Well, I am NOT feeling confident about this.

There are definite issues with content and context.  No text is without context, because if we want readers to engage with or appreciate any text they need to know what motivated the author to put quill to paper in the first place.  These readings are just as bad as any other standardized test. Only MUCH longer. The complexity of the texts and the questions are not age or grade appropriate. 

The instructions are confusing.  The language in the social science text is bigoted.  The TestNav platform is awkward and not intuitive.  Details like the background colors; text font don’t allow for me to recognize transitions to new material (e.g. Addam’s letter, scroll bar) compared to if this were a paper and pen test the new material would have the visual-tactile cue of page-turning.

So what do we do with a series of bad tests?  I applaud Indiana for backing out of Common Core– even though I don’t approve of the conservative reasons behind it.  We all need to do the same, and institute portfolio assessments and locally-designed curriculum moving forward.

Letter to the Editor(s) of the Kankakee Daily Journal

I am very disappointed in the recent Editorial from the Kankakee Daily Journal writers who have completely misrepresented the facts about the Chicago Teachers Union’s support of the parent’s testing boycott.  How far has journalistic research fallen?

Born and raised in Kankakee, I now teach social studies in a large Chicago Public School on the southwest side.  I am also an elected and active delegate to the Chicago Teachers Union.  I am directly involved in the testing Opt-Out boycott, which to clarify on behalf of the Journal, does not state that parents should “keep their children home” as the Journal claimed, but rather, send their children to school on ISAT Testing Day with an Opt-Out letter and books to read silently while testing are administered.

Last year, a few of my students opted-out of the second day of the Prairie State Achievement Exam (called Work-Keys) and you know what happened?  Nothing. The Work-Keys test only gauges certain non-academic work-place tasks, like reading a manual and following a set of instructions (like, to build a “thing” the student won’t actually get to build in real life because they’re just taking a test). Neither CPS, the state of Illinois, nor potential colleges are holding anything against those students, in fact I know of at least one of them who wrote about his experience opting-out as “civic engagement” for a college entrance essay.

There is very little that standardized testing can tell us in the way that it is being used today.  I draw a very clear distinction from the kind of standardized testing that I was doing in high school, little more than a decade ago.  The newest assessments do not reflect content being taught, and are not created, or scored by actual educators.  

In nice round numbers, I am mandated by CPS administration to dedicate more than one month of my students’ classroom time to testing and test prep, of which, only three hours of that is mandated for graduation in the Illinois.  But that’s for only my class; my students have seven others they visit each day.  As multiple news local outlets have reported, even kindergarteners in CPS elementary schools are spending a third of their year -60 days- on testing.  Yes, Kindergarten.  

In the Civil Rights era standardized tests were created to assure equitable distribution of resources in schools, but that doesn’t account for the upsurge in testing today. What is different now is the that we have two-fisted “carrot-or-stick” legislation in the  No Child Left Behind Act – which labels schools who don’t make the grade “failing”, and the follow-up piece Race to the Top which “leases” those public schools -and all our tax dollars that go with it- to the highest bidder, namely charter school operators who are not beholden to public school funding transparency laws.  With those groups, we never know how much of our money they are spending on classrooms or slick advertising, nor why they keep kicking out students with special needs because they claim those public school laws do not apply to them.  However we do know that charter operators suspend students at higher rates right before times of standardized testing, which has the effect of increasing their average test scores, making the charter schools look much better on paper than their public school counterparts.  I should know, I taught at a charter school.

We know that as a whole, standardized testing does not show us what students know, but rather is a closer predictor for what zip-code they live in, and at best they can tell us how well any given student may do in only their first year of college.  The newest brand of tests coming to Illinois next year, the Common Core-aligned MAP and PARCC -the whole reason we’re phasing out ISAT anyway, do not test content, only math and reading skills, and only on a computer screen.  So much for Columbus, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Michelangelo, Daily Journal Editors.

We also know that with the high-stakes attached to the tests, principals are increasingly under pressure, and even willing to cut programming especially in the arts, vocational technology, and electives such as my American Law class (one of the more popular courses we used to offer) to make room for a test-prep courses.  Perhaps if Kankakee teachers -I used to be one of them, too- aren’t sending Students of the Month for “top-speller” it’s because Spelling-Bees have been all but eliminated with everything else we used to love about school.

The bright note in all of this is that there are only three tests that are mandated by state law to graduate in IL: the first day of the PSAE, a beginning-of-the-year (BOY) exam, and an end-of-the-year (EOY) exam.  Everything else is added on by local districts and can be opted-out of, if parents so choose.   We need parents across IL to choose to opt their children out of irrelevant, valueless, and ultimately harmful tests.

We know that what happens in IL, happens first in Chicago.  So while the Daily Journal reporting on a Chicago issue could have shown tremendous foresight for what’s coming to all our schools across IL,  I do hope in the future they get their opinions from actual people who live it everyday.

The Tragedy behind Noble Street Charters – a Skimmed Lottery

I am teaching logic and argumentation in civics this week, and one of my favorite #edjustice advocates, Katie Hogan has submitted a response to Noble St. CEO Mike Milkie’s OpEd regarding expulsion rates at his charter network.  We’ll see if the news outlet publishes, but I couldn’t resist.



In response to “Expulsion heartbreaking but necessary,” by Michael Milkie February 21, 2014

As a teacher for fourteen years in CPS neighborhood schools I can empathize with the pathos in Mr. Milkie’s arguments in the February 21st, 2014 editorial.  Mr. Milkie argues that although it is “heartbreaking” to have to expel so many students, he has to make the tough choices for “high expectations and personal accountability.”  After all, I myself, have had those days where the one or two most disruptive and combative students were absent.  I’ve imagined what it would be like teach everyday with the absence of their complex, and often excruciatingly frustrating presence.  Where I could just “teach,” and not metaphorically duck and head roll the verbal and emotional outburst of my most troubled young people.  Yet, Mr. Milkie offers us a red herring argument about Noble Street’s darker, more disturbing contribution to our city’s educational disparity – Mr. Milkie’s good intentions and polished verbiage trick us to look at the Noble expelled as sacrificial lambs abandoned to the wolves – or neighborhood schools – for the good of the pack; in fact, we are looking at the wrong end of the spectrum.  Noble’s true tragedy is what they take from the proverbial top, not what they kick out from the bottom.

Although it is true that Noble Street schools maintain a lottery of applicants – it is a skimmed lottery.  The skimming occurs in the way in which parents get an application to enter the lottery.  This application occurs only after the parent, or guardians, have attended a multiple hour – sometimes over three hours – meeting about the culture of Noble Street.  I actually take no issue for the philosophical intentions of Noble Street to hold these meetings, but what the practical implications of skimming from these meetings does to the academic diversity in the rest of the city.  There are few stronger statistical correlations between parental involvement and student success in school.  Beyond common sense, study after study, has shown that parental involvement trumps just about any other statistical factor – with the exception of family income – that an educational researcher can find.  These students even have a name in educational research “academically oriented” students.  Academically oriented students outpace even their higher testing peers when it comes to g.p.a. school retention, and college persistence.  Parental involvement –especially in communities in poverty- is the surest bet for a young person to achieve success by every measure of our society.  These are the young people that Noble receives and educate.  They are also the young people that are disappearing from our public, neighborhood schools.  More importantly, these are the parents moving in mass toward each other from public schools into this charter chain.

As a parent myself I can also empathize with each one of the desperate and often C.P.S. scarred adults who strongly defend and protect this intimate and personal decision.  I know I want the best for my own daughter, how can I fault any other parent?  I don’t.  Parents are used and mistreated by C.P.S. on a daily basis.  My argument is not even with Mr. Milkie himself who I believe in his heart really does want what is best for kids.

My argument is with leaders of this school system who are charged with educating all children, not just those from academically oriented homes, and turn a blind eye to the growing three tiered system of selective enrollment, charter, and public schools that continues to decide the winners and losers not based on what is best for the community, or city; but what is best for the next election, real estate development, or church group he or she belongs to.

Mr. Milkie begins his article with an impressive statistic of projected college success with the qualifier: “if history repeats itself.”  Yet, he does not need that qualifier.  History will repeat itself at Noble.  The schools that are run this way are perhaps the least risky bet in this entire district.  His students will succeed.  His ACT numbers will continue to rise.  He will be given more schools to run.  But Mr. Milkie and those who support charter school expansion have made a Faustian bet that they cannot ever take back.  There is a price for their continued success.  The price is that just like taking a troubled young person out of a classroom for a day improves the quality of an education; taking out an academically oriented child and his or her parents also decreases the quality of the schools of origin.  Just as I teach better when the trouble maker is out of the room; my lessons and parental relationships suffer when these students join others like them at these educational havens for active and engaged parents.

As a city we do far greater harm to all of our children by continuing policies that only benefit a few.  I remember when I was growing up and joined the local park district softball league they had tryouts before setting the teams.  After the tryouts I found out that all my friends – all the best players – were split up onto different teams.  Upset I asked my dad why they did that, after all, it made it seem like we were being punished for being good players and good friends.  He smiled and told me that not only would I be a better player because the teams would be even, but that everyone would end the season better than when we started.  And you know what, he was right.  I will spend the rest of my professional life defending the “we,” over the “me.”  It’s a hard argument, but it’s the right one: the noble one.

Class Action: An Activist Teacher’s Handbook

The newest Jacobin project features articles about the coordinated fight back against corporate-style education reform and all the damage it has done to our public school system.  I say without exaggeration, that it is some of the most cogent and heartfelt writing collected on the topic from educators on the front line, and as a contributor, I am both humbled and grateful to be published alongside such champions as Will Johnson, Mariame Kaba, Micah Uetricht, Kenzo Shibata, and Lois Weiner.
Class Action is available via digital download for free, but I encourage you all to buy a copy (~$13 after shipping) as I believe you will find yourself referencing the articles often in future conversations and classes you teach.  Also, please be sure to share the link via social media.
So congratulations to Bhaskar (Jacobin publisher), the Caucus of Rank and file Educators (CORE), and all the contributors.
Towards the public schools all children deserve-