Category Archives: Education Reform

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-

Breaking News: New Group to Oppose Corporate Reforms

Its about time we sponsor our own.

Breaking News: New Group to Oppose Corporate Reforms.

CTU House of Delegates: Please Reject the Fact-finder’s Decision

Unfortunately I will be missing the House of Delegates meeting tomorrow, but I want to encourage delegates to who will be there to vote to reject the offer.  I applaud Arbitrator Benn and Vice-President Sharkey for all their hard work. Benn’s determination on compensation seems quite fair.  However, I would still vote no because what we are fighting for at this moment in time is more than just fair compensation.

As you all know, Arbitrator Benn cannot rule on school conditions, and it is for this reason that we must reject the offer. We deserve fair compensation and great teaching and learning conditions for ourselves, our colleagues, and our students.

We must continue to negotaiate for a school day that is filled with the arts and PE, and fight against the testing-culture that has made our schools more like prisons.  We must continue to stay at the table on behalf of our support staff: PSRPS, clinicians, nurses, psychologists, and social workers; all the people that help make our schools functional and healthy places to come to day-in and day-out.  We must continue to negotiate because all those who have been fired illegaly deserve a recall.

We must continue to negotiate because the whole nation, yes, the whole world is hoping we don’t trade in our ethics for a pittance.  It’s a pittance we will get if we stay negotiating, but educators and students deserve so much more.

Please reject the Fact-finder’s Decision.

You can watch the CTU Press Conference on the Fact finding here:

The Strength of our CTU Leaders comes from our Members, Parents, and Students of Chicago Public Schools

Educators across the country are following  what’s happening in Chicago to see how we are leading the way against corporate-style education reform that hurts and disempowers the students and teachers in the classroom, the curriculum of our neighborhood schools, and the local leadership of parents and taxpayers for a rich public education system.

We are Ground Zero for the national fight on a dignified public education system  for the United States of America.  I am proud to be a member of the Chicago Teachers Union, and am committed to doing whatever is necessary: bargaining, negotiating, door-knocking, and yes, striking, if it means we have better teaching conditions, and better learning conditions for the city of Chicago.

Harvard Business Review asked what could be done to improve education. So I Responded.

Here’s my response to Sarah Green’s article.  We’ll see if it get’s approved, anyway.

“Here’s what I would do:

1) Kill Testing Culture- high-stakes tests inhibit creativity and curricular innovation, and are used as a blunt weapon for judging students, educators, and schools leading to the label “failure.”  This was the one and only thing mentioned by Finland’s lead teacher when he came to IL last month to speak on improving US schools.  To really hammer home how bad the testing and “data display” problem is, we need a national audit of time and money spent on testing and test prep.
We need rich curricula that includes languages and humanities, applied mathematics and sciences fine arts, civics and logic courses, vocational tech, and health.  We need to remember that the best education, is actually ancient!  Progressive (Deweyan) Education looked at the world of students and asked them, “Which problems do you want to solve today, and what do you need to learn to do it?”  It certainly did not offer them a three passages, with 25 questions each with four possible answers, and say, “this is what you need to know to lead a good life.” Students aren’t buying it, and they should not tolerate it.
2) Allow for more community input and voice.  I do not mean “school choice,” I do not mean charter schools in lieu of public schools.  Those are false choices.  All stakeholders want good schools.  Period. What I mean is a respected decision-making process that values all stakeholder input.
3) End the attack on the Unions in and of itself.  Unions, while they do have their vested interest in what’s good for teachers, heck, MOST of the time it’s good for students too!  “Good working conditions are good teaching conditions are good learning conditions.”  If you don’t believe me, consider what kind of person would be standing in front of our children under “bad working conditions.”  Historically, Unions have fought for better public schools against a cost-cutting bureaucracies that would gladly place voter concerns over teaching and learning concerns.  Absolutely no innovations in teaching and learning have come from charter schools, in fact, “charter schools” were initially a Union idea!   Innovation in teaching and learning comes from teachers and students who feel respected, supported, and encouraged by their leadership try new things in the classroom.  Why did Congress just authorize $54 Million for states to implement charterization of public school systems when charters have a luke-warm record compared to traditional public schools (Stanford CREDO Study)?  Because charter are not unionized, and they can drive wages of the staff down (not a problem, because most staff in charter schools leave after 3-4 yrs.)
4) Reframe the Discussion and replace the “myths of fear,” with “enduring understandings” about Teaching and Learning.  Think back to what your favorite teacher was like?  what made him/her that good?  Did everyone connect to that teacher the way you did?  Probably not, but that doesn;t make your experience any less valuable.  The vast majority of educators are great for most students.  We need to end the Myth of “all these bad teachers,” and replace it with “all the teachers we loved.”
“Merit Pay,” and “Data Display” will neither shame nor incentivize teachers to be better; look at NYC and Washington DC.   instead, we need schools that are “less like prison, and more like camp.”  Tests are more like prison, fear-tactics are more like prison, top-down management are more like prison.
5) School leadership must have classroom experience, and expertise in teaching and learning.  They must be now what they used to be, “Principal Lead Teachers,” instead or what they have become, “building managers.”  When i am evaluated as a teacher, I want to know that the person who writes my evaluation actually knows what good teaching looks like!
6) Equitable funding for all schools.  “Races” and grants are not equitable, especially if they come with incentives to make drastic changes towards “data culture” and “turnarounds.”  These band-aids that take voice away from the school community and ultimately add to problems such as higher dropout/pushout and homelessness rates in surrounding areas.  In fact, I would add under this point that we need to “follow the money.”  Pearson Education, along with Gates, Stand for Children and other groups have decided that they with throw their money behind specific candidates willing to push their form of education reform, and it has let to absolutely no innovation, but plenty of systemic ethics violations and scandals including mass cheating, data-dumps of invalid rates of teachers, and lobbying that dwarfs tobacco, gun, and liquor interests in comparison.
For You To Do Now:
1) Ask your legislator to sponsor a local, statewide, or national audit on money and time-spent on test-preparation.
2) Follow the Money ( announced that the “top 46 Unions earned $337 million from their members in the past year, compare that to the expenditures of the educational publishing and consulting-including Gates.)
3) Join your local school board and demand a high-quality public education that is “more like camp, and less like prison.”

Retired Oswego Superintendent Calls for Quinn to Fire IL State Superintendent Chris Koch for Pearson-Scandal Involvement

And the letters keep rolling in… this one is from fellow Chicagoland SaveOurSchools Member Roger Sanders.


January 9, 2012

Honorable Patrick Quinn
Office of the Governor
207 State House
Springfield, IL 62706

Dear Governor Quinn:

I am writing to ask that you demand the resignation of Dr. Christopher A. Koch, State Superintendent of Schools.  It is with continued dismay that the citizens of Illinois live under the cloud of corruption that has become the hallmark of too many elected and appointed officials.  As a life-time resident of Illinois for 60 years, and a career educator of 40 years in Illinois, I feel it is imperative that our educational system be seen as above reproach.  Sadly, our State Superintendent has joined the ranks of those who make us question the motives of policies and contracts set by Illinois’ public officials.

The New York Times (January 3, 2012) reports that:
“Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education in Illinois – which has $138 million in contracts with Pearson [the nation’s largest education publisher] – went to China, Brazil and Finland with the [Pearson] foundation.  The only Pearson compensation he listed on state ethics forms was the cost of the flight to China, $4,271 for business class.  Asked why hotels, meals and the other flights were not documented, a spokesman for Dr. Koch, Matt Vanover, said , “What we’re looking at is a litmus test; they just want to make sure he’s not traveling first class.”

The New York State’s attorney general has been investigating similar trips involving other education officials from around the country who have taken world-wide junkets as guests of the Pearson Foundation.  I have included the full article for your review.  How shameful it is for Illinois to be in the national spotlight, AGAIN, among the infamous allegations of crooked politicians and officials who are supposed to be protecting the public trust.  And if the only thing we are looking at is to see if Dr. Koch is traveling first class, then we need to look even further at the people and processes that are supposed to be watching for ethical malpractice.  Frankly, if that is the standard for Illinois, then we need new people and new standards to protect the public interests.

First, Dr. Koch should have had enough common sense not to bring his motives into question in such a way.  At best he has used poor judgment.  Or perhaps he believes that in his role as President, now Past President, of the Council of State School Officers, it was O.K. for him to accept such trips.  Or perhaps he just doesn’t think it is wrong.  Or perhaps there is more to his motivation than we would like to think.  I suppose only Dr. Koch knows for sure.  Do we really think we are going to learn a lot from countries such as China or Brazil about how to “improve” our educational systems?  Having been to China myself, I would question that rationale.  And even if we thought we might learn from Finland or Brazil, if it is that important, then the Illinois State Board of Education should pick up the tab.  And if we are sharing with those countries all the great things we are doing, then those countries should pay the freight.  It’s crystal clear to any objective observer that these trips were neither necessary, not important for the people of Illinois, nor more than a “free” way for Dr. Koch to travel the world with money laundered through a foundation associated with a company with which Illinois has a huge contract for services.  Plus, the funds were further brokered through an organization in which Dr. Koch had a high-level position.

Second, Dr. Koch should report his full expenses, or should we not expect such high-profile officials to be accountable at the same level that we hold our students, teachers and administrators.  As a teacher, administrator and former school superintendent, I was  always acutely aware of the compelling need to be above any question regarding contracts for services.  Had I taken such trips as Dr. Koch with a company that has such large contracts with my employer, I would fully expect my Board of Education to ask for my resignation.  If they did not, I’m sure community members would have.  And rightfully so.  To suggest that you can maintain objectivity in contract decision making in those types of arrangements is ludicrous.

Third, our compulsion to test, test, and test our students and evaluate teachers based upon standardized test results has gone so far beyond reasonable, and is so pedagogically unsound, that it is crystal clear to me that policy making at the highest level has more to do with business economics and political ideology that teaching and learning.  Dr. Koch’s willingness to accept such travel perks certainly reinforces many educators’ beliefs that our educational policies are less about what is in the best interest of students and more about what is in the best interest of business.

I guess Dr. Koch didn’t think we would find out.  I guess Dr. Koch didn’t think he needed to report all his expenses paid for by Pearson.  I guess Dr. Koch thinks it’s alright to accept such perks from a company who he oversees a $138 million contract with.  I guess Dr. Koch thought the tens of thousands of dollars for these trips, when laundered through the Pearson Foundation and then brokered through an organization that he was president of, would go unnoticed.

Well, we did find out and it is not alright.  How many corrupt governors, how many corrupt elected officials, how many corrupt appointed officials must Illinois’ citizens endure?

I have always viewed you as an advocate for the citizens of our great state.  I am confident that you have our interests and well-being foremost in your thoughts.  Your long-standing and steadfast fight for equity and fairness are without question.  I’m asking you to do the right thing.  I’m asking you to demand that Dr. Koch resign.  Then, I’d like to see you ask the Illinois Attorney General to launch an investigation into state contracts with Pearson, just as New York State has done.  And, I’d like to know that Illinois has a higher level of concern than just whether Dr. Koch flew first class or not.  Surely our standards for ethical behaviors can be higher than that.

You can send a clear message to every appointed official.  Illinois’ citizens expectations for ethical behavior and sound judgement must be reflected at the highest level of our government.  Certainly the school children and educators of Illinois deserving nothing less.


Roger L. Sanders
105 Wilson Place
Oswego, IL 60543

c: Mr. Gery Chico, Board Chair, Illinois State Board of Education
Members, Illinois State Board of Education
Honorable Michael Madigan, Speaker of the House
Honorable John Cullerton, Senate President
Honorable Tom Cross, Representative
Oswego Ledger-Sentinel
Michael Winerip, New York Times
Chicago Sun Times
Chicago Tribune
Fellow Educators

The Longer School Day in Chicago Part II: What Should it Look Like?

I have previously argued that reforming education by just adding time onto the school day amounts to good talking points for the newspapers, but bad planning, and won’t necessarily improve education teaching or learning.  Perhaps that argument fell on deaf ears because it seems as if the Longer School Day is more or less a “given” for next year in Chicago.  Now, the discussion has turned to, “Ok, so what do we do with the extra time?

But to say it is a “discussion” would imply everyone is talking together, except that’s not what’s happening.  Teachers are talking about what next year will look like.  Students are talking about it, as are parents.  So is the media.  All stakeholders have their opinions, ideas and recommendations, but  if the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, it’s hard to point in the direction in which we actually want to go.

In November, the Chicago Teachers Union and the Board of Education  agreed not to push each other on the longer school day for a while.  The Union retracted its lawsuit, and those thirteen schools that voted for the longer day at the beginning of this school year will not have to revert to their former schedule.  So, what of the rest of the schools and the future decisions to be made?  Perhaps the Pioneer schools, as the Board has dubbed them, can offer great insight for the district-wide plan for next year as to what worked -and didn’t work- in their schools during the 2011-2012 school year.

But we are neither waiting nor relying on the teachers at the Pioneer schools to come up with ideas.  Teachers are involved in planning across the city, but to what capacity and what end?

In October, National Louis University partnered with the VIVA Project to ask CPS teachers, “what do you think a longer school day should look like?”  They did this by inviting teachers through the CPS workplace email system to participate in online discussions regarding the topic for twenty days.  In November, eleven of those 600 participating teachers* were selected to write a summative report on the overall concepts and themes brought up in the discussion boards.

Major themes and action items included: eliminating time wasted at the beginning and end of the school year by staffing all classrooms by day 1, and having finals grades due the last week of school (currently grades are due at the beginning of June, and students remain in school-with nothing to do- for another ten days);  recommending that all schools go to Track E (year-round) scheduling, but only as long as all schools have air-conditioning; and considering block and parallel schedules which could include  even having clubs and activities at the start of the day.

This past week the eleven teachers who wrote the report presented it to the CEO of Chicago Public Schools Jean-Claude Brizard, and in a separate meeting to Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.  From what a participant told me, both leaders responded generally positively to the report.

While this has been going on, Principals across Chicago Public Schools were told/asked to form Longer School Day Committees in each of their schools to have teachers in each school “plan for how time in an extended school day will be spent,” and were given estimated minutes in each day between 75 and 90 depending on the grade level.

Many of the in-school committees will spend hours deliberating and carefully laying out how a longer schedule could be best implemented in their schools, (principals have to provide the committee reports to their network facilitators in early January, so many committees are meeting this weekend) but teachers have to consider more than a few unknown factors that will affect the implementation of the each plan; factors that they have little if any direct control over.

Because extra time in school must consider both what the students will be doing, and where they will be doing it, both capital and operating budget expenses affect the final plans for implementation.  Will principals be allotted the extra money to support the recommendations their committees make?

Beyond that, will contract negotiations in the summer break down over disagreements on how the time will be spent?  Will one school plan be weighed against another plan as being more or less cost-prohibitive?  Will teachers who have invested time and energy developing great plans for their schools fight for recommendations only to be told all schools will implement plans garnered from the VIVAteachers report?

Too many unknowns.  It would be better if the Board and the CTU would agree to a process for 1) developing and supporting longer school day committees in each school, 2) providing each committee with research from VIVA and the Pioneer schools , and 3) allotting financial resources to support each committees’ recommendations.

But it would be best if we started having honest discussions about how much time and money is being wasted in non-instructional capacities, and what good education looks like.  Only when that happens can we begin to assess how a longer school day has the potential to be a better school day, and that’s the direction in which we need to head.

*Only current CPS teachers and education professors were allowed to take part in the VIVA dialogues.

Stephen Krashen speaks to Chicago Teachers Union on Standards and High-Stakes Testing

The ever-succint teacher-educator Stephen Krashen @skrashen spoke to the a group of teachers at he Chicago Teachers Union recently.

“Everyone thinks our schools are broken and that’s why we have standards and tests.”

Ken Goodman on Common Core Standards

Ken Goodman says it well: It’s high expectations, not standards that we need.


Yesterday I launched the Use Your Teacher Voice campaign.  At this juncture it is solely a YouTube campaign.  The goal is to have a viral video campaign of teachers talking into a camera in an effort to reclaim what has been lost: our authority in our vocation.
When teachers need the attention of the students; when we claim our authority in the classroom, we use our teacher voice.  We all know what it sounds like: it’s not threatening, but it is declarative.  It’s not hostile, but it does warn.  Teachers are good at this in the classroom, but it is time we use our teacher voice outside the classroom, and direct at those who say we don’t deserve our teacher voice, or that our teacher voice has become unnecessary.
In some cases, our authority, our teacher identity has been taken away or stolen from us. In others cases we just haven’t capitalized on the opportunities to say what we love about teaching and what we believe needs to change in ways that are best for teaching and learning.
The video you post to UseYourTeacherVoice is yours.  You may speak on any edu-topic of your choosing.  UYTV does not have a political stance past encouraging you to reclaim your stance.  I do expect some common themes to crop up, and if you wish to, feel free to speak on any or all of these topics: high-stakes testing, equitable funding, public schools, classroom size, teacher evaluations, decision-making, curriculum and instruction, education reform, etc. Perhaps you start your video with a quote and take it from there.
I only ask that you keep your speech dignified, and around :30 seconds in length.  Individual teachers in different states of the Union and different stages of their careers need to also consider how they can best speak without putting their employment, school, colleagues or students in jeopardy.
This is your voice and it reflects on you, not the campaign.

How to Use Your Teacher Voice:
1) Make a short video on a subject you wish to speak on
2) Post the video to YouTube
3) Tag the video UseYourTeacherVoice
4) Pass it on to others.
(It is not necessary, but will help with “virality” if you email your video link to, or subscribe to the UseYourTeacherVoice YouTube channel.)
It’s time to stop letting others speak in our place.  It’s time for us to say what we know, in ways that we can, for reasons we must: our students, our schools, our curricula, ourselves.  In the words of Educator and poet Taylor Mali:
Speak with Conviction: say what you believe in in a manner that bespeaks the determination with which you believe it.”
I entreat you, I implore you, and I challenge you to Use Your Teacher Voice.
Twitter: @UseYrTcherVoice, #UseYourTeacherVoice
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