Tag Archives: Illinois

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.

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

If you haven’t seen it yet: Stand for Children Co-founder describes Illinois take down of teachers and their unions. (YouTubeClip)

The original video of Jonah Edelman’s talk to the Aspen Institute is an hour long, but this version on YouTube is 14 min.

Talking Points
-Why StandforChildren got involved in the IL Nov 2010 elections
-Why Rahm pushed the “Longer School Day”
-What Edelman thinks of the organizational structure of the Union
-What Edeman thinks of Union leaders in IL
-What Edelman foresees happening in Chicago.
Then read Edelman’s apology letter he issued the next day on Fred Klonsky’s blog.

In IL, an Opportunity Afforded to those who DREAM of College.

Each fall, I teach juniors and seniors how to apply for college.  They learn how to find a higher education institution that fits them, and how to how to choose a major.  They write essays for scholarships and complete applications for financial aid.

Unfortunately, there has always been two sets of standards, or rules I have had to teach:  rules for applicants who are US citizens, and rules for applicants who are undocumented.  It is often an emotional discussion, sometimes fraught with students’ tears:  a realization of the political realities of economics and education, and dreams – once again – deferred.  Needless to say, the topic must be broached sensitively from an educator’s stand-point.

However, it seems I may soon get to update how I teach this.

This past week, the IL Senate passed a state version of the DREAM Act, which, since 2001, has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress.  The original Development, Relief and Education for Minors (DREAM) Act called for allowing children of undocumented families to “earn” U.S. citizenship by graduating from college, or serving in the military.

Currently, in all except 10 states, the only way undocumented immigrants can attend college is by attending a private institution as a “foreign exchange student,” an expensive alternative out-of-reach for most immigrant families.  The national DREAM Act would allow all students to apply for federal financial aid.

However, it would also require all males to register for selective service.   The 2008 version of the DREAM Act was tacked on to the Dept. Defense Authorization Bill when Comprehensive Immigration Reform failed in 2007.  It changed the tone of the bill entirely.  Were immigrant youth more valuable to society as college graduates, or soldiers on the front lines?

With the addition of the “selective service” clause, the majority of young people who would benefit from the DREAM legislation would not go on to higher ed, but would rather apply for military service, making the bill a “de facto draft law for Brown people,” as a teacher colleague described.  I found myself against a bill I used to be for.

However, Illinois’ incarnation of the DREAM Act is a step in the right direction.  While it doesn’t provide any public funding for the nearly 112,000 undocumented students, the bill establishes an “DREAM Fund,” under the governance of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) with a committee charged with fundraising from private institutions and training high school counselors in higher education needs of undocumented students.  The requirements for applying for the DREAM Funds: living in and graduated from a high school in IL, and have at least one parent who is an immigrant.

I have students who will benefit from this legislation.  Some of whom have been marching in the streets of Chicago yearly since the 2006 immigration rally for immigration reform.  These are students who have dreamed of going to college-their grades, ACT, and service-learning hours are all there-but not their citizenship.  If this bill passes in the House intact, then I can imagine they may be cheering in the streets of Chicago very soon.