Arizona, Chicago, and contempt as a plank of education reform

Arizona, Chicago, and contempt as a plank of education reform

So much foolishness has been going on in the Arizona Department of Education this year and some time I might tell you about it all. If there were an Arizona Public Fool that blogger would have had a lot of fish to fry in the first few months of the year.

Now it's July, and as is appropriate for summer, there are quite a few more fish to fry in Arizona.

But before I talk about those fish, I want to tell you a little bit about my family.

My grandmother was a teacher in Arizona back when it was a brand new state. She herself had grown up in mining camps, riding her donkey over desert hills with her brothers and living in an untrammeled manner that could only be a part of a fairy tale nowadays.

She finished high school at 14 and completed her two-year degree from Tempe Normal School (the future Arizona State University) with a teaching certificate. The only job available was in a dot on the map called Dos Cabezas close to the Apache Trail. She lived alone, and her first primary class was 20 students--all adult Apache Indians, none of whom knew a word of English. Like many first year teachers she would leave work and come home and cry for hours every night, but things looked up for her as the weeks turned into months, then years. She stayed at Dos Cabezas for three years, then moved to Tucson, married a teacher, had kids, and kept teaching, but now her jobs were in town. Apaches visited her at home in Tucson on Sundays for years. The same respect for her students and willingness to reach across huge divides in order to teach that she called on with her first students stayed with her throughout her career. All along she did her best to learn what her students needed, and did her best to give it to them. Particular, specific things, whether a child who needed her hair combed and tied with a new ribbon, or a 25-year-old Native American who wanted to learn to read and write in English.

One of her children was a teacher, two grandchildren are teachers, and now two great-grandchildren are young teachers in Arizona.

Fast forward about a hundred years. These days Arizona, like Chicago, is in thrall to corporate education control. So teaching is maybe a different job than it was for my grandmother. Those bright new teachers starting out in my family have lots of evaluations to undergo (5 for new teachers in their first year--but you have to stay on top of those wily pesky lazy ones!), hundreds of bubble tests to give (you know, Arizona was a recipient of 25M Race To The Top dollars because they were in step with the Department of Ed very early on), and unions to be busted (Vergara, we know that even now you are sending your tentacles out all over the U.S.). So much to do, all for the kids!

In addition Arizona appears to be in thrall to a hopelessly ridiculous state superintendent, John Huppenthal, and captive to a state department of ed staff which can best be described as Orwellian (and that's the most flattering adjective).

Huppenthal is all over the news this week for penning anonymous comments on blogs wherein he lets it all hang out--his heretofore more or less concealed contempt for the poor, for Spanish speakers, for Obama--you name it, "Thucydides" writes about it in a disrespectful, and sadly error-riddled, manner. It's totally cringeworthy but don't you for one second think that it comes from his heart. Because it doesn't. He said so.

But there's more. Breaking yesterday is a story about one Arizona teacher who spoke out against the Common Core. He wrote an editorial and spoke on the radio. Ruh-roh. The department of ed staffers spoke about him to each other online. How could they contain this problem? Because, you know, having another opinion is a problem. And what better tool, what better tone did they have at their disposal than contempt? No one would ever see them, right? But unfortunately for the department, a FOIA was filed, and now we all can see the emails, oh joy. We see them in all their glory, replete with their plans to intimidate and reassign. And  a shocking level of name calling that, sadly, I can never unsee.

For some reason corporate ed controllers can't seem to find any other language than contempt. Contempt for teachers is one of their main drivers as they seek to weed out the ones who have obviously caused all the poverty, all the homelessness, all the tears in all the social fabrics. Contempt for unions compels otherwise totally uninvolved, yet fabulously wealthy, citizens to do everything they can to shut them down. Contempt for children--let's just call it what it is, shall we?--contempt for children informs every bubble on every standardized test that is inappropriately given to every child subjected to the Common Core State Standards.

Contempt seeps throughout our system from the top, as the Department of Education is currently in the grip of the corporate ed controllers. It drips through the Arizona state department of education, just as it does here in Chicago as well.

The only difference between the contempt in Arizona and that which we deal with here in Chicago is that for some reason in Arizona, education officials deal out their contempt while skulking around anonymously or under cover of private email. They're shy about it. Our educational leaders
--Rahm, BBB, and the Board of Ed--lay it all out plain, right to our faces.

Contempt in our faces looks like Rahm telling us that the school closings were vindicated because of a reduced number of suspensions this year, crowing over how great everything went and ignoring ISBE's claims to the contrary, the at least 6,000 kids unaccounted for, and sad stories like this one which make it clear that the school closings were sort of a disaster for some schools. Contempt looks like Barbara Byrd-Bennett creating a budget that adds $40M to schools (hooray!) after having stripped them of $100M last year (wait, then doesn't that make us still down $60M?), hitting neighborhood high schools the hardest with cuts, and continuing to fire teachers and staff at a quite astonishing rate. Contempt looks like Dyett High School being starved to death over a decade by CPS, then being told it is too crappy to stay open; when the community rallies and creates a new plan for Dyett, contempt looks like Alderman Will Burns refusing to listen to his constituency.

I could go on, but who wants to read more of this? We know what we get from those in charge of public education in Chicago. Contempt comes from the top almost as a mandate, and Rahm, like many others in charge of our nation's public schools, is doing his part. I sure would love to trade in that attitude for one of respect, but that seems to be about as far gone as that girl riding her donkey over the Arizona hills.

Go here (Save Dyett High School facebook page) to help Dyett remain the last open-enrollment high school in its neighborhood and implement the plan to revitalize it as Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.

If you want a better Chicago Public Schools system please like my Facebook page and join me there for more discussion. You can also follow me on twitter @foolforcps.

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