Enough Embarrassment To Go Around

I had a nice long chat with Tribune columnist Eric Zorn last night, a delightful chance to hash out what was going on.  I was  completely unable to influence his thinking about the current situation facing CPS and CTU, however.  As you can see from this blog post, Zorn is pretty much of the mind that CTU is acting like a bumbling stumbling crumbling lump.  He describes it as "startling" how badly the union is being beaten by City Hall and the Board.  He describes the CTU response to the extended day proposal as "diffuse and inconsistent."

He's mostly right.  It's been pretty bad.  (Zorn helpfully links to some data that the union could use to raise questions about the extended day plan.) But what Zorn leaves out is just how bumbling and stumbling the Mayor and the Board have been, and continue to be, obscured as this may be by CTU's antics and unimaginative or cowed journalists and commentators.

Just for fun, let's take a look at the bumbling going on from the City Hall side of things:  First, the new Mayor and his allies score a massive win with the passage of SB7 but don't  get around to rolling out a half-baked longer school day and year proposal until what felt like August but might have been July. Turned down by the union for reasons good and bad a clearly peeved City Hall and the Board decide to roll out this cockamamie effort to win approval for a longer day by getting teachers to vote on it school by school by school.

Seriously, this is perhaps the craziest, most petty thing I've ever seen in big city education reform.  (I say this as a fan of a longer day and no great defender of the union.)  City Hall doesn't have the money to pay the $72 million.  (CTU should call their bluff and endorse the waivers at every school.) City Hall has no real chance of getting more than a handful of schools to agree. (Seven down, 470 to go!) It's a process almost guaranteed to win only a few supporters and disrupt schools just as they're opening. (Pissed off parents, not just scared teachers.) As with other popular ideas like smaller classes, more class time isn't a guaranteed winner when it comes to student achievement.  (A new Tribune article notes that the CPS day and year aren't that much shorter than other suburban districts and is no guarantee of better results anyway.)

The only thing that is making this work for the Mayor is that CTU keeps stumbling over itself, reversing positions, mistrusting its teachers, etc.  Look past the bumbling union and you might be able to see just how bumbling City Hall and the Board have been acting, too.

Related links:

Chicago school day not much shorter than some others in state Tribune: This year, [ISBE] has found two dozen districts that incorrectly inflated the length of their school days by either not reporting their shortest days, as required, or by not subtracting noninstruction times like recess and lunch.

Rahm Emanuel right to be a bully about a longer school day Tribune (Mary Mitchell):  Teachers should not be made scapegoats for poor-performing schools. But like parents, community, churches and other stakeholders, teachers must shoulder a ..

Rahm earns F for using f-word Sun Times:  Saying “F--- you, Lewis” to Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, in a debate over a longer day for Chicago Public Schools? Our mayor must think he's living in a David Mamet play.

Emanuel Thanks Teachers for Support Fox: The second graders at Brown Elementary were proud to show Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel their spelling words on Monday.

Illinois teachers union official blasts CPS longer-day tactics Sun Times:  Montgomery called CTU reports about the waiver process “very disturbing.’’


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  • I believe that both Mr. Zorn and Alexander are looking a little bit too much at the present and not enough at the future. Yesterday before CEO Brizard and President Lewis had their public discussion or debate JC Brizard was at my office at Access Living for one and a half hours. He met with a group of former CPS students with disabilities and heard their post graduation struggles and successes. A few are college graduates, and some are living on SSI, he even heard the story of a CPS student with psychological problems who was living in a storage container the day he graduated from CPS because his parents had thrown him out. While every one of these former CPS students had very legitimate complaints about the special education system they also talked about individual teachers that cared for and nurtured them.

    We discussed the future of special education in CPS, a longer school day for the future was assumed and how that could be benefit the wide array of students with disabilities in CPS was also generally discussed. As readers of D299 could imagine I had many thoughts on that topic as did Access Living’s CEO Marca Bristo and our advocacy director Amber Smock.

    What I think both Alexander and Zorn are missing in this discussion is that both the CPS and CTU are positioning themselves for the contract discussions that will take place for FY13 and beyond. The problems the CTU and CPS are having I think are based on the radical change in the framework of the structure of teaching that SB7 will allow. Both sides are being given legal advice and are being pressured by constituents. As I have stated over and over again the CTU is put in a very difficult situation by SB7 and CPS is loath to open areas up for bargaining that SB7 allow them to keep closed.

    While Alexander is correct that the number of schools that will waive the existing contract provisions are likely to be statistically insignificant they also create models for implementation for FY 13. As has been pointed out on this blog it does appear that CPS will give schools that are making AYP and are not under the NCLB gun much greater flexibility in shaping their own longer school days than schools that are not making AYP. The CTU and many teachers in schools with deep poverty are not in agreement with that perspective.

    Access Living is obsessed with the lack of independent living skills of seriously disabled CPS students who graduate or age out of the system. We are also obsessed with the fundamental illiteracy of higher functioning students with disabilities who are effectively unemployable. We are deeply disturbed by the number of students with psychological problems that end up in prison. We are agitating for radical change in the current special education model along with stable funding for services. Given the fiscal crisis of the state and city that stable funding is in question and we have little hope for increased funding for special education services.

    The question is not simply who is more competent, CPS or CTU, or how strategic the Mayor has been in all of this, it is about the future of education in our city.

    Rod Estvan

  • yes, there's no shortage of long term issues to be dealt with, but there's also the immediate, visceral stuff going on now that has an indirect effect on the rest. ctu needs to recover its game from the SB7 and current debacles. city hall and the board need to make sure they don't let their impatience and tempers get the best of them if they want to maintain credibility.

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:


    The turning point in this has got to be CTU and the CPS stepping back a bit. It's getting ugly and, given the nature of the combatants, probably will only get uglier.

    CTU needs to concede a pilot on this this year and get some consideration and CPS should stop having waiver votes.

    CTU should agree on a process with CTU to put some number of schools in a pilot this year and demand in return more resources for more teachers. If Lewis were smart she would leverage this for more teachers and by leverage I mean bargain for it rather than smugly demanding it as it was a God-given right.

    This only takes willing participants . . .but Lewis has proved to be uncompromising and Rahm . . . well, Rahm is Rahm.

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    I wouldn't call it a "temper" issue with Emanuel. It's an "abusive" issue. There's a big difference.

  • "Zorn is pretty much of the mind..."

    Based on such things as his "Sign Jesse Sign" campaign, that would be a first.

  • In reply to jack:

    To clarify, "Jack" refers to http://blogs.chicagotribune.com/news_columnists_ezorn/2009/01/sign-jesse-sign.html -- my argument that Secy. of State Jesse White did not have the unilateral authority to withhold his authenticating signature on a legal document just because he didn't like Blagojevich's appointment of Roland Burris to the Senate (which I didn't like either). What that has to do with anything I'm not sure.

  • In reply to EricZorn:

    Basically, that proved that what your "thought" has to do with anything is certainly uncertain, given that the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the other way for legally sound reasons.

    Hence, I don't click on your blog any more. Byrne is coming close to the same status with his rants about how everything is connected to O'Hare.

  • Karen Lewis is just an embarrassment, plain and simple. She is doing nothing but make teachers out to be selfish and greedy. She has no coherent message as Zorn articulates. She apparently misunderstands the public's appetite for this fight. If you took a poll of most parents in Chicago, the majority would support the longer school day. The only question now is in the implementation and compensation. Teachers will lose there too in the court of public opinion given the economy. The best thing to do is join the advisory committee, come out with a plan themselves for the extra time working with one of the pilot schools and get hard-working teachers in the news cycle.

  • In fact, building on that idea, why does the CTU itself not seek out a pilot school right now? Invite CTU members to nominate their school for the greater good with a supportive principal. Put your money where your mouth is. Take one or two schools, create your better school day, and show the public what that means. Host visits with the media, highlighting the good work of teachers and the impact of the longer school day on teachers and what key issues for the entire district will be. Create some positive buzz instead of the constant negativity.

  • In taking this even further, imagine if CTU had a school and they were trying to implement a better school day. They could have a blog or documentary about the experience. They could highlight the challenge for teachers in planning the extra minutes and when the system breaks down. They could show teachers as being innovative and thinking out of the box. They could also highlight a teacher who can no longer afford day care for her children given the lack of compensation and the impact on afterschool programs. They could bring the media to classrooms to see what is happening with the extra time and how hard teachers are working. They could show the good and the bad and understand what they will be fighting for in the next contract. But most of all, the union would be seen as doing something positive. The union could change the perception of teachers. It is really in their hands.

  • whet moser gathers info on the cost issue, noting that brizard claims CPS could pay the cost of extended day citywide through another round of admin cuts. really?


    that's basically saying that there are another $72M in admin costs that could be cut at the central office

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    This assumes that Brizard beleives that all elementary schools will do this this year. He can't beleive that and my guess is that he has some guess at the number of schools that will to this and the costs do not approach these numbers.

  • I just want to underscore that I found my conversation with Alexander Russo very useful and informative and I wouldn't at all say he didn't help shape my thinking. My interest here was more in describing how and why the CTU is getting clobbered in this PR war and to focus on the self-inflicted wounds.

  • In reply to EricZorn:

    Maybe if the union had another "face," it wouldn't be clobbered in the PR world. Lewis yelling into the camera on NewsViews on 7.1 proves the point. The taxpayers are tired of being bullied.

    Of course, as soon as I saw that, I turned to 32.1, where some wonk was making an incomprehensible argument about a national sales tax.

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