Not Detroit, Not Cleveland

Not Detroit, Not Cleveland

This is a guest post from John Thompson, a longtime high school teacher, and was cross-posted from This Week In Education:

Chicago Teachers Union social media guru Kenzo Shibata’s recent post in In These Times -- CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett May Have Met Her Match in Chicago -- explains that the primary prerequisites for a Chicago school CEO were “an ability to address the media and a talent for glad-handing power brokers (and, in some cases, a willingness to fall on the sword after new policies failed).”

By that measure, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett seemed perfect for the job. In Cleveland, she was called the “$300,000 wonder.” Byrd-Bennett was expensive, “but worth every penny.” She closed over twenty schools and cut hundreds of teachers positions. As “chief academic and accountability officer” in Detroit, she closed 59 schools and cut 30% of the workforce, while adding 41 charters.

Shibata writes that Byrd-Bennett has “proven herself so skilled at the art of “cleaning” districts that she has part-time job with the Broad Academy."

Shibata argues, however, that Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are now in a very different political landscape. I agree.

Part of the reason for school “reform’s” political success is the politics of resentment.  Until recently, teachers had not been punished by the new economy as badly as most workers.

However, the corporate powers who seek to micromanage schools do not have a very good record in improving the living conditions of most people.  At some point, angry workers will ask why the billionaires think they can improve learning conditions in schools. If the elites had the power to improve schools, voters might ask, why won't they use their power to make life better for families and communities?

Here's the problem.  Cutting jobs is no better of a strategy for building a strong society than closing schools is for improving education. Corporations have had great success in increasing their bottom line, as they have reduced wages and benefits for most Americans. Somehow, we must rebuild a value system which affirms that all working people are in the same boat.

Who knows?  Perhaps a revitalized public sector labor front in the "City of the Broad Shoulders" will lead to a broader consciousness that reorganizes all citizens.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.


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  • First of all Alexander thanks for posting John Thompson's commentary. I have to say "Cutting jobs is no better of a strategy for building a strong society than closing schools is for improving education," was a profoundly true statement.

    I think we can all argue about census data, depopulation of communities, and the fiscal state of public education in Chicago. But probably the most distrubing aspect of the closure process has been the attempts at an educational justification for the closings by CPS officals and the Mayor. CPS and the City have been extremely unwise to try in trying to spin the closings into something positive.

    John is totally correct that closing these schools will simply not make things better and they won't be the end of budget cuts for CPS either. The ISBE now has the long knives out for over $200 million in general state funding to CPS (see the Tribune article from Sunday), and it has repeatedly tried to reduce funding to CPS for special education by another $200 million.

    Our situation could be worse we could be living in Greece or Cyprus after all.

    Rod Estvan

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    Rahm Running Chicago Schools from Cleveland

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