By RA Monaco
The Mayor’s decisions are about figuring out how they can cut-off parts of the school system that they just don’t want to have responsibility for anymore.
Commanding By Fear and Demanding Compliance
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s loss of support in Chicago’s minority communities foreshadows his reelection. Despite the CNN stage-crafted “Rahmbo” image, the now politically vulnerable Mayor’s education agenda may become his undoing—regardless of a $7 million campaign war chest.
Commanding by fear and demanding compliance, the Mayor’s heavy-handed attempts to carry out his education agenda and coercive efforts to secure school principals support for his education policies were exposed when elementary school principal Troy LaRaviere came forward in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed.
According to LaRaviere, fellow principals remain reluctant to come forward or discuss their fear of what might happen if they speak out against the intimidating mayor—colleagues are concerned about being harassed, fired or receiving poor evaluations.
Also, cementing a sense of neglect in minority neighborhoods where most of the fifty schools were closed is the Mayor’s appearance of favoritism for the city’s elite and his investment of tens of millions of dollars in selective-enrollment magnet schools on the upscale North Side.
Moreover, education policy experts weren’t surprised when the turnaround at Gresham Elementary, Dvorak Technology Academy and McNair Elementary were given to the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). AUSL director Don Finestein—an insider who also served on Emanuel’s incoming transition team—has explicitly stated their “goal is to have its own district in Chicago.”
Were those schools promised in advance? University of Illinois professor of Educational Policy Studies Pauline Lipman Ph.D., who has attended over 100 hearings on school closings in Chicago, believes that those schools had been promised to AUSL’s portfolio long before the purported decision.
“We can’t really think about a turnaround as anything other than a school closing” said the University of Illinois professor Pauline Lipman Ph.D., who claims she knew when Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced that there would be no more school closings that it didn’t mean they wouldn’t convert schools or do turnarounds.
The Language of Chicago’s Education Battlefield
Last June, in a speech at the City Club in downtown, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis asked, “When will we address the fact that rich white people think they know what’s in the best interests of children of African-Americans and Latinos, no matter what the parents’ income or education level?”
Consistently, we read or hear terms come out of City Hall around our education policy like initiatives, strategy, productivity, efficiency, flexibility and accountability. Somehow, that rhetoric sounds more like a corporate sales pitch than words from our teachers who’ve been ignored with consistency since Rahm Emanuel stormed City Hall in 2011.
There was no listening tour or even a pretense of considering a variety of policy options. In Springfield, allies of the Mayor immediately set out to eliminate the possibility of a Chicago teachers strike with a provision in a 2011 law dubbed Senate Bill 7 (SB7) which mandated 75 percent members’ support before teachers could legally strike.
Emanuel’s ground game was to prevent a strike threat from blocking his tough moves agenda with teachers—an agenda revealed the summer before at the Aspen Ideas Festival by Jonah Edleman, head of Stand for Children which has doled out more than $1 million to politicians and political parties in Chicago and around Illinois the past 3 years.
Walking in the door, Emanuel dropped gloves with the Chicago Teachers Union making his first move to declare the district in a “fiscal emergency” and then rescind the teachers’ 4 percent raise in the last year of their contract—2011-12.
Political observers have been nearly unanimous in the view that the resulting strike was a defeat for Mayor Emanuel. Instead of turning Chicago into a model of school reform he ignited teachers across the nation into an organized and unified labor force.
Even those who were initially enthusiastic about Emanuel’s education ideas have since soured at the treatment of parents and teachers throughout the City school-closings process. Adding fuel to the fire, CPS was approving more charter schools even while the Mayor was closing traditional schools. The experience was characterized as “horrendous rigmarole” by Sun-Times’ editorial page writer Kate Grosman.
They Don’t Want To Have Responsibility Anymore
In fairness, Chicago has been slow to emerge from the 2008 recession but according to Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation—a 118-year-old tax policy and government research organization—“there is no other school district in the nation that has as grotesquely underfunded a school system as Chicago.”
Education policy expert Pauline Lipman Ph.D., who serves as Director of the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education, believes that a good deal of the Mayor’s decisions are about “figuring out how they can cut-off parts of the school system that they just don’t want to have responsibility for anymore.”
“It’s kind of like government abandonment of whole areas” says Lipman. “Look at the West Side area where they just did the turn-around at Dvorak, for example, there’re almost no public schools left in that area,” claims Prof. Lipman.
“The idea is to just shuttle off those schools. They’re problem schools anyway from their point of view,” says Lipman. “Their scores aren’t up, they have a lot of special education students that require special services and so, if you don’t have to be responsible, it’s like out of sight out of mind,” explains Lipman.
“What I see is that a lot of the [school] closings are being made in communities that have been in bondage,” said 15th Ward aldermanic hopeful Rafael Yañez, Ed.D., who holds a Doctor of Education degree.
“I feel that [in] a community like greater Englewood—that is already suffering—there is a focus on just creating new projects to create private education” and in Yañez’s view, the process is “not really giving the opportunity for community stakeholders to be part of that change.”
Rafael Yañez, believes that “our focus should be driven by supporting our teachers and giving them the tools that they need.”
It’s a Population That’s a Problem from Their Point Of View
Like most mayors, Emanuel’s agenda is to sell the city as a global center of finance, business services, and technological innovation, a place for upscale recreational leisure activities and international travel.
“If we look at the reports from Metropolis 2020 or Rahm’s plans to revitalize six areas of the city or Chicago Business World or any of the plans provided by the political and economic elites for the city, the kind of city that they’re trying to make Chicago is a city that really has no place for what was the black industrial working class, many of whom are now unemployed,” explains Prof. Lipman.
The University of Illinois professor went on to say, “At this point it’s just a population that’s a problem from their point of view.” She thinks that “they’re perceiving public schools in certain areas of the West Side and the South Side as disposable. Without addressing the underlying causes—people need houses, people need jobs, kids need good schools, they need recreation—[which] involve investments in those neighborhoods that they’re not willing to make,” believes Prof. Lipman.
“Schools are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re actually working for the purpose at hand,” Prof. Lipman explained, which is, “to prepare the majority of people for low wage jobs in the service sector primarily.”
Misinformation and Talk about All the Jobs
The largest growth in the labor force is in home healthcare and retail which are low wage service jobs according to Prof. Lipman, who cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates for 2016 projecting an additional 70 million new jobs that will be low wage jobs requiring an 8th grade education.
“There is a lot of misinformation and talk about all the jobs in the future being high tech jobs,” says Prof. Lipman, but numerically that doesn’t necessarily mean that those occupations will have high employment.
The U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published an Occupational Quarterly Outlook for spring 2014 titled, STEM 101: Intro to tomorrow’s jobs. The report sets out wage and growth predictions. Jobs, such as biomedical engineers and mathematicians, for example, have small employment levels and are projected to remain small, despite fast growth.
The confusion, which Prof. Lipman points out, centers on the idea that between 2012 and 2022, the BLS projects the fastest growing occupations to have job openings relative to the size of the employment field.
The high tech manufacturing companies likely to come to Chicago that aren’t already being outsourced are “not like U.S. Steel when they employed 45,000 people—it’s like a few hundred jobs” says Prof. Lipman who thinks that employees “aren’t going to come out of STEM anyway.”
The Gold Standard of Neoliberal Education
For example, larger class sizes, fewer teachers and longer class schedules are the suggestions behind decoding the term, “productivity.” When you read discussions about Common Core where Illinois is a purported leader, you’ll surely see the word, “accountability.” Isn’t that really code for more expensive standardized testing that glosses over the uncertainty of any measurable value? “Flexibility” is another coded term Chicago parents must decipher and which teachers surely recognize as intended to dismantle their union.
Now, for the gold standard of all neoliberal terms, consider the word “efficiency.” We’re not talking about parking meters folks. On the education reform battlefield “efficiency” means less money for public school children—plain and simple.
At a time when examples of corporate social responsibility seem exceedingly difficult to find, entrusting our student’s future and national competitiveness to corporations whose bottom line defines their sole purpose, just seems wrong in every sense of the public good that education is supposed to foster.
Teachers Provide a Vision of Our Community’s Higher Aspirations
In Chicago, where Rahm hasn’t missed many opportunities to undermine the Chicago Teachers Union or their president Karen Lewis, parents and engaged citizens are being left to decode the language of education reforms and the forces driving his initiatives.
Apparently, Mayor Emanuel has seen fit to abandon the decorum expected of his office to “unleashed some profanities” on Mrs. Lewis during one of their meetings which she says, “didn’t go so well.” Chicago Magazine reporter Carol Felsenthal, concludes her 2011 article with praise for Lewis (a condensed transcript of the interview was included).
It seems that Rahm was given similar license at the White House while serving as President Obama’s Chief of Staff. Glenn Thrush, White House reporter for Politico related to Felsenthal in a November 2013 piece for Chicago Magazine, that Rahm treated most of Obama’s secretaries as “a nuisance.”
“As usual, Rahm comes off as a wise guy” recalling an incident Thrush related, where Rahm chewed out Attorney General Eric Holder “…during an exchange that included a fair share of Emanuel’s patented F-bombs.”
Regardless of the exact number of “F-bombs” dispensed by Emanuel—patented or otherwise—should Chicagoan’s just disregard the abandonment of decorum and poor example from an omnipotent Mayor? Are we then, really going to ask more from our children in the classroom?
Chicago students and their parents probably don’t need much help in decoding the Mayor’s four letter vocabulary. However, who is to undo his example? Who is going to convince our children that the profane abandonment of intellect isn’t acceptable in the classroom, their careers or in public life?
Are civic leaders now able to claim that passion—or a mean spirited disposition in the case of Emanuel—is above professional decorum? Our willingness to tolerate a foul-mouthed Mayor is in effect our own ratification—these are our teachers, wives, husbands and parents. They deserve better from those on the public dime. Surely we should immediately reinstate all student profanity related expulsions—one standard for all, right?
There is plenty of room for disagreement and debate on the education battlefront. In the eyes of most Chicagoan’s, our City’s teachers stand for the higher aspiration of the community as a whole. Too often the way they’ve been portrayed in the media has done a disservice to them, every student in this city and that ideal. Failing to reprimand this Mayor and demand a public apology is also our failure.
Teachers are deserving of more respect than has been afforded them here in Chicago. Our local media should be less concerned with access to City Hall and stand by their first obligation to the public—a tenet of journalism ethics.