Thanks! See You Monday [updated]

Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and sends things to this site — I appreciate your input even when I don’t agree with a word you’re saying.  Thanks also to my fellow bloggers and blowhards, who provide me with material to recommend (or mock) every day.  And of course none of this would happen without the education journalists who make the calls and read the reports and deal with the stupid editors’ memories about what happened to THEM when they were in 5th grade.  And to the nice folks at ChicagoNow who sponsor this site.  Last but not least, thanks to the teachers and administrators and parents who are out there in schools every day, doing their best (most of the time) at what everyone agrees is a very challenging job to do well.  You don’t need my thanks, of course, but I’m giving it anyway.  See everyone on Monday.

UPDATE:  Here’s the full text of Chicago Schools Wonks in case you are curious from what some of the commenters have had to say:

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! A few orders of business and then some things I’m thankful for..


CPS has to release the school closings list by December 1, which is Thursday. That means by next time I write you we’ll know a lot more about three important things:

  • What schools the administration decides to close
  • How they roll out their plan
  • How it’s received by parents, teachers, CTU and press

Should teach us a lot about this still-very-young administration.

Related: Becky Vevea profiles Oliver Sicat, the new CPS portfolio chief I keep talking about: “Emanuel’s Point Man on School Closings.” Add this to your collection of Vevea Brizard-admin profiles (Brizard in June, Donoso in July).


CPS will give $75K longer school day grants to 36 charter schools. If you follow Linda Lutton on twitter you know Rahm/Brizard didn’t announce the funding at the most high-impact time…

@lindalutton: CPS sent a press release about the 36 charters at 6:40am Sunday.


My mom texted me earlier this week to say “Rahm’s on TV talking about kids with dead eyes.” She was referring to an NBC video, linked in this Huffpo piece, which says:

“Emanuel also told Smith about the city’s deeper challenges that will be much more difficult to address: children growing up with “emptiness in their eyes” in some parts of the city.”


“Reaching a child who has the flicker of life snuffed out? That’s daunting. These other things, we can handle,” Emanuel said. “That to me is what gives you pause…and I think I can say this since it’s not one of my strong suits, that’s what humbles you.”

On the one hand… I like hearing Rahm acknowledge something isn’t a “strong suit” and I’m glad he’s admitting what a lot of us figured out pretty quick—the children who live in high-need parts of our city are foreign to our new Mayor.

On the other hand… it’s almost physically painful for me to read: “a child who has the flicker of life snuffed out.” That’s just not how kids work, Mr. Mayor. The kids he’s referring to—the ones who live in high-crime areas, attend failing schools and deal with all sorts of things children should never have to deal with—they’re just as much people as everyone else is, just as vividly alive as the rest of us. Anyone who knows kids like the kids he’s talking about knows that (and I mean knows them as people, not data sets or photo props).

True, there are kids out there in our city bearing the burden of hardships I cannot imagine—but they’re still kids. They read books. They collect Tech Decks. They buy candy. They do their homework. They’re proud when they solve problems. They’re happy when their schools are safe, teachers are nice and when they know their schoolwork’s meaningful and relevant to their futures. Their eyes are full of life. They are full of life. That’s a big part of why we’re all working so hard to make schools better, right?

It’s the fact that Chicago’s children deal with what they deal with without the flicker of life being snuffed out that makes a Mayor’s schools agenda so important. Rahm has to know that. If he doesn’t why should teachers trust or follow him? Why should parents? Why should kids?

Get to know some of children you’re talking about, Mr. Mayor. It’ll make this all a lot easier for all of us.


I started this thing exactly 6 months ago on May 26, 2011 with a note to a few dozen friends. In the time since I’ve learned so much more about Chicago’s schools and the people working to make them work better. I’ve been invited to schools I may have never seen otherwise and met thoughtful, interested leaders who 7 months ago wouldn’t have given me the time of day.  I’ve been honored by the hundreds of conversations I’ve shared with parents, teachers, school founders, funders, elected officials and others—all sparked by what I’ve written here. You’ve helped me, taught me, challenged me and in every way enriched me. I’m thankful to you all.

I’m thankful also to the people who encouraged me to start this and who’ve encouraged me to keep it going. I’m thankful to Noreen Ahmed-Ullah, Rosalind Rossi, Joel Hood, Alexander Russo, Sarah Karp, Rebecca Harris, Becky Vevea, Hunter Clauss, Linda Lutton and other intrepid journalists whose work I turn to constantly. I’m thankful as well to all the non-reporter reporters who’ve become the eyes and ears that help me see and know what I might otherwise miss. Thanks to Andy and Alexander for posting this in places that helped grow the conversation (John Paton’s right about content as API). Thanks to everyone who has used what they’ve read here to help them make more positive change for children in ways big and small.

And thank you especially to all the readers who every week share with me their precious Friday time.  It’s enormous fun building this community. Please, keep reading. Keep writing me. Keep asking questions. Keep sharing resources. Keep us all learning.

And let me know what ideas you have for growing this thing up. We may have just about gotten too big for this format. Lots of interesting options to consider. []

Until next week,



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  • It's interesting that Seth Lavin doesn't mention George Schmidt and other writers for Substance in his kudos list: "I’m thankful also to the people who encouraged me to start this and who’ve encouraged me to keep it going. I’m thankful to Noreen Ahmed-Ullah, Rosalind Rossi, Joel Hood, Alexander Russo, Sarah Karp, Rebecca Harris, Becky Vevea, Hunter Clauss, Linda Lutton and other intrepid journalists whose work I turn to constantly. I’m thankful as well to all the non-reporter reporters who’ve become the eyes and ears that help me see and know what I might otherwise miss."

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Probably because he said journalist. Schmidt may be a one researcher but a journalist he is not. Just see the headlines to prove that...atrocious.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Now, now. George Schmidt is certainly worthy of the moniker "intrepid journalist." Throughout my 19 years in CPS, Substance has been--at times--the best source of information about public schools in the city of Chicago. Granted, there is a definite editorial slant, but Schmidt and the other Substance writers would call that "analysis." Again, at times, I have found their analysis of stories invaluable for "reading between the lines."

    Also, when Substance makes an error, they correct it. And not in tiny print buried deep within the paper like the major newspapers do.

    It may just be that Seth Lavin's slight is due to his not reading Substance. Since Schmidt took a job (the job he has wanted for many years) at the Chicago Teachers Union, Substance News has become a cheerleader for the current administration. No matter what. Today Substance is more like the Chicago Union Teacher (union monthly newspaper) during the Marilyn Stewart years than the CUT is. Stories that just fawn over Karen Lewis and CORE.

    I find myself going to the web site les and less (once a month?) and when I got my subscription print issue yesterday, I flipped through, read Sister Grim (my fix), and then tossed it out. Ten minutes tops. No story on the House of Delegates meetings. But all the claptrap on testing and standards and socialist activism that I never cared for in the first place were there. (As well as a story on the CPS budget that I had read months earlier.)

    But, I digress.

  • In reply to Danaidh:

    Schmidt certainly writes with a slant. But the food drive (or demise of) is worthy of coverage, and I haven't found any other author penning the story.

  • In reply to Danaidh:

    Schmidt is a total hack and never corrects his mistakes. He does good research from time to time on CPS employees, but instead of focusing on the real problems and issues at CPS, he spends all his time attempting to break some sort of gigantic Watergate like conspiracy. If Schmidt really cared about CPS and the kids, he'd be going after the current disaster that is taking place with CORE in charge of CTU. That said, I'd love to hear Schmidt's take on the new leadership.

  • In reply to Danaidh:

    Did you read the budget analysis by Rod Estvan in the recent print edition of Substance? We're not seeing that type of info in any of the mainstream press. I think I need to read Substance (let's call it advocacy journalism), Catalyst, Education Weekly,, District 299 blog, CNC, WBEZ and the Chicago Reader along with the (usually weak work in the) mainstream press to get the full spectrum of coverage of CPS. If I kept to JUST the local major papers and news stations, I'd both hate teachers and love Emanuel.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Absolutely! Substance adds a bit of counterweight to the overwhelming
    poundage of CTU hate and Rahm/Claude love lubed in the commercial papers

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    i've updated the original post so that everyone can see and read lavin's full email -- click here and scroll down a little.

  • Cps just put out a press release on the passing of maggie daley the former first lady

  • No charity food drive through schools this year? Any teachers have details about this?

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Food drive? There's no profit in food drive!
    This is a business that we're running here!

  • I wonder if Rahm saw the emptiness in their stomaches?

  • Been hearing a lot of rumors that change is coming to CPS leadership... anyone hearing anything specific?

  • Rumors? It's difficult to comment on "rumors" when you don't specify the rumor to which you're referring. There are lots of "rumors" flying around downtown with all of the layoffs in recent weeks.

  • The Dean

    I met George about 25 years when he was a sub.That is the only time
    We ever met. He is the best , longest running, education reporter
    In Chicago, in other words he is the Man

  • Why so much disrespect toward teachers?
    By Jeff Libman

    One thing I've always marveled at is how much respect teachers command in most countries of the world outside the United States. Public school teachers in the developing world make very little money but are honored members of society. As an English as a second language instructor for young adults at Truman College, I am reminded of this every day. My students call me teacher or professor (I'm not a professor) or Mr. Libman. More than a handful even say thank you at the end of class. Sure, every once in a while a cellphone rings during a lesson or students fail to do their homework, but in general I am offered a level of respect that seems, well, normal.

    In Chicago Public Schools, it's not the students who are short on respect for the teachers, although that is certainly a cause for concern in some schools. It seems that the biggest threat to teachers' dignity comes from the very board of education that hires them to teach.

    The Chicago Board of Education has recently taken many steps that diminish its respect for our educators. Word came down at the end of the last school year that our elementary school teachers would immediately be required to serve breakfast to their students during what was formerly instructional time. I can't think of a more demeaning and inefficient use of the time and expertise of professional educators than asking them to be waiters and waitresses. I have nothing against the restaurant industry. Waiting tables is a tough job, but our educators earned bachelor's and master's degrees to teach, not serve food.

    Then in the summer, the board reneged on its contractual obligation to teachers of a 4 percent salary increase, claiming it didn't have the money to meet this obligation and could therefore forgo these terms of the contract. Given the financial climate and the fact that this was the final year of the contract, teachers accepted it and went back to work without incident this school year.

    Not long after, the board tried to entice teachers to decide, outside of their union contract, to extend their school day and work 90 minutes longer for this reduction in pay. If they had voted "yes," teachers would have received a small stipend and schools would have received up to $150,000. Independent estimates calculated that if every school had accepted this deal, the amount of money the board would have paid out would have been comparable to the 4 percent salary increase obligation that the board claimed it could not meet. Teachers were rightfully angry at what seemed like a disingenuous plea of poverty by the board.

    Only a few schools accepted the deal, so public school teachers were attacked for being selfish and not really caring about their students. It seemed no one came to the aid of educators who refused such a deal. Religious leaders, parents and elected officials all urged teachers to do the right thing for their kids. I guess teachers were supposed to be saints and sacrifice everything, including their contract, for the good of their students.

    And just recently, we learned of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to offer up to a $20,000 bonus to principals whose schools meet certain achievement standards for their students this year. How big of a bonus will the teachers who teach these students receive? Zero. That's right. Nothing. And that's about the same amount of respect our teachers are receiving these days.

    My wife teaches 32 third-graders at a magnet elementary school. No teacher's aide. No cafeteria. Little money so she can stock her classroom with the extra books and supplies she needs. Long nights grading papers. Full weekends preparing lessons. If it weren't for the love she feels for the kids, she'd be gone. I venture to guess many other Chicago Public Schools teachers feel the same way.

    In general, most teachers are not opposed to a longer school day, but they want to know how the day will be used and that class size will be reduced. They are not opposed to feeding children breakfast, but they should not be employed to do it. They know economic times are tight, but they want honesty from the board. They are not opposed to merit pay, but they want it to be fair.

    There are always claims that teachers are failing our students. To be sure, like any industry, education has its share of teachers who are not performing as they should. And yes, the union contract makes it harder to remove these instructors, but not impossible. But let's be honest. These educators are by far the exception and not the rule. Most educators are well-educated, well-intentioned professionals who are highly committed to teaching. They put in extra hours, their own money and mountains of care, compassion and thought so their students can succeed. They need to be supported, not marginalized. I fear that these dedicated and talented instructors may unfortunately become more the exception than the rule if CPS continues to treat them as it has.

    Jeff Libman, author of "An Immigrant Class: Oral Histories from Chicago's Newest Immigrants," teaches English as a second language at Truman College in Chicago.

  • Clearly, our schools are being destroyed by the Mayor's office. I doubt this would be occurring if the state had not given the mayor control over schools. If the achievement gap is widening then it is time for action to have this law repealed.

    What are the steps that need to be taken for the law to be repealed? The citizens need to take back control of the school system through an elected board and action needs to start now.

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