Berkowitz 1 on 1 with CTU President Karen Lewis on charter school miracles and some bad CPS teachers

From reader's left: Maria Moreno, Financial Secretary, CTU;Karen Lewis, President, CTU; Unidentified; Jesse Sharkey, VP, CTU; Karen Lewis answering questions from the media on Nov. 2, 2016, after her remarks to the City Club of Chicago at Maggiano's Banquets in the Loop on Grand

From reader’s left: Maria Moreno, Financial Sec., CTU;Karen Lewis, President, CTU; Unidentified; Jesse Sharkey, VP, CTU; Karen Lewis answering questions from the media on Nov. 2, 2016, after her remarks to the City Club of Chicago at Maggiano’s Banquets in the Loop on Grand

Jeff Berkowitz: What’s the biggest lie you think [the charter schools] tell?

Karen Lewis: The biggest lie they tell is, “That we [charter schools] can do miraculous things for your child that CPS [traditional neighborhood schools] can’t do.”

CTU President Karen Lewis asks Berkowitz: Who are you, by the way…


–CTU’s effort to snuff out parental school choice and competition from charters

Another reporter: What’s the number for charter school campus growth under the new CPS contract?

Karen Lewis: It’s net zero and they can have 101% capacity in the existing schools.

Jeff Berkowitz: But, aren’t the CPS charter schools 20,000 students under capacity now– at 60,000 students?

Lewis: Yes, yes.

Berkowitz: So [the new CTU-CPS contract] would allow a growth of 20,000 students [within existing charters] over the next four years? [Ed. Note, this is a bit misleading. In a sense, CPS charter schools are probably close to or at capacity for this academic year, but their legal capacity and enrollment may grow by about 20,000 students over the next four years.  To understand this, you should know that a charter high school, like one within the Noble Network, might start with only one grade- 9th and 200 students, even though its charter allows for 800 students.  It might plan to add 200 9th graders for each of the next three years, at which point it will have 200 students in 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grade and then be at its charter capacity of 800 students. The charter campus has a capacity of 200 in the first year, 400 in the 2nd year, and so on. Thus, during its first year, that charter is at capacity and doesn’t have excess capacity of 600 students, as some might suggest.  Of course, if Karen Lewis had her way, she would shut down all the charters- right now. She would like to remove all competition for traditional neighborhood schools and take the charters from 60,000 students, currently, to zero, in a Malcolm Gladwell blink of an eye.  Unfortunately, at a presser, the questioner can’t probe and develop this dialogue in this way. That is why Berkowitz would like to have Lewis as a guest on his show, See below].

Lewis: Possibly, Possibly. But, there would be no new- [charter schools].

Berkowitz: You’re ok with that [20,000 new charter school students over four years for the existing CPS charter schools]?

–Are CPS charter schools lying?

Karen Lewis: No, I don’t like it. But they are here.  You know, [the charter schools] are here. They are not going anywhere. So, you know, I just would hope that they don’t continue to market and lie to our students and parents, so that—

Berkowitz: What’s the biggest lie you think [the charter schools] tell?

Lewis: The biggest lie they tell is, “That we [charter schools] can do miraculous things for your child that CPS [traditional neighborhood schools] can’t do. [But, for a contra view to that of Karen Lewis, go here] So, there is a lot of that. But, a lot of it is also they have, in general, some very harsh disciplinary policies that they had to back away from—and they are not happy about that. So, no restorative justice in the charter schools, that’s for sure.


Any CTU bad teachers? Are they being identified and removed?

Jeff Berkowitz: What does this contract do—as to the overall assessment of teachers and is there a reasonable route, under this contract, for teachers who are not performing, to be dismissed?

Karen Lewis: Who are you, by the way, just out of curiosity?

Berkowitz: Jeff Berkowitz, “Public Affairs TV”; Chicago Tribune platform blog—

Karen Lewis: Oh, oh, all right. Ok, ok.


Lewis: All right, ok.

Berkowitz: Is that ok, is that enough?

Lewis: Why is it always a bad teacher narrative? It is always a bad teacher narrative with you guys. You show me all the bad teachers. That’s what I want to know.

Berkowitz: Do you think there are any bad teachers?

Lewis: I think there are teachers that could be improved if given the appropriate support and resources. But, I think there’s some and if they’re not, if they are given that support and they don’t improve, I’m okay with them going because then they reflect back on all of us—right? But, that is such a small group of people, such a very small group of people. Let me tell you what we do want. We want fair and reasonable evaluations. We have been craving that- for years. One of the reasons I became nationally, board certified—nobody really ever evaluated me and I wanted to know how I was doing. So, there are all kinds of ways to look at this so, but don’t ask me any more bad teacher questions. That’s a narrative–

Berkowitz: So, what does this contract do, in general, about teacher assessments? Anything? Or, does it just stay the same? Not bad teachers–

Karen Lewis: Assessments?

Jeff Berkowitz: Yes, as you know, there is a procedure for assessing teachers.  Many teachers have complained about it.  Part of it is mandated by the state. Part of it by the CTU contract.  I am asking you a balanced question. Does this contract change that over-all procedure [for assessments]?

Karen Lewis: No, not really. There are some small tweaks to it. But, I will tell you what—I will give a person who can answer that better than I—who knows the ins and outs of it.

Jeff Berkowitz: Who is that person?


The above is a partial transcript of a 10 minute press conference that Karen Lewis held at Maggianos Banquets (111 W. Grand) in the Chicago Loop on November 2, 2016, after she spoke for about sixteen minutes to the City Club of Chicago and answered questions for fifteen minutes from that audience of 300 members and guests. You can watch the video of those 31 minutes here.   About 70% of that audience self-identified as current and former teachers. It was an audience that was largely supportive of Lewis, giving her a standing ovation after she finished her remarks.

After the presser concluded, Berkowitz approached Lewis, telling her a bit more about “Public Affairs,” saying to her, “We’ve been on the air for 18 years, doing almost 900 weekly shows, six with Barack Obama, two with Rahm Emanuel [and former CTU President Deborah Lynch, Advance Illinois Executive Director Robin Steans (watch Steans here) and UChicago NKO Charter School Principal Tonya Howell (watch Howell here) are previous guests], and we would like to have you on the show.”

CTU President Lewis said, “I don’t think so.”  That’s too bad. The viewers of Public Affairs, Karen Lewis and her supporters would all benefit from a Public Affairs dialogue between Lewis and Berkowitz.

But, Berkowitz wasn’t surprised. He has tried before with Lewis.  It doesn’t appear that President Karen Lewis is used to being challenged by anybody and she didn’t seem to like it much when Berkowitz did it at the presser.

Indeed, Berkowitz didn’t really challenge CTU President Karen Lewis. But, he followed up and probed as to what she meant by “Charter school lies.”

Berkowitz didn’t challenge Lewis. If he had, he would have cited to specific facts that suggest that charter schools more often than not, in and outside of Illinois, outperform traditional neighborhood schools. [That’s the kind of thing you do in a TV show, not at a press conference].   

And, one reason charter schools are able to outperform traditional neighborhood schools is they do not tolerate kids who disrupt and interfere with the learning process for other kids.

Lewis seems to think charter schools are doing the wrong thing by creating an environment conducive to learning.   But we won’t find out Lewis’ specific views on those issues because Lewis turned down that kind of challenging discussion.

CTU’s Karen Lewis is used to having a largely non-challenging, non-probing media question her. And, she likes it that way.  That’s why she asked me, “Who are you.” Now she knows.    



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  • "CTU President Karen Lewis asks Berkowitz: Who are you, by the way…"

    The chemistry teacher does know something.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thank you for your comment. In our great land, people are free to choose.

    They can engage in thoughtful, intelligent conversation which promotes good public policy and good politics. They can produce, independently, nine hundred, or so, TV shows that probes and challenges politicians of all stripes and positions, from dozens of aldermen to the Mayor to two Cook County Board Presidents to more than fifty IL state legislators to IL Governors to the most famous federal appellate judge in the country to a dozen U. S. Representatives to several major labor union presidents to several Illinois U. S. Senators to several candidates for President of the U. S. to the 44th U. S. President [six one half hour shows].

    They can probe at a press conference the powerful president of a thirty thousand teacher union as to what she means when she accuses charter schools of lying—and find out that she means giving parents “Hope” that they can escape failing CPS traditional neighborhood schools that President Lewis and her teachers, in large part, run. Then, they can write about those revelations in a Chicago Tribune platform.

    Or, they can do like you—put all their energy and thought into producing 18 words of snark.

    As I said, we are all free to choose in this country. And, I am proud of my choice.

  • In reply to Jeff Berkowitz:

    If you thought Karen Lewis was backing your drive for charter schools, you deserve the snark you got. And Microsoft Word says it only took me 31 words to say that.

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