Karen Lewis and Chicago’s Illiteracy Problem

Karen Lewis and Chicago’s Illiteracy Problem

After years as a teacher union boss, Karen Lewis is making plans to spread her venom to the rest of the city.

Courtesy of Daniel Greenfield, we are reminded of the ugly fact that almost half of Chicago is illiterate. According to the White House website, 47 percent of Windy City residents cannot read. Additionally, 79 percent of its 8th graders are not proficient in reading and 80 percent are not proficient in math.

There are many reasons for these pathetic numbers. Yes, broken families and the ensuing gang proliferation are factors. But since teachers are the most important factor in student learning and because school is compulsory in Chicago (and everywhere else in the U.S.), one really must look there for the problem. (Just as a side note – before parents were forced to send their kids to public schools, the U.S. had a literacy rate of about 90 percent.)

Because many Chicago public schools (CPS) are so bad, they are being abandoned. Due to declining enrollment, 50 schools closed in 2013 and probably a lot more should have been shuttered.

Enter Karen Lewis. The president of the powerful Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) decided to get busy. Bombastic as always, she came out swinging. Never once does she mention that the unionized schools themselves – with all the attendant anti-child work rules – could be at fault. Nowhere does she acknowledge that her union’s virulent anti-choice position, which forces kids to stay in lousy schools, could be part of the problem. Instead she uses diversionary tactics.

Rich white people are to blame. At the City Club of Chicago in 2013, she blamed the city’s education woes on rich white people. “When will we address the fact that rich, white people think they know what’s in the best interest of children of African Americans and Latinos—no matter what the parent’s income or education level.”

School closings are racist. A CTU rally in 2013 brought out all the usual suspects – the Occupy Chicago contingent, SEIU, members of CORE (Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators), Action Now and a gaggle of anti-capitalism protesters. In a speech delivered to the crowd of approximately 700 gathered in Daley Plaza, Lewis said, “They are closing down schools that have names of African American icons, but they’ll open up schools to put a living billionaire’s name in the front.” Lewis failed to mention that CPS was struggling to deal with an astronomical $1 billion budget deficit. And the schools that were slated to close were either underperforming, underutilized (schools that have far fewer students than their capacity allows) or both. The students whose schools were closed were either placed in charter schools or their closest neighborhood schools.

With an assist from Jeremiah “God damn America” Wright, vilify Arne Duncan. In January, the America-hating former Obama pastor was asked to speak at a breakfast co-hosted by the Chicago Teachers Union to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Wright sarcastically questioned how Secretary of Education Arne Duncan landed his job — after he “ruined the school system” in Chicago as CEO of schools. (Lewis is also no stranger to Duncan-bashing. In 2011, she was caught on tape by the Education Action Group, cruelly asserting, “You know he went to private school, because if he’d have gone to public school, he’d have had that lisp fixed.”)

Teach for America kills. After the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings, Lewis blamed the successful organization that enlists high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach. Referring to TFA vice-president David Rosenberg, Lewis said “… policies his colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation.” 

Lewis has also pointed fingers at Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, charter schools and right wing bloggers.

Tired of playing the blame-game, she then offers prescriptions that she insists will put a dent in the booming Chicago illiteracy and innumeracy rate.

Recruit terrorists and communists to the cause – and petition the U.N. CTU and a motley collection of fellow travelers, including terrorist Bill Ayers, unrepentant communist Michael Klonsky and Action Now (ACORN reincarnated) petitioned the United Nations, sending a “letter of allegation” to Geneva asking the international organization to investigate whether  closing the Chicago schools “violates children’s human rights.”

Redesign the curriculum to advance a leftist political agenda. Citing a book written by Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee teachers union, Lewis said, “People always talk about how that there’s no politics and values in math. That you can teach math and there’s no place for social justice. So let me tell you how Bob deals with that.” She went on to describe a math story problem about money and the cost of pencils. “That’s a very political statement because it’s all about consumerism – it’s about buying stuff, right? Bob Peterson tells them about José working in a factory making piecemeal clothes. He uses the same numbers and gets the same answer. And yes, math is political, too.”

Stage a strike. In 2012, CTU teachers walked off the job for seven days, returning after some of their demands met. The city did manage to negotiate a longer teaching day – from a nation-leading low of 5.75 hours to 7 hours. But the longer school day didn’t affect current teachers. Instead, the city had to hire 477 additional teachers who had been laid off to work the extra time. With an average salary of $76,000 (not including employee benefits or pensions), Chicago teachers were already among the highest paid in the nation and the new deal included a 7 percent raise over three years, with additional raises for experience and education. While it is unclear that the new contract has served to improve student literacy, there is no doubt that it has had a positive effect on teachers’ wallets.

Where are we now?

Apparently Lewis is not happy enough being a one-woman wrecking-ball in the Chicago public school system. Craving even more power, she is considering a run for mayor and has shoved $40,000 of her own money to jump start the campaign against arch-enemy Rahm Emmanuel. But hey, she can easily afford that. Lewis pulls in over $200,000 a year and, with her husband, owns three homes including a dacha in Hawaii. Not too shabby for a socialist-leaning woman of the people.

But of course, in politics $40,000 won’t go far. So union crony Randi Weingarten has offered Lewis a $1,000,000 gift should she decide to run.

As union president, Chicagoans have had no choice but to put up with Karen Lewis. But should she run for mayor in 2015, they will indeed have a say. And in August, a Chicago Tribune poll showed that she was running 4 percentage points (43-39) ahead of Rahm Emmanuel.

Unfortunately, the poll didn’t determine the percentage of her voters who are illiterate.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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