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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.

Feel Good Movie Angers Union Boss

Showing how painful the truth can be, AFT boss Randi Weingarten goes bonkers over a new film in which a teachers union is presented fairly.

Won’t Back Down, a movie due to open nationally on September 28th, centers around two determined mothers, one a bartender and the other a teacher, who team up and try to transform their failing public school in Pittsburgh. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, administrative corruption and the teachers union, they devote their lives to making a difference in the education and future of their children.

It’s a very good film – a film in which the educational establishment is presented in a realistic and honest way – the portrayal of good teachers, bad teachers and mediocre ones and the parents’ frustrations in dealing with the system’s bureaucracy are quite true to life. The union leaders are not caricatures, but they are like many that I knew and worked with during my long teaching career.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, however, has a very different take on the movie. With steam pouring out of her nostrils, she hyperventilated through a 1,864 word slash-and-burn screed which appeared as part of Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post blog last week. With many contenders, perhaps the most outrageous statement she makes is,

Unfortunately, using the most blatant stereotypes and caricatures I have ever seen – even worse than those in Waiting for Superman – the film affixes blame on the wrong culprit: America’s teachers unions.

This statement is positively goofy. Waiting For Superman is a documentary which deals with real parents and their children who are trying to escape their miserable public schools and get into better ones. Okay, truth be told, there is one caricature in the film. In Variety’s review, one woman was described as a “foaming satanic beast” and “an aptly shrill opponent of change.” The reviewer was describing none other than Randi Weingarten, who did a great parody of herself.

A bit later in her diatribe, she blurts out,

I don’t recognize the teachers portrayed in this movie….

That’s funny. I do. But then again, you must understand that she doesn’t really know what goes on in America’s classrooms. In fact, just last year, the union boss stepped in it big time when, speaking about education reform at an AFT conference, she said,

…the debate has been hijacked by a group of self-styled reformers. Let’s refuse to be defined by people who are happy to lecture us about the state of public education — but wouldn’t last 10 minutes in a classroom.

Well, I am a reformer and I lasted almost 30 years. And just what experience “in a classroom” does “Randi the Pompous” have? Not much. According to blogger Joann Jacobs,

A lawyer turned union leader, Weingarten’s classroom time was limited, counters Education Action Group.

Weingarten’s AFT bio claims she taught history at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn from 1991 to 1997. EAG obtained her personnel file via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. Weingarten was hired as a substitute teacher in 1991 and received a “provisional” license in 1993. In 1994, she received a “certificate to serve as a substitute.” A 1997 letter indicates Weingarten didn’t submit documentation showing she’d met requirements for licensure.

No record indicates she ever served as a full-time teacher or was evaluated by a principal or other school official.

When Weingarten ran for president of New York’s United Federation of Teachers in 1998, her opponent, Michael Shulman, suggested that she was not a “real teacher.”

“She worked five months full-time that I’ve been aware of, in 1992, at Clara Barton High School,” Shulman was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “Since then she taught maybe one class for 40 minutes a day.”

And what would a teacher union leader rant be without some good old-fashioned class warfare and a potshot at parent trigger laws? Randi doesn’t disappoint. She hits ’em both in the same paragraph:

… it (the movie) promotes the deceptively named “parent trigger” laws, which are marketed as parent-empowerment laws. Actually, these laws deny both parents and teachers a voice in improving schools and helping children, by using parents to give control of our schools over to for-profit corporations. Parent trigger laws are being pushed by organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which Walden Media owner and oil billionaire Philip Anschutz helps fund.

Teachers unions hate parent trigger laws because they give parents power to change the governance structure of a school without having to kiss the union’s ring. And then, in an attempt to enlighten us ignoramuses, tells us that these laws are being promoted by the vast, billionaire-infested right wing conspiracy. (I do have give her credit, however, for not mentioning the Koch brothers by name.)

Then Weingarten becomes indignant, stating that,

… the film advances the “bad teacher” narrative through the character of Deborah. This teacher barks at students from her desk, uses her cell phone in class, refuses to let students use the restroom, puts children in a closet as a disciplinary measure and resists all reform efforts, yet miraculously remains employed at the school.

Miraculously remains employed??!! Teachers unions are notorious for doing their damndest to keep pedophiles and other miscreants in the classroom and yet she seems shocked that the bad teacher “remains employed at the school.” Good grief – can this woman really be so clueless??!!

In any event, the film is well worth seeing. The fact that it sent Weingarten over the edge should alone boost ticket sales through the roof.

About the author: 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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Tenure for Teachers: Enough is Enough

Every year untold thousands of school kids are harmed by teachers who shouldn’t be allowed in a classroom. Parents must be given an opportunity to send their children elsewhere.

A teacher arrives at work high on drugs…daily.

A teacher regularly flies into rages, terrifying kids and coworkers.

A teacher talks in explicit terms about sex to the students.

A teacher makes constant sexual advances to other teachers.

A teacher doesn’t teach her students anything.

These are a few of the teachers that new Perth Amboy schools superintendent Janine Caffrey has to deal with on a daily basis. She is quick to point out that most teachers are committed and talented, but there are a few….

The evil here is tenure or permanence, which in New Jersey bestows a position for life on teachers after just three years on the job. (It’s even worse in other states – in California, for example, a teacher can get into the untouchables club after only two years.) Tenure for teachers would be nothing more than a bad joke if it didn’t destroy the education experience for tens of thousands of children who are subjected to incompetent/cruel/perverted people on a daily basis.

The cases that Caffrey is dealing with are not all that uncommon. In my 28 year teaching career, I saw all the above and then some – like a teacher at my middle school who on a warm day at lunch decided to go topless on the athletic field. Admittedly guilty, the consequence of her action was to be transferred to a nearby elementary school. Another teacher regularly went to his car between his P.E. classes and got plastered. No consequence for him.

The proponents of tenure are typically bad teachers and their protectors — the teachers unions. They claim that tenure is nothing more than due process, and incompetent administrators are the ones to blame if a bad teacher is allowed to stay on the job.

Wrong. As Caffrey says,

“Proponents of tenure will tell you that any school or district can remove a teacher by the due-process system that the tenure law affords. That may be the intent of our tenure law, but it certainly doesn’t work that way.”

The truth is that the system is rigged, plain and simple. A chart supplied by the Education Action Group shows the Byzantine two-to-five-year roadmap that must be followed to get rid of an incompetent teacher. What the chart doesn’t tell you is the procedure’s astronomical cost to the taxpayer. In Los Angeles recently, the school district tried to get rid of seven stinkers — after five years and a cost of $3.5 million, they managed to get rid of four, while two accepted buyouts and one reportedly was reinstated.

Then there is the case of Gabrielle Leko, a teacher in the La Caňada school district in California who, according to many reports, regularly hurls insults at her students dating back to at least 1997. Calling her students such terms of endearment as Jew Boy earned her a brief stint in a sensitivity class. And while the school board and superintendent are figuring out what to do with her, Leko, unchastened, goes to work every day and does what she has always done. And whatever is decided – the next event is a school board meeting on December 21 – Ms. Leko’s fate will be kept under wraps. So even if she does lose her job in La Caňada, she will probably be free to continue foisting her insults on unwitting students in another school district, should she decide to stay in the field.

While tenure laws have been in effect just about everywhere in the country for far too long, there is some good news. There are states – Illinois, Indiana and Florida, to name a few — that have succeeded in moderating or eliminating this abomination. This is all well and good, but until tenure is completely eradicated, children will be continue to be damaged (and in some cases, abused) by teachers who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near them.

Also, Hoover Institution scholar Eric Hanushek claims that if we just got rid of the bottom performing 5 to 7 percent of teachers – a common practice in the private sector — our education system could rival that of Finland’s world class system.

Ultimately, the most realistic way for parents to successfully protect their children is to give them an option to remove their kids from harm’s way via a voucher. Parents should be allowed to take the money that as taxpayers they are paying to educate their child in a public school and apply it to enroll their children elsewhere – in a traditional public, charter or private school. Any school of their choosing.

And to the whiners amongst us who say, “But that could drain money away from public schools,” I say YES, it will! But the good news is that wherever students have been given a choice where to go to school, public schools have actually improved, even with less money. Yes, competition even works in the wacky world of public education.

One final note – if tenure is a disease that we absolutely must eradicate, perhaps political correctness is a close second. You may have read the story about a 9 year old boy in North Carolina who got suspended from school by the principal for two days because he told his teacher she was cute. Yes, he was accused of “sexually harassing” her. A nine year old! Fortunately, his mother decided to fight back – the story went viral, became national news and the boy was reinstated by district officials with an apology. Jerry Bostic, the principal who ordered the suspension, didn’t get off so easy. Downgraded to Assistant Principal, he refused the demotion and retired instead. He thought that after 43 years of service to his school district he deserved better. And maybe he did, but his judgment in this situation was appalling.

In any event, it’s time to give parents a choice where to send their children to school. The traditional forced-zip-code method hasn’t worked well for children, their families and taxpayers for decades.

All need to mark their calendars for January 22, 2012 – the start of National School Choice Week – which will provide a concentrated focus on the need for effective education options for every child. To learn more and get involved, please visit the NSCW website.

About the author: 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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

“Indoctrination” – A Must Read For Parents, Taxpayers and Everyone Else

To a large extent, the progressives have taken over American education, are transforming it and are doing it in plain sight.

Indoctrination: How ‘Useful Idiots’ Are Using Our Schools to Subvert American Exceptionalism
is an invaluable book written by Kyle Olson, founder and CEO of the Education Action Group, an organization that is on the frontline of education reform and a champion of school choice.

In this brief and very readable book, Olson describes the ways that the progressives in our society have taken over K-12 education. They have been running most of our elite colleges and schools of education for years now and this step is in keeping with their plan to transform America.

As a public school teacher whose career spanned four decades, I have seen the long march first hand. Perverting the traditional purpose of American education (which has been to make better and more educated citizens), progressives have been inspired by the theories of Paolo Freire, a Brazilian socialist who saw everything through a Marxist class warfare lens.

Carrying Freire’s mantle, current gurus like revolutionary terrorist Bill Ayers and the recently deceased Communist Howard Zinn have been behind the effort to destroy America as we know it. They claim that basically the U.S. and its capitalist system are the root of all evil. Unfortunately, their love-the-world/hate-America attitude has gained an incredible amount of currency in our public schools in a relatively short time. Ayers, Zinn and their ilk have essentially managed to convince much of the education establishment to abandon every teaching technique and curriculum that benefited prior generations. For example, “drill and kill” has been thrown on the refuse heap; we are now supposed to let our students “discover” learning. The “sage on the stage” has been replaced by the “guide on the side.” The only problem with these techniques is that they haven’t worked, but they do sound good (at least to the progressives.) As such, we are now raising a nation of dunces.

On the 2010 NAEP history test, we learned that only 12 percent of high school seniors have a firm grip on American history. Yes, we are educating students to the point that almost half the nation thinks that the cornerstone of Communism, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” is in the U.S. Constitution. Only 2 percent of high school seniors know the significance of Brown vs. the Board of Education and only 4 percent of 8th graders could explain why urban populations rose and rural populations shrank over time.

So just what are we teaching them?

This is where Olson’s book shines. In chapter after chapter, he meticulously details lessons being foisted on students that are being taught for one purpose only – to advance the progressive agenda. A few examples:
• An examination of the nature and extent of police brutality, which is being promoted in middle schools by none other than Van Jones, conspiracy enthusiast extraordinaire.
• A clever lesson using poker chips, the aim of which is to convince students that unequal distribution of wealth has to do with the fact that the U.S. has more than its share of resources, not that we have a wealth-promoting capitalist system.
• “I Pledge Allegiance to the Earth.” Yup, no more of this silly patriotic stuff. Children, you are denizens of the earth! (I wonder what our political enemies think of this rubbish… when they stop laughing, that is.)

Rightfully, Olson reserves a special section for the unions whose far left agenda has been well documented, and who have gone to great lengths to make this country over in their own image. Their attempts to indoctrinate kids and glorify the union movement are staggering. For example,
• “Trouble in the Henhouse: A Puppet Show.” In this charming bit of propaganda put out by the California Federation of Teachers aimed at kindergartners, we find an oppressive farmer whose hens unionize and convince the heartless farmer that he’d better respect them or else.
• The “Yummy Pizza Company” is another lesson from CFT — actually ten, which delve into the process of organizing a union local. They include instructions on how to collectively bargain as well as a sanitized look at prominent labor leaders.
Click Clack Moo, a popular book promoted by the AFL-CIO, tells second graders about unhappy cows that refuse to work until the mean farmer is forced to meet their demands.

And while we are teaching our children the joys of class warfare, earth worship and the importance of union membership, other countries that are more serious about educating their young are cleaning our clocks in every international comparison available.

Actually, it is even worse than Olson suggests. There is one aspect of the progressive takeover that he gave short shrift to. Except for SB 48, an obscene bit of legislation in California which will bring the contributions of homosexuals and transgenders into the K-12 curriculum, there is little mention of the progressives’ ongoing effort to sexualize children. From Gay-Straight clubs in middle school (where parents do not have to be notified of their child’s involvement) to attempts to teach orgasm to eleven year olds, the radicals led by the National Education Association have been making alarming progress.

Another example of the progressives’ sexual agenda is which holidays are deemed important. Few people are aware of what holiday is celebrated on November 20th. But every student at the middle school where I worked till my retirement in 2009 knows, because the school spent more time acknowledging that day — “Transgender Day of Remembrance” — than Veteran’s Day, November 11th. TDR was considered more worthy of the students’ time at my school than a holiday which acknowledges the contributions of American soldiers. (Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising. At the same school, posters of Che Guevara adorned the walls of no less than five classrooms, including an American history class that had no pictures of Washington or Lincoln. Che was considered a hero by these teachers who passed this admiration on to their impressionable students. Of course the real life Che was a sadistic mass murderer, but being a progressive means never having to sweat minor details like the truth.)

Clearly Indoctrination is a book that could leave citizens in a state of great despair. But fortunately, in the last chapter, Olson lists several important ways that parents and the general public can fight back. And if this country isn’t to become permanently transformed — fight back we must. None of our international enemies are as powerful, organized and, thus far, as successful as our home grown progressives who are bent on destroying public education as we know it in America. It is imperative that we all become more knowledgeable about what is going on in our schools and take action. Kyle Olson’s Indoctrination is an excellent place to start that process.

About the author: 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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.