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How Obama and Valerie Jarrett Helped Launch Their Political Careers in an Outrageous ‘Urban Renewal’ Scheme February 24, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Chicago, Housing/Homelessness, Race.
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Roger’s note: as anyone who has followed this Blog knows, I have characterized Obama as a fraud from the beginning (of his ascendency to the presidency).  I posted an article reprinted from the Toronto Star when Obama was elected the first Black editor of the Harvard Law Review, where a fellow Black student talks about his charismatic gifts always leading to a cop out.  In the article below, compare Obama’s history of “community development” in housing with that of Saul Alinsky in the 60s, where he organized popular protests against the University of Chicago’s plans to destroy neighborhoods for expansion.  Also, in the article below you will learn how Michelle Obama earned over $300,000 a year dumping poor patients to make room for richer ones at the University of Chicago Medical Center.      

AlterNet / By Allison Kilkenny

Developers and investors got rich on a project that destroyed the homes of thousands of Chicago’s poorest black residents.

January 25, 2013  |
 As President Obama’s second term begins, and inequality, especially for black Americans, is worse than it was when Obama first took office, it’s worth revisiting progressives’ and Obama supporters’ impression of the president as somebody who might actually care about equality and helping the most unfortunate in society. And a big centerpiece of that impression, which endures despite evidence that he’s at best ambivalent, is his early days in Chicago. The narrative that Obama is a salt-of-the-earth community organizer has been spoon-fed to the American populace since Obama first began campaigning. In reality, there’s a big piece of the president’s past that has gone under-reported that will help us to understand Obama and his closest adviser Valerie Jarrett a bit better: Obama and Jarrett built the nexus of political support that took him to the presidency by participating in one of the most appalling examples of neoliberal-corrupted City Hall-“urban renewal projects” in recent history that enriched developers and investors and destroyed the lives of thousands of Chicago’s poorest black residents, in some cases using his community organizer job as camouflage.
We have the opportunity to revisit our impression of Obama thanks to a speech by Robert Fitch, a radical journalist and activist who chronicled the destruction of public housing in his 1996 book, The Assassination of New York, in which he detailed the changing landscape of the city at the hands of bankers and developers. New York’s poorest were left to the mercy of the extremely rich, who used their power and money to gentrify, gut and obliterate public housing. Fitch’s accounts of the plunder of New York and Obama’s efforts in Chicago offer a different narrative than we’re often accustomed to hearing — they weren’t the “fault of Republicans,” but rather examples of the most frequent attack on democracy and the general welfare: how politicians “of all stripes” served the interests of the richest and most powerful in the society. In the case of NY and Chicago, the powerful took the form of a collection of interests that Fitch called FIRE: finance, insurance and real estate.
During a speech delivered at the Harlem Tenants Associations in November 2008, directly after Obama’s presidential win, Fitch explained how the new president and other middle-class blacks, including Valerie Jarrett and Obama’s wife Michelle, climbed the power ladder in Chicago at the expense of poor African Americans by aligning themselves with “friendly FIRE”:

…[A]s Obama knows very well, for most of the last two decades in Chicago there’s been in place a very specific economic development plan. The plan was to make the South Side like the North Side. Which is the same kind of project as making the land north of Central Park like the land south of Central Park. The North Side is the area north of the Loop—Chicago’s midtown central business district—where rich white people live; they root for the Cubs. They’re neighborhood is called the Gold Coast.

For almost a hundred years in Chicago blacks have lived on the South Side close to Chicago’s factories and slaughter houses. And Cellular Field, home of the White Sox. The area where they lived was called the Black Belt or Bronzeville—and it’s the largest concentration of African American people in the U.S.—nearly 600,000 people—about twice the size of Harlem.

In the 1950s, big swaths of urban renewal were ripped through the black belt, demolishing private housing on the south east side. The argument then was that the old low rise private housing was old and unsuitable. Black people needed to be housed in new, high-rise public housing which the city built just east of the Dan Ryan Expressway. The Administration of the Chicago Housing Authority was widely acclaimed as the most corrupt, racist and incompetent in America. Gradually only the poorest of the poor lived there. And in the 1980s, the argument began to be made that the public housing needed to be demolished and the people moved back into private housing. …

If we examine more carefully the interests that Obama represents; if we look at his core financial supporters; as well as his inmost circle of advisors, we’ll see that they represent the primary activists in the demolition movement and the primary real estate beneficiaries of this transformation of public housing projects into condos and townhouses: the profitable creep of the Central Business District and elite residential neighborhoods southward; and the shifting of the pile of human misery about three miles further into the South Side and the south suburbs.

Obama’s political base comes primarily from Chicago FIRE—the finance, insurance and real estate industry. And the wealthiest families—the Pritzkers, the Crowns and the Levins. But it’s more than just Chicago FIRE. Also within Obama’s inner core of support are allies from the non-profit sector: the liberal foundations, the elite universities, the non-profit community developers and the real estate reverends who produce market rate housing with tax breaks from the city and who have been known to shout from the pulpit“ give us this day our Daley, Richard Daley bread.”

Aggregate them and what emerges is a constellation of interests around Obama that I call “Friendly FIRE.” Fire power disguised by the camouflage of community uplift; augmented by the authority of academia; greased by billions in foundation grants; and wired to conventional FIRE by the terms of the Community Reinvestment Act of 1995. And yet friendly FIRE is just as deadly as the conventional FIRE that comes from bankers and developers that we’re used to ducking from. It’s the whole condominium of interests whose advancement depends on the elimination of poor blacks from the community and their replacement by white people and—at least temporarily—by the black middle-class—who’ve gotten subprime mortgages—in a kind of redlining in reverse.

Evidence of the public-private partnerships’ failures emerged almost immediately.

The public housing included in Senator Obama’s transformation plans, such as the 504 apartments in the squat brick buildings of Grove Parc Plaza, quickly fell into disrepair. Reports emerged of uninhabitable units with collapsed roofs, fire damage, mice infestations, and sewage backups. In 2006, federal inspectors graded the condition of the complex an 11 on a 100-point scale, a score so bad the buildings were demolished in 2011.

A Boston Globe review found that thousands of apartments across Chicago that had been built with local, state and federal subsidies — including several hundred in Obama’s former district — deteriorated so completely they were no longer habitable. Grove Parc, a project that was, along with several other prominent failures, developed and managed by Obama’s close friends and political supporters, became a symbol of the broader failures of handing over public subsidies to FIRE cronies, private companies to build and manage affordable housing, an approach lauded by Obama as the best, sometimes only, replacement for public housing.

At the time, Jarrett was the chief executive of Habitat Co., which managed Grove Parc Plaza from 2001 until the winter of 2008 and co-managed an even larger subsidized complex in Chicago that was seized by the federal government in 2006 after city inspectors found widespread problems. Jarrett had earlier served as Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development from 1992 through 1995. When questioned by the Globe, Jarrett defended Obama’s position that public-private partnerships are superior to public housing.

“Government is just not as good at owning and managing as the private sector because the incentives are not there,” said Jarrett, whose company manages more than 23,000 apartments. “I would argue that someone living in a poor neighborhood that isn’t 100 percent public housing is by definition better off.”

But as theGlobe pointed out, Daley’s plans to privatize Chicago public housing quickly drew criticism:

[Chicagoans] asked why the government should pay developers to perform a basic public service — one successfully performed by governments in other cities. And they noted that privately managed projects had a history of deteriorating because guaranteed government rent subsidies left companies with little incentive to spend money on maintenance.

Most of all, they alleged that Chicago was interested primarily in redeveloping projects close to the Loop, the downtown area that was seeing a surge of private development activity, shunting poor families to neighborhoods farther from the city center. Only about one in three residents was able to return to the redeveloped projects.

“They are rapidly displacing poor people, and these companies are profiting from this displacement,” said Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle of Southside Together Organizing for Power, a community group that seeks to help tenants stay in the same neighborhoods.

“The same exact people who ran these places into the ground,” the private companies paid to build and manage the city’s affordable housing, “now are profiting by redeveloping them.”

Obama believes deeply that privatization works. He once told theChicago Tribune that he had briefly considered becoming a developer of affordable housing, but after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1991, he turned down a job with Tony Rezko’s development company, Rezmar, to instead work at the civil rights law firm Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland. The firm represented a number of nonprofit companies that were partnering with private developers to build affordable housing with government subsidies.

The Globe reported that shortly after becoming a state senator in 1997, Obama told theChicago Daily Law Bulletinthat his experience working with the development industry had reinforced his belief in subsidizing private developers of affordable housing. “That’s an example of a smart policy,” the paper quoted Obama as saying. “The developers were thinking in market terms and operating under the rules of the marketplace; but at the same time, we had government supporting and subsidizing those efforts.”

What Obama is describing is corporate welfare: the government subsidizes private companies which then lack incentive to provide services to tenants because the government i.e. taxpayers will continue funding them regardless, and then the same private companies win new contracts down the road when they demolish and rebuild apartments as part of a “revitalizing” scheme.

Oftentimes, Obama’s community organizer veneer served to camouflage his FIRE roots. For example, Grove Parc Plaza opened in 1990 as a redevelopment of an older housing complex, and the new owner was a local nonprofit company called Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corp, led by two of the neighborhoods’ most powerful ministers, Arthur Brazier and Leon Finney. All of this sounded like grassroots in action. However, Woodlawn Preservation hired a private management firm, William Moorehead and Associates, to oversee the complex. The company then lost that contract and a contract to manage several public housing projects for allegedly failing to do its job, and was subsequently convicted of embezzling almost $1 million in management feeds theGlobe reported.

Woodlawn Preservation then hired a new property manager, Habitat Co., where Valerie Jarrett served as executive vice president. Residents told the Globe that the complex deteriorated under Moorehead’s management and the decline continued after Habitat took over. A maintenance worker at the complex told the Globe that money often wasn’t available for steel wool to plug rat holes, but regardless federal inspectors rated Grove Parc an 82 out of 100 as late as 2003.

In their extensive report on Obama’s private-public partnership failings, theGlobe profiles one of the largest recipients of government subsidies: Rezmar Corp, founded in 1989 by Tony Rezko, who between 1999 and 2008 used more than $87 million in government grants, loans, and tax credits to renovate about 1,000 apartments in 30 Chicago buildings. Companies run by the partners also managed many of the buildings, collecting government rent subsidies. Neither Rezko, nor his partner Daniel Mahru, had any development experience:

Rezmar collected millions in development fees but fell behind on mortgage payments almost immediately. On its first project, the city government agreed to reduce the company’s monthly payments from almost $3,000 to less than $500.

By the time Obama entered the state senate in 1997, the buildings were beginning to deteriorate. In January 1997, the city sued Rezmar for failing to provide adequate heat in a South Side building in the middle of an unusually cold winter. It was one of more than two dozen housing-complaint suits filed by the city against Rezmar for violations at its properties.

People who lived in some of the Rezmar buildings say trash was not picked up and maintenance problems were ignored. Roofs leaked, windows whistled, insects moved in.

“In the winter I can feel the cold air coming through the walls and the sockets,” said Anthony Frizzell, 57, who has lived for almost two decades in a Rezmar building on South Greenwood Avenue. “They didn’t insulate it or nothing.”

“Affordable housing run by private companies just doesn’t work,” Mahru told the Globe. “It’s difficult, if not impossible, for a private company to maintain affordable housing for low-income tenants.”

Most of Rezko and Mahru’s buildings have since been foreclosed upon, forcing the tenants to find new housing.

When Obama opened his campaign for state senate in 1995, Rezko’s companies gave $2,000 on the first day of fundraising, and as the Globepoints out, essentially “seeded the start of Obama’s political career.”

While Obama eventually distanced himself from Rezko, he maintained close ties to other developers. Jarrett became a close adviser, and Obama chose Martin Nesbitt, chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority, as his campaign treasurer. Nesbitt was one of the key overseers of the shift toward private management and development. And Obama kept the rich families around him.

From the Globe story:

As a result, some people in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods are torn between a natural inclination to support Obama and a concern about his relationships with the developers they hold responsible for Chicago’s affordable housing failures. Some housing advocates worry that Obama has not learned from those failures.

“I’m not against Barack Obama,” said Willie J.R. Fleming, an organizer with the Coalition to Protect Public Housing and a former public housing resident. “What I am against is some of the people around him.”

Jamie Kalven, a longtime Chicago housing activist, put it this way: “I hope there is not much predictive value in his history and in his involvement with that community.”

In a 2012 Harpersmagazinearticle, Ben Austen writes that the area around Cabrini-Green no longer resembles the neighborhood he remembered from his years growing up in Chicago in the ’70s and ’80s.

Down the street from 1230 N. Burling stood a mixed-income development of orange-bricked condos and townhomes called Parkside of Old Town. Its squat buildings were outfitted with balconies and adorned with purple ornamentation and decorative pillars. There was a new school, a new police station, a renovated park, and a shopping center with a Dominick’s supermarket and a Starbucks. A Target was expected on the site the last tower would soon vacate. Later, I would warm up two blocks south in @Spot Café, where employees from Groupon’s nearby corporate headquarters streamed in to pay full price for lattes and panini.

Today, what seems harder to fathom than the erasure of entire high-rise neighborhoods is that they were ever erected in the first place. For years the projects had stood as monuments to a bygone effort to provide affordable housing for the poor and working-class, the reflection of a belief in a deeper social contract.

Shortly before the demolition of 1230 N. Burling in 2012, Austen attended a Chicago Housing Authority meeting during which residents protested the board in response to the city forcing poor people off prime real estate. Activists included residents and supporters of a housing project called Lathrop Homes, a development in a well-off section of the North Side that was next in line to be demolished.

“The residents didn’t want to be forced into the private market or into temporary housing, especially since they doubted they’d be able to return to whatever replaced Lathrop; nor did they agree that market-rate apartments were needed in the redeveloped community, as the surrounding area was already full of market-rate condos,” Austen wrote.

Chicago’s $1.6 billion “Plan for Transformation” envisioned a mix of public-housing residents with market-rate condos and subsidized rentals or homes, with one-third of each in these new communities.

In late 2012, NPR detailed how after more than a decade in the works, one of the country’s most closely watched public housing experiments was badly failing, partly due to the flailing economy.

NPR profiled Lathrop resident Mary Thomas:

Thomas has lived here for eight years with her husband and 7-year-old son. Lathrop sits on what many now consider prime land, next to the Chicago River. A busy street splits the development into a north and south section.

The north side is completely shuttered, cordoned off by gates, a ghost town of boarded-up buildings. Thomas lives in the open southern section, where steam from the old heating system wafts into the street. About 170 of the 900-plus units are occupied.

Thomas says all three of the concepts for Lathrop should be dumped and there should be more input from residents. She says there’s little affordable housing in the area and there’s no need for market-rate units at all.

Far from adopting a reflective attitude in the wake of Chicago’s failed experiment in public-private housing partnerships, Obama has now taken his love of public-private codependence to a national level, touting public-private partnerships in everything from creating jobs to education to tackling insurance fraud to collaborations involving foreign nations, which you can bet means the wealthiest multinational conglomerates teaming up to increase their profits at the expense of the 99 percent.

The First Lady played her own part in the Chicago racket of profiting off the poor. Michelle Obama worked at the University of Chicago Medical Center “redirecting” low-income patients to community hospitals in order to use its own beds for rich patients. Nick Jouriles, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, released a statement saying the practice comes “dangerously close to patient dumping,” a practice made illegal by the Emergency Medical Labor and Treatment Act (EMTALA), and reflected an effort to “cherry pick” wealthy patients over poor.
“This is a dangerous precedent that could have catastrophic effects in poor neighborhoods across the country. Congress needs to hold hearings about the problems facing emergency patients. If other community, non-profit hospitals follow this example and shift the lion’s share of resources to its high-revenue elective patients and procedures, it will leave many emergency patients virtually out in the cold. The University of Chicago Medical Center is located in a poor neighborhood whose residents have few, if any, other options for emergency care.”
The media barely paid any attention to Michelle Obama’s role in all of this, though the Chicago Sun-Times reported in 2008 that her $317,000-a-year role as Vice-President of the hospital helped create the patient-dumping program.
Quoted in a related Washington Post article, Quentin Young, a South Side physician, remarks the scheme is nothing more than an “attempt to ensure that the hospital retains only affluent patients with insurance.”

“If you put enough money into it, you could save a whole bunch of community health centers,” Young said. “But to date, they haven’t.”

Edward Novak, president of Chicago’s Sacred Heart Hospital, declined to discuss the center’s initiative in particular but dismissed as “bull” attempts to justify such programs as good for patients. “What they’re really saying is, ‘Don’t use our emergency room because it will cost us money, and we don’t want the public-aid population,’ ” Novak said.

At the end of January this year, community residents launched a protest outside the University of Chicago Medical Center, angry that the hospital ignored their needs, especially for “victims of gun violence,” according to a news report: “One woman said her son, shot just blocks away from the university, died on the way to a hospital ten miles away.” Four were arrested at the protest.

Robert Fitch’s words hold true: the poor remain at the mercy of the rich, who are seeking profits on everything possible, including their homes, but also their water, healthcare and education.

Allison Kilkenny co-hosts Citizen Radio, an alternative political radio show. Her work has appeared in the American Prospect, the LA Times, In These Times, and Truthout.

The Worst Teacher in Chicago September 12, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Chicago, Education, Labor.
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Roger’s note: sorry to inundate you with articles on the Chicago Teachers Strike, but here is one more I found interesting and insightful.

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opednews.com

For the OccupiedChicago Tribune
This is a true story. CHICAGO.   In a school with some of the poorest kids in Chicago, one English teacher–I won’t use her name–who’d been cemented into the school system for over a decade, wouldn’t do a damn thing to lift test scores, yet had an annual salary level of close to $70,000 a year.  Under Chicago’s new rules holding teachers accountable and allowing charter schools to compete, this seniority-bloated teacher was finally fired by the principal.
In a nearby neighborhood, a charter school, part of the city system, had complete freedom to hire.  No teachers’ union interference. The charter school was able to bring in an innovative English teacher with advanced degrees and a national reputation in her field – for $29,000 a year less than was paid to the fired teacher.
You’ve guessed it by now:  It’s the same teacher.I t’s Back to School Time!  Time for the editorialists and the Tea Party, the GOP and Barack Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan to rip into the people who dare teach in public schools.
And in Arne’s old stomping grounds, Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is stomping on the teachers, pushing them into the street.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves. This is what Mitt Romney and Obama and Arne Duncan and Paul Ryan have in mind when they promote charter schools and the right to fire teachers with tenure:  slash teachers salaries and bust their unions.


Greg Palast is the author of the new Book Billionalres and Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps.  For two decades, Palast was an investigator for Chicago-area unions, including the Chicago Teachers Union.


They’ve almost stopped pretending, too.  Both the Right Wing-nuts and the Obama Administration laud the “progress” of New Orleans’ schools–a deeply sick joke.  The poorest students, that struggle most with standardized tests, were drowned or washed away.
One thing Democrat Emanuel and Republican Romney both demand of Chicago teachers is that their pay, their jobs, depend on “standardized tests.” Yes, but whose standard?

Here is an actual question from the standardized test that were given third graders here in NYC by the nation’s biggest test-for-profit company:
“…Most young tennis stars learn the game from coaches at private clubs.  In this sentence a private club is….”   Then you have some choices in which the right answer is “Country Club – place where people meet.”
Now not many of the “people [who] meet” at country clubs are from the South Side of Chicago–unless their parents are caddies.  A teacher on the South Side whose students are puzzled by the question will lose their pay or job. Students on the lakefront Gold Coast all know that mommy plays tennis at the Country Club with Raul on Wednesdays. So their teacher gets a raise and their school has high marks.
And while Mayor Rahm promises kids in “bad” schools new teachers (the same ones at lower pay) at high-score schools, in fact, they are never actually allowed in.
But Rahm, after all, is just imposing Bush education law which should be called, No Child’s Behind Left.
You want to know what’s wrong with our schools?  Benno Schmidt, CEO of the big Edison Schools teach-for-profit business is a creepy, greedy privateer.  But he told me straight: that before Hurricane Katrina, his company would never go into New Orleans because Louisiana spent peanuts per child on education.  He made it clear: You get what you pay for.  Not what you test for.
So the charter carpetbaggers slither in, cherry-pick the easy students, declare success. The tough cases and special ed kids are left in the public system so they can claim the public system fails.
Here’s what the teacher who was terrible at $70,000 but brilliant at $41,000 told me:
“They’re not doing this in white neighborhoods.  And they want to get rid of the older, experienced teachers with seniority who cost more.  Get rid of the teachers and, ultimately get rid of the kids.  And the charter school gets to pick the kids who get in.”
It’s simple.  When you look at the drop-out rates in New York (41%) and Chicago (44%), the solution offered is to pay teachers less. They punish those who dare to work in poor schools where kids struggle and you can bet that “washing away” half the kids in our schools is, in fact, exactly what they’ve planned.
It’s notable that, when he lived in Chicago, Barack Obama played basketball with city school chief Arne Duncan, but Obama sure as hell didn’t send his kids to Arne’s crap public schools. Those are for po’ folk.
His kids went to the tony “Lab” School in Hyde Park.  Obama believes what Duncan believes and what Romney believes:  there’s no need for universal education and no need to spend money on it.  Yes, they like to say that “children are our future.”  But they mean the children of China are our future, the Chinese kids who will make the stuff we want and the children of India who will program it all for us. After all, how much education does some obese kid from Texas need to stack boxes from China in a Wal-Mart warehouse?
Education is no longer about information and learning skills.  It’s now about “triage.”  A few selected by standardized tests or privileged birth will be anointed and permitted into better and “gifted” schools.
The chosen elite are still very much needed:  to invest in India and Vietnam, to design new derivatives to circumvent the laughable new banking laws, and to maintain order among the restless hundred-million drop-outs squeezed out of the colon of our educational system.
Democrats’ Bantustans, Republicans’ Value-less Vouchers.
The Obama/Duncan/Emanuel plan is to create Bantustans of un-chartered, cheaply-run dumpster schools within a government system.  But Romney and the GOP would give every child a “choice” even outside government schools with “vouchers.”
Of course, the “vouchers” don’t vouch for much.  Romney’s old alma mater, Cranbrook Academy, runs at $34,025 a year, not counting the polo sticks and horse.  The most generous voucher program is Washington DC’s, beloved of the GOP, which pays about $7,500, or if the student’s “choice” is Cranbrook, about 2 months of school.  Hyde Park Day School Chicago is $35,900.  To give each kid a real choice, not just a coupon, means a massive increase in spending per pupil.  I didn’t see that in the Republican platform, did you?
The experienced teacher in Chicago who took the pay cut was offered one consolation.  She was told she could make up some of the pay loss by quitting the union and saving on union dues.
So that’s the program.  An educational Katrina: squeeze the teachers until they strike, demolish their unions and drown the students.Chicago’s classroom war is class war by another name.

Class dismissed.

 

http://www.gregpalast.com

Author of the New York Times and international bestsellers, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse, Palast is Patron of the Trinity College Philosophical Society, an honor previously held by Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde. Palast (more…)

Mayor’s Kids Private School is What Public Schools Should Be September 12, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Chicago, Education, Labor.
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Roger’s note: here are some more articles analyzing the Chicago teachers’ strike and issues of public education:
Published on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 by In These Times

Director of Private School Where Rahm Sends His Kids Opposes Using Testing for Teacher Evaluations

CTU President Karen Lewis says she would love to use University of Chicago Lab School as model for public schools

  by Mike Elk

Unlike occasional teacher union opponent Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not send his kids to public schools. Instead, Emanuel’s children attend one of the most elite prep schools in Chicago, the University of Chicago Lab School, where the annual tuition is more than $20,000. (Emanuel has repeatedly refused to answer questions about why he eschews public schools for his children, telling reporters that it is a private family decision.)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel eschews the city’s public schools in favor of the University of Chicago Lab School, who director eschews Emanuel’s idea of “reform.”   (Zol87/Flickr/Creative Commons)

The conditions at the University of Chicago Lab Schools are dramatically different than those at Chicago Public Schools, which are currently closed with teachers engaged in a high-profile strike. The Lab School has seven full-time art teachers to serve a student population of 1,700. By contrast, only 25% of Chicago’s “neighborhood elementary schools” have both a full-time art and music instructor. The Lab School has three different libraries, while 160 Chicago public elementary schools do not have a library.

“Physical education, world languages, libraries and the arts are not frills. They are an essential piece of a well-rounded education,” wrote University of Chicago Lab School Director David Magill on the school’s website in February 2009.

Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis agrees with Magill, and believes what works for Mayor Emanuel’s kids should be a prescription for the rest of the city.

“I’m actually glad that he did [send his kids to Lab School] because it gave me an opportunity to look at how the Lab school functions,” Lewis told Chicago magazine in November 2011. “I thought he gave us a wonderful pathway to seeing what a good education looks like, and I think he’s absolutely right, and so we love that model. We would love to see that model throughout.”

One of the key sticking points in union negotiations is that Emanuel wants to use standardized tests scores to count for 40 percent of the basis of teacher evaluations. Earlier this year, more than 80 researchers from 16 Chicago-area universities signed an open letter to Emanuel, criticizing the use of standardized test scores for this purpose. “The new evaluation system for teachers and principals centers on misconceptions about student growth, with potentially negative impact on the education of Chicago’s children,” they wrote. 

CTU claims that nearly 30% of its members could be dismissed within one to two years if the proposed evaluation process is put into effect and has opposed using tests scores as the basis of evaluation. They’re joined in their opposition to using testing in evaulations by Magill.

Writing on the University of Chicago’s Lab School website two years ago, Magill noted, “Measuring outcomes through standardized testing and referring to those results as the evidence of learning and the bottom line is, in my opinion, misguided and, unfortunately, continues to be advocated under a new name and supported by the current [Obama] administration.”

While Magill could not be reached for direct comment on the specifics of the Chicago Teachers’ strike, his past writings on the school’s site suggest he might be supportive.

“I shudder to think of who would be attracted to teach in our public schools without unions,” Magill wrote on the school’s website in February 2009, adding that, even with unions, many teachers “have had no choice but to take on second jobs to make ends meet.“

But Magill’s writings also note just how fine a line CTU will have to walk to keep public sentiment, which currently supports the strike 47% to 39%, on its side according to one recent poll. Acknowledging the “distressing…generational change in the public’s attitude toward teachers,” Magill writes, “Some would say that teachers are responsible for this change by publicly participating in actions designed to bring attention to sub-standard working conditions and compensation. These actions often cause unintended collateral damage to students. Parents and the public at large have long memories when the education of their children is interrupted. We must find a way to conclude collective bargaining without raising doubts about the professionalism of those whose work should be valued the most.”

© 2012 In These Times

Why We’re Striking in Chicago September 10, 2012

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Published on Monday, September 10, 2012 by Common Dreams

‘Join Our Fight for Education Justice,’ says CTU President Karen Lewis

  by  Karen Lewis

Teachers, paraprofessionals and school clinicians in Chicago have been without a labor agreement since June of this year. Following the inability of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to reach an agreement over benefits, the role of standardized tests in teacher evaluations, and physical improvements to schools that teachers say are harming both teacher and student performance, the CTU has announced that a city-wide stirke will begin today — the first teachers strike in 25 years. Pickets are expected at 675 schools and the Board of Education. The following are remarks from CTU

Negotiations have been intense but productive, however we have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike. This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could avoid. Throughout these negotiations have I remained hopeful but determined. We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve.

Talks have been productive in many areas. We have successfully won concessions for nursing mothers and have put more than 500 of our members back to work. We have restored some of the art, music, world language, technology and physical education classes to many of our students. The Board also agreed that we will now have textbooks on the first day of school rather than have our students and teachers wait up to six weeks before receiving instructional materials.

Recognizing the Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation. However, we are apart on benefits. We want to maintain the existing health benefits.

Another concern is evaluation procedures. After the initial phase-in of the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly 30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable. We are also concerned that too much of the new evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.

We want job security. Despite a new curriculum and new, stringent evaluation system, CPS proposes no increase (or even decreases) in teacher training. This is notable because our Union through our Quest Center is at the forefront teacher professional development in Illinois. We have been lauded by the District and our colleagues across the country for our extensive teacher training programs that helped emerging teachers strengthen their craft and increased the number of nationally board certified educators.

We are demanding a reasonable timetable for the installation of air-conditioning in student classrooms–a sweltering, 98-degree classroom is not a productive learning environment for children. This type of environment is unacceptable for our members and all school personnel. A lack of climate control is unacceptable to our parents.

As we continue to bargain in good faith, we stand in solidarity with parents, clergy and community-based organizations who are advocating for smaller class sizes, a better school day and an elected school board. Class size matters. It matters to parents. In the third largest school district in Illinois there are only 350 social workers—putting their caseloads at nearly 1,000 students each. We join them in their call for more social workers, counselors, audio/visual and hearing technicians and school nurses. Our children are exposed to unprecedented levels of neighborhood violence and other social issues, so the fight for wraparound services is critically important to all of us. Our members will continue to support this ground swell of parent activism and grassroots engagement on these issues. And we hope the Board will not shut these voices out.

While new Illinois law prohibits us from striking over the recall of laid-off teachers and compensation for a longer school year, we do not intend to sign an agreement until these matters are addressed.

Again, we are committed to staying at the table until a contract is place. However, in the morning no CTU member will be inside our schools. We will walk the picket lines. We will talk to parents. We will talk to clergy. We will talk to the community. We will talk to anyone who will listen—we demand a fair contract today, we demand a fair contract now. And, until there is one in place that our members accept, we will on the line.

We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters throughout the state and country who are currently bargaining for their own fair contracts. We stand with those who have already declared they too are prepared to strike, in the best interests of their students.

This announcement is made now so our parents and community are empowered with this knowledge and will know that schools will not open on tomorrow. Please seek alternative care for your children. And, we ask all of you to join us in our education justice fight—for a fair contract—and call on the mayor and CEO Brizard to settle this matter now. Thank you.

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Karen Lewis

Karen Lewis is the president of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).

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