Friday, September 28, 2012

Won't Back Down is the Greatest Story Ever Told

As I am writing this blog, Won't Back Down has just been released to movie theaters across the country.   It is on its way to setting huge box office records, but if you care about children or education you must go see this film immediately and preferably multiple times.  While, I haven't seen this movie myself yet, I can guarantee you that this is a powerful and uplifting story that will forever change the way that movies are made as producers are allowed to move away from the constraints of dramatic storytelling in favor of lecture.

If Waiting for Superman was our Birth of an Education Nation, than surely this movie by the same company is our Triumph of the Will and Melinda Gates Foundation.  The acting is superb as Maggie Gylenhal and Viola Davis tell the story of a mom with a child who is Dyslexic and falling through the cracks of our public school system.  Fortunately, just as in real life charter schools are there to take these students and teach them.  At times in the trailer, Maggie Gyllenhaal was so powerful, I felt like I was watching Meredith Baxter-Birney or Valerie Bertinelli in a Lifetime movie.

Several union bosses tie Maggie Gyllenhaal's character to the train tracks. 

I urge you, if you care about children, to go see this movie.  It sheds light on the very real problem today of hedge fund managers and other wealthy philanthropists to get access to public schools.   I can't wait to see this movie and to add it to my DVD collection.  Currently, when I want an uplifting charter school story, I am reduced to watching Annie and pretending Daddy Warbucks is UNO's Juan Rangel.  I give Won't Back Down 4 very solid stars and I would give it a fifth, if my rating scale went that high.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Union Referees Need to Think of the Fans

By Jean Rangel, Vice-President of Media Affairs Canadian Football League

Let me begin by saying that I love referees,  Nobody has a tougher job than these dedicated professionals charged with running up and down the field, keeping up with world class athletes, calling a game with a lot of rules   If it were up to me, the referees would be the highest paid people on the field.   Unfortunately, it's not up to me and there are certain economic realities that the NFL Referee's Union need to be aware of.

This whole lockout began over referees refusing to give up their pension for 401k plans.   I can understand their reluctance, but frankly in today's economy nobody gets pensions anymore.  The hedge fund managers trashed our economy 4 years ago and according those managers, who should know, we are now in a time of austerity.  Even though the NFL is making more money than it ever has, many of the owners are seeing their other investments drop and impoverished cities are less likely to be able to fork over half a billion dollars to build a new stadium,.

While I love referees, I have a big problem with their union bosses.   The Referee's Union has demanded that referees be paid for every game they work despite having the shortest season in professional sports.   In 12 years, a player for the Houston Astros will have played 1,750 more games than a player for the Chicago Bears in the same amount of time.  Fortunately, this year the NFL has instituted the fuller game.   Games this season are about 20 minutes longer than last and that's allowing fans to have a more relaxed viewing experience with time to go to the bathroom or watch some fine arts television on Ovation during long replay breaks.

I really feel that the NFL referees simply don't care about the fans.   I look at some of their contract demands like refusing to be evaluated by the passing ratings of quarterbacks during the games they call and I shake my head.  Everybody knows fans like scoring and good referees will umpire games with more scoring.  The referees are also demanding that referees by paid the same rate rather than paying them on merit based on how many penalties they call in a game.

In the Canadian Football League we are having an exciting road to the Grey Cup with regular referees.  We continue to get calls from players, fans, and coaches who want to move to the CFL.  While the NFL and their greedy referees are at an impasse, it's a great time for American cities to invest in CFL football.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Parents Protest Against Chicago Teachers Union

Some people would say that 5 days after the end of a teacher strike is a lousy time to hold a protest against striking teachers, but with the kick off of education nation, we just could resist.   While it is hard to have an exact number of participants in events like this, it's safe to say that several half dozens were in attendance for our First Annual Parents Against Teachers Protest and Box Lunch.

Will Dehring of Chicago reported than many of the complaints he heard teachers make were "complete balderdash" saying that when he attended school in Chicago there was no air conditioning and that was fine with him.  The students couldn't even have erasers because of the rubber drives.

George Kallem said that teachers were much better when he went to school before the union made them lazy, "I won a geography bee in 3rd grade for naming all 46 states.  I was so proud."

Several polls conducted during the strike showed overwhelming support for the teachers, but as these active and involved CPS parents gummed their blackberry cobblers, you wouldn't hear a single positive word for the teachers or their union. 

"Get back and teach you bums!" said Ann Young summing up what many protesters were thinking.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

LS4C1 Interviews Bruce Louder on Chicago Education Reform

Back in 2010 when we were just a fledgling operation with a $12,000,000 operating budget and no idea how to spend it, it was Bruce Louder who suggesting we come to Chicago and make a stand for education reform.   The rest, as they say is history.  Chicago has just been through a very tumultuous week and a half as the greedy Chicago Teachers Union turned its collective back on the children and went on strike.  In an attempt to save face, we we lucky enough to be granted an interview with Mr. Louder.
LS4C1:  Welcome Mr. Louder.  Since the Chicago teacher strike, you've been outspoken in your criticism of the Chicago Teachers Union.  You have called the new contract the first step in a continuing war with the teachers union.  What is your issue exactly with the union.

BL:  First, let me say we have no problem with the hard working teachers of Chicago.  They work long hours on and off the clock, spend their own money to buy supplies, and generally make great sacrifices for the children of our city.  Our problem is with the union who believes they should be somehow entitled to a fair wage and good working conditions.   

Union bosses like Karen Lewis and her horde are basically politicians.  They haven't taught a class in 2 years.  Worse still, none of them has the business sense or skill to manage a hedge fund.   That should tell you something right there.

LS4C1:   You mention hedge funds.  I take it this is because of your belief that business style competition is the key to improving education?

BL: Look, one of my hobbies is dog fighting.  I raise pit bulls and if you've ever heard the expression, it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog, that's true.  In order to get the best fighters we reward the winners and destroy the losers.  We don't congratulate the dog that loses the fight?  We should be doing the same type of competition to find the best teachers.   

When you look at the strike vote only 98% of the people voting voted to authorize the strike.   We need to find that other 2% and start there.   Let's separate those outstanding teachers from the union that rewards mediocrity.  Parents too will be our natural allies once they realize that because their teacher is pleasant and their child seems to be learning doesn't mean they're being prepared for rigorous standardized testing.

LS4C1:  We took some criticism for radio ads we did after the strike authorization vote and during the strike itself.  Do you think that was fair?


BL:  No of course not.   I think that for some reason, criticizing teachers is just something that's not allowed in the mainstream media.

LS4C1: Thank you Mr. Louder.  I can't wait until you are our governor and we can see some real reform.

BL: Thank you Myron.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Chicago Teachers Refuse to Return to Work

A funny thing happened on the way to ending the strike.  The Chicago Teachers Union refused to vote on a tentative agreement and instead demanded to be able to read the agreement before voting.  This unreasonable demand meant that school children would be unable to return until Wednesday and earned the ire of several Chicago alderman.  The alderman had set a great example for the untrusting teachers by agreeing to several contracts like selling off Chicago's parking meters without reading the contracts.

Obviously, the greedy teachers are striking over pay and their own cushy jobs.  Mayor Emanuel attempted to get an injunction today, because the greedy teachers refused to negotiate over pay and instead attempted to negotiate over classroom learning conditions that they are prohibited from striking over by law. 

Unfortunately, the teachers are attempting to take over the system.  They wish to have input in education policy instead of leaving it to the bankers and business people who belong in charge.  The only good thing is that a hundred parent groups have popped up in the week since the strike began--well financed by hedge fund managers and ready to channel the rage of the 1/3 of CPS parents who don't support the teachers in the strike.   Whether it's Children First, Students First, First Children, First Students, Parent Power, Power for Parents, or any existing group, there are now enough parent groups that organizations like Stand for Children will soon no longer be alone as the only parent group with only 1 member.  In fact, one parent group made all parents automatic members.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

CTU Strike is Over (If you Want It)

The Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools have agreed to a framework for ending the week-long teacher strike in Chicago.  While this is not a done deal, it seems like the strike is over if the CTU wants it to be.  At this time, I have not seen the final contract details nor have I seen casualty figures or the total cost of the property damage inflicted on this city by the rampaging crimson hordes of striking teachers. Still, as reformer we can't deny that our noses have been bloodied.  We have a long list of things that must be done as we go forward:

There are over 140 schools in Chicago that do not have libraries, but there are many more that do.  We must do something about them,

Air Conditioning is something sought after by many teachers who believe that their rooms are too hot.  I think it was a wasted opportunity not turning on the Hyatt heat lamps on striking teachers on Thursday. 

Speaking of the Hyatt, now that we are building the Pritzkers a new hotel, it looks like a conflict of interest with Penny Pritzker on the Board of Education.  We need to fix this immediately by building hotels for the Hilton, Sheraton, and Holiday families.

Finally, there are a lot of organizations like Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform that are very well funded, but lack members.  We need to get Chicagoans to join these organizations as soon as possible.  It's getting kind of embarrassing to have Michael Butz speak for Stand for Children everytime they need to produce an actual parent.

The strike mat or may not be over, but our work rebuilding the city will not end when we have cleaned up the debris left by marauding teachers.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Teacher Calls Out CTU

My name is Alyssa Crown and I am a Teaching America fellow.  When I entered teaching, I made a very serious commitment to put my career in the financial services industry on hold for two years while I changed a generation by teaching.  Teaching America training was an intense five week boot camp, but I suffered it gladly knowing that my own classroom was my prize at the end.

In the four days, I have been teaching I have had some low points like when my lap top was stolen or when the students playfully locked me out of my classroom for two hours or when I called Pedro Cabrera's parents and talked with them on the phone for 15 minutes before I realized they didn't speak English.  However, I've also had tremendous highs.  I've counseled 7 of my students into quitting the gang lifestyle and even my most challenging students have started to come around to my mix of tough love and high expectations.

Unfortunately, all of this was threatened when the Chicago Teachers Union went out on strike.  I gladly crossed the picket line, but when I did there were no students inside for me to teach.  There were only 4 students in the Children First program and I couldn't get the bus driver watching them to give them up.  Adding insult to injury, I saw many of my students outside with their families picketing our school with the other teachers.  Now, I must say the other teachers at this school are very jealous of me and I have a lot of work to do to unbrainwash these children.

The teachers' demands border on the ridiculous.  Let's look at some of their issues:

1. Class Size - No less an expert on the Chicago Public Schools has shown us evidence that Chicago schools have an average class size of 16.

2. Salary - Students are being asked to work a much longer day and a significantly longer year.  They want an increase in pay, but Chicago teachers are already overpaid.  The average CPS teacher makes over $98,000 per year--more than double the average salary of investment bankers.  This is why most teacher's parking lots are full of Focus's and Corollas.

3. Air Conditioning - Temperate breezes off of Lake Michigan keep Chicago cool in the Summer and mild in the winter.  The weather is rarely above 75 degrees or below 65 degrees and while we have been experiencing an extreme heat wave since I've been in town, it obviously won't last.

4. Social Workers - No offense, but the sociologists at my college were always the worst students.  I don't even think of it as a real major.

Teachers also do not want to be evaluated and have the right to walk into any principal's office and demand a job.   Only Mayor Emmanuel cares about the children of Chicago enough to stand up to the marauding hordes of teachers, parents, and students who wish to take control of the school district from the people who know best.

Parent input is great and we're happy to allow it when it's funneled through a recognized organization like Stand for Children or Last Stand for Children First.  However, these free agents pose a threat to the order.  If the Chicago teachers care about children, they will come back to work and listen to my many great ideas to improve instruction in the classroom.  Let's all work together to help our kids.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chicago Teachers Strike Day 3: Principals and Practice

The strike has now entered day 3 and it looks like a tough one.  Among CTU's outrageous proposals was giving teachers with good evaluations who lost their jobs because their school was turned around or the enrollment dropped first crack at jobs ahead of hiring new teachers.

While it may make sense at first glance that in a field where half the people quit in the first 3-5 years to give a nod to proven successful teachers, it ignores some key facts.  As Rahm Emanuel put it, "I don't think downtown should be in the business of selecting teachers that the local school principal should select if you're going to hold them accountable,

Emanuel spoke yesterday at Tarkington School of Exodus where several principals including former principal Mahalia "Mommon" Hines who said, "If I'm a principal and you're going to hold me accountable, you're going to fire me. I want to pick my people."

She makes an exceptional point.   Who in their right might would sit still for an evaluation that was based on the people you manage when you didn't even pick those people?  It would be pretty stupid to hold somebody accountable for what their employees were doing when you didn't pick them.  Still, it was these recall rights and also evaluation that seemed to be the big holdups?  I am very disturbed by how scared these teachers are of being evaluated by the success or failure of their students.   A good teacher should welcome this kind of evaluation.

Of course if Rahm goes through with long rumored plans to close 100 schools, there will be an awful lot of students in the recall pool.  Still, I have to agree with Rahm, it must be principal's perogative.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Teachers Strike Day 2: Our Newest Radio Ad

We couldn't stand it anymore.  With our kids locked out of their beloved schools, we jumped into action with an ad buy aimed at getting the Chicago teachers to call off their strike and think of the most vulnerable in our society.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Teachers Strike Day 1: Keep Calm and Continue Testing

Today, the nearly 30,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union descended on downtown with 20,000 of their parent and community allies to wreak havoc and correct grammar and spelling.  Now, is not the time for us to panic.  Our leader, Mayor Emanuel has described the differences between the teachers union and the city as being minor.  In fact, it seems like the main thing that has prevented a contract is that the differences are so small, it hardly seems worth anybody's time to compromise.

The big problem with the strike is that students are missing valuable school time.  They need 15 days for standardized testing and if the strike goes on long enough, the tests will be very much delayed.   It occurs to me that the Children's First Centers set up at 144 public schools might be the perfect place to test.  While they aren't allowed to teach, testing isn't the same thing as teaching and with students in air-conditioned rooms with 5 or 10 teachers for every student, this is  a great testing environment.

Teachers continue to be greedy.  Just look at some of the things that the city has already caved on:
  • A lunch period for clinicians (These are psychologists, nurses, social workers)
  • Text books on the first day of school
  • A quiet place for social workers and psychologists to meet with students.
  • A solid 2 percent raise for working 13 extra days.
Eventually, we will crush these teachers and continue to put in high quality charters school or at least marginal quality ones in their place.  We just need all parents to keep calm and continue testing.  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

When Chicago Teachers Strike, It's Time for Replacements

One of my very favorite movies is The Replacements.  This cinematic gem came out in 2000 and starred the great Keanu Reeves as quarterback Shane Falco who leads a rag tag team of replacement players when the regular players get greedy and go on strike.  Like a veritable Island of Misfit Toys, the team is full of players with major issues that would keep a pro team from ordinarily considering them.  The kicker smokes during games and has huge gambling debts, the wide receiver is fast and can't catch.  The linemen are fat and speak with accent.

In the movie, they don't win the Super Bowl, they simply connect with the fans and win some games while the regular players are out on strike.  When the strike ends, they even defeat a team using real players because their love of the game overcame the talent and training of the players who had made football their lives.

Evidently, somebody as city hall saw this movie, because with teachers threatening to go out on strike next week they're starting up Children First Schools in 144 locations throughout the city and although these schools can't provide instruction, they will provide two meals and a chance for adults a chance to live out their dreams by working with children.   Maybe they work at Central Office crunching numbers or they have a couple of arrests for indecent exposure and could never pass a criminal background check or maybe they just have a short fuse and normally would not trust themselves around kids.  It doesn't matter.  The CPS will call on them all to come forward and just like the Replacements overcome their obstacles to touch our children's lives. Just because you're convicted of drunk driving a couple of times doesn't mean you no longer have anything to offer kids.

Sure, some people might say it's dangerous putting as many as twice as many students as a school is designed for into an environment where they are being supervised by people not used to working with children and where they can't receive instruction, but that's the edge of the seat risk that only a gritty bunch of outcasts can overcome.

I wouldn't actually trust my own kids to this kind of chaotic amateur hour, but I think it could be great for some students.  Who needs teachers to get an education?  Ok, maybe not an education, but to have a great time watching Finding Nemo or Swiss Family Robinson?  Hear that Chicago Teachers?  We're putting Children First, kind of.