Saturday, July 24, 2010

Save Our Schools Rally

I attended the Chicago Teacher's Union (CTU) Save Our Schools Rally today at the Ariel Academy in Kenwood. The rally is the first public event that I know of sponsored by the CTU since the new Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) slate took office this month. I was especially interested in how the new leadership was approaching the Chicago Public Schools position regarding school finances, tenure, teacher evaluation, cuts, and so forth.

CPS and CTU have started talks, but based on what Karen Lewis reported at the meeting, a report on the CTU website, and an online report plus comments on the Catalyst blog, the Board is asking for everything and giving nothing. [Lewis also said that the union wanted, and received, the right to have 40 observers (including representatives from other caucuses) sit in on the negotiations, as part of CORE's promise to boost transparency in the union.]

I was especially interested to hear about CTU's strategy at this point. The union is launching several initiatives, all with a common theme: reaching out. Reaching out to CTU membership, to parents, to community organizations, to pastors and congregations, to aldermen and state representatives, to the general population at events like neighborhood festivals and the annual southside Bud Billiken parade. The union had sign-up sheets available for the various committees it has set up to undertake the reach-out campaign.

The union's strategy reminded me of a report on the two-week long 2005 British Columbia teacher's strike. Teachers in BC were not allowed to strike by law, but they did so anyway, over class size, student supports and pay. As I understand it, the Canadian teachers worked to win the public opinion battle first, through ... reaching out. The British Columbia Teacher's Federation (BCTF) worked hard to present teachers as human beings dedicated to the challenging job of educating the community's children under very difficult circumstances. As a result, the BCTF gained support from other unions, from parents, and from the community at large. That support enabled them effectively to win.

CPS's position, echoed by the major news media and self-appointed education experts, is that teachers are lazy, incompetent, overpaid and greedy. The CPS position is that the union shields the generally lazy, incompetent, etc. etc. from discipline. The union, effectively, is the reason for the CPS budget crisis, poor test scores, high dropout rates, etc. Only charter schools, privatization and more testing can save education in Chicago. This is the official CPS narrative. This is the CPS propaganda offensive that the union is finally, with new leadership, thankfully beginning to confront.

Getting out a counter-narrative, one that actually explains reality, really is the only way forward for the union: to win the propaganda war by speaking truth to power, forging necessary links with everyone else in the same boat (is that a mixed metaphor?), and getting over the understanding that what is wrong with education is not teachers (much less teachers organized), but something much deeper and more complex, something that will require a broad, mobilized network of community to overcome.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Not so simple

Below is a link to a recent (7/9/10) New York Times article that should be mandatory reading by anyone mesmerized by the possibilities of computers and education.

The article reports on several recent studies that suggest that computers in the home have little educational impact, and in the case of of low income students, they may actually result in lower test scores.

The suspicion as to why this might be the case is that with presumably more people working in low income families, there is less time for supervision, and so the kids are gravitating towards game play and not research. Their computer skills do go up though, in particular the ability to skirt around firewalls, blocks, and other security measures that keep them from doing what they really want to do.

Computers are seen, as the article points out, as the Great Equalizer in education. Which is a convenient fantasy for hardware and software developers, who have a financial stake in selling the Great Equalizers. The article indicates that education is not a mechanical problem, but a social problem -- a supportive home life, engaged families, optimism about the future, supervision and direction -- a stable and nurturing social environment -- are all critical ingredients to successful education (and successful use of technology in education).

Here's the link to the article: Computers at Home: Educational Hope vs. Teenage Reality