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September 12, 2012

Diane Ravitch lays down the truth about the striking Chicago school teachers

Hint: The media is getting the story very wrong. Two Visions for Chicago’s Schools by Diane Ravitch | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books
According to most news reports, the teachers in Chicago are striking because they are lazy and greedy. Or they are striking because of a personality clash between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and union president Karen Lewis. Or because this is the last gasp of a dying union movement. Or because Emanuel wants a longer school day, and the teachers oppose it. None of this is true. All reports agree that the two sides are close to agreement on compensation issues—it is not money that drove them apart. Last spring the union and the school board agreed to a longer school day, so that is not the issue either. The strike is a clash of two very different visions about what is needed to transform the schools of Chicago—and the nation. Chicago schools have been a petri dish for school reform for nearly two decades. Beginning in 1995, they came under tight mayor control, and Mayor Richard Daley appointed his budget director, Paul Vallas, to run the schools; Vallas set out to raise test scores, open magnet schools and charter schools, and balance the budget. When Vallas left to run for governor (unsuccessfully), Daley selected another non-educator, Arne Duncan, who was Vallas’s deputy and a strong advocate of charter schools. Vallas had imposed reform after reform, and Duncan added even more. Duncan called his program Renaissance 2010, with the goal of closing low-performing schools and opening one hundred new schools. Since 2009, Duncan has been President Obama’s Education Secretary, where he launched the $5 billion Race to the Top program, which relies heavily on student test scores to evaluate teacher quality, to award merit pay, and to close or reward schools; it also encourages the proliferation of privately managed charter schools. This is the vision that Washington now supports, and that the Chicago school board, appointed by current mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, endorses: more school closings, more privately managed schools, more testing, merit pay, longer school hours. But in Chicago itself, where these reforms started, most researchers agree that the results have been mixed at best. There has been no renaissance. After nearly twenty years of reform, the schools of Chicago remain among the lowest performing in the nation. The Chicago Teachers Union has a different vision: it wants smaller classes, more social workers, air-conditioning in the sweltering buildings where summer school is conducted, and a full curriculum, with teachers of arts and foreign languages in every school. Some schools in Chicago have more than forty students in a class, even in kindergarten. There are 160 schools without libraries; more than 40 percent have no teachers of the arts. . . .

A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children

Psychologists agree: keeping people in seclusion for extended periods of time is torture. Solitary confinement is torture. How long can you lock a child in a room alone before it's considered cruel? An hour? An hour a day for a week? Six hours a day for a year? A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children - NYTimes.com
IN my public school 40 years ago, teachers didn’t lay their hands on students for bad behavior. They sent them to the principal’s office. But in today’s often overcrowded and underfunded schools, where one in eight students receive help for special learning needs, the use of physical restraints and seclusion rooms has become a common way to maintain order. It’s a dangerous development, as I know from my daughter’s experience. At the age of 5, she was kept in a seclusion room for up to an hour at a time over the course of three months, until we discovered what was happening. The trauma was severe. According to national Department of Education data, most of the nearly 40,000 students who were restrained or isolated in seclusion rooms during the 2009-10 school year had learning, behavioral, physical or developmental needs, even though students with those issues represented just 12 percent of the student population. African-American and Hispanic students were also disproportionately isolated or restrained. Joseph Ryan, an expert on the use of restraints who teaches at Clemson University, told me that the practice of isolating and restraining problematic children originated in schools for children with special needs. It migrated to public schools in the 1970s as federal laws mainstreamed special education students, but without the necessary oversight or staff training. “It’s a quick way to respond but it’s not effective in changing behaviors,” he said. . . .