Chance The Rapper Announces $1 Million Dollar Donation to Chicago Public Schools.

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Grammy award winning artist Chancellor Johnathan Bennett A.K.A Chance the Rapper stopped by Wescott Elementary School in his hometown of Chicago earlier today to announce a $1 million dollar donation to Chicago Public Schools.

The press conference follows his meeting last week with Illinois’ governor, Bruce Rauner. Chance came away from that meeting less than pleased and noted that the governor gave him a series of vague responses to questions about public education funding. Frustrated with the lack of progress, Bennett announced he would continue to fight for the children of Chicago and would be making a major announcement about how he would do so.

That announcement came today as he handed over a giant 1,000,000 check to a group of ecstatic elementary students, drawing applause from the media, faculty and families in attendance. Chance also had another message for governor Rauner:

“Do your job.”

Watch the full press conference, streamed on periscope here:

If teachers can’t disagree, it ain’t democracy

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Teachers’ unions say they hate top-down mandates of bossy bureaucrats and politicians who suppress the voices of teachers. Yet, there may be a gap between their rhetoric and their reality.

They speak of teachers’ unions as democratic instruments of rank and file teachers, but the reality on the ground is teachers can be marginalized as much by their own union bosses as politicos.

That’s my takeaway after reading Chicago parent and educator Alana Baum’s commentary in the Chicago Tribune. The title says it all: “I support Chicago teachers — but not their union

Baum says even union supporting teachers and parents experience fear of speaking up when they don’t agree with their union’s leadership. This fear creates two things that are dangerous for any organization: silence and sheep. Fearful teachers who won’t share their dissenting views with colleagues stand in the cold shadows of those who put on the red shirt for their leaders, even when those leaders push for things that are not good for children, their school system, or their city.

The possibility of another teachers strike stirs Baum, and she questions how educators can thinking critically about the path forward for Chicagoans.

In 2012 when the CTU went on strike, I was relatively new to Chicago Public Schools, with twin 8-year-olds. I felt torn — frustrated that our city’s kids were missing needed school days, favoring longer ones, but angry that promised teacher pensions had been squandered. I was angry at politicians who let this happen. Today, as a veteran CPS parent and local school council member, I have a better understanding of what’s needed in classrooms, what’s important to students and teachers, where we’re starting to succeed and where we still must do better. I also have a better sense of how we got here. So I struggle with the unilateral blame that the CTU incites and how effectively they are serving teachers.

Years before Rahm Emanuel became mayor, the CTU leadership negotiated contracts with the city. They knew about underfunded pensions, yet continuously chose to ignore them, negotiating salary increases instead. Did they send emails to members alerting them of an impending crisis? No.

The teacher pension problem in Chicago and elsewhere is a big hairy ball of ugly made worse by historic political complexities and convenient blame shifting, a fact that makes Baum wonder “[h]ow is it that [the Chicago Teachers’ Union] now blame an administration that came in years after the damage, one that has actually pushed to start addressing the pension problem?

Instead of recognizing an opportunity to – for once – unify parents, educators, and education leaders to attack the real problem, the fact that Illinois is among the worst for education funding, the CTU appears to be spoiling for a divisive strike. Again.

Baum says:

At a time when all Chicagoans are being asked to sacrifice with higher taxes, when kids need an education and teachers need paychecks, they’ll be told to strike. I say “told” because too many teachers privately say they support their colleagues but don’t believe they can question their union.

This could be a moment when the teachers’ union halt their culture of continuous grievance and choose to be active partners in a struggling district ecosystem. We can dream, right?

Baum’s clearly written, fairly stated piece raises a hugely important question about what happens when unions start telling their members what to think and what to support.

How is that strong arming style different than the arbitrary power of any other soul-crushing, infantilizing entity?

If the CTU completes their internal process necessary to stage a strike it may be a bridge too far for Chicagoans, including those that support the union. Baum says she will support her rank and file colleagues. She will bring them food and well wishes.

She’ll do it with one caveat: “But I no longer support your union, which I believe has lost its way, and our children’s and your best interests.”

That’s a good call out for school reform stalwarts to hear. You can support teachers and their need for job protections even if their unions fail to be good partners in strengthening school districts.

When Jesse Jackson speaks, whose voice are we hearing?

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Several clues Jesse Jackson’s Chicago Sun Times piece was ghostwritten by a for-profit union communications consultant

Jesse Jackson’s recent opinion piece in the Chicago Sun Times sounds like a case of awkward ventriloquy by Jeff Bryant, a union funded, for-profit communications consultant working for teachers’ unions and ultra-wealthy political agenda setters. 

I can’t say for sure there is a link between Jackson and Bryant, but there is one simple connection. Bryant is a Senior Fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future, a center-left political organizing group co-directed by Robert Borosage who was a senior policy advisor for Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign.

Following the money has turned into a familiar sport where many of us who write for a living speculate about which deep pockets are funding the contrasting ideological articles scattered throughout a brave new world of ethically pliable media.

Though I’ve written many late nights since 1998 for free, last year I made myself a target for conjecture when I joined Education Post, a nonprofit, pro-reform communications group.

My favorite part of the gig is learning about the educational breakthroughs dedicated people are having with children in poverty. My least favorite part is the tired rejoinder that says I do this because billionaires pay me to do it.

The suspicion isn’t without good reason. Opportunistic people see education politics can be a good hustle. Writers are paid by funders dedicated to school reform policies, some by organized groups dedicated to stopping reform initiatives, and a new breed of mercenaries paid by both teams to write incoherent middle of the road pieces that satisfy neither master.

It’s with that jaded lens that I read the Jackson piece and quickly assumed it might have been written by Bryant.

What’s my evidence? Let’s unpack it together.

First, Rev. Jackson says:

Across the country, parents have been in revolt against high-stakes standardized testing, with kids tested over and over again while creativity is cut out of classroom curricula. Parents — particularly in targeted urban schools from Chicago to Boston — are also marching against the forced closing of neighborhood schools, displacing kids and shutting down needed neighborhood centers. Now there is more and more evidence that the parents have it right — and the deep-pocket “reformers” are simply wrong.

What is Jackson’s “evidence” that “deep pocket” “reformers” are out of touch with American parents?

First, the Obama Administration — which has pushed high-stakes testing as central to its education agenda — announced that kids were being tested too often, with too much school time devoted to preparing for and taking required tests. In what a writer for the New Yorker described as a major “mea culpa,” the administration now recommends that standardized testing be limited to 2 percent of class time. 

That’s an interesting point, but I liked it better when Jeff Bryant wrote it in a blog post on October 30, 2015:

The change in rhetoric is “a mea culpa,” writes Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker, “an acknowledgement by the administration that its own policies cultivated the ‘drill and kill’ test prep that has come to characterize many classrooms in the past several years.”

Jackson’s “evidence” continues:

Second, a report by the Center for Media and Democracy on charter schools — the centerpiece of the so-called reformers’ agenda — reports that some $3.7 billion in federal money has been larded onto charter schools in the past two decades with virtually no accountability.

Again, that point was made in a blog post on October 21, 2015. Bryant points to the same union-funded report:

That’s the principal finding of a new report published by the Center for Media and Democracy, which looked for information about how much tax money coming from the federal government’s Charter School Program (CSP) goes to charters and how that money is spent and found that information is often “severely lacking.”

And, in the same post:

Very little is known about how these schools have spent over $3.7 billion the federal government has [been] used to fuel expansion of the charter industry since 1995.

The good Reverend goes on:

The reality, as National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia has pointed out, is that the nations that have outperformed the U.S. in recent years don’t do the things that the deep-pockets reformers have been touting. They don’t terrorize teachers; they train, respect and pay them.

This is a good time to point out Jeff Bryant is the owner of Creative Direct Marketing, a for-profit communications shop, and the NEA is one of his big clients.

Finally, here is the biggest greasy thumbprint connecting Bryant to Jackson’s godawful talking-point heavy political advertisement against “private” charter schools, “high-stakes” testing, and virtually anything that that makes changes teachers’ unions oppose:

As Jeff Bryant of the Education Opportunity Network writes, parents are driving an “education spring,” revolting against an elite reform agenda that is driving away good teachers, undermining public schools, and draining funds and fun from our public schools. Parents are right to keep the pressure on.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. A ghost writer would never quote themselves. Perhaps. Yet, Bryant seems like a chronic offender of promoting his own work, and quoting his clientele without adequate disclaimers.

It isn’t clear how much he earns from from the NEA, but it likely pays well to sprinkle their talking points across AlterNet, Common Dreams, Salon, The Progressive, and in mainstream publications when ghostwriting. Bryant earned at least $1,153,675 just from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development alone. That group boasts 125,000 members, including superintendents, teachers, principals, and college professors.

Public records show Bryant earned over an estimated $260,000, just in 2013.

According to a report by the union funded Economic Policy Institute, that price point places him closer to the the so-called 1% than regular people. In North Carolina where Bryant lives the bottom 99% average only $40,429.

Bryant is balling with brass ones.

For his part, Jesse Jackson ain’t slouching either. He has an estimated net worth of $10 million, and he commands a $75,000 speaking fee in addition to chartered jet flights, hotels, and meals. Fighting for rights is good work if you can get it.

In Jackson’s residential state of Illinois, the bottom 99% earn $46,080. The median household income for Chicago families is $47, 270.

Today a whopping 84% of Chicago Public School students qualify for free and reduced meals.

Without good schools, a solid education, a college degree or career preparation, the majority of children in urban schools will never see a life as good as Jackson’s or Bryant’s.

I don’t expect Bryant to be a champion for urban black children, but I expect more from Jackson. As a child I was inspired by his “I am somebody, I can achieve” commercials on television. In high school I was blessed to see him give what stands as the single best speech I’ve ever seen in person. In both cases he roused pride and a sense of invincibility in me.

Have we come to a time when $75,000 paydays, private jets, and fancy meals serve as mind erasers for “civil rights” icons? Do they now believe the best we can do is assign poor kids to schools with low expectations while the middle class send their kids to better alternatives?

Should our “leaders” really lock arms in solidarity with people who would rather see our schools as a jobs program rather than institutions of learning?

Should we really be expected to go on hunger strikes to keep failing schools that harm our kids open for business?

The problem with our public schools is not that there are people with deep pockets who want to reform them. The problem is that too many of these schools desperately need reforming in the first place.

That’s a truth that won’t be written by white hands writing for black faces. I can’t be sure that Bryant wrote this oped for Jackson. I’m just saying if he didn’t, Jackson owes him royalties.