Sam Seder: Education Reformers' Double Standard

First of all, a big round of applause for Sam Seder and his terrific job guest-hosting Up With Chris Hayes this weekend. More of him, please? Today Sam spent a long time on education in the context of the teachers' strike, and of all the

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First of all, a big round of applause for Sam Seder and his terrific job guest-hosting Up With Chris Hayes this weekend. More of him, please?

Today Sam spent a long time on education in the context of the teachers' strike, and of all the segments, this was the one that I most want people to share.

One of the hidden dirty secrets in education is the double standard. Like Bill Gates and Rahm Emanuel sending their kids to school with small class sizes, many resources, libraries, and arts programs while kids living in impoverished areas often don't even have their own textbooks!

Dissent Magazine reports:

In 1995 African Americans comprised 45 percent of the teaching force in Chicago. Today, after a decade of closing neighborhood public schools and opening charters, just 19 percent of city teachers are African American. About 42 percent of their students are African American. “[T]he private managers who run charter schools tend to favor rookie teachers who are younger and far less likely to be minorities, studies have shown.” (Reuters, September 10, 2012)

Chicago spends $7,946 a year on instruction per student. This is well below the wealthiest suburban Chicago districts. (Reuters, September 9, 2012)

Matt Farmer, a Chicago public school parent, lawyer and musician, described some of the differences between CPS and suburban schools in wealthier areas. In 2011, Farmer made a video where he cross-examined CPS Board member Penny Pritzker for her own double standard on educational opportunities. Here's the video:

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In May, 2012, Farmer wrote a column for the Huffington Post where he articulated what has teachers in Chicago (and around the nation, by the way) so angry:

I say that both as a longtime CPS parent and as a local school council member. I talk to a lot of teachers around the city, and from Rogers Park to Gage Park they're angry.

They're tired of being made scapegoats for the devastating effects of the generational urban poverty that Emanuel and his aides would rather not talk about. They're tired of having their students used as over-tested lab rats by an ever-changing cast of out-of-touch, out-of-town "reformers" who specialize in "public education by press release." But what really angers the teachers I've talked to is the absolute lack of respect that this mayor and his hand-picked team have shown them during the last year.

In fact, I'd fear for my fourth-grade daughter's next eight years in the CPS system if her teachers were not mentally and emotionally invested in the ongoing contract negotiation process.

Make no mistake -- I want my kid in class next September. But if her teachers ultimately vote to go on strike, my daughter will know why.

She may not have a deep understanding of tenure issues, pension contributions, or "step and lane" increases, but (like most kids I know) she has a solid grasp on the basic concept of "fairness." Even a 10-year-old can understand that if 75 percent of the CTU's membership ultimately concludes that our charter-school-loving mayor is trying to give them (as Emanuel might say) "the shaft," then those teachers need to stand up and fight, not only for their individual jobs and their profession, but also for the well-being of the kids in the classrooms in which they now teach.

Rahm Emanuel comes from the school of thought that says poverty should make no difference to a child's ability to learn. Sort of like the Gates Foundation. That whole "different realities" thing. But in this case, those different realities are easy to catalogue, numerous, and stark.

As Farmer points out, while Pritzker and Emanuel are wealthy people who have the right to send their children to any school they wish, right now they are public officials making education policy for all of the children in the Chicago public schools.

Farmer expanded on his point with Seder. "I talked about a lack of libraries in our schools. 160 CPS schools do not have libraries," he said. "Meanwhile, Ms. Pritzker, who has ties to the great Chicago Lab school, is spearheading a fundraising drive for a newer, better library for the lab school, because at the lab school parents know that those are important things for a child's education."

Drawing the parallel to CPS, Farmer continued, "Two years ago, almost to the day, a group of Mexican-American mothers in Chicago in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood began a sit-in that lasted I believe 47 days in the first stretch, because they were trying to get a library for their kids' grade school. They were threatened with arrest during the sit-in, the head of Chicago public schools threatened -- in fact, did -- turn the heat off in the building they occupied as temperatures got cold in October. There's still no library at that school."

So in the suburban private school affiliated with the university, Rahm and Pritzker's kids not only have access to a library, but also are on their way to an improved library. Meanwhile, those same policymakers who chose a school with small classrooms, rich resources, opportunities for the arts and enrichment, tried to freeze out vocal parents taking a stand for one library at their public school!

Because those parents know libraries are important things.

This is the double standard. Bill Gates' kids go to private schools with small class sizes just like he did. They have libraries and lots of opportunities to experience new things. If they want to ride horses, they can. If they want to play music, they can. This, while he sings the praises for public schools having bigger classes with that one "great teacher."

Please.

In the tentative settlement reached (which still hasn't been approved), teachers won a commitment to hire 600 more teachers in art, music, foreign language and other classes, something parents have been asking for consistently. They won a concession to a more diverse workforce, instead of the current practice of laying off African-American and Latino teachers and hiring more white teachers for a student population which is mostly Latino and African-American. They won a guarantee that their students would all have their own textbooks on the first day of school.

Why are these things they had to fight for? These are part of what any parent would consider standard for their child's education.

Why indeed. As a parent, I recall having to spend hours and hours fundraising for the high school band, because the allocated budget was $700 for the entire music department. I've done fundraisers to buy books, to buy band uniforms, to buy instruments and more. I'm all for parent involvement, but let's get real. The money spent on the ridiculous tests these kids have to take would have paid for two years of a robust music program.

You cannot come away from this interview with Matt Farmer without a clear idea of how perverse our education policy has become. It's the living embodiment of the 99 percent versus the 1 percent. As more and more resources are poured into charter schools, traditional neighborhood schools are choked and left for dead. This was always the plan, but that's not education reform. It's education destruction.

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