War: The Best Route to Public Schools?

Parents have been emailing us for a few weeks asking us how someone got a hold of their personal cell phone numbers and email addresses. As Jill Wohl explained in her blog, “What happens in CPS stays in CPS,” the group that invited parents to a rally during the strike was an arm of the national group, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), started by hedge-fund managers and charter-school operators in New York. We have no idea how they obtained personal information of parents.

DFER arrived in Chicago the Spring of 2012 and quickly partnered with Stand For Children to help work on getting the reforms legislated in SB7 pushed through in CPS. SB7 is the state law that Stand For Children helped marshal through in Spring of 2011, after coming to town and meeting with legislators instead of parents, and making a lot of campaign contributions in the process.

RYH organized a rally last Spring to ask for more resources to accompany the longer day and the Director of DFER and a staff member showed up at that rally. They arrived with a stack of petitions in support of the longer day. When we asked what specifically they were advocating for in terms of the content of the day, we couldn’t get an answer.  In trying to have a conversation, I was asked if I was, “from Mt. Greenwood,” which I later learned is code for “Union” neighborhood to some people. 

This summer, tensions ran high between CPS and CTU as we all know. DFER put out endless radio ads telling the public that teachers needed to “get back to the table,” even though cps/ctu were negotiating all summer. They had over 50 negotiating sessions yet if you listened to a DFER radio ad you would have thought the CTU pulled out of negotiations. During the strike, they paid for daily television ads about the CTU and then this week they paid a million dollars for an ad for the Mayor.

We have no idea the amount of money that this group that sent out emails to parents to get them to join “Power of Parents Rally” spent, but we are very sure that the majority of parents out there would have preferred that the money be spent in the classroom for their children. Millions of dollars spent on attempting to change mindsets through advertising could have very easily been spent on direct classroom services. 

We also have no idea why a group of hedge-fund managers from NY is trying to run public policy in Chicago. They have a right to their opinion but they clearly have no idea what’s happening in our school system.

Some in the media might suggest these questions are pro-Union. Indeed, some parents have asked us if RYH is formally aligned with the union over the past few weeks. The simple answer is that while we do respect and have a natural alliance on many items with our teachers, we are a parent group. And one that does not want hedge-fund managers from NY or anywhere else making policy in a vacuum for children in Chicago.  We want parents, teachers, community education professors, business people, and all parties at the table making policy. 

In addition, last week, one of the Mayor’s main advisors, Bruce Rauner, was on the show Chicago Tonight. On the show he said that we should blow up the district and create smaller regions of charter and contract schools. He added that the tragedy in Chicago is that parents don’t know how bad their schools are and they think their teacher being a pleasant person is enough.

These kinds of statements are highly offensive and potentially dangerous – especially when the people making them have a massive amount of money to run PR campaigns and make campaign contributions. Bruce Rauner said, “This is war,” on Chicago Tonight.

Most parents don’t want a war. They want a district that’s looking out for all children, that is capable of collaboration. We can’t assume that the Mayor agrees with his friend Mr. Rauner but it would be nice to hear his views. We have been trying to get a meeting with him all year to no avail.

What does all of this mean? It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have a debate about teacher evaluation or longer days or anything else. It does mean that it’s very important to know who you’re getting an invite to a rally from and what that group’s intentions are. And when you hear about people who want to “blow up the district” and claim to be talking for parents, you better start paying attention.

For parents, there is and has been an ongoing battle for some time – having a voice in education policy and putting resources in the classroom so that our children in Chicago can have a dignified school day with the classes and supports they need to thrive. We have seen $800 million in cuts to education in IL since 2008. We are now ranked the lowest in the nation in terms of what our state contributes to education. We are not going to let our eye off the ball on that number anytime soon. While DFER and certain “reformers” are cooking up plans to privatize much of our district, we better get to work fast on changing that course for our kids.

Email us if you want to help: info@ilraiseyourhand.org