Take 5: Election buildup, charter debate, selective schools snafu

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Dozens of candidates for aldermanic seats are knocking on doors, making endless phone calls to voters and sending out last-minute mailers. Among them: five of the eight educators Catalyst Chicago wrote about back in November. They are social studies teacher Tim Meegan, in the 33rd; elementary teacher Tara Stamps, in the 37th; counselor Sue Sadlowski Garza, in the 10th; math teacher Dianne Daleiden and science teacher Ed Hershey, in the 25th. All are running against incumbents in crowded races and say they hope to make it into runoffs.

But it’s not easy to keep up with the demanding work of campaigning while working full time as a teacher or counselor. “It’s not something that’s sustainable in the long term. I’m really tired,” says Meegan. “But I get a lot of energy from the fact that we’re doing so well. And the fact that the community is really responding to our message.” A recent poll for Aldertrack showed that Meegan is only 9 points behind the ward’s incumbent, putting him in a good position to make it to a runoff.

No longer on the ballot are bilingual teacher Guadalupe Rivera in the 16th Ward; special education teacher Tammie Vinson, in the 37th Ward; and retired teacher Marcia Brown-Williams, in the 9th Ward. After getting knocked off the ballot earlier this winter, Vinson jumped in to help manage the campaign of her friend and CTU ally, Zerlina Smith, a parent who was actively involved in last year’s testing boycott at Saucedo and is running for alderman in the 29th Ward.

2. Charter organizing… Several hundred charter school parents and students are expected to take part in a rally on Saturday morning before heading together to an early voting site to cast their ballots. The event — hosted by Charter Parents United and the Illinois Network of Charter Schools — is a first for Chicago’s charter school community, which also registered “thousands of voters over the past year,” according to a press release from INCS. The new voters include parents and some high school students who are 18 years old.

Some elected officials are expected to speak at the rally at the McKinley Park Field House. Technically, neither group can endorse candidates for mayor or aldermanic seats because they’re non-profits, but the message is definitely about supporting officials who support choice: “Charter school parents and students demand leadership and elected officials who support quality charter public schools and the right for Chicago families to choose a public school that best fits their needs,” according to the press release.

Saturday is the last day to cast an early vote in elections, which take place next Tuesday.

3. Charter debate… The simmering back-and-forth over charter schools got a high-profile stage at a City Club of Chicago luncheon Wednesday, where decision-makers on all sides of the issue were invited to speak their minds. INCS president Andrew Broy sparred with activist Jay Travis and Blaine Elementary School Principal Troy LaRaviere, while Chicago Urban League president and CPS board member Andrea Zopp walked a sub-dued middle ground, voicing cautious approval of the schools.

Zopp said opponents often “play with averages” to make it seem like charters are worse than neighborhood schools on the whole, but critics ignore that the majority out-perform their neighborhood counterparts. “Are there some charters we should be closing? Absolutely. Do we need to put better accountability measures in place for them? Absolutely,” Zopp added. “And I’d really like to see more stringent standards put in place when considering opening new charter schools.”

Broy and LaRaviere, meanwhile, traded numbers in support of their respective causes. Broy pointed to rising achievement and graduation rates across the city, saying charters have been an undeniable component of the city’s recent progress. LaRaviere trotted out reading scores from last year’s NWEA exam, suggesting charters are lagging behind neighborhood schools when it comes to year-to-year growth. The exchange baffled a bemused Paul Green, the discussion’s moderator, who asked outright: “Are you two looking at the same data? Something’s gotta be wrong here.”

4. Just kidding… CPS is walking back a controversial announcement that decision letters to students applying for selective programs will be delayed until after next week’s municipal elections. Early Tuesday CPS spokesperson Bill McCaffrey told DNAinfo that the heavy backlog of more than 50,000 letters–to applicants for magnet schools, military academies and International Baccalaureate programs–meant that the district “may not be able to mail letters on Friday, Feb. 20, as planned.” He doubled back later that day, saying “our expectation is that the letters will be issued as planned on Friday.”

Of almost 17,000 applications for seats in selective enrollment schools last year, only 3,200 were accepted. And with thousands of potentially angry parents at stake, the mayor’s opponents smelled a political maneuver in the delay. “Rahm and the administration are very clever here,” said 2nd Ward Alderman and mayoral candidate Bob Fioretti. “It’s another way to show he’s controlling the CPS and shows that it’s not independent. This is just about politics.” McCaffrey, who had pinned the possible delay on logistical roadblocks, said CPS’s greatest concern was “that these letters contain accurate information.”

5. Meanwhile, in Oklahoma… After voting to repeal Common Core standards last year, Oklahoma lawmakers have set their sights on a new target: Advanced Placement. The state’s House of Representatives Education Committee overwhelmingly passed emergency legislation to defund the teaching of AP U.S. History, calling the course “an attempt to impose a national curriculum on American schools,” according to the Tulsa World. Since the body voted last year to give the state sole control over curricula and assessment, proponents of the bill have called the legality of AP into question and asked the Oklahoma attorney general to rule on the matter.

However, it’s important to note that AP courses and tests existed before the current debate over Common Core and national curriculum and are written by the private College Board.

Rep. Dan Fisher, the bill’s sponsor, singled out AP U.S. History for dismantling because the class emphasizes “what is bad about America” and omits the concept of “American exceptionalism.” His opinions have been shared by legislators in other states, including Georgia, where state senators have introduced a resolution to reject the same course, accusing it of presenting a “radically revisionist view of American history,” according to an article in New York Magazine. Other states where the exam has sparked controversy are Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Colorado.

  • Concerned Parent

    Is it possible that schools were (really)cancelled for today so that Obama would have less traffic issues adn more turn-out with his visit for rahm today?

  • Concerned Parent

    Notice r-a-h-m spells h-a-r-m