Saturday, April 25, 2015

HB 306 - Will It Survive Rules Committee?

HB306 – You Might Want to Opt Your Child Out of PARCC Testing, But The Bill to Do So Might Not Opt Out of Rules Committee


HB 306, the bill allowing students and parents to opt out of testing has been moved to the Rules Committee, where Barbara Flynn Currie (D – Chicago – 36 years incumbency) will take orders from Party Leadership to float or torpedo the proposal. 

Governor Rauner, fearing fiscal retaliation from the Feds opposes the bill. 

The IEA, fearing fiscal retaliation from the Feds, opposes the bill. 

Political charmers do indeed make strange bedfellows.

We’ll find out what Madigan wants Currie to do later.  Thy will be done. 

Meanwhile, most parents, teachers and many school boards support the bill.

Why?

For IEA delegates like Conrad. Floeter, the answer is clear.  PARCC and other high stakes tests are just another weapon in their (corporations) arsenal to label teachers and schools as failing, paving the way for privatization through charter schools and dismantling our union. The opt out parents are the best allies we have right now and we need to build on that.”

During the recent Illinois Education Association Representative Assembly, delegates Conrad Floeter and Region Chair Marsha Griffin offered a New Business Item calling for the IEA to organize anti-testing partner ships with parents; it was shot down.  Nobody from Leadership spoke in support.

According to Mr. Floeter, “We got our answer Saturday morning when our President, Cinda Klickna, told us that she had heard those questions and that our legislative platform amendment did not support any specific legislation (like HB306). That opting out students could put us at risk of losing funding and that members were vulnerable if they spoke to parents about their opt out rights. So what exactly does our support of opt out mean?”
In response, Fred Klonsky noted, “The answer is that their claim of support for parents and teachers means nothing.”

 See Klonsky’s full post: 


Meanwhile, in classrooms from Maine to California, educators are witnessing the brutality exacted on children taking these tests and the injury for even those who opted out. 

I remember a time when my students built learning calendars on the walls of our classroom through out the year, leaving mementos and descriptions of events, projects and learning encountered and accomplished through the year.  We used to walk along the walls at the end of the year ,looking back at our growth and achievements. Now, I imagine a swath of black construction paper during the weeks we might have suffered through such mandated testing.

From New York: see R.Ratto’s observations of what has happened this spring in his classroom.

“Over the past two weeks, I was ordered to administer New York States Common Core assessments to 44% of my 5th grade class, while 56% of my students refused to take the test. They were all in the same room during the assessments, so I designed a quiet independent Language Arts activity for those not taking the test. I didn’t want to waste any potential ‘learning time’ for any of my students. They worked silently, without disturbing those struggling with the test, and afterwords they reported to me that they enjoyed the assignment and they were excited to share what they learned.
A parent complained and I was advised, after the first portion of the test,  to not have the other students working on anything else because it may be a violation of testing rules and that the Superintendent stated we couldn't. So, for the last 4.5 hours 56% of my class was told that they can only read silently from their own novel while the others in the room struggled with the assessment. Under these conditions, I observed many of the students had a difficult time remaining silent and often disturbed those struggling with the tests.
Those children, who I had to order to sit quietly for 9 hours the past week while their peers struggled with their purposely confusing questions, were basically under arrest. Metaphorically handcuffing them to their desks, they were forced to sit quietly for an extremely long time (even those with attention deficit issues or hyperactivity issues). How many adults would subject themselves to that nonsense?
Those taking the test struggled with questions, day after day, that were unfair assessments of their capabilities. The Language Arts section of the tests consisted of way too many boring reading selections and were above a typical 5th grader’s reading level. The questions focused on minutia, lacked clarity, and played with the nuances of plausibility.
Over the past several years the Language Arts portion of the assessments always had poetry included in them. Often poems that were difficult and could be interpreted in many different ways were part of every assessment. Poetry has always been an integral part of my Language Arts curriculum.  I thought I met the challenge and that my students were well prepared to analyze just about any poem place in front of them. After all, that is part of our curriculum.  I was shocked to see that this year’s 5th grade assessments had no poetry in it. Why?
My students were prepared, but the evidence is mounting that these assessments are not about seeing if my students were prepared or are learning. There is a more sinister reason coming into focus.
The Math portion of the tests included multi- step problems that were beyond the capability of most 5th grade students. My students are capable of doing a typical 5th grade multi-step problem, but these questions were purposely misleading, often included a misdirecting clause and were often nonsensical and unrealistic.
We know that a student needs to use some background knowledge to understand a word problem.  I wonder how many students were confused when the star of a softball team hit the softball  a towering 2 yards and the others measured their distances against his.  Realistic? Hardly!  I wondered if my students really thought that knowing the fraction of the volume of a cubby used to store a teachers’ papers was a really something adults calculate.
A typical 5th grade math word problem in Pearson’s own Common Core aligned textbook has 3 or 4 steps that must be completed to solve. This year’s Pearson’s tests blew the lid off that. Students had to complete many more steps to solve these test questions. About as far from fair as you can get.
More evidence that these assessments are not about seeing if my students were prepared or are learning, that a sinister reason is coming unto focus.
I have been shouting that these tests are institutional child abuse and this week Cuomo confirmed my declaration that yes, the New York is using our children in a sinister way.
Read these excerpts from a Times Union Article:
“The grades are meaningless to the students,” Cuomo said in a brief press gaggle following an Association for a Better New York breakfast event in New York City.
“Cuomo said he believes they haven’t done a good job of publicizing the fact that the tests, for at least the next five years, won’t count at all for the students.”
“They can opt out if they want to, but on the other hand if the child takes the test, it’s practice and the score doesn’t count.”
Meaningless? Children subjected to headaches, anxiety, upset stomachs, a feeling of failure for meaningless tests!
Cuomo also says these tests are supposed to be used to evaluate teachers. That is using 9 hours of a child’s labor to do an adult’s job. Let’s not forget the imbedded field test items that Pearson sneaks in there to help them boost their corporate profits.
The evidence is overwhelming. The New York State Education Department and Governor Andrew Cuomo are guilty of abusing their authority and the children of our state.”
For the entire illuminating post, please go to:


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Naperville Turns Away from Rauner's Turnaround…For Now

Naperville Turns Away from Rauner’s Turnaround.  For Now.

At nearly ten o’clock this evening and after listening to well over 30 outraged Naperville residents, one exasperated and tired Council member reluctantly agreed that even the passage of their paired-down version of Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda would be all too symbolic of a victory for Rauner’s entire agenda, one which includes a direct attack on unions and collective bargaining.

The Naperville version had carefully expunged the “whereas” positions regarding collective bargaining and unfunded liabilities, but enough of the old language remained to aggravate a strongly union audience, which made it clear through various speakers their opposition to any of it. 

“Empowerment zones,” speaker Dave Madsen cited, “are described by Rauner in his State of the State speech as regions in which fair share, collective bargaining, and unions can be avoided. Your dropping of the term ‘collective bargaining’ does not drop the intent in the governor’s own stated definition.”  He went on to quote those sections of the Governor's speech listing the effects of such zones.  The entire speech by Dave Madsen can be found at Glen Brown's blog.
teacher/poet/musician

In fact, most if not all of the Council members in Naperville seemed strangely unclear about any of the language in their own proposed, remaining ten position points.    When asked about what empowerment zones were, they instead threw questions back to the speakers. 

Various speakers, some still wearing their work clothes, proudly walked to the podium tutored them and the audience.

One council member asked if “anyone could tell me what the 280 unfunded mandates are?”  People in the audience, realizing that the Council was looking at the adoption of a resolution without knowing what it meant, were concerned and understandably unsettled.

One articulate representative for union carpenters was asked if he knew what Prevailing Wage meant.  He walked the members of the Naperville Council through the levels of pay, which are set in Springfield, not local entities.  He explained why various states had different levels of Prevailing Wages.  He educated the Council on the arduous but necessary path to a level considered a qualified professional carpentry.  His answer seemed illuminating for them.

In fact, his explanation was so lucid and comprehensible; they even asked him to explain Illinois compensation for workers.  (Again, these questions from a panel of a City Council about to move a resolution regarding these terms, concepts, and understandings – all of which could have significant impact on the people before them and the citizens not in attendance.) 

He explained the complicated but necessary determinations of costs given for a loss of a finger, an arm (right vs. left), and an eye.  He also explained what a traveling injury might look like from the perspective of a worker asked to go to another job site. Like an earlier lady at the podium, he reminded the Council these thresholds are set in Springfield, not on the local level.  Many people urged the Council to let Springfield handle these issues.

Still unembarrassed, they asked the carpenter representative if he knew what the 280 unfunded mandates were.  He threw his hands up and said, “Ask Rauner.  He’s got a couple million to find the answer.”  Applause.

Additional citizens appeared, warning the outgoing Mayor Pradel to avoid leaving this pathetic resolution as his legacy.  Others warned the incoming mayor the passage of such a resolution would besmirch his own leadership for his term in office.  Many more decried the continued attack by characters like Rauner on the middle class. 

“Why would you bring this forward as many of you prepare to leave the Council?  “Why this last minute push to put this resolution through as our Mayor and many of you prepare to retire from your positions?  "Is this some kind of lame-duck action about which you’ve given little if any thought?"

 After the open forum ended, two of the Council members described the phone messages they had received from Rauner.  The governor had called each of them and asked them to push forward his Turnaround Agenda in Naperville.  One was eager to describe how the Governor has no caller ID when he calls.  The other still had his message on his phone. 

“But now,” said one of them, “I can see that we cannot pass this without tacitly approving in appearance all of the agenda for Rauner.”

The incoming Mayor Chirico asked the resolution be tabled indefinitely, but he added that he was looking forward to “helping the Governor in some way to make Illinois great again.”  Promises to review the Turnaround Agenda at a later date were proposed by many of the Council members.  Chirico added, “We might all have to sacrifice.” 


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Who's Got Your Back? IEA?

When I lost my bid to be an IEA – Retired Representative a few months ago, I wasn’t surprised.  My good friend and fellow blogger Glen Brown was successful in his bid, as was our friend Fred Klonsky.  Fred is more than a blogger; he’s a force for progressive reform on all fronts.  Glen has been a stalwart defender of our constitutional pension promises since the day he began retirement – no fishing, little traveling.  Just ongoing battle using his keen mind and a moral position. 

If you’ve read their blogs, you also know that their arguments include concerns for active teachers as well as future educators – not just those who got out before SB1/Rauner/SB2404/PARCC/Arne Duncan/Pat Quinn/Pearson/Charters/Tier 2/ forced 401K’s.…

When they confront something wrong-headed, they don’t sit back quietly.  You’d expect that, and you’d expect they’d attend the IEA assembly to represent all of us – retired and active and future.

But you might not expect the kind of equivocation and political slipperiness they’re both reporting this morning, after the IEA Representative Assembly this week. 

Under the rule of “if you see something (or smell something), say something," I offer the following blog from Glen Brown this morning.

An Initial Response from a Retired Delegate to the IEA-RA Representative Assembly

Re: IEA-NEA Proposed legislative Platform Amendment #2, April 17, 2015 

The Association also remains opposed to any unconstitutional changes to the laws governing retirement benefits that diminish or impair current members’ benefits. However, the Association supports any proposal that otherwise creates fair, practical, and constitutional solutions which sustain the long term viability of the pension systems. 

Proposed Language Changes to the above Decree: 

The Association opposes any diminishment or impairment of the pension benefits for current and future members.  

Rationale for the one sentence revision (submitted by ShiAnne Shively and seconded by Tim Allaire): 

Senate Bill 1 is currently in the courts and hopefully will be ruled as unconstitutional. This change removes any ambiguity and clarifies what the IEA will oppose.


Unfortunately, the proposed changes to the wording was struck down by the majority of delegates of the IEA-RA Assembly (and to the delight of the IEA president) without thorough discussion.

I agreed with the proposed changes to the language and spoke to the Representative Assembly, hoping the IEA leadership had a comprehensive plan already in place to address the next wave of attacks on our defined-benefit pension plan, regardless of the Illinois Supreme Court ruling:


We know Illinois politicians will continue to ignore legal and moral solutions for the state’s budget problems and pension debt, and they will continue their assaults on the Pension Protection Clause, no matter what the Illinois Supreme Court decides.

Never before has there been a need for dynamic leadership with a determination to build the rank-and-file’s collective capacity to resist then there is now.

I urge the Association to be fully prepared to oppose House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 9, a constitutional amendment meant to subvert our only retirement plan. I urge the Association to be fully prepared to oppose any transferring of the normal costs to the pension system to local school districts (HB 429, SB 72). I urge the Association to be fully prepared to oppose a Tier III pension plan for new teachers (HB 134). I also urge the Association to be absolutely prepared to defend our pension benefits and rights without apologies, without concessions, and without compromise. 

I would have also said to the Representative Assembly:


Let us remember the flawed “Pension Ramp” (Public Act 88-0593) signed into law in 1995 that exacerbated the unfunded liability. Let us remember a previous IEA leadership supported Public Act 88-0593. 

Let us remember that the current IEA leadership “proudly supported” Senate Bill 7 that was signed into law in June 2011, the bill that ensured that teachers’ evaluations and their tenure were tied to the Performance Evaluation Reform Act (Public Act 96-0861), the bill that ensured a so-called “streamlined process for the dismissal of teacher tenure,” the bill that required an authorization of 75% for a strike vote in Chicago, to name just a few complications that confront today's teachers.

Let us remember the current IEA leadership proposed Senate Bill 2404 in May, 2013: “A unilateral reduction of pension rights [that might have been deemed] unconstitutional, even if coupled with equally unilateral benefits that the [Labor Coalition] imagines retired and active public employees might theoretically find desirable (4)…” (Gino L. DiVito, John M. Fitzgerald, and Katherine M. O’Brien of Tabet, DiVito & Rothstein LLC, Constitutional Issues Concerning Legislative Pension Reform Proposals).  

Let us remember the IEA leadership had agreed to diminish and impair current teachers’ and retirees’ constitutionally-guaranteed benefits that had been protected by previous Illinois Supreme Court rulings. (The IEA does not represent the majority of retirees). The IEA leadership believed SB 2404 would thwart any further attacks on our Pension Protection Clause.

Though forgetfulness is a cousin to naivety, it took a calculated political manipulation by a speaker against amendment #2, a forgetfulness of the aforementioned IEA supported agreements in the past, and an outright fabrication meant to instill fear and doubt to make sure the majority of the IEA delegates voted against the new unequivocal language that was proposed in amendment #2.

I am saddened that the IEA leadership has created such an acquiescent provincialism. I am saddened that the IEA leadership avoids challenges to their authority and critical discussion. I am saddened that current teachers have lost so much already in these past few years and will lose even more in the future.


There should never be any negotiation of our constitutionally guaranteed benefits with an Illinois General Assembly that has proven over and over again they will not negotiate to “create fair, practical, and constitutional solutions.” We already have the definitive “fair, practical, and constitutional solution” in place for us. It’s called the Pension Protection Clause, and it has always been and should remain non-negotiable.



From my friend, colleague and fellow retired delegate, Fred Klonsky: The Sad State of the IEA

Monday, April 13, 2015

Rauner: Injured on the job? It's gonna be your problem."

Rauner:  You Get Injured on the Job, It’s Gonna Be Your Problem.

From the Daily Southtown, April 13, 2015: “High on the list of Rauner’s priorities is reducing the amount employers pay for workers’ compensation insurance...Rauner said one of the reasons for the high costs is that Illinois compensates workers for injuries that are related in any way to their job” (Burnett & Lester. Rauner hustles to push agenda. Daily Southtown.  13 April 2015.) 

There’s an old standard joke told at Republican cocktail parties.  The short version goes something like this:  After being saved by three elderly fisherman in a small dingy, a beautiful mermaid decides to reward their behavior by giving each of them a miracle.  The first old man’s broken and twisted hands are suddenly made supple and youthful.  The second angler’s darkened eyes behind inch-thick glasses become unexpectedly clear and bright.  The third old fisherman, whose back is bent and misshapen by years of toil, yells out, “No! Don’t!  I’m on disability.”

It doesn’t take too much deconstruction to arrive at the nasty barb that sits within the middle of this little tale.  Those on disability or claiming injury would rather remain that way instead of working, and at the expense of the employer or the insurance companies.

That’s right.  Life without a leg is good…or without an eye…or an organ here or there.   “At least I don’t have to work…”

Reprise: (If you listen to the Republicans in the Illinois General Assembly, you’ll hear a number of terms thrown about with deadly serious looks and a somber shaking of the head.  Causation will be one popping up in the next election cycle, and when would-be governor Bruce Rauner ever decides to discuss his fiscal and budgetary plans for Illinois. ) Written over a year ago.  

The definition of causation has changed in the last few years primarily as a result of legal interventions on the state level.  In short, causation refers to the legal obligations in a workplace accident and the subsequent compensable responsibility to provide for a worker’s recovery or permanent disability.

In other words, $%@& happens, and if it happens on the job, the employer should assist the injured worker.  It’s not a new idea, and, in fact, for as long as $%@& has happened, there has been some kind of workers compensation, believe it or not. 

Records of workers compensation can be traced all the way back into the Old Testament, when warriors (generally a pretty common form of employment in those days) were reimbursed for loss of limb or appendage.  In some cases, rewards were based even upon the inches lost.

Captain Queeg?
Quite probably the form of workers compensation most closely resembling our current form of insured workers reimbursement can be found in the high seas adventures of the pirates of the wind-tossed Caribbean.

Pirates, before entering into an expected bloody and dangerous fray, often pooled their swag before the battle; and the money would be used to pay out for loss of limbs or other parts of a daring swashbuckler – especially parts that would be necessary in future pillaging and plundering. 

In fact, the loss of a right (or dominant) arm was reimbursed at a higher level than the left (or less dominant) arm.  Eyes were also insured, especially that last one.  Blind pirates were given monetary amounts that acted as a small sinecure for the rest of their lives.  Captains also added large amounts of promised booty to these “insurance” pools, for they knew that a brigand was more likely to fight wildly and recklessly if he knew he was covered for losses to his person.  Pirates valued their work forces and sufficiently rewarded sacrifice. 

And you expected a similarity to politicians?  Especially the Governor?

In the U.S., workers compensation laws are determined by each state, although there exist general guidelines on the federal level.  Fifty states each have a different set of legal requirements for workers compensation, and you can bet that “right to work” states have far different schedules for benefits than other states.  With severely limited revenues since 2008, many state legislatures have been looking frantically for ways to increase revenues; and in many cases, increasing by cutting costs on the backs of those who needed or required state assistance in the years leading up to the Great Recession. 

And now, in the name of creating a business climate that will draw fiscal recovery from his neighboring states, Rauner is calling for a series of diminishments in compensation for injured workers that would make these worthless “insiders” work through their injuries regardless of what they might be.   

Some time ago, in an effort to alleviate costs of doing business for companies in a terrible economy, states like Illinois provided loopholes for taxes and other monetary perks; but this slippery slope required more than just tax breaks.  Enter insurance cost reductions stage right. 

When it came to determinations of causation in workers’ compensation claims, for example, states like Kansas, which had initially a threshold level that stated if the job activities contributed “one iota…” it was deemed compensable…have now changed to the terminology of “must be…the prevailing factor in injury.”   Most states hold to the threshold for compensation if “more probably than not” the injury was workplace related( http://www.aaos.org/news/aaosnow/aug11/youraaos5.asp) . 

Bruce Rauner, like several of the previous GOP gubernatorial candidates, has declared his intention to bring a better business environment to Illinois by (1) getting rid of the Quinn tax hike,  (2) enacting tort reform and limiting lawsuit parameters, and (3) by reforming the workers compensation laws to make Illinois more competitive with other states.  In fact, Rauner today declared that his turnaround agenda also would require the worker to prove that the workplace was more than 50% responsible for the harm.   

“Reform,” for those of us who may have had pensions is politic for “cut.”  Herein Rauner echoes what we can read in the Illinois GOP webpages.  According to the Illinois GOP, the state still lacks the clear standards of causation, and because of this Illinois employers pay more than other states for workers compensation.  Senator Dale Righter (R-Matoon), a Rauner devotee who advises often on cutting services to Illinois citizens, worries that we have lost our competitive edge over other states because we provide too much for injured workers. 

Righter says, “Causation does not negatively impact workers who are hurt on the job, it simply protects employers from those who try to take advantage of the system.  This will save on workers’ compensation insurance rates and help to create much needed jobs in Illinois.” 

Will it?  A very recent study by Ralph Martire of the Center for Budget and Tax Accountability does not suggest the climate will improve by limiting the opportunities for those injured in the workplace to receive compensation (http://origin.library.constantcontact.com/download/get/file/1100380756398-186/2014.04.07_Good+For+Business_CTBA_FINAL.pdf).   

Senator Righter would disagree with those last words, probably vehemently.  But many Republican bills now sitting in assignment offer changes that would make some serious alterations to the amounts, manners, and thresholds applied to workers’ compensation.  A quick read of the bills indicates a number of changes that have little to do with identifying those who might “take advantage of the employer.” 

Truly, after the review one might be more inclined to think of these bills as a creative but rather unscrupulous methodology to cutting of charges borne by not so much small business employers but also more so insurance companies too large to fail. 

NOTE:

Rauner and Illinois GOP legislators want the threshold for compensation revised to “major contributing cause,” signifying that the employee must prove that more than ½ the injury must have been created by incident(s) in the workplace.

If, like many workers in this economy, you happen to find yourself working part time in multiple jobs; and you are severely injured on one job, your respondent (responsible) employer need not pay you anymore for the money you will lose at the other job(s).  Example:  I lose a disc in my back working at the seed store carrying bags.  I can no longer work part time at the gardener store where I had another part time job, and I can no longer work at the UPS dock where I had a part time job unloading trucks.  I receive the compensation for part time at the seed shop…and am likely terminated at my other two jobs. 

If I work for a company that demands I travel from one place to another, the GOP now proposes that am covered for any accident occurring while I am in the performance of my job, but if I am injured on the way to a lunch or any other destination which could be construed as “out of specific job description” I am denied compensation.  They use the phrase “actively engaged in the duties of employment…” 

If my workplace injury is a serious “aggravation” of a previous condition (let’s say a heavy object falls upon my hand which is already a bit arthritic), I can only be compensated for the “aggravation” until determined that it is just my arthritis acting up. 

And, if you were to suddenly to become ill or diseased spontaneously, but there was no direct link to your duties of employment, it would be deemed idiopathic and no compensation could be awarded.  Better not be headed toward diabetes or working in an area where chemicals are pooling under your boots. 

"They're all insiders, I tell ya"
Oh, and remember that value differential for right and left arms?  Well, there are value differentials between shoulders (think rotator cuff injury) and arms; and hips (think dysplasia) and legs; BUT the proposed laws would change terminologies to include shoulder as arm, and hip as leg.  That will reduce payouts by insurance companies and might decrease costs for insurance payments for small businesses sometime in the next millennia.

One of the reasons we went to workers/compensation in the United States in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was because it was one way to prevent negligence suits by workers against major companies, taking those companies to court and being awarded major settlements.  Think about it. 

Workers compensation is an agreement that I won’t sue you if you promise to take care of me while I work for you – even as I give you my physical strength and loyalty  over my work life.   

We are back to rewarding sacrifice.  

Springfield doesn’t do that…never has.

And with Rauner as governor, sacrifice is forced on those who can’t afford anymore.  But they’re insiders, and they stand in the way of the reforms Rauner would implement to advance the ideal climate for the corporations.