Saturday, October 31, 2015

Hard Rain's Gonna Fall - Teacher Shortages on the Way

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

Unsettling observations arrived in an email from Illinois TRS Annuitant Trustee Bob Lyons in the last few days.  I am not sure if you received it or not – but it was one small spate in a torrential confluence of disturbing educational news for our state and for the nation overall.

In Illinois, young and aspiring teachers face not only the mountainous ascent of learning to teach in today’s data-driven assessment environment but also to withstand a losing fiscal future forcing them to pay more into an underfunded system and later be punished after retiring for meeting their Tier II requirements.

 If you’re not a teacher or if you were lucky enough to avoid being hired as an Illinois educator after January 1, 2011, Tier II was the result of a bill passed quickly by the Illinois General Assembly to alleviate the coming wrath of credit rating companies by showing the state could muster together $billions of future money. 

On the backs of future employees.

The bill – PA 96-0889 – provides no compounded cost-of-living benefits for retirees, increases age for retirement qualifications, punishes severely those who do retire earlier despite completed service, requires personal contributions to retirement beyond what is called for in social security, and caps the educator’s final payout at approximately $109,000 regardless of final salary – which ignores the 75% offered Tier I. 

In very short order, we citizens of Illinois will face the issue of whether the state of Illinois meets federal standards in meeting its “safe haven” for federal employer tax benefits after shorting the state employees. 

In other words, Illinois makes a significantly lesser payment to the state workers’ retirement system than it would need to with Social Security because it meets – or used to – federal thresholds in eventual pension obligations; on the other hand, now Tier II employees pay more and get less than the expected levels.

The General Assembly shirked its first duty to fund the pensions, then put it on someone else, and now may be called into question – and they are we. 

According to Bob Lyons, this may be a factor (among others) in a disturbing trend in Illinois among the pool of potential and able educators.

Wednesday we learned from our actuaries based on their experience review that they assume that only 37% of our 25 year old teachers will retire from teaching in our state.  It would be expected that only a couple percent will die or be disabled before they can retire, so the great majority that will leave will either quit all together, be dismissed, or transfer to another state. About 63% will never see a monthly retirement check.” 

This is a 28% increase in the usual number of nearly half of all starting teachers leaving before the first five years – before Tier II.

 Mr. Lyons ends his note by lamenting, “In Illinois today we can only expect a little more than one-third of our new teachers will have a full career in education in our state.  That is more than sad, it is a travesty.”

Bob is spot on; indeed, his observations identify a problem extending beyond the state of Illinois.

While Indiana may post billboards on the highways asking companies to come to Indiana if the are “Illinoyed,” they also are posting for anyone in our state or elsewhere to come fill their desperately expanding teacher shortage.  A decade of their own Turnaround Agenda has not helped the dynamic of education in our neighboring state much at all.  In fact, there was a nearly 50% drop in educators with educational licenses renewing in the last four years.  Also, nearly a 20% decline in new teachers coming in during the same period. 

In a recent article in the Washington Post, education columnist Valerie Strauss warned of a significant across-the-nation shortage of able teachers.  Arizona is worried about the state’s potential to “ensure economic prosperity for its citizens and create the workforce of tomorrow.”  New York, Illinois, Nevada, California, and many more less-populated states face shortages generally or in specific disciplines..

And, while the educational workforces in Illinois and other states face the national/federal legislations which have wrought a combination of under-resourced public schools, a preferential treatment for development of private or charter school alternatives, the loss of job protections, unfair teacher evaluation methods based on testing assessments, an exponential increase in the amount of mandated standardized testing and the loss of professional autonomy – the state of Illinois has added Tier II to make being an educator just that much more punishing a profession.

Mr. Lyons referred to the chicanery of such a “travesty,” and he would be right.  Tier II is one of the greatest flim-flams created by a sitting group of lawyers in Springfield. 

On the other hand, it is a much more personal and individual tragedy for those who meant to give themselves in a chance of making a difference, of touching young people, of channeling their strengths to greater gifts, which would in turn make a difference for all of us. 

A recent post by an educator who had herself had quite enough of this New Metric World reminded me of how fortunate I was for the mentoring, the collegiality, the fellowship of my own professional life before the advent of NCLB and RTTP. 
“So why did I leave? Clearly, it means a lot to me to be a teacher. People assume that maybe the kids were too much, or the parents were a lot, or the pay was too low, or any number of reasons that have been trivialized on memes and complained about on Facebook. Taking a hiatus from teaching didn’t have anything to do with any of those reasons.
“Children are the best part of teaching; they are hilarious, spirited, adventuresome, silly, loving and grateful! Teaching a child something and when you see them put it all together to take ownership of the learning, is incredible. It’s more than just seeing they understand how to add fractions, it’s witnessing the confidence they gain from knowing they CAN do it. They learn something about themselves, that is what’s important.”
My own teaching alma mater has recently dropped from the 19 to 24 in the Tribune’s state of Illinois ACT preparedness tally.  Pity the poor teachers who slaved away at Mastery Concepts and didn’t meet requirements there.   And yet, when I look over the lists of top schools it is always the same story, isn’t it?  If it’s not the Winnetka’s, or Hinsdale’s, or the Western Springs’ that I would love to afford to live in, it’s the magnates or Payton Academy’s I’d love to send my kids to (or be able to afford to gift a $million(s) to get him or her in).  Economics matters. Doesn’t it?
Meanwhile, Arne Duncan is on his way home.  Sweet Home Chicago. 
Having finished his stint as Education Secretary and power-forward for the President, he was described by Obama as the man who has done “more to bring our education system, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the 21st century than anyone else.”  If you do not remember, Duncan succeeded Ron Huberman in Chicago and was appointed head of CPS by Richard Daley, after he failed in saving a lower-performing school and re-opening it with an investment banker as a charter school. 
The President cajoled that Arne was not fast enough to be a player on his pick-up games; more importantly, he was not really ever qualified to be a leader in education.  Anyone who questioned his close adoration of corporate testing was considered a “white suburban soccer mom.”  Those who struggled to navigate the byzantine experimental methodologies of Pearson Testing Corporation were considered without “the grit” necessary to succeed. 
On the national level, the National Education Association called for and received a vote of no confidence for Duncan, and the American Federation of Teachers called for his own dismissal if his plans did not indicate any improvements in the years 2015-12015.  
Secretary Duncan will return to Chicago where his children attend private school. But the Secretary can be assured he has indeed made a difference.
The solitary reason that I chose to leave teaching has to do with the politicized environment of education. People may wonder what politics have to do with teaching, and the answer is everything. When policies are made, the impacts come into our lives and change them drastically. Over the past few years, there has been widespread “educational reform.”  These reforms have increased the importance of spreadsheets, columns of data, evaluations by inexperienced observers, and the accounting of data in every teacher’s life. The focus has gone away from people; students, parents, teachers, staff, volunteers, and onto data. The most important elements of teaching cannot be quantified onto a spreadsheet and put into a power point. When data is given importance above all else, time and resources are directed as such. (Elona Schreiner)
Elona Schreiner writes about her decision to leave the profession on a very personal and painful level.   “It has been years, YEARS, since I was in a building inservice that was about connecting with kids, communicating with parents, designing meaningful anti-bullying lessons, incorporating literature into math lessons or any topic other than data collection, data presentation, data comparison, state testing and teacher evaluations.”
Diane Ravitch, former assistant of secretary of education perceives a deeper and longer lasting issue:  “This era has not been good for students; nearly a quarter live in poverty, and fully 51% live in low-income families. This era has not been good for teachers, who feel disrespected and demeaned by governors, legislatures, and the U.S. Department of Education. This era has not been good for parents, who see their local public schools lose resources to charter schools and see their children subjected to endless, intensive testing.
“It will take years to recover from the damage that Arne Duncan's policies have inflicted on public education. He exceeded the authority of his office to promote a failed agenda, one that had no evidence behind it. The next president and the next Secretary of Education will have an enormous job to do to restore our nation's public education system from the damage done by Race to the Top. We need leadership that believes in the joy of learning and in equality of educational opportunity. We have not had either for 15 years.”
The other evening I had the pleasure of listening to David Sedaris as he explained how he had tried to enlighten people of Europe or other continents understand what is happening politically in America.  “Who is this Donald Trump guy and will he be President?” they had asked him in Sweden.  Sedaris had replied that Trump was so cartoonish he’d “likely run with a VP choice of the Hamburglar.”  Then, he was faced with the dilemma of trying to explain who or what the Hamburglar was or is. 
It was funny, but so far in the pathetic presidential television debates no one has asked the question of education and the questionable corporate influence on children to any front-runners.  Clinton?  Carson? Rubio? Sanders?
Who would Ravitch trust?
And, often, I worry that the current parents of children in schools adhering to this brave new faith in common core and testing – even one big test – don’t remember what they’re individual children are losing.

It’s future lives that are being burgled.
For the teachers?  Their futures are being rived by Tier II and minimized by uniformity.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Is Rauner the Trib's Hurricane Katrina???

Is Rauner the Trib’s Hurricane Katrina?

Kristen McQueary, the Tribune editorialist who recently wished she could conjure another Hurricane Katrina to solve the public school crisis in Chicago, has now selectively chosen her unique version of the history of pension debt in Illinois to denounce Madigan’s and the Democratic Party’s resistance to Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda.
"How Illinois Democrats hoodwinked the middle class." (10/23/15)

According to McQueary, it was and continues to be all things Democratic Party that pushed the people of Illinois into this over-$100 billion unfunded liability in pension debt.

“Remember the next time Democrats in this state claim to be the party protecting the middle class.  They’re not telling the truth.”  (Sic - dependent clause)

The Democratic Party did this?

Sorry, Kristin, but we all are to blame for this one, which is why the Illinois Supreme Court in a unanimous decision warned that we are and will continue to be on the hook for what we’ve done – Republican and Democrat.

Even if it comes to selling assets like the Thompson Center, which would be appropriate (see below).

As Eric Madiar, recent Chief Legal Counsel for the Illinois Senate, reminds us, we are all to blame: “According to a report from the General Assembly study of 2009, we have a state fiscal system that is so poorly designed that it failed to generate sufficient revenue growth both to maintain service levels from one year to the next and to cover the state’s actuarially required contributions.” 

Mr. Madiar’s perception includes both sides of the aisle, unlike McQueary’s.   And his legal acumen reminds us all that not much has changed over nearly 35 years.  What was a 40% unfunded liability in 1970 is now 42%. 

And, while McQueary criticizes that the Democrats were responsible for reneging on the maligned “ramp” written into law by Republican Governor Jim Edgar, she conveniently forgets Republican Governor Jim Thompson’s earlier decision to reduce payments to the annual pension costs to only 60% during his incumbency; using the savings to build roads and provide services for which he later applauded himself as a politician who never raised taxes.

IN TRUTH, Thompson's mishandling of the pension payments nearly doubled the debt and generated the need for Edgar's "ramp."

Nevertheless, we all drove to work on roads paid for by public employees' future money.  And public transportation.  And services.

No, we all – Republican and Democrat – are culpable for the Everest of debt we owe to those we promised to pay, even though you give momentary kudos to Madigan: “To his credit, Madigan finally got serious about pension reform and in 2013 passed a bill that would have stabilized the system.” 

“The courts struck it down though.”

Actually, in case you haven’t read the unanimous Supreme Court decision, the court did more than strike it down.  The Justices clearly reprimanded the General Assembly – Republican and Democrat – for considering avoiding a contractual obligation by making the injured party pay for it.  

And McQueary tosses in the silly argument that “Democrat-controlled state government in 2006 also allowed union lobbyists to join the pension system.  Be a substitute teacher for one day, and boom! You, too, can join the Teachers Retirement System…” 

Really? We all agree that this kind of less-than-artful dodge is not fiscally palatable, but a partisan reason for our total fiscal mess?   Aren’t we reaching here?

After that, McQeary goes after promises not kept to the Middle Class in Illinois – progressive taxation, minimum wage issues, property tax issues. 

How about clean air?  Global warming? 

Eric Madiar warns us that the biggest contributor to the $97 billion owed to the state retirement funds are the various Illinois governments that did not contribute enough. 

Various? That’s all of us – regardless of political affiliation.

McQueary’s visible theme: do not trust the Democrats who argue that Rauner threatens the middle class with his battle against collective bargaining. Although the current budget impasse will continue to be painful, it is a necessary palliative to making the state work well.  

McQueary’s underlying theme (leitmotif):  We need a political Hurricane Katrina (Rauner) to make everything all better.

I'm afraid we all bear the responsibility now: for the past errors and our current situation.

Don’t you love the Tribune? 

Thanks, Bruce.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Captain "Queeg" Rauner Launches U.S.S. Illinois?

Rauner Gives "Christening Speech" for U.S.S. Illinois?

Imagine the desperation of the “event planner” as the Greeks prepared for a thousand ships’ launch to bring their purloined Helen home from the licentious grips of young Paris in Troy. 

How many bottles of fine Retsina were available?Or is that a contradiction?

“The tradition of christening a new ship for good luck and safe travel goes way back. Many ancient seafaring societies had their own ceremonies for launching a new ship. The Greeks wore olive branch wreaths around their heads, drank wine to honor the gods, and poured water on the new boat to bless it. The Babylonians sacrificed an ox, the Turks sacrificed a sheep, and the Vikings and Tahitians offered up human blood.”

Champagne bottles, heavy glassed vessels needing to stand up under severe and long-term circumstances were the bottle of choice after America’s Prohibition.  Ining a heavy champagne bottle.  Prior to the country’s release of once-considered immoral principles, water and ciders had been the spirit sending most nearly constructed boats to sea. 

In fact, before steel hulls, would-be bottle breakers would have found themselves enduring extra innings swinging a heavy champagne bottle against wooden frames. This week, the First Lady Michele Obama took several whacks at the U.S.S. Illinois, a new nuclear submarine, to finally break the bottle and the moorings holding back our latest war weapon in an arsenal for which we all spend untold trillions.

“The $2.7 billion vessel is the 13th in the Virginia class of submarines, which can carry out a range of missions including anti-submarine warfare, delivery of special forces and surveillance. The 377-foot submarine will carry a crew of more than 130 and a payload of weapons including torpedoes and Tomahawk missiles.”

This is quite an upgrade from the earlier U.S.S. Illinois commissioned in 1902 and eventually mothballed as a trainer in the Great Lakes.
In earlier days, someone was given the job of scoring the bottle or seeking the weakest point to assist the person swinging it against the bow or side.  It took Mrs. Obama several attempts, but there’s not as much irony in that activity as there was in Governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner’s speaking at the event.
The captain of a self-described failing ship of state that is sinking in waves of union workers?

The Groton Shipyards in Connecticut, where Rauner spoke about the newly commissioned first class nuclear sub, is the proud working conglomerate of nearly a dozen unions who work in harmony and craftsmanship to create some of the most sophisticated and futuristic pieces of armament the U.S. has ever designed to assure the safety of its peoples in a very hostile world.

That’s right: unions.
“In the shipyard, where some 2,000 Metal Trades Council members are employed, nine unions represent workers in different trades, including the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers Local 614; United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Local 1302; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 261; Laborers International Union of North America Shipyard and Marine Local 364; International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge 1871.
There are also the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 106; the International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades Local 1122; United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada Local 777; and the Teamsters Local 493.
The unions themselves are collectively represented by the MTC, headed up by MTC President Kenneth J. DelaCruz.”


“Collective” is not a word the current captain of the ship of state of Illinois prefers to hear or consider.  In fact, collective bargaining is just one of the sticking points before negotiating a budget solution, which is leaving thousands of impoverished Illinoisans in pain and suffering as winter quickly approaches.

"Time's up," said Rauner last week.  This was followed by threats to remove the guarantee on state worker health insurances, and more pain for the most vulnerable if his Turnaround Agenda was not accepted by the Democratic majority.  in fact, the governor (of Illinois) is constitutionally required to submit a balanced budget to the General Assembly, something Rauner refuses to do until they adhere to his demands.

Last week, our homeless shelter was beyond full.  People arriving in the middle of the night found us full and unable to help.  The money available to assist “new” or “returning” individuals with social or psychiatric needs is no longer available as the offices run out of money to assist as the budget crisis continues. And the Governor, according to the Tribune, is "doubling down."  
Please remind the Captain that people are suffering.  Work on a budget, not a forced idealistic solution. 

Call: 217-782-0244

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Rauner: I Told You I'd Make Them All Nuts!

The Forced Psychosis of Being Homeless

I enjoy being around positive and community-minded people.

I spent this morning and the better part of the afternoon with many of them in a helpful seminar listening to Mr. Donald Dahlheimer from Elmhurst, a licensed specialist in the identification and treatment of mental health issues.  We were all there because we are volunteers and site mangers for the homeless in the northern tier of South Suburban PADS – an organization devoted to helping those in need of emergency shelter during the colder months.  

As you might have experienced, the colder months have broken down the front door quickly. And we’re busy.  Our shelter reached well over its occupancy in the first two hours of opening this last Thursday.  It’s a blessing that we have another “sister” church to send our guests to after dinner. 

In our current state budget morass, the homeless are just one group of the many marginalized and impoverished who stand as serviceable pawns for the drawn-out battle between an intractable Governor Rauner and his nemesis Michael Madigan.  When will their suffering call forth enough pressure by the comfortable in our state to make one of the two uncomfortable enough to budge?

No one has blinked yet. 

And, if Thursday night’s numbers are indicative of what’s about to come, this winter will be harsh indeed. 

The Illinois Department of Family Services estimates that about 48,000 people are served by state funded shelters each year. 

Public schools in Illinois saw a 7.7% increase in the number of homeless students in the last measurement – the 2013-14 school year.  That number was over 59,000 students in our state who were homeless.  20,000 of these students are in Chicago. 

While we shoot, let's put the poor in-between.
Mr. Dahlheimer (sorry about the digression) was there to help us work with the many of our guests who arrive in a mentally agitated state or with severe mental health issues.  How do you interact to provide safety for someone who is in a heated conversation with a non-entity? 

The presentation was clinically informative, but wasn’t nor would any program ever be able to provide the outline of reacting to a specific situation.  On the other hand, I found his PowerPoint’s description on “Common Symptoms When Psychosis Is Developing” disquieting.  

Mr. Dalheimer’s list of “Changes in thinking and perceptions” for those entering a psychotic period was exactly what we should expect from any person becoming or enduring homelessness.

·      Sense of alteration of self, others, or the outside world (e.g., feeling that the self or others have changed or are acting different in some way)  
·      Social isolation or withdrawal
·      Sleep disturbances
·      Reduced ability to carry out work or social roles
·      Odd ideas
·      Difficulties with concentration or attention
·      Unusual perceptual experiences (e.g., reductions in or greater intensity of smell, sound, or color)

I watch the homeless walk among us during the day, and I witness the looks and comments they receive.  This is not a sense of alteration; it is an accurate comprehension of alienation.

I see the results of a month or more on the street – the need to become loud, to drop social convention for protection, the acquisition of distrust, the necessary loss of personal interactions.

I perceive the wariness of loss of possessions or meds, the indignity of sleeping next to an unknown stranger only a foot away, the unnerving soft padding of people moving about all night for a variety of reasons.

I observe the difficulty of a battered parent with five children trying to organize their studies and ready them for bed in a strange and unusual environment filled with strangers.

I fathom their schemes for quick and sudden relief from the present, sometimes fantasy or, worse, sometimes the lotto – or maybe substance misuse. 

I often excuse their failure to comprehend the byzantine procedures of the system that has granted them kindness momentarily but demands reintegration as well as paperwork in return.

In my experience, being homeless in Illinois is not dissimilar from experiencing a “Developing Psychosis.”

Give me what I want or they get it.
According to Social Justice News Chicago, many programs to assist the homeless, especially the children, will start shutting down if the budget impasse continues.  Worse, “Once the shut down, even if funding is restored some of them might not be able to just reopen, which means that the infrastructure for hoping the homeless will be lost,” according to Julie Dworkin, the policy director at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Tell him to present a budget.  Call the Governor’s Office please:  217-782-0244