MEDIA WATCH: New York Times catching up to Chicago strike story a little bit with today's front page profile of Karen Lewis, but still ignoring all of the year's context and history.... Are Obama and Duncan are letting Rahm 'pirouette in the wind'?...

The New York Times, which still sports the motto "All The News That's Fit To Print", was caught flat-footed when the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 began on September 10, 2012, and the failure of the Times to cover CPS news (following its abrupt cancellation of the "Chicago News Coop" which did) was in stark contrast to its rival, The Wall Street Journal, which had veteran Chicago education reporter Stephanie Banchero (once of the Tribune) lurking around Chicago for months. The result was that on September 11, 2012, the Journal made the Times look limp, as far as news went. The Times was caught with most of its sources being one source, a violation of one of the oldest rules in the book: The Times version of reality was a variation on Rahm's reality, which was pirouetting into oblivion even as the front page stories came out.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis speaking to the Labor Day rally in Chicago's Daley Plaza on September 3, 2012, one week before the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 began. Lewis was cheered by the crowd of more than 8,000 when she called Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel a "bully" and a "liar" and then backed up each characterization. The New York Times at the time had fallen into the pattern of America's "one percent" media heavyweights by carrying only Rahm's versions of reality. (During Rahm's rookie year as mayor, he was profiled with adulation by The Atlantic, The Economist, Chicago and other precious precursors of plutocratic propaganda, even before he had achieved anything as mayor and while the city's schools were about to explode and the murder rate was climbing — both because of Rahm's policiea). The Times failed to cover the massive meetings and rallies that preceded the midnight September 10 beginning of the strike. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.By September 12, 2012, the Times was catching up, but still committing some Journalism 101 mistakes. One of the things reporters are warned to do is "Quote source and context." By the third day of the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012, the Times was getting closer to the story, but was still missing the historical context. (See below). But with the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 becoming front page news in both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal on September 11, 2012 (in both, Chicago took up more space than the 9/11 memorials), it was also becoming clear that Rahm Emanuel's strategy and tactics were not about to get the support of two of the most powerful men he had worked with. Arne Duncan is playing neutral. And the President of the United States is saying nothing. One reason might be that Arne Duncan negotiated two contracts with the CTU under Mayor Richard M. Daley, and there was no strike. Then Rahm came to town and within four months of his inauguration told the world that Duncan and Daley had let the kids get "the shaft" for those contracts. And within a month after he appointed his school board, Rahm had broken the final year of the contract that Duncan and Daley had brought to the city (2007 - 2012) and cheated the teachers and other union workers out of roughly $100 million claiming, fraudulently, that the school system couldn't afford it (out of a budget of more than $5 billion).

Duncan and the Daley family (which acts very clannish when under attack) kept their mouths shut while Rahm trashed their work. When I asked Arne Duncan (at Schurz High School on September 9, 2011) why he hadn't gotten the "Longer School Day" Rahm was running around (and running his mouth) about a year ago, Duncan tried to evade the question, and finally told me, "We were not successful on that." In fact, during the contract negotiations between Duncan's administration in 2003 (when Deborah Lynch was CTU president) and 2007 (when Marilyn Stewart was CTU president), Rahm's version of reality — the "Shortest School Day in the USA" claim — was not a bargaining table issue because, frankly, it was a lie. Rahm's people made it up, much as D.C. strategists create "Wedge Issues" during election campaigns. The complex realities of schools serving children from ages three and four to 19 and 20 were ignored by Rahm and his team, and Hollywood hype was substituted for reality.

The Labor Day march of more than 8,000 people, most of them wearing "CTU Red" went from circling City Hall to marching down Clark St. to the Board of Education, which was closed at the time. Above, the Labor Day marchers turn from Washington St. on to Clark St. after having circled City Hall. The New York Times missed the Labor Day action and the early pickets across Chicago, and in its September 12, 2012 reporting seems to be making the entire massive movement in defense of public education a clash of personalities between Rahm Emanuel and Karen Lewis, despite Lewis's insistence that the facts are much more complex. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Meanwhile, at every turn, the Chicago Teachers Union continued organizing, always using the attacks by Rahm and his Board of Education as examples of why the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 was going to be necessary. On June 15, 2011, the new Rahm Board lied and stole $100 million from the teachers and other union workers. In September 2011, Rahm's Board, which had claimed it was broke, offered tens of millions of dollars to schools that would "volunteer" to do the Longer School Day during the 2011 - 2012 school year. Throughout the Fall and Winter of 2011 - 2012, Rahm deployed a cadre of paid preachers, paid protesters, and Astorturf supporters like Stand for Children and Advance Illinois to push his line, but that collapsed in January 2012, when other reporters finally caught up with the story and caught Rahm's mercenaries in the lucrative lies they had been telling since August 2011.

But December, January and February and February 2011-2012 were probably the turning points. Rahm decreed that the Board of Education would close "failing schools" and the Board did despite the evidence and massive protests. The negotiations for the new union contracts had begun, but the mayor's appointed Board ignored the context again, voted to close the schools. The Board also voted to expand the city's failing charter schools — yes, they are failing; not all of them, just the majority; and many are guilty of major frauds, too — as fast as possible. But by the second day of the strike, the Times was catching up, as the following interview, which is coming out in print on September 12, 2012, begins to show:


Teachers’ Leader in Chicago Strike Shows Her Edge. By MONICA DAVEY and STEVEN YACCINO

CHICAGO — When it comes to demanding, pushing and sparring, few people could even begin to compare with Rahm Emanuel, the famously foul-mouthed mayor whose no-holds-barred tactics once included sending a dead fish to someone whose work he found lacking.

Then came Karen Lewis.

In Ms. Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, which on Tuesday completed a second day on strike from public schools across this city, Mr. Emanuel may have met his match.

She is biting, pushy, witty, unwavering. He is biting, pushy, witty, unwavering. Like him, she appears to hold almost nothing back — a quality that in recent days has infuriated City Hall and thrilled tens of thousands of teachers. She has called Mr. Emanuel a “bully” and a “liar,” someone whose “billionaire friends” are driving his educational philosophy. And that was only last week.

In the view of some here, the toxic relationship between Mr. Emanuel and Ms. Lewis helped push the city’s teacher contract talks to the point of a crisis, forcing 350,000 students out of their classrooms in the nation’s third-largest school system not long after the new academic year began and showing no sign of quick resolution. In stubbornness, defiance and moxie, Ms. Lewis and Mr. Emanuel are, some here say, equals in what now looks like a toe-to-toe fight.

“The only way to beat a bully,” Ms. Lewis said to a sea of teachers at a rally down the block from Mr. Emanuel’s office days before the strike was called, “is to stand up to a bully!”

Closed-door talks over a new teachers’ contract were expected to continue on Wednesday, but there were growing signs that the strike may linger.

Schools officials said that more than 100 schools being staffed by nonunion workers as alternative care for children would expand their hours as of Thursday. A union representing 1,500 janitors in the schools gave notice that beginning Friday some may join the teachers’ protests and no longer cross picket lines to go to work.

And at a buoyant rally downtown of teachers and union supporters, including Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Ms. Lewis described as “lunacy” suggestions that the two sides might be close enough to resolve things immediately. Of 49 articles in the contract, she said, the union had so far signed off on just six.

Elsewhere, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was once the chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools, issued a statement calling for a settlement. But like President Obama, he chose no particular side in the fight between labor and Mr. Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s former White House chief of staff.

“I’m confident that both sides have the best interests of the students at heart,” Mr. Duncan said, “and that they can collaborate at the bargaining table — as teachers and school districts have done all over the country — to reach a solution that puts kids first.”

One of the many things ignored by Chicago's corporate media during the rookie year of Rahm Emanuel as Chicago's mayor was the manipulative tokenism of Emanuel's treatment of his schools chief, Jean-Claude Brizard. Above, Rahm, standing behind his specially lifted podium (so it makes him as tall as large men like Brizard) gives his version of school reform in one of dozens of carefully staged media events that took place during the 2011 - 2012 school year, while Brizard shows his interest in Rahm's rhetoric. In the event above, Rahm was praising AUSL and "turnarounds" as part of the foreplay to the closing of more than ten schools by his appointed Board of Education. The event took place on November 29, 2011, one of many that were reported uncritically by corporate media. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Around the city, the standoff between Mr. Emanuel and Ms. Lewis has become a point of conversation, with some suggesting that the sheer size of the personalities involved had exacerbated the substantive divide over issues like teacher evaluations, the rehiring of laid-off teachers to new jobs and pay. There was wide disagreement about which of the two was more at fault, but unanimity in the notion that neither was likely to back down.

“Personality has definitely come into play,” said Dick Simpson, a political scientist and former Chicago alderman.

Ms. Lewis, 59, a former chemistry teacher who attended Chicago public schools and is a daughter of teachers, was elected union president in 2010. She is now being lauded by teachers as a fearless defender of a profession under siege.

“If anyone is going to stand up to Rahm Emanuel, she’s the right person,” said Cynthia Cazares, a union member from Fairfield Elementary Academy on the South Side, whose protest sign read: “There’s the right way and then there’s the Rahm way.”

Lately, Mr. Emanuel has said little about Ms. Lewis publicly. He has not personally attended any of the schools negotiations and has instead sent an aide.

Within the negotiations, though, the strains of relations are apparent even in small ways. Negotiators for the schools complained that in the hours before a strike was announced on Sunday night, Ms. Lewis, who has been at the table during negotiations, refused to answer their text messages calling for a last-ditch meeting even as they waited in a nearby office thinking that talks were about to resume. The way they learned of the likely strike, they said, was when she never returned, but instead announced a news conference. Hours later, after a strike was announced, a spokeswoman for Ms. Lewis issued a release announcing that Ms. Lewis had just sent a text message to the school board president saying that “we are STILL HERE ... COME ON DOWN!”

Asked on Tuesday about Ms. Lewis and whether he believed discussions were proceeding in good faith, Mr. Emanuel said only: “I don’t know. You asked a question about Karen Lewis. Ask Karen Lewis. I have no idea. I know what I want, which is for the kids to be back in school learning.”

In months gone by, though, the pair sparred, with Mr. Emanuel pressing for a longer school day. At one point Ms. Lewis complained publicly that Mr. Emanuel used a curse word during a difficult meeting last year in his City Hall office. Mr. Emanuel did not contest the claim, though he later said the meeting had ended with a hug — but by then the two seemed pitted one against the other.

“I think that was the beginning of a relationship that went really bad,” said Vincent Iturralde, a principal at Tarkington School of Excellence, whose wife is in the teachers’ union. “That was a telltale of this whole saga so far.”

One of the many news stories that basically spun the facts in the direction of Rahm Emanuel's version of reality during the year that brewed the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012. The above story appeared as Rahm's school board was preparing to rubber stamp his attacks on teachers and the public schools with the 2012 "Hit List" of schools to be closed.For their part, both Mr. Emanuel and Ms. Lewis insist that the standoff here is not about them at all, not about personality and not about some dueling match between two tough contenders.

“This is not about Rahm Emanuel versus Karen Lewis,” said Sarah Hamilton, Mr. Emanuel’s spokeswoman. “This is about the kids in the city of Chicago and making sure that they have a full school day, a full school year and an education that meets their full potential.”

At a rally the other day, Ms. Lewis sounded a surprisingly similar note. “This fight is not about Karen Lewis,” she called out. “Let’s be clear — this fight is for the very soul of public education, not just only Chicago but everywhere.”

As the crowd roared with approval, she went on, “We did not start this fight, but enough is enough.”


National Schools Debate Is on Display in Chicago, By MOTOKO RICH, from The New York Times, Published: September 11, 2012

CHICAGO — What started here as a traditional labor fight over pay, benefits and working conditions has exploded into a dramatic illustration of the national debate over how public school districts should rate teachers.


At stake are profound policy questions about how teachers should be granted tenure, promoted or fired, as well as the place standardized tests will have in the lives of elementary and high school students.

One of the main sticking points in the negotiations here between the teachers union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a new teacher evaluation system that gives significant and increasing weight to student performance on standardized tests. Personnel decisions would be based on those evaluations.

Over the last few years, a majority of states have adopted similar systems, spurred by the desire to qualify for the Obama administration’s Race to the Top education grants. The Education Commission of the States says that 30 states require that evaluations include evidence of student achievement on tests, and at least 13, and the District of Columbia, use achievement measured by test scores for half or more of a teacher’s rating.

Proponents say these measures are needed to improve teaching in a country where 33 percent of fourth graders are not reading at grade level and about one-quarter of public high school students do not graduate on time, if at all. They say the new rating systems will help districts identify the best and worst teachers.

These efforts are stirring skepticism and anger among teachers, some of whom express a sense that those behind the new evaluations know little about what it is like to be in a classroom. Others fear that heavy reliance on scores will turn schools into test-taking factories.

That sentiment certainly permeated the picket lines and rallies in Chicago this week.

“Children are so much more than data points on a grid,” said Elizabeth Coughlan, a third-grade teacher of gifted bilingual students, who was marching in a rally where teachers clogged downtown streets on Monday. Another teacher held a sign that read, “Let’s teach kids to think outside the box not fill in circles.”

Advocates of the new evaluation systems say test scores should not be the only measure of a teacher’s quality. Even those who believe that such systems can work in theory say that it is important to get teacher buy-in.

“It’s tough work because it’s hard to get it to be fair,” said Kathy Christie, a vice president at the Education Commission. “We’ve only recently started getting student data that could be traced back to the classroom. It’s all very intertwined and complex, and it could fail very easily if people don’t get it right. Teachers have very valid concerns.”

Still, she said, efforts to reach a consensus could cause the rating systems to collapse in practice. “It’s like trying to put a man on the moon by committee,” Ms. Christie said. “At some point, decisions have to be made.”

In Chicago, the teachers union has bristled at what it sees as a unilateral effort to install a system that will start by basing 25 percent of a teacher’s rating on student achievement, going to 40 percent in five years.

The Illinois legislature passed a law in 2010 that requires all districts to develop teacher evaluations based in part on student performance, with Chicago being the first district to begin its system this year. The law, which passed unanimously in the Senate and received only one opposing vote in the House, requires that various test results be used for at least 25 percent of a teacher’s rating in the first two years, growing to 30 percent. Classroom observations also figure prominently in the evaluations. A separate law passed in 2011 allows teacher evaluations to be used in tenure and layoff decisions.


Chicago’s teachers say they would accept a rating where 25 percent was based on student achievement on tests, but balk at the increase to 40 percent, higher than the state standard.

Across the country, critics have seized on the Chicago fight to blast the use of a teacher’s ability to raise scores as an unreliable measure. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing put out a statement from its public education director, Robert Schaeffer, saying, “ ‘Enough is enough’ to so-called reforms based on standardized exam misuse.”

Several studies have shown that teachers who receive high value-added scores — the term for the effect that teachers have on student test performance — in one year can score poorly a year later. “There are big swings from year to year,” said Jesse Rothstein, associate professor of public policy and economics at the University of California, Berkeley. But other studies have shown that students taught by teachers who achieve high value-added scores go on to have lower teenage pregnancy rates, are more likely to go to college and earn higher incomes as adults.

Some studies, including one that looked at a pilot of teacher evaluations here, have shown correlations between teachers whose students’ test scores improve and those who receive high marks in classroom observations and on student surveys.

Sara Ray Stoelinga, senior director at the Urban Institute at the University of Chicago who conducted the study, said that using student test scores protects teachers from arbitrary decisions by principals. “The theory,” she said, “is that if you have multiple pieces of information, it gives the most fair and accurate measure.”

But with research at an early stage, other districts and states have stepped carefully. In Colorado, where a sweeping education law passed three years ago stipulating that half of a teacher’s evaluation should be tied to student performance, the state is slowly introducing the programs, with training. “We want to make sure to do it right rather than do it fast,” said Michael Johnston, a Democratic state senator who sponsored the bill.

And in New Haven, Conn., the district and the union spent more than six months discussing a new evaluation system, and union members felt their feedback was valued. “We knew we were being treated as equal partners,” said David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers. “It can’t just be one test that the kids take one week in March.”

Even those who say there is value in using test scores to measure a teacher’s performance say there are plenty of other factors. “There are other things that teachers do that aren’t captured by test scores,” said Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth College who has studied the effects of teachers on student achievement. The debate over whether test scores accurately reflect a teacher’s ability, he said, should ultimately be about “how much importance we want to place on academic achievement defined by the test.”

[A version of this article appeared in print on September 12, 2012, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: National Schools Debate Is on Display in Chicago.]


September 12, 2012 at 7:32 AM

By: Bob Busch

Chopper Jock gets the marching teachers' count

The Jet ranger ll...

The helicopter pilot broke it down on the air yesterday for Channel Nine. Flying over the march to Buckingham Fountain, he said about five thousand teachers per block, then counted the blocks stopping after three — ten to fifteen thousand was his estimate.

By this morning that somehow shrunk to "three to five thousand." The same thing happened Monday. From news accounts, we got anywhere from "five to ten thousand" when in reality over twenty thousand teachers marched.

This has gone far beyond ten half stiff teachers stumbling past Simeon in 1971. It seems the strike has led to revolt, and it is about time. The mainstream media is trying desperately to control the news to keep the genie in the bottle. But from cops giving blue faced strikers a standing ovation as they desperately crossed the station to take a piss, to the grammar school reinforcements that made 79th and Pulaski a red cross, truth is marching on.

What does the corporate media report? "I have to stay home to watch my baby..." What we are seeing is a sleeping giant emerging from hibernation .

The Chicago teachers are on the march what a glorious time.

September 12, 2012 at 3:50 PM

By: Lee Alexander

Rally was larger each day

Watching from the crowds in May, on Labor day and this week: The crowds are GROWING and not going quietly into the night. Debbie Lynch is articulating our message from retirement, THANK YOU. These are issues we have been trying to fix for years, especially during the Marilyn "Daley's Buddy" Stewart years. CLASS SIZE, they should be LESS than 25 per class. RECALL laid off teachers, all other unions have this as STANDARD. Healthy environments, really air conditioning in the 21st century is expected and needed.

LET US TEACH IN PEACE. Politicians go away.

September 12, 2012 at 5:09 PM

By: Anthony Smith

Musical accompanyment... Day 3 Feeling Stronger Everyday!

"Rahm, Rahm, Rahm, Rahm. Hey Hey Hey Goodbye!" was the best theme of the day!

From the teachers at Rogers Elementary, Armstrong Elementary, and Sullivan High School who were at Ridge and Touhy, Western and Touhy and around the neighborhood.

We had music provided by Bruce Harris on drums and George Goetschel on the horn! Both great musicians.

Lots of honks and lots of parents and student support!

And the march around Armstrong, showed us support from the staff at that building. They too want to see fairness and they too feel that Rahm is a bully.

The rally march at Marshall High School by Jackson and Kedzie was awesome! I'd guess nearly 10,000 strong. The surrounding people in the area were totally with us, as were the city workers, and nearly all of the public!

Between texts, tweets, photos, and facebook, we are currently the ROCK STARS of regular working class people, the poor, and the middle class. They realize that we are standing strong for all of us!

No middle class means we become a 3rd world country with the 1% owning everything, including us. No unions means no middle class, as unions are the way to get from the poor class to the middle class. I should know.

I grew up poor. By working hard and getting an education I worked my way into the middle class.

In solidarity.

Standing really really STRONG and PROUD!

I am proud of all of you who are actively engaged in helping us to do what is fair and right!


September 22, 2012 at 6:34 AM

By: Myra Richardson

A Public "Thank You" to Karen Lewis

Dear Karen Lewis,

I would like to thank you for whatever role you played in calling attention to the film, DYING TO TEACH: The Killing of Mary Eve Thorson, “Educators Who Bully,” and for providing information on the CTU website regarding its premiere in June of this year. The documentary was based on events which led to the tragic death of an Illinois teacher whom was allegedly bullied by school administrators/educators in district 169. Since the film’s premiere at the Beverly Arts Center, it was also introduced by the Save Our Schools organization at their convention this summer. I would like to think that Mary’s sacrifice for bullied teachers was the catalyst in your decision to fight for an anti-bullying provision in your recent contract. This is wonderful! I am asking that you would take things a step further, and implore teachers to sign the petition asking Congressman Daniel Lipinski to sponsor an Anti-Bullying Bill in Mary Thorson’s name. I believe that this is necessary and proper. Mary left behind a 6 page suicide letter which spoke to the abuse of the teachers, its adverse impact on the children, and the poor condition of the institution. The outcry from teachers throughout the state of Illinois in response to the Chicago Tribune article written about Mary’s death was massive. And, in my research during the making of the film, I found that Mary’s sacrifice touched the lives of teachers in other states. Mary Thorson deserves to be honored by having this Bill in her name…I hope you agree. I am supplying a link to the petition. Congratulations on the Anti-Bullying provision...and thank you Mary Thorson for dying to protect bullied teachers.

Myra Richardson

Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

2 + 1 =