by Erin Geary
May 3, 2023
It has often been said that you are not only judged by your own actions but also by the company you keep. This can be said of Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson who was not a household name to most, making his rise to mayorship unlikely. He had no past leadership skills on his resume, no past budgetary skills, and his vision for Chicago’s future was based on rhetoric lacking any substance.
But you must give credit where credit is due. Johnson’s Chicago Teachers Union connections certainly helped his rise to the Cook County commissionership, and both promoted his election. Meanwhile, Johnson honed his skills wooing Chicago’s vacuous youth with platitudes and a social media presence. He learned well from the elections of former-President Barack Obama who also used inexperience, wide grins, and the articulation of idealism without any specifics to propel him forward. Both are great salesmen.
Because of Johnson’s lack of experience, I took a keen interest in his transition team. Having been a former Chicago Public School (CPS), suburban public school, and Catholic school educator who is now a volunteer tutor at Project H.O.O.D. in Woodlawn, I was drawn to those whom Brandon was choosing to guide him regarding education. After all, the people and organizations he chooses are a reflection of where we are headed. As you’d expect, all entities list some sort of diversity, equity, and inclusion goal on their websites. But doesn’t everyone now?
What piqued my interest were two operations, in particular: People’s Unity Platform and Journey for Justice Alliance. As if you can’t tell by their titles, each is concerned with more Left-leaning ideals.
Viewing the site of the People’s Unity Platform there are things missing. One is a list of those in charge because there isn’t one chairperson, president, or leader. Instead, it is a collective unit of progressive unions and activist organizations. Yet, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, Kennedy Bartley represents People’s Unity Platform for Brandon Johnson’s team while concurrently having the role of Legislative Director of United Working Families.
According to her own introduction on the United Working Families (UWF) site, Kennedy was made aware of UWF by Stacy Davis Gates, current sitting president of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Kennedy wrote, “UWF takes power to give power, a place that is truly #ForTheMany.” Although no organizers names are listed on the People’s Unity Platform site, its most recognized coalition partners include the SEIU, the CTU, and the UFW.
Is it coincidental that the Chicago Teachers Union is partnering with the SEIU and UFW? I think not. Mayor-elect Johnson never hid his progressiveness from voters and has gone full tilt with those he has chosen for his transition team. Another familiar name on Johnson’s education subcommittee is Jackson Potter. Potter was instrumental in the creation of the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE), which became an aggressive, agitating, political arm of the CTU.
The communal leadership at the People’s Unity Platform is only the first red flag of this platform. It’s site is, also, absent of any polite tone while presenting six “demands” for a better Chicago: climate, worker’s rights, violence prevention, public safety and health, housing, and education. Their site uses phrases like, “end sacrifice zones,” which refers to the inequities of which neighborhoods receive new factory construction. They also promote “reparations for survivors of police torture.”
It’s a bit off-putting that climate is the first, prominent issue and education is last given that Johnson is a former teacher. Nonetheless, The People’s Unity Platform demands that CPS is
fully funded, which makes me wonder what that even means. With a budget exceeding $9 billion and dwindling student enrollments, how much more fully funded can CPS be? But the People’s Unity Platform’s educational goals are rooted in hiring more teachers, counselors, and nurses while anticipating CPS’s use of “transformative curriculum.”
Through transformative curriculum and learning, students use their own experiences to connect with and make judgements about the world. For example, a social studies lesson will be less about the memorization of dates, famous battles, and those in history; instead, social studies curriculum will emphasize the impacts of historic decisions from various points of view. In so doing, students will make connections between unjust decisions of the past and bridge them to today, thus becoming the next advocates of change in their communities and beyond. As IGI Global states, it is “education that recognizes inequities and endeavors to create a more just society.” Putting it bluntly, Chicago’s public school system will produce social justice warriors.
It’s unclear how transformative curriculum is going to push our children toward 21st century jobs. But future job creation doesn’t seems to be the outcome of a CPS education anymore. Prior to Covid, “almost a quarter of Chicago Public Schools students met or exceeded expectations in math, and 28% met or exceeded standards in language arts (Chalkbeat Chicago). After Covid, the 2020-2021 Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR) scores showed that 21.1% of CPS students met English/language arts (ELA) goals and 16.6% met math goals. The results for this school year haven’t been completed but, short of a miracle, the scores will not rise dramatically. Shouldn’t our public schools be more interested in teaching basics rather than how to become community organizers?
And a similar type of educational model based on DEI continues with the Journey for Justice Alliance (a.k.a. J4J).
The Journey for Justice Alliance, formed in 2012, has an educational mission to ensure that only pubic schools exist. Their belief is that doing so will be the only way to support just and equitable education for all. Apparently, the CTU’s insistence on keeping CPS schools closed during Covid warrants the idea that charter schools, parochial schools, and private schools be banned from discussions to better children’s education.
Though I am far from liberal, collaborating with with those that have the same objective but varying paths of getting there can be fruitful. But these non-profits and grassroots organizations really don’t emphasize children. Rather they emphasize the adults working for children. Navigating through J4J’s website, none of their initiatives have anything to do with students’ betterment and personal responsibility. Instead, their platform is a means of retaining teacher’s jobs.
For example, The Journey for Justice Alliance led by Jitu Brown is on the same wavelength as Mayor-elect Johnson in ending the use of standardized tests. I agree with J4J’s statements that standardized tests reward publishing companies affiliated with certain political entities more than helping districts assess student needs. Even thirty years ago I found it odd that CPS was using the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which didn’t align with anything taught in the city. As usual, someone knew someone who knew someone at CPS. Backroom deals were alive and well in education then, as they are today.
However, now, Chicago Public Schools are even more entrenched in curriculum development. Their department dictates how texts and online content will be driven. The use of Skyline, an online curriculum, is one way CPS is trying to make up for Covid regression. Skyline is meant to help teachers find lessons in any classroom subject area to beef up their lesson plans while meeting the needs of students where they are and propelling them forward. At the cost of $135
million, there should be improvement. But if standardized tests are, eventually, on the chopping block, then there will be no way to accurately assess whether Skyline assists teachers thereby enhancing students’ learning. Any standardized assessment of student progress doesn’t seem to matter.
Instead, the major motivation for J4J is to ensure that teachers aren’t held accountable for lack of educational gains. According to their beliefs, standardized tests have been used to rid schools of black teachers and promote white supremacy. How exactly this has happened is never explained nor does it have to be in the current cultural environment.
There may be disagreements about how standardized tests are chosen and administered, but we should be able to agree on the fact that some sort of assessments are needed. With drops in enrollment, poor student attendance, subpar scores, and an ever increasing budget, CPS needs to up its game in a measurable way.
Students should not be held hostage to a mayor and his affiliates who want to squelch outside opportunities provided when Chicago’s public schools are clearly failing. Yet, that is exactly what the future holds for Chicagoans. The J4J has seven initiatives presented on its site as follows:
J4J has an Education Platform rooted in racial justice and education equity.
1. A Moratorium on School Privatization
2. 25,000 Sustainable Community Schools by 2025
3. End Zero Tolerance Policies in Public Education NOW;
4. Equity Mandates for Public Education at the Local & State Level;
5. Stop the Attack on Black Teachers;
6. End State Takeovers, Appointed School Boards & Mayoral Control;
7. Eliminate the Over-Reliance on Standardized Tests in Public Schools.
Please explain how these enterprises will educate our students for the fastest growing markets here in Chicago, which, according to Michael Fassnacht of World Business Chicago, include biotech and life sciences. I hope Michael will Brandon can iron this out since Michael is also on the transition team.
On the one hand, we have World Business Chicago attempting to market the city as a business and biotech hub; but, on the other hand, CPS is not preparing students to fit this niche market or any other market. Johnson will side with the CTU and CPS thereby undercutting any alternative forms of schooling, further hampering already undereducated generations.
Nothing will get better for Chicago’s children with these conflicting interests. Moreover, with a primary objective on the disruption of “white supremacy” in the other organizations Brandon connects with (e.g. Woods Fund Chicago), the priority seems to be on Communist underpinnings like wealth redistribution rather than educating youth to become self-sufficient, upstanding citizens.
In a nutshell, the company Johnson keeps is highlighting what Brandon Johnson stands for and his radical vision for Chicago, none of which will help children rise to their potential nor hold Chicago Public Schools or its teachers to account.