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Boot Camp for Education CEO's

The Broad Foundation is working to remake public education in the image of corporate America. How? By training a generation of superintendents to embrace their agenda.

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How did the union get the community on its side? By fighting on the community's side. In 2008, a small group of teachers formed the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) in response to then-CEO Arne Duncan's program of closing and privatizing schools.

CORE members were angry that their union was not fighting the closures, so they started doing it themselves, speaking out at hearings and joining with neighborhood organizations trying to keep their schools open. Together, they saved some schools.

After two years of action, CORE had grown from about 10 people to more than 400 and swept an election for leadership of the CTU (See "A Cauldron of Opposition in Duncan's Hometown," Fall 2010).

The arrogance of the Emanuel-Brizard leadership helped solidify the opposition. According to CTU President Karen Lewis, Emanuel told her soon after he was elected that, in her words, "25 percent of the students in this city are never going to amount to anything and he was never going to throw money at them."

Emanuel insists he never said that, but his policies—starving neighborhood schools while expanding charter and selective public schools—speak louder than his denials.

"I work in a poor neighborhood, and the schools in the poor neighborhoods just get nothing," special education teacher and CTU leader Cielo Munoz told a radio news reporter. "When I started there, we used to have two music teachers. They've taken all of that."

When Emanuel and Brizard decided to extend the school day and year without extra pay, they overreached. A neutral fact finder blasted the school board and recommended big raises.

A week later, Emanuel and Brizard gave up their demand for more teaching hours and agreed to hire back nearly 500 laid-off teachers to cover longer days. But progress stalled and the teachers struck over a range of issues, including teacher evaluation and recall rights for laid-off teachers. Teachers kept student education front and center. "When you make me cram 30–50 kids in my classroom with no air conditioning . . . take 18–25 days out of the school year for high-stakes testing . . . close and turnaround schools . . . that hurts kids," wrote social studies teacher Xian Barrett in an open letter to Brizard. "I am willing to sacrifice an awful lot to protect [my] students."

Parents and students joined the teachers' picket lines. A new poll found that most Chicagoans—and two-thirds of public school parents—supported the strike.

The confrontation drew national and international attention. As Rethinking Schools went to press, the outcome was still uncertain. But, like teachers in Seattle and Oakland, Chicago teachers are showing that the best response to corporate attackers is not to retreat. It's to make common cause with communities in the fight for better schools.

Alain Jehlen ( is an education writer and activist from Somerville, Massachusetts.