A day before spring break, Chicago teacher Sarah Chambers was fired without being given an explanation.
An email from the Chicago Board of Education said she was being suspended and due for a hearing without a date given.
Sarah has spent all eight years of her special education teaching career at The Saucedo Academy, a magnet school serving low-income students.
Searching for answers, Sarah found out from the city’s Labor Relations Chief Joe Moriarty that her firing was related to the current PARCC tests (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), essentially the Illinois name for Common Core. But she still doesn’t know what the supposed infraction is.
Described as “high achieving”, Saucedo has a tradition of student and teacher activism, including a 2014 boycott of the phasing-out, “pointless” ISAT exams which most teachers and about 50% of students refused to take part in.
This made the school a target of Mayor Rahm Emanuel who appoints all Chicago Public School (CPS) school board members through “mayoral control”. CPS sent in interrogators who threatened the jobs and licenses of those teachers who refused to administer the ISAT test. But because of press coverage and major public scrutiny, the teachers were ultimately not sanctioned.
The upcoming dismissal hearing for Sarah seems to be a renewed attack in the ongoing campaign against Chicago teachers by administration officials.
“This attack isn’t about PARCC, it’s a witch hunt to try to silence me for my advocacy around special education students and progressive revenue like a millionaire’s tax” she said.
Sarah believes her suspension is likely related to bad press the Mayor has been getting after she and her colleagues spoke out about “Tax Increment Financing” which allows the Mayor to redirect tax dollars meant for education, firehouses or police services to campaign allies (essentially a “slush fund” that benefits wealthy developers and high finance cronies).
In her role on the Chicago Teachers Union’s (CTU) executive board and as co-chair of the special education task force, Sarah criticized Rahm and the Board of Education for cutting special education this year by at least $80 million.
Meanwhile, Mayor Emanuel has been raking in donations from the charter school industry and wealthy hedge-funders in the state like private equity CEO Michael Sacks and Kenneth Griffin of Citadel Advisors, who are working in tandem with Koch brothers backed Republicans like Chris Christie, Mitt Romney and Illinois governor Bruce Rauner.
Rahm’s corruption story was so sordid it became an issue in the 2016 primary. As Bernie Sanders was calling out Rahm for closing schools, Hillary Clinton’s education advisor said in private emails that Rahm Emanuel, who had already endorsed Hillary, was “bad for Chicago schools”.
Ann O’Leary has been Hillary’s top education policy aide going back to 2001 when as NY senator, Hillary championed George Bush’s No Child Left Behind which mandated standardized testing for all.
Fearing an upset in a tight race (Bernie ultimately lost Illinois to Hillary by under 2%), O’Leary sought feedback from senior staff. One option was “going after” Rahm by telling the public just how bad Rahm was for Chicago, using American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten to tweet a criticism that Hillary would retweet.
Another option was shifting blame to the Republican governor’s administration. They also considered issuing a watered down statement. O’Leary’s final decision was to do nothing.
The story out of Chicago seems to be that “toxic” Mayor Rahm can frighten the Hillary camp into silence about his education record, but teachers who know what’s going on in the actual classrooms do not seem to be afraid to tell the truth.
As an award-winning teacher held in high regard by the school community, her colleagues agree Sarah Chambers was singled out because she is on the union board negotiating special education policy in contract discussions, and talks openly about Rahm’s plan to cut school funding to enrich his donors.
Sarah said people can help expose Mayor Emanuel’s conduct by joining the thousands who have already signed this petition protesting her firing.
Depending on the specifics cited against Sarah by Chicago Public Schools, this case could put the standardized exams themselves in the spotlight. Do they actually provide useful data or are they doing more harm than good? Do teachers have a duty to tell parents and students who is really behind the tests and why? This year, CPS mandated 15-19 tests per year for elementary level schoolchildren. If Chicagoans want to get involved in testing resistance, they can join organizations like More Than a Score.
Edited by Lydia McMullen-Laird