National Issues

  • Rep. Danny Davis endorses Chuy Garcia for mayor

    4 March 2015

    Congressman Danny K. Davis (IL-7th) has endorsed Jesus "Chuy" Garcia for mayor in the April 7, 2015 runoff municipal election.

  • Why Obama won't vote for Rahm

    22 February 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on Rahm's attributes that Obama decided he didn't need after all, and more.

  • Obama anoints, Rahm's on point

    12 February 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on voters' panic that they're about to do something stupid, and more.

  • School grade levels and homework might work against learning

    15 December 2014

    According to a recent analysis, an estimated 14 percent of ninth-graders in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will earn a four-year college degree within 10 years of starting high school.

    The analysis, released in early December of 2014 by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, also stated that only 40 percent of CPS high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges.

    The analysis further concluded that:

    • Chicago places close to the national rate (estimated at 18 percent) for ninth-graders earning a degree, and places ahead of other large urban districts.
    • Based on ACT test scores, many CPS students remain unprepared for college.
    • At four of the 10 four-year colleges most frequently attended by CPS graduates, the six-year graduation rates are below 50 percent—presenting a major barrier to college completion.

    The conclusion that CPS students graduate unprepared is not a new one; teachers, parents, employers, and other observers have said the same thing for decades.

    Inside Chicago Government has followed the issue of student preparedness for some time. An aspect that we seldom see popular media address: How might the typical structures of school grade-levels and student assessment work against learning? Teachers and education policy wonks we've interviewed have some interesting ideas about this. Here's a summary.


    1. Homework might not only be a waste of time, but a bad way to assess learning.

    When teachers grade homework, some experts say, they're measuring effort, the ability to complete tasks, and the number of right answers—but not necessarily measuring student competence in the subject, or skill.

    Experts point to two phenomena they've observed:

    ■ Homework doesn’t stick. Even students who get good grades all through college can't recall much of the material on which they had to do homework—the homework that helped them get the good grades. This is because homework often asks students to simply memorize facts, or rephrase what the teacher or text has told them—not internalize content in a way that's useful to them in their lives, or even in a job. Students are rewarded for their knowledge of a subject's content, rather than their mastery of subject-related skills.

    ■ Improving homework performance doesn't affect grades. Education researchers say that "homework help" initiatives—wherein teachers or aides help students with their homework—often don't result in better grades or test scores. This suggests, they say, that either homework doesn't actually helps kids do better in school, or that grades don't work well as a measure of student performance.


    2. Grade levels group students to the disadvantage of many.

    Emotional, social, and intellectual development varies widely among children of the same age. Classrooms therefore might work better, experts say, if they grouped students based on where the students place in a development spectrum—rather than by age, as most grade levels typically do.

    Furthermore, once students are grouped in a grade level, they're expected to meet "accepted" standards for that grade level—rather than perform at a level that's based on where they are in their own development. Forcing students to "pass" a grade level, experts say, not only ignores their individual level of development; it can set up unreasonable expectations for how they should perform at the next grade level.


    3. Knowledge of subject content shouldn't be the only basis for graduation.

    Many agree that high-school graduates should exhibit core competencies. For example, graduates should be able to articulate their thoughts orally and in writing. And they should know how to add, subtract, divide, calculate averages, and figure percentages.

    Beyond that, some experts say, a person graduating from high school would be best served in later life if they know how to (a) regulate their own emotions, (b) work well in groups, and (c) have empathy for people around them. Furthermore, they should understand (and take comfort in) the fact that individuals are not naturally good at some things; rather, they develop skills through practice and hard work.

    The latter point underscores the importance of exposing students to a variety of disciplines such as music, art, and social sciences—without having to memorize or be tested on content. Exposing students to these arts and sciences can help them later—either in school or after graduation—when they're ready to decide in which areas they might want to focus and perhaps work.



  • The resegregation of Chicago public schools

    19 May 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on whether Chicago schools' resegregation reflects a national trend, and more.

  • Digital manufacturing site: Olympics repeat, weapons mill, or both?

    24 March 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the digital manufacturing institute's "ultimate goal" of defense products, and more.

  • A primer on the Trans-Pacific Partnership

    3 March 2014

    This excerpt from the 2/21/14 edition of Counterspin features Lori Wallach of Public Citizen. Wallach provides a sort of citizen's guide to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, and urges listeners to join in a "public Dracula strategy." Length 8.5 minutes.

    Standard audio:

  • Mayor Emanuel swears he's not interested in running for president

    31 January 2013

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the impact of Rahm Emanuel's aspirations on how Chicago government operates, and more.

  • Thoughts on the Presidential Debates

    18 October 2012
    People keep asking me: "What did you think of the debate(s)?"
        My standard response: "I didn't watch it/them."
        Why? If you think of the breadth of possible discourse as a mile-wide landscape, the two parties "debate" in an area about a block wide.
        I recently listened to journalist Arun Gupta on Black Agenda Radio, and I think he summarized well:
    • Both presidential candidates have energy polices that conform to this slogan: "Drill, baby, drill!"
    • Neither party will cut the $1 trillion the U.S. spends annually on the military.
    • Despite the health-care hyperbole sounded by Republicans, the fact remains: Both Gov. Romney's Massachusetts health-care program and Pres. Obama's Affordable Care Act have their basis in a plan created by a health insurance-funded economist.
    • Obama has said that he and Romney agree on "what to do" with Social Security—namely, cuts or privatization, not something simple like an increase in the payroll tax cap.
    • Neither talks about the crisis in civil liberties. Two examples: the unprecedented prosecution of government whistleblowers, and the massive gathering of citizens' personal data by the National Security Agency.
    • We don't hear anything from either candidate about dealing with the ongoing home-foreclosure crisis, or any of the continued abuses by the banking and financial services industries ("Wall Street")—such as the refusal to renegotiate homeowners' underwater loans, despite record profits on the heels of a huge government bailout.
    • Speaking of records, what do the candidates have to say about addressing a record level of poverty? What do they say about a structural unemployment crisis? What solutions—beyond tax cuts (or repealing tax cuts), which won't even begin to solve the problem—do they propose?
        Enjoy the show.
  • David Sirota on Obama's Record

    5 September 2012

    Journalist David Sirota on the record of President Barack Obama: Sirota contrasted Obama's campaign commitments with his actions while in office. This excerpt comes from the 8/26/12 interview program Media Matters with Bob McChesney.

    David Sirota clip:

  • How Congress Caused Postal Service Financial Problems

    10 August 2012

    In 2006, Congress passed a law requiring the US Postal Service (USPS) to make annual $5.5 billion payments to a future-retiree healthcare fund—something no other government agency or private corporation must do. Two recent radio pieces nicely summarize how this act of Congress got USPS into its current financial mess, and how Congress refuses to take the simple step that would solve the problem:

    An 8/1/12 Democracy Now piece:


    An 8/10/12 Counterspin piece:

  • How Chicago Said Yes to Pot

    5 July 2012

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on whether Chicago police will start ticketing more white marijuana users, and more.

  • More Olympic Games

    4 December 2008

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on how Chicago's economy resembles that of Russia, and more.

  • Yes, He Can

    13 November 2008

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the only time a politician has outgrown Mayor Daley, and more.

  • Green Party: Spoilers?

    2 October 2008

    At the Green Party's national convention, party members rail at a common belief: Voting for a third party (such as the Greens) in the presidential election helps Republicans win the White House. Length 3.9 minutes.

    Standard audio:

  • Is Obama a Chicago Politician?

    12 June 2008

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on whether Obama needs Mayor Daley to win Chicago, and more.

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