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Karen Lewis Video Controversy: Marijuana Use, Bullying Hypocrisy ; Hurts Race to the Top?

Fri November 25 2011 6:45 am
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Karen Lewis video on stage at Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference in Seattle.

Last week the Education Action Group discovered a YouTube video of Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis giving the keynote address at the recent Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference in Seattle. During the address she poked fun at U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s lisp. “Now you know he went to private school ’cause if he had gone to public school he would have had that lisp fixed,” Lewis is caught saying a video of the presentation. Some have pointed out the hypocrisy of degrading U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s lisp, while the Chicago teachers union takes a stance against bullying in schools. She also implied that he didn’t take difficult classes at Harvard — using the word ‘Betcha’ and says that “he was an athlete, so he might not have been self-medicating, but I wouldn’t count on it.”

In a standup comic style while pacing back and forth on stage, Lewis is also record discussing her apparent past use of marijuana. “I spent those years smoking lots of weed – self-medicating,” Lewis said. “Self-medicating – thank you! [Laughter] Sounds like you all did, too. Oh, I’m sorry, there’s kids here. I wasn’t supposed to say that, right? Too late!”

Karen Lewis criticized the Education Action Group for being “neo-conservative, anti-labor and anti-public education bloggers,” and the group of trying to “distract” the public from the positive things she’s done as union president.

Some of the criticism could come from the failure of the State of Illinois to gain awards from the Race to the Top program and the control and scrutiny of teachers imposed by the program. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has worked to introduce more teacher accountability to improve the quality of classroom instruction. But many of Duncan’s initiatives, including the Race to the Top program, have upset the teachers unions.

Race to the Top is a $4.35 billion United States Department of Education competition designed to spur innovation and reforms in state and local district K-12 education that was announced by President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on July 24, 2009. States are awarded points for satisfying certain educational policies, such as performance-based standards known as Annual professional performance reviews of teachers and principals. Points are awarded for complying with nationwide standards, promoting charter schools, and computerization. Race to the Top prompted 48 states to adopt common standards for K-12. For example, Illinois lifted a cap on the number of charter schools allowed and approved 45 new charter schools in Chicago and 15 outside of Chicago. Grant awards of up to $700 million were distributed to highest ranking schools. Illinois was a finalist, but did not win an award in Round 1 or Round 2, when it fell 10 places in ranking

Illinois has filed for a share of $200 million to be awarded in late December 2011 for Round 3.

The Chicago Teachers Union is a labor union representing teachers in the Chicago public school system. The Chicago Teachers Union is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers and has over 32,000 members.

The Chicago Teachers Union has more than 30,000 teacher, paraprofessional and retiree members. The Union is Local 1 of the American Federation of Teachers, an Illinois Federation of Teachers affiliate and affiliated with the Chicago Federation of Labor and the AFL-CIO.

This afternoon, Lewis spoke with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and apologized for her comments:

“Karen Lewis has always been candid and outspoken when discussing the personalities and policies that have adversely impacted public education in our nation. The observations she made about herself and other public figures were an attempt at humor and candor before a live audience. Though these comments were made more than a month ago, today they are being presented out of context in order to shift the focus from bad public policy decisions in education to attacks on her character,” said CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin.

“While she may never be honored with the Mark Twain Award for comedy, President Lewis’ opinions and self-deprecating humor were an attempt to lighten the mood during a long and serious discussion about the on-going campaign to blame and vilify teachers for everything wrong with public education.”

“We who have spent our lives educating children can’t help but be hurt and defensive about the attacks on our effectiveness and commitment to improving our schools and the future of our students,” says Lewis. “As a classroom teacher with more than two decades of experience and now as a leader of the third largest teachers union in the country, this teaches me that I can never let frustrations get in the way of carrying out my responsibilities as a leader.”

See also …
Chicago Teachers Union Official Website —

Chicago Teachers Union Facebook Page


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