Thursday, July 28, 2016

Educate, Don't Incarcerate

by Janice Lombardo, Program Officer, Democracy Program

Schools should inspire learning, and offer a supportive and positive environment in which to learn. When students are punished for minor offenses by suspensions and expulsions, that out-of-school time creates more problems than it solves. Often, there are more effective interventions that address the root causes of behavioral issues. Students also have a greater chance of educational success the more time they are in school.

Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) is a youth-led, citywide collaborative dedicated to education justice and equity. VOYCE, a program of Communities United and a grantee of the Democracy Program, convened The Campaign for Common Sense Discipline that led the effort to pass SB 100 in 2015.

SB 100 limits the use of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions at public schools (K – 12) in response to minor incidents. It ensures the most severe disciplinary consequences are used not as punishment, but only in order to preserve a safe and productive learning environment. The bill will especially affect students of color, students with disabilities, LGBTQ students, and English Language Learner students who are disproportionally affected by suspensions and expulsions.

In September 2015, the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research released a report that focused on the alarming number of suspensions in Chicago Public Schools. It highlighted that African American students are nearly three times more likely to be suspended than Latino students, and more than four times more likely to be suspended than white or Asian students. In addition, boys are much more likely to be suspended than girls.

In the future, students will receive the appropriate intervention and support they need while remaining in school. This legislation will help our most vulnerable students stay in school, and have the same opportunity as their peers to learn and develop the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become informed, engaged members of society.

VOYCE is working with groups across the state to ensure strong implementation of the new law. For more information, please contact Maria Degillo at

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The First Amendment and a Tale of Two Protests

by Cassandra Solis, Digital Communications Intern

This past May, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) took to the streets to protest Governor Rauner’s delay in passing a budget for the 2016-2017 school year affecting the financial resources needed for Chicago Public schools (CPS) to start on time. Public officials may not be too happy about the demonstrations, but they have preserved the CTU’s right to protest; allowing them to assemble and organize a peaceful agenda.

Similarly, across the U.S./Mexico border – in the southernmost state of Oaxaca, Mexico— teachers took to the streets to protest the government’s education reforms. Sadly, the Oaxaca teachers experienced a very different outcome.

Here’s the breakdown…

In 2013, Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, proposed an education reform plan that included a provision that would have teacher evaluations dictate compensation and subsequently, terminate teachers who would not meet federal standards. In May of 2013, the CTNE issued a statement making the suggestion that testing occur with a ‘bottom-up’ approach and have the community and school administration work together to craft teacher evaluations.

Creative Commons Fair Contract Now by Brad Perkins is licensed under CC 2.0

This June, Mexico’s federal government opened fire on CTNE teachers and union activists who were protesting the education reforms. The Mexican government attacked protesting teachers anywhere from publicly shaming them in the streets through nonconsensual head shavings in the public plazas to imprisoning union leaders among other human rights violations. The results of this are heinous; nine killed and brutally murdered, twenty imprisoned, and many injured.

Creative Commons Yo Soy 132 by MaloMalverde is licensed under CC 2.0

Mayor Rahm Emmanuel may not necessarily support the CTU strike, however, his opposition is not faced with immediate life threatening consequences like that of Mayor Adolfo Gomez Hernandez, Mayor of Oaxaca, who has openly stated his support of the teachers’ demonstrations. This, he believes prompted the delivery of a homemade bomb to his office. Karen Lewis can champion the CTU views and clearly use her First Amendment right to freedom of speech and assembly. Lewis does not have to fear imprisonment for disagreeing with the state and protesting like Ruben Nunez, who heads CTNE.

The disjuncture between the federal, state, and local government in Oaxaca is astonishing, but illustrates why our Founding Father created the Bill of Rights. Where would we be without it? One just has to look at Oaxaca, Mexico and the protest that happened there.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Race and Healing in Chicago

by David Hiller, President and CEO

After the terrible events last week in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, our country is shocked, saddened and deeply worried about where we are and where we are going as a nation. As a foundation in Chicagoland committed to strengthening our communities, we are reflecting on what we can do to help our community heal, build trust, and move forward.

The center of our problem is the failure of community itself, with the perception and fact that we are divided along racial lines, and that police and other institutions do not treat communities of color equitably, sometimes with violent and lethal consequences. This problem is as old as our nation, and is rooted in our long history of slavery, racism, and segregation, a legacy we have not fully confronted and certainly not solved.

At the McCormick Foundation we have over the past year begun exploring more intentionally how race and racial equity impact our communities, and our own mission to help make our communities better. We are benefitting on this journey from our work with community-based organizations and individuals who are living these issues daily. It is a journey we all need to travel together.

Even early on, we can see a number of related needs that must be addressed.

  1. Police accountability and community relations. We should support the public process of reconciliation, trust building, along with changes to improve police accountability and police community relations. Along with other foundations, we helped fund the Police Accountability Task Force that has made a very strong set of recommendations to deal with racism and bias in policing, improve accountability and transparency, and improve police community relations. We now need to develop and implement a process to make these changes in ways that build trust and confidence between the police and the people they serve and protect.
  2. Public safety and violence reduction. Heightened shootings and killings in our communities of color is the setting in which police and community interactions occur. This rising violence places greater demands on law enforcement at the same time that trust and confidence have been diminished. We should continue our support for violence reduction efforts in the neighborhoods, including measures that will build trust and support for the police.
  3. Strengthening Families in low-income communities of color. Deep poverty in our segregated communities on the south and west sides contributes in myriad ways to the racial divisions and disparities in education, employment, health, homelessness, and experiencing violence. We need to deepen city-wide efforts to help families and children in these communities, with an increasing emphasis on systemic level change that can have bigger long term impact. Creating jobs is especially important in these communities, where nearly half of African American young men between 16 and 24 are not in school and not employed.
  4. Democracy and Civics. The challenges we are facing are fundamentally about the effectiveness – and short-comings – of our civic and community institutions. Solutions will require active democratic participation, vigorous journalistic reporting, and more accountable and transparent government. Implementing the Police Accountability Task Force recommendations, in a process genuinely embraced and informed by our communities, will be critical.

Much of what our country confronts is part of our painful history of race and prejudice, and needs to be addressed in those terms. Our own work on racial equity is helping us build our capacity to work with others in the community to deal with these issues in open, honest and constructive ways. This is something we all need to do together, in the prayer that terrible events as we have seen in the past week do not happen again.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Transparency in Collaborative News Media

by Jennifer Choi, Program Officer

In May, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation partnered with Bloomberg Media and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation to host a private in-person “Platforms + Publishers Roundtable” of influential platform representatives (Twitter, Facebook, Google, Medium, YouTube, LinkedIn) and large, medium and small news publishers to increase transparency, open lines of communication and build trust for more collaboration.

Key takeaways from the event:

  • Social media platforms want to collaborate better with news organizations. But they are also quite thinly staffed and struggle with operating in silos. The platforms will require improved coordination and communication to solve some of the consistency issues surfaced by news organizations.
  • Social media platform participants shared that one of the challenges to the transparency issue raised by news organizations was that at times the media coverage of social media platforms didn’t allow for social media platforms to more safely experiment and iterate without also having to address a PR crisis that might detrimentally affect their business. Social media platforms want publishers to also be more nuanced and offer more sophisticated reporting on their industry.
  • Many participants expressed appreciation for this convening by describing it as having a more problem-solving disposition than other similar convenings and even created a Facebook group for the cohort to continue to keep in touch.

The event took place at Bloomberg Headquarters in New York City, and was facilitated by MediaShift, a thought leader in journalism innovation/tech training and research. MediaShift and the McCormick Foundation worked to not only strategically select news organizations and platform participants that would best benefit from such a conversation, but also key leaders from all levels of the various organizations that would help to facilitate a constructive and substantive change-making conversation.

Attendees included representatives from national non-profit and for-profit news organizations (The Atlantic, The New York Times, ProPublica, National Public Radio, NBC News, Mic, CNN Money, Time Inc, Vox Media, Fusion) and local non-profit and for-profit organizations (Institute for Nonprofit News, Local Independent Online News Publishers, Philadelphia Media Network, Jersey Shore Hurricane News, Brick City Live, WBEZ, DNAinfo).

Foundation attendees additionally included the Joyce Foundation and Open Society Foundations.

The day started off with a call to action from CEO of Bloomberg Media, Justin Smith, and Global Head of Digital, Scott Havens, imploring social media platforms to increase access for smaller local news organizations with regard to distribution and revenue stream opportunities and partnerships for a better informed public and healthier democracy.

Presentations from Claire Wardle of Tow Center for Digital Journalism (Columbia University), platforms (Facebook, Medium, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn) and publishers (Jersey Shore, NBC News, DNA Info, Mic) followed. The rest of the day was dedicated to small group breakouts to come up with tactical solutions for partnerships.

Next step recommendations included having various cross-sector decision makers from platforms (engineers and sales representatives) to be included for system changes to be implemented in response to publisher needs. More training also on the local, smaller news organizations level, was identified as a key next step.

Many thanks for all the stakeholders involved that took the time and leap of faith to come together for a productive day.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mikva Proved that Nobodies Are Somebodies

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

The civic learning community in Illinois mourns the passing of Abner Mikva (1926-2016), a devoted public servant who co-founded the Mikva Challenge with his wife Zoe. The organization capped a half century career that touched state and national government, and all three branches of the latter. It’s work engaging young people in the political processes, both elections and public policy, allowed Ab to pass the baton to the next generation, and what a legacy he leaves.

The McCormick Foundation has proudly supported the work of the Mikva Challenge for the past 13 years. The organization played a key role in the expansion of civic learning both in Chicago and throughout Illinois, including the current #CivicsIsBack Campaign.

Whether it’s engaging students in campaigns on both sides of the aisle, training them to serve as election judges, or elevating youth voice through citywide and school based youth councils and committees, Mikva Challenge proved time and again that young people are not nobodies, but instead somebodies set at their own devices.

The work of the Mikva Challenge now transcends the City of Chicago, encompassing the suburbs, downstate, and even Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. Their “secret sauce” centers on “action civics,” a form of student-centered learning where students learn about the political process by serving as change agents themselves.

Action civics dovetails perfectly with the new civics course requirement in Illinois, specifically learning about government institutions, discussions of current and controversial issues, and service learning.

It’s fitting that Ab bid his earthly confines farewell on the nation’s 240th birthday. He served his state and country admirably and left us with the tools to form a more perfect union. We must accept this perpetual challenge with passion and integrity in the spirit of Abner Mikva.