City Council Chamber

Yesterday, the Committee on Education and Child Development for the City Council of Chicago met to discuss one agenda item – “calling for hearings to determine the impact and consequences of consolidating Child Development programs at the City Colleges to single location”. Several representatives from City Colleges provided testimony after which the Aldermen had a chance to ask questions. It was an interesting experience for me. I’ve never attended a City Council meeting before. I was impressed with the questions they asked about the 6 nationally recognized Child Development programs offered at City Colleges and the obvious time they had put in to understanding the program and its impact on the early childhood workforce in the city of Chicago. There were many moments when I felt the Aldermen had a better grasp of our program than upper administration at the District Office. Many people had the chance to speak including a graduate who described the impact of studying Child Development at a college close to her home in Englewood and how that helped her to make a better life for her own children as well as the young children and families she served in her work as a child care provider. It was quite moving, but also very informative and I’m glad people were listening.

I’ve included my full remarks below:

My name is Carrie Nepstad. I am an Associate Professor of Child Development at Harold Washington College. I have been in that position for 13 years. In that time, I have also served as the Board President for the “Associate Degree Early Childhood Teacher Educators” association. Currently, I am on the editorial Board of “Voices of Practitioners” a publication of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and I also serve on Mayor Emanuel’s Early Childhood Education Workforce Development Taskforce. In 2015, the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council of the National Academies produced a report entitled “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation”. This is the full report. It is nearly 700 pages long. I served as a Practitioner Advisor on this report where I met with the committee at the National Academies offices in California Irvine as well as in Washington DC and then again here in Chicago.

All this is to illustrate that I serve many roles at the city, state, and national level where I am routinely asked to provide my expertise on a wide range of projects, initiatives, and policy. I am not rare. All of my fellow faculty in Child Development at City Colleges serve similar leadership roles and yet our own institution did not seek our expertise when the decision was made to close 5 nationally recognized Associate degree programs and leave Truman as the only option for Child Development students across the city. If they had consulted with us they would have seen how destructive this decision is to the child care workforce in the city of Chicago and how this decision, based on misleading information and inaccurate data, will hurt young children and their families in our most vulnerable neighborhoods for many years to come. We need to build the workforce and provide more access to higher education in our south and west side communities – not cut them off or create more burdens for them.

A major recommendation of this report is to increase the education level for the early childhood workforce. There is a sense of urgency in our field to provide access to higher education so people can build their academic credentials in the field. And, as the report states, strategies will be needed to

“mitigate possible negative consequences such as workforce shortages, [and] reduced diversity in the profession…” (p.8).

We have repeatedly stated that it will be exceptionally difficult for Child Development students residing and working on the south and west sides to travel across the city to attend classes at Truman College. The early childhood agencies where they work, which are legally bound to keep workers on site while children are present, will not be able to release employees early for such a long commute. The employers in all of your wards are already suffering under budget crises and teacher shortages. Shutting down these 5 accredited college programs puts additional undue burden on students, on early childhood employers and agencies, and on families in the communities where the early childhood center is often one the strongest resources in the neighborhood.

Because we draw students from every region of the city, Chicago is in an enviable position to meet the recommendations of this report and to build a highly qualified and diverse early childhood workforce. But we have to be mindful of the barriers our students face; they typically work full-time in early childhood while pursuing their degree and they often have children of their own. They are not in a high-wage position, yet they often feel compelled to give back to their communities. The strength of the early childhood workforce in Chicago is that the workers come from the communities in which they serve. We know how important this is for the development of young children and their families. We also know that the stresses they face are not mere inconveniences.

From page 476 of the report,

“The health and well-being of care and education professionals play a critical role in their effectiveness as educators and thus in the development of children… These effects of the stressors they experience can restrict the ability of educators to create positive, high-quality learning environments for their students”.

One of my recent graduates is a veteran who has faced many challenges upon returning to civilian life. While in Iraq, he would often be asked to play soccer with the local kids. Through this act of service, he came to realize that working with children was his true calling. Another student started attending classes in the late eighties and through a series of life events has had to stop and restart her studies many times over the years. Last semester, she almost stopped out again because her daughter had been diagnosed with a serious illness, but with the encouragement of her classmates she was finally able to complete her student teaching and achieve her goal. Another student, late in life, is now raising her nephew with disabilities while working full-time and continuing to take one class at a time to finish her degree. In her final semester, she suffered an illness, but she completed her homework from her hospital bed because she was so determined to finish on time with her classmates, and earn her degree.

I’ve worked with hundreds of students over the past 15 years that are just like these. They are real people facing real challenges. The role they play is extremely important in our society and we should be doing everything we can to support them. Our students are strong and they have demonstrated an ability to face many challenges yet City Colleges asks them to do the impossible when they say that students can get from their workplace on the far south or west side of the city to a 6pm course on the far north side using public transportation or even a shuttle. This is physically impossible. How dare we suggest that they will simply figure this out or go somewhere else? As a city, we can do better to support early childhood education. This is arguably one of the most important workforce development projects of our time and we can do better.

This is not about faculty who are supposedly unwilling to change. Most disciplines and programs across the City Colleges struggle to align their curriculum, yet the Child Development faculty have twice redesigned every core course in order to meet the demands of the field, they have gone through a rigorous accreditation process, and they have worked together to align offerings with the state credentialing system.

We reinvent ourselves annually. We are not afraid of change.

Child Development faculty have been working closely with the Education Dean over the past year to provide ongoing recommendations for the various upgrades City Colleges is making to the classroom spaces at Truman. We fully support that City Colleges has made some investment in that program as it was the only program in the District that did not have adequate resources including a lab space. We can continue to work together to support all Child Development programs at City Colleges. This absolutely can be done within budget. In fact, it has the potential of becoming a model within the District and beyond.

I want you to know that because of its unique District system with 6 separate accreditations, the Child Development programs at City Colleges of Chicago are known across the country and this process is being watched closely by Associate Degree faculty and institutions of higher ed. from Washington State to Washington DC. The people in our field know about what is happening here. They know it’s a mistake to shut down these programs and they are watching to see what the city of Chicago chooses to do about it.

Thank you very much for your time.

FC4 moves to file complaint

Posted on behalf of FC4 President, Jennifer Alexander

June 17, 2016

Official Statement: The Faculty Council of the City Colleges of Chicago (FC4) Calls for an Investigation

Over the past two weeks, in an apparent attempt to justify their decision to consolidate six Child Development Programs to Truman College, the District Office of the City Colleges of Chicago has disseminated the following documents to stakeholders including Aldermen, media contacts, and the Mayor’s Office: 1) a PowerPoint Presentation, 2) a document entitled “The Facts About Child Development Programs at City Colleges”, and 3) a document entitled “Child Development Programs Information”.

Faculty researched the data presented within the documents listed above and have found them to contain misleading and erroneous information. In addition, faculty have discovered that over the past two years at least 120 Child Development Basic Certificates were awarded from Truman College to Child Development students who have not taken any courses at Truman.

The Faculty Council of the City Colleges of Chicago (FC4) is the elected representative body of all full-time City Colleges of Chicago faculty members. The charge of FC4 is to “represent and be responsible to the faculty in all matters of general academic policy such as curriculum, program development, academic freedom, and professional development in an advisory, consultative, and planning capacity to the Chancellor and to the Board of Community College District No. 508” (Constitution of the Faculty Council City Colleges of Chicago).

On June 15, 2016 FC4 held an emergency meeting and the following motion was passed:

FC4 will file a formal complaint with the Office of the Inspector General, the Board of Trustees, PACC, the Illinois Community College Board, the Higher Learning Commission, the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and the Department of Education seeking an investigation of the City Colleges of Chicago’s reporting on the number of completions for all Child Development Programs across the district, including all reports that have been submitted to ICCB, HLC, DOE and any other external agencies over the past two years.

This letter serves as a formal complaint.

Respectfully submitted on behalf of the Faculty Council of the City Colleges of Chicago

Jennifer Alexander, FC4 President

A call for an investigation

Over the past two years over 100 Child Development Basic Certificates were awarded from Truman College to Child Development students who have not taken any courses at Truman.
Based on this information, the District-wide Child Development faculty team is calling for an investigation of CCC’s reporting on completion rates for all Child Development programs.  Completion rates are used for a variety of purposes for internal decision-making, but also for external accountability so it’s important that they are accurate.
The Child Development faculty team urges FC4 and any other faculty groups to act now and call for a full investigation.

A Love Letter to the Applied Science Dept.

Today, I had the honor of being awarded the “Distinguished Full-Time Faculty of 2015-2016” award. Below is my speech:

Thank you very much for this honor.

I’d like to dedicate this award to my colleagues in the Applied Science department.

I have been fortunate to work on many interesting and important projects over the years and any good work that I have done at HWC in terms of Assessment or accreditation work, any good work that I have done with students – it is all because of the solid foundation I have had based on relationships with colleagues within my department. They have taught me well and this is what I’ve learned: it’s all about the daily interactions with others – that’s what matters most.

Dr. Sammie Dortch designed this department to be interconnected. She challenged all of the instructors to think about how our fields fit together and how we can work together to serve the students. And, that’s what we do best.

Dr. Heathfield, is an internationally recognized practitioner and published author in the field of Youth Work and what I have learned from Michael is that whenever I’m stuck on something it’s always best bring it back to asking the question, “how will this help our students”?

Professor Nix, is a lawyer and Criminal Justice Professor and what I have learned from Brian is how to be patient but also firm with students to help them to be successful.

Professor Ealey, is an Addictions Studies professor. I have literally been sitting next to Anthony for thirteen years. What I have learned from him is that the details matter and that students learn a lot from focusing on specific skills in addition to the big ideas. I’ve also learned how to be helpful. In 13 years whenever I’ve asked for help on something Anthony has always been there to help until the problem is solved.

The adjunct faculty of our department are all leaders in the profession, and what I’ve learned from them is the importance of giving back to the field because if we teach our students well, they will serve the young children and families of Chicago well.

Professor Eason-Montgomery, is professor of Criminal Justice and also Child Development, and what I have learned from Ellen is how to do everything with loving kindness; everything.

Professor Jones is a Child Development professor and what I’ve learned from Janvier is how to stay eternally curious about the teaching and learning process. I’ve learned how to be deeply reflective about pedagogy and how to laugh, a lot. And eat chocolate. I’ve learned a lot about the powers of chocolate.

Professor Asimow is a Child Development professor and longtime coordinator of the program and what I’ve learned from Jen is – basically, everything I know! She has been my mentor since the moment I was hired and I have learned from her every single day. There are too many things to list here, but overall she has taught me to be diligent – to keep pushing myself to learn more in order to be of service to our students and to the community. The greatest compliment I receive is when people confuse me for Jen.

All of this work has been anchored by a calm presence in the Applied Science office that was established for many years by then Department Secretary Latonya Henley who continues to be a massive support to our department even after being promoted, and that has been carried over by our current Department Secretary Sherri Hayden. The Secretary is the first person students often meet in the department and the quality of their interactions with students and with faculty is like the social and emotional glue that holds everything together!

These people in this department have influenced my life and the lives of so many students. It’s impossible to measure, but if I try to understand how this has worked over the years I have to say that it has to do with all of those everyday interactions – the many small moments between people. Put together, this is what makes a life.

So, thank you Applied Science Department for enriching my life and for providing a trusting, welcoming space, which has allowed us to do our best for students.

In the end, that is what matters most.


award 2016.jpg


The Wizards of Oz


Posted on behalf of Michael Heathfield

I am still trying very hard to get my head around what is happening to us at CCC.  Since we are approaching the end of semester, I felt the need to do a little post-modern lifting of the curtain. So the first wizard I encounter is Dr. Josh Wyner, who has a wonderful “four domains framework” on which he believes community college excellence must be based.  It seems eminently sensible to me and the same thinking was clearly behind CCC’s reinvention goals.  For us to be “excellent” we must drive changes in four domains:

  1. Completion
  2. Equity
  3. Learning
  4. Labor Market

It is very difficult to argue with this and Dr. Wyner should know what he is talking about.  He wrote “What Excellent Community Colleges Do: Preparing All Students for Success” (Harvard Education Press, 2014).  Wyner is Vice President and Executive Director of the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute.  Unsurprisingly, his text uses extensive data drawn from the finalist colleges in the first two years (2011-13) of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The word “reinvent” is used to describe what colleges will need to do if they are to meet the challenge required of them in the 21st century. He uses the word without any of the branding ballyhoo it acquired in Chicago.  You can take a look at Josh’s profile here.

The second wizard behind that curtain is Dr. Davis Jenkins, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. He is a prolific researcher and publisher on Community Colleges.  He is the originator of the pathways approach to community college education. There is a very strong workforce and employment emphasis to his work, strongly evidenced by his role as Data Coach for the Achieving the Dream Network.  This organization makes no small claims about itself and the change potential it represents:

Achieving the Dream—the national, nonprofit leader in championing evidence-based institutional improvement—has seen firsthand what happens when there is a long-term, sustainable commitment to improving student success. Achievement gaps close. Momentum builds. Lives change. Neighborhoods flourish.” See here.

There is no disputing completion and labor market issues are the primary drivers for this organization, alongside the grandiloquent claims about significant community development and change. Dr. Davis is clearly a metric guru and makes a good living from using numbers to make things happen for other people.  You can find his profile here.  I will provide a pint of Boddingtons or Smithwicks for anyone who can be bothered to scour Board Reports to see if CCC has paid him anything for his expertise in our reinventions – one through seven.

This is entirely possible since Dr. Jenkins lives in Chicago. A lot of his research and writing confirms much that I know and have experienced about higher education and student learning on both sides of the Atlantic. Some of his writing shocks me though. I hope it does not signal the future direction of CCC. As many of us know, Chicago reality if very far from a dream for the majority of residents. Dr. Jenkins is clearly the main wizard writing the script for Chicago and, unfortunately, my gut tells me he may remain so. Since Campus Zero has zero academic leadership, how could anything else be in the cards? Brace yourselves.

Davis believes that speed is essential, as are restricted workforce proscribed choices.  Indeed, general education courses are very much in the way of his imperatives.  According to a 2015 article by Anya Kamentz for NPR Ed (here), serving as PR for his new book, his solutions to increase completions include:

  • Getting rid of remedial courses and moving students straight into credit-bearing classes with support for those who need it.
  • Getting rid of general education and creating a small number of exploratory majors that require all students to choose a distinct path right away.

Sound familiar to anyone? There is much to commend in Dr. Jenkins work, but there are also some startling omissions and assumptions.  He is insistent on the ingredients required for success to happen “to scale” and he appears untroubled by the requirement that students must complete 30 credits in one academic year to be “on plan”.  He is honest about the lack of any real research evidence to support the effectiveness of his strategic imperatives.  Dr. Jenkins appears very happy to use evidence provided by key administrators in HE institutions already onboard with the initiatives he recommends.

The whole discourse seems circular, self-feeding and staggeringly instrumental in the simple worldview of student lives.  Not one sniff of sociology forces its way into this version of change.  Students are certainly not agents of anything, simply objects to be structured, guided, and supported by those wiser than they.

Remedies to the ills of community college education are written about as if before “Pathways” there were no such things as degrees, certificates, and programs with required pre-requisites, course sequences or indeed any idea of levels, sequencing or cumulative learning.  This is hogwash.  It is also, primarily, a political discourse.  For students, in K-12 public education, the strategy for unsatisfying and inequitable results is more choice, through as yet very unproven Charters.  Magically, for community college students, the answer for unsatisfying and inequitable results is less choice through as yet, very unproven Pathways.  There is nothing data-driven about any of this.

For sure there is much that is good and useful in these expert analyses and strategies.  There is emerging evidence that highlights the strengths of these ideas in action. There is hardly any evidence of the downsides, as yet. Both these national wizards are very clear that successful change must happen in partnership with faculty. So how does this wizard expertise and wizdom play out in Chicago?

Curtain down, lights up. Intermission. Who will be the first Campus Zero wizard to be revealed?  Coming soon…

Mike Heathfield for FourSee faculty


Campus Zero Campus Woes

Posted on behalf of Michael Heathfield and FourSee Faculty

Campus Zero Campus Woes

FourSeeYou can’t take the context out of the college, whatever your status, you really can’t. Let’s just say life just got a whole lot tougher for Rahm’s crew at Campus Zero.  The ballot box dispatched Anita Alvarez faster than it takes for a college president to get a master’s degree!  Who knows whether the CZ crew will just double down on some disastrous decisions made of late or join with students and faculty as stakeholders with considerable expertise, opinions and power.

In my last post I asked my top ten questions.  Needless to say, there have been no responses from people with the data at Campus Zero.  It’s strange how data disappears when more challenging questions are asked of it. Of course, some is buried deep in the hope it doesn’t see the light of day. Some, if very politically inconvenient, is ignored and the PR lights move onto the latest glittery distraction.

It may also be true, since these things are rarely exclusive, that the best minds at Campus Zero do not fully understand the consequences, assumptions, and miscalculations in their policy decisions. It is very difficult to impute intentions when so very little of substance is provided for public debate and dialogue.  I get it as a political and management strategy. I really don’t get it as an academic strategy that should embed itself firmly in students, teaching and learning – these are primary drivers of all we do.

Everyone at CCC, including the CZ crew, exists on this simple foundation of students, teaching and learning.  Nothing around it exists without this trilogy. We are not a research institution; no one gets paid based on the amount and impact of faculty publications.  Postgraduate students don’t do the bulk of frontline teaching and grading work while stellar academics do the occasional star performances in huge lecture halls.  This is not who we are or what we do. So maybe I need to be clearer in my intent – when I ask questions of Campus Zero initiatives that are built upon our crucial foundations. Public education is exactly what is says, public. So private decision making and shutting down discourse is not the context in which we exist.

The Chancellor has publicly said she doesn’t care about recruitment – only retention and graduations.  Now, I have never been a full subscriber to the “logic model” approach to education, but surely you can’t have any outcomes that don’t have a relationship to inputs?  This has never been truer when you look, for example, at the quiet crises unfolding at Kennedy-King and Olive Harvey, where recruitment is significantly down over the past five years. Full-time faculty at Olive has been struggling to make load and have already been shuttling off to other campuses. I have seen nothing to convince me that, when finally complete, the new logistics and distribution center is going to lift everyone up together.

What will happen to declining numbers at Kennedy-King when Social Work and Addiction Studies transition to Malcolm X as planned?  Despite being the first-ever winner of the Aspen Award, Kennedy-King also stands as a stark rebuttal of the mantra, “If you build it, they will come”.

So tell me again why we are pulling Child Development programs from these important south side colleges?  How do we support our important colleagues as community disinvestment continues to surround them?

When the CZ crew makes a $21 million hole in the operating budget, by over-estimating how many students they can “incentivize” to become full-time, do we think budget impacts will be distributed with equity?  The differing states and fates of our vital seven colleges are intrinsically tied to broader social issues that raise Chicago’s profile on the national stage in very unflattering ways.

I live in Edgewater, very near Truman College, soon to be another north side recipient of capital and human investment as Child Development programs leave HWC and their south and west side neighborhoods. I can walk to my new 2013 library, next to my new Wholefoods, while I live right next to my new Mariano’s. What is happening here?

Chicago remains a very divided city.  The only resource that is shared with grace and equity from north to south is the lakefront.  Step away from there and you will enter different worlds that tragically demonstrate how politically controlled public resources are riddled with injustices.  Compare my Edgewater Library to the Woodson Regional Library, home to the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature. The façade of the Woodson has been surrounded by scaffolding for fourteen years. The Woodson is in the Washington Heights neighborhood. Yes, fourteen years.

When taxpayer resources are distributed with such disregard for equity, justice, and accountability – public servants must expect to be called to account. Questions and answers can be very challenging.  As Alvarez discovered, Chicago residents can deliver a very firm answer when public officials, and their decisions, are aired in public. National attention is trained on Chicago because of what elected officials and their chosen public servants are doing.  This is the context in which political decisions are being made. Public debate is essential, however painful or uncomfortable it may be. Community college policy decisions, by political appointees, are on the agenda and no amount of “business as usual” will shift this gaze.

— Mike Heathfield for FourSee faculty