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MoD sought sensitive children’s data for possible recruitment drive

RT | June 6, 2015

The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) has been blocked from accessing highly sensitive data on school students, including how rich their parents are and their academic record, which they sought to better inform them of military career opportunities.

The MoD made a request to the National Pupil Database (NPD) last year, according to the magazine Schools Week.

A spokesman for the MoD insisted to Schools Week that the request was an “error” made by someone “outside the Army’s recruitment branch.”

However, Forces Watch, a campaign group that scrutinizes recruitment in the military, said the fact that the request had been denied showed “how inappropriate the MoD’s use of the data was.”

The information the MoD was trying to get hold of is not easy to access; it is labeled Tier 1 and includes school children’s most personal details.

As well as ethnicity and address, the database includes descriptions of pupils’ academic records and special educational needs, as well as how often they were absent from school and if they receive free school meals, an indication of how wealthy their parents are.

Applying to the NPD for such information is a complex and time consuming process. An applicant must answer 20 security questions and enter encryption details into their computer. For Tier 1 data, applicants must say exactly why they need this information and why they are unable to use less sensitive information.

A final decision on whether information will be released is made by senior Department of Education (DfE) staff on the Data Management Advisory Panel.

The news that the MoD had made a request surfaced after all NPD requests were released under transparency laws. Since 2012, only 9 out 460 requests have been refused.

“We only disclose information from the NPD for the purpose of conducting research and analysis that will promote the education or well-being of children in England,” A DfE spokesperson said.

While the MoD said that the request was an “error,” the release from the NPD listed the reason for their request.

[The request was] “To determine if we can use targeted messaging to better inform young people of the career opportunities open to them in the Army (Regular and Reserve) so that their decisions about seeking a full or part time job are better informed,” according to the transparency release.

However an MoD spokesperson insisted that the request was not in line with army’s recruitment policy.

“We can confirm that a request was made in error to the DfE for access to elements of the NPD by an individual who worked outside the Army’s recruitment branch. This is not in line with Army policy and the request has been halted,” they said.

However, Owen Everett from Forces Watch said that the army is struggling to recruit new soldiers.

“That the MoD have now attempted to obtain this vast database of school students’ personal data in an attempt to improve Army recruitment, at a time when Army recruitment continues to be struggling, and when the armed forces policy of recruiting 16 and 17 year-olds is shortly to be challenged in a judicial review, is no coincidence,” he said.

Everrett also pointed out that many teenagers from poorer backgrounds and less wealthy areas of the country end up joining the army because they have no other prospects of full time employment and are, thus, particularly overrepresented in the infantry. In Afghanistan infantry soldiers had a far greater risk of being killed and injured in action.

June 6, 2015 Posted by | Militarism | , | 5 Comments

Arms maker BAE Systems takes control of failing school

RT | April 24, 2015

Europe’s largest arms manufacture BAE Systems has become the main sponsor of an under-performing school in the North West of England.

From September the arms marker, which operates a dockyard in Barrow-in-Furness, will run the Furness Academy, which was created under the coalition government’s academies scheme by joining together three failing schools in the area.

BAE previously tried to donate £400,000 to the academy in 2007, while the firm was under investigations of corrupt dealings.

The arms company is responsible for the construction of nuclear submarines at its base in the town, which are used in the controversial Trident program. The firm had a £15.4 billion turnover in 2014.

BAE has set up a trust to run the school under its submarine-building arm. Campaigners worry the move will have an impact on the curriculum.

Sam Robinson, university coordinator for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), called the decision “deeply worrying.”

“The idea [BAE] could soon be playing a significant role in running one of our schools is deeply worrying.

“It … gives them direct access to potential future employees and often allows them to influence the curriculum to suit their employment needs.”

Robinson said the move means the school would be run on “profits from selling arms to some of the world’s most oppressive dictators.”

The arms company will be tasked with boosting the academy’s performance. The school has been in special measures since 2012, following a spate of poor Ofsted inspection results. The schools’ watchdog says improvements have been much too slow.

Tony Johns, the managing director of BAE Systems Submarines, said in a statement: “We have for a long time supported local education at primary, secondary and college level, and see this positive step as an extension to our commitment in helping Furness Academy provide its students with the best possible education.”

BAE has not issued a comment on the agreement.

Mallen Baker, a strategic advisor for corporate social responsibility, told Schools Week it was quite normal for local companies to invest in local education and, despite BAE’s arms dealings, the firm is simply investing in the future of the town.

“Employers recognize that the quality of local recruits is influenced hugely by their quality of education,” he said. “Companies that invest in the local community will also get higher loyalty rates.

“With BAE there is an additional factor – they deal with a controversial product. But armament is essential for the defense of the country and we believe in the right for our countries to defend themselves.”

April 24, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Militarism | , , , | Leave a comment

‘Thought police’: Academic freedom threatened by anti-terror bill, MPs warn

RT | January 12, 2015

Universities should be exempted from new counter-terrorism laws because they will ‘restrict’ freedom of speech, the government’s human rights watchdog has said.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights said government plans to make universities legally obliged to refer suspected would-be terrorists to the authorities would undermine academic freedom.

Under the bill, Home Secretary Theresa May would be given authority to force universities to ban speakers who are considered “extremist.”

The warning comes before the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill’s second reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday.

May’s bill, introduced to Parliament in November last year, is likely to receive boosted support in the wake of the terrorist attacks in France last week, which left 17 people dead.

Committee members are concerned about a legal duty that would require universities to refer students at risk of becoming terrorists to external anti-radicalization programs.

Universities would also be required to ban ‘extremists’ from speaking on campuses.

Parliament’s human rights watchdog, made up of MPs and peers, says it is “concerned about the implications for both freedom of expression and academic freedom as a result of the applicability of the proposed new duty to universities.”

Failure to comply with the new duties would result in direct intervention by the secretary of state, and “ultimately, a mandatory court order backed by criminal sanctions for contempt of court.”

The committee also argued that terms such as ‘extremist’ are ambiguous.

“Broad terms such as ‘extremist’ or ‘radical’ are not capable of being defined with sufficient precision to enable universities to know with sufficient certainty whether they risk being found to be in breach of the new duty.”

Dr Hywel Francis, Labour MP and chair of the committee, said: “As open and rigorous debate about ideas is itself one of the most powerful tools in the struggle against terrorism, and the extremism which often breeds terrorism, this is surely counter-productive.”

Martin Hall, former vice-chancellor of the University of Salford, also voiced opposition to the proposed bill, calling it “draconian.”

Writing in the Times Higher Education on Thursday, Hall warned that such legal obligations on universities could “be used against opponents of fracking, or animal rights activists, or anti-nuclear movements, or any radical opposition to the status quo.”

“There is a danger of us being turned into a thought police,” he added.

Hall also cautioned against what he sees as a disproportionate response to terrorism by the state.

“Given that the 2011 census recorded 2.7 million Muslims living in the UK and that the Home Office is currently concerned about 500 individuals, there is a question of effectiveness and proportionality.”

The warning by the Joint Committee on Human Rights comes as Prime Minister David Cameron says he will re-introduce the ‘snooper’s charter’ bill if the Tories win the general election in May.

Speaking to ITV News on Sunday, he said: “We cannot allow modern forms of communication to be exempt from the ability, in extremis, with a warrant signed by the home secretary, to be exempt from being listened to.”

The Draft Communications Data Bill would require internet and mobile phone companies to maintain records – but not the content – of customer’s internet browsing history, email correspondence, phone calls and messages.

It was previously blocked by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats on the grounds it would infringe on people’s right to privacy.

READ MORE: Military intelligence get £100m anti-terror fund, hunt ‘self-starter’ extremists – Osborne

January 12, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , | 1 Comment

Colorado students stage mass walk-out over US history ‘censorship’

RT | September 25, 2014

Hundreds of Denver-area high school students walked out their classrooms in a mass protest against what they call an attempt to censor their history curriculum by refocusing it on topics that promote citizenship, patriotism and obedience.

Students at six Denver-area highs schools walked out their classrooms en masse, protesting a plan by the conservative-majority Jefferson County school board to push for curriculum changes to Advanced Placement history courses to promote patriotism and deference to authority. The proposed changes would include the removal of topics that could ‘encourage’ civil disobedience from textbooks and materials.

The protest was organized through social media, encouraging students to stand outside the Jefferson County School Administrative Building with placards which read “People didn’t die so we erase them,” “Educate free thinkers,” “There is nothing more patriotic than protest,” and “History is History.”

The student protest comes after teachers at two schools caused a shutdown the week before when they staged a sick-out over the curriculum changes, which the school board says provides a balanced view of American history.

“I understand that they want to take out our very important history of slavery and dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because it portrays the US in a negative light,” a high school senior, Casey McAndrew, told CNN.

The proposal calls for establishing a committee that would regularly review texts and course plans, starting with Advanced Placement history to make sure materials “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights,” and don’t “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strike or disregard of the law.”

“The nation’s foundation was built on civil protests,” Tyrone G. Parks, a senior student told the Associated Press. “And everything that we’ve done is what allowed us to be at this point today. And if you take that from us, you take away everything that America was built of.”

Those students participating in the protest will not be punished but will receive unexcused absences unless their parents request permissions for missed classes, according to school district spokeswoman Lynn Setzer said.

Meanwhile, Jefferson County Superintendent Dan McMinimee tried to calm the tensions saying that no changes in the curriculum have been finalized and renewing his offer to continue discussions on the issue.

READ MORE: Journalism groups blast Obama admin for ‘politically driven suppression of news’

September 25, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , | 1 Comment

Occupy group abolishes nearly $4 million in student loan debt

RT | September 17, 2014

On the third anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, an offshoot group announced that it has erased $3.8 million worth of private student loan debt.

The group, Strike Debt, said in a press release issued on Wednesday this week that its Rolling Jubilee initiative has purchased nearly $4 million in private student debt owed by former attendees of Everest College — an institution run by the massive for-profit education company Corinthian Colleges — in turn freeing those former students from a huge chunk of the burdensome loan bills.

“Jubilant Greetings!” the group wrote to 2,700 former Everest students. “We are writing to you with good news: We just got rid of some of your Everest College debt!”

“Everest College is committing widespread fraud,” the letter continues. “It targets lower-income students and students of color, offers low quality education and — with the help of the federal government — buries students under a lifetime of crushing debt, all to profit the one percent. No one should be forced to mortgage their future for an education.”

“You no longer owe the balance of this particular debt. It is gone, a gift with no strings attached. You are no longer under any obligation to settle this account with the original creditor, the bill collector or anyone else.”

This week’s announcement is only the latest from the non-profit organization to tout the results of a two-year-old initiative spawned from the Occupy movement that has previously erased more than $15 million in emergency room bills by purchasing debt from the companies tasked with collecting from debtors, then erasing it entirely using donated funds and never forcing the original debtor to pay them back.

“We buy debt for pennies on the dollar, but instead of collecting it, we abolish it,” Strike Debt explains Rolling Jubilee on the group’s website. “We cannot buy specific individuals’ debt — instead, we help liberate debtors at random through a campaign of mutual support, good will and collective refusal. All proceeds go directly to buying and canceling people’s debt.”

“This isn’t just a stunt or a spectacle,” Rolling Jubilee member Astra Taylor told NBC News this week. “This isn’t a long-term plan, either. The point is to touch people where they are, and try to create a political awareness out of that.”

Now in the heels of successful other campaigns waged in the three years since the Occupy movement took hold in Lower Manhattan and spread across the United States, Strike Debt says former students of Everest College are the latest to luck out through the Rolling Jubilee initiative, and with reason: in this week’s statement, the group says that students at Everest were “conned” and that Everest and other Corinthian schools “are now being closed or sold off to other predatory companies, leaving students with no good options.”

“Despite Corinthian’s dire financial straits, checkered past, and history of lying to and misleading vulnerable students, tens of thousands of people may still be liable for the loans they have incurred while playing by the rules and trying to get an education,” one Strike Debt member told CNN.

In the US, student loan debt now totals roughly $1.2 trillion — surpassing the amount owed through credit card debt — with the average graduate owing $26,600, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

September 17, 2014 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , | Leave a comment

End Game For Corporate School Reform: Privatized Holding Tanks, Remote Ed, Military Charter Schools

By Bruce A. Dixon | Black Agenda Report | October 30, 2013

Doug Henwood, a radical economist and founder of Left Business Observer, says it as succinctly as anyone when he sums up the goal of bipartisan corporate education reform imposed on poorer neighborhoods as “ … low cost privatized holding tanks leading to McDonalds jobs for the lucky, or to prison for the not so lucky …” along with classes delivered by computers rather than unionized teachers. But as useful as this summation is, it leaves out one element worth noting. You can’t run a global empire without a military class, any more than you can run a prison without prison guards.

So in Chicago, widely touted as a laboratory of educational innovation, mostly because its current mayor, President Obama’s former chief of staff holds dictatorial power over its public schools, one of the showpieces of education reform has been the handing over of entire high schools and even middle schools to the army, the navy and the marine corps.

Before the era of corporate reform there was at least one achievement of genuine small d democratic education reform pushed through by the administration of Chicago mayor Harold Washington in the 1980s. Since then parents in every public school have been allowed to elect parent councils, with reps from among rank and file teachers, which have veto power over title one funds and principal’s contracts, which are limited to two years. The “innovative” answer of downtown bureaucrats, corporate elites and subsequent mayors to parents taking a hand in running the schools has been to simply close Chicago public schools and replace them with charters over which parents have no say.

This year, Chicago closed more public schools than any other school district in a single year in the nation’s history. None were charter schools. This week Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he was moving the middle school which had earlier been given to the marine corps into the facility of a fully functioning neighborhood school, Ames Middle School.

The fact that Ames parents and community members had testified, had met with officials and overwhelmingly rejected the closing of their school meant less than nothing, and may even have contributed to the replacement of their school by a military academy. What mayor, and what alderman really wants organized parents running their own neighborhood institutions? It’s bad for business if you’re a privatizer, or a politician who takes cues and campaign contributions from privatizers. And ultimately habits of local democracy are bad for empire.

What Chicago, and corporate education reformers and privatizers and their contractors nationwide want, as Henwood observes, are low-cost holding tanks to funnel the well-behaved into low-wage precarious labor for the lucky and jail for the unlucky. They want distance education and computerized instruction because these are cheaper than human, potentially unionized teachers. And to Henwood’s list we should add, they want a sprinkling of military charter schools. After all, you can’t run an empire without soldiers, or a prison without guards.

October 30, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on End Game For Corporate School Reform: Privatized Holding Tanks, Remote Ed, Military Charter Schools

Anti-piracy curriculum for elementary schools decried as ‘propaganda’

RT | September 24, 2013

Content-industry giants and internet service providers are teaming up to produce multi-grade elementary school curriculum which will denounce copyright infringement.

The likes of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), AT&T, Verizon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Comcast are behind the pilot project which will be tested in California elementary schools later this year.

The curriculum, called “Be a Creator,” is not quite complete, producers say, though Wired was able to obtain the various levels of content – from kindergarten to sixth grade – which aim to communicate that copying is theft.

“This thinly disguised corporate propaganda is inaccurate and inappropriate,” said Mitch Stoltz, an intellectual property attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation who reviewed the material.

“It suggests, falsely, that ideas are property and that building on others’ ideas always requires permission,” Stoltz says. “The overriding message of this curriculum is that students’ time should be consumed not in creating but in worrying about their impact on corporate profits.”

The content was made by the California School Library Association and the Internet Keep Safe Coalition. The Center for Copyright Infringement commissioned the material. The center’s board is made up of executives from MPAA, RIAA, Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T.

Each grade’s package includes a short video and a teacher worksheet of talking points.

For example, the sixth grade version urges children to realize that copyright infringement can have worse consequences than cheating on a test, which usually results in a bad grade or suspension from school.

“In the digital world, it’s harder to see the effects of copying, even though the effects can be more serious,” the teacher worksheet says.

The material does not comment on fair use, which allows for the reuse of copyrighted works without permission. Rather, students are told that using without permission is “stealing.”

The Internet Keep Safe Coalition, a non-profit organization partnering with governments and major corporations like Facebook and Google, said that fair use is beyond the comprehension of sixth graders.

The curriculum “is developmentally consistent with what children can learn at specific ages,” the group’s president, Marsali Hancock, told Wired, adding that materials for older children will include the concept.

A video for second graders shows a child taking photos and debating whether to sell, keep, or share them.

“You’re not old enough yet to be selling your pictures online, but pretty soon you will be,” reads the teacher lesson plan. “And you’ll appreciate if the rest of us respect your work by not copying it and doing whatever we want with it.”

The groups involved in the curation of the material stressed that it was in draft form at this point, and that some wording will be changed before the pilot project begins in schools.

“We’ve got some editing to do,” said Glen Warren, vice president of the non-profit California School Library Association.

Warren alluded that the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), a content-industry group, has already had influence on the project.

Hancock said the material has not yet been approved by CCI. The group is best known for working with the government and rights holders to begin an internet monitoring program with large ISPs that punish violators with extrajudicial measures like temporary internet termination and weak connection speeds.

CCI’s executive director, Jill Lesser, has alluded to youth education programs in the past.

“Based on our research, we believe one of the most important audiences for our educational efforts is young people. As a result, we have developed a new copyright curriculum that is being piloted during this academic year in California,” she said last week in a testimony on Capitol Hill.

“The curriculum introduces concepts about creative content in innovative and age-appropriate ways. The curriculum is designed to help children understand that they can be both creators and consumers of artistic content, and that concepts of copyright protection are important in both cases,” Lesser testified.

She said that CCI’s board will likely sign off on the curriculum soon.

“We are just about to post those materials in the next week or two on our web site,” Lesser told Wired.

The first grade lesson plan puts content sharing on par with theft.

“We all love to create new things – art, music, movies, paper creations, structures, even buildings! It’s great to create – as long as we aren’t stealing other people’s work. We show respect for other artists and their work when we get permission before we use their work,” the material says. “This is an important part of copyright. Sharing can be exciting and helpful and nice. But taking something without asking is mean.”

The fifth grade lesson introduces the Creative Commons license, though it distorts the legality of copying copyrighted works.

“If a song or movie is copyrighted, you can’t copy it, download it, or use it in your own work without permission,” the fifth grade worksheet reads. “However, Creative Commons allows artists to tell users how and if their work can be used by others. For example, if a musician is okay with their music being downloaded for free – they will offer it on their website as a ‘Free download.’ An artist can also let you know how you can use their work by using a Creative Commons license.”

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Economics, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Anti-piracy curriculum for elementary schools decried as ‘propaganda’

Venezuelan School Year Begins with Free Books and Laptops

By Ewan Robertson | Venezuelanalysis | September 16, 2013

Mérida – Around eight million pre and primary school children began the new Venezuelan school year today, with the government announcing the distribution of free textbooks and laptops to educational centres.

This year the government will distribute 35 million textbooks to state primary and high schools from its Bicentenary Collection, which covers the national curriculum. This marks an increase from last year when 30.75 million books were distributed under the system, and 12 million in 2011.

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro lauded the government’s preparations for the school year, stating on Saturday that policies were designed to provide “quality” education to all.

“To begin classes on Monday and take children to school, we’re going to begin handing out 35 million textbooks so that classes start with the best quality,” he said at an official event.

The government is also planning to distribute 5 million copies of the National Constitution to schools this term in order to raise awareness of the constitution’s contents and promote the values defended in its articles.

“This [Bolivarian] revolution can only be made if we fill it with love every day, if the passion of loves moves us; the purest love for our children, our parents…for our grandchildren, love for [late Venezuelan president Hugo] Chavez,” Maduro declared.

In the Venezuelan constitution, passed in a national referendum in 1999, education is described as “a human right and fundamental social duty; democratic, free, and obligatory” (Article 102). In practice education in Venezuela is free including at university level, while private educational institutions also exist.

The government will also distribute 650,000 free “Canaima” laptops to children from 1st to 6th grade this school term. A further 1.4 million will be handed out in 2014, bringing the total distributed since 2008 to 4 million.

Assembled in Venezuela, the Canaima laptops are manufactured as part of a cooperation agreement with Portugal.

Further, under the government social program “A Drop of Love for My School”, repairs were made to 1000 educational centres over the summer holidays.

The authorities of opposition controlled municipalities in the central state of Miranda also reported to have realised repairs to some schools in their areas in preparation for the new term.

Along with the distribution of materials and renovations to infrastructure, the Maduro government is launching a new children’s theatre scheme this school year. School pupils will experience a range of classes such as acting, lighting, oral narration, and music under the program, which is named after 20th century Venezuelan dramatist Cesar Rengifo.

September 17, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , | 1 Comment

Why Isn’t Closing 129 Chicago Public Schools National News?

A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by Bruce A. Dixon | February 27, 2013

If you don’t live in Chicago you might not know that the CEO and the dozens of other six figure a year mayoral cronies who run the Chicago Public Schools want to close 129 public schools this year, more than a third of the city’s total. It’s not national news for the same reason that closing 40 public schools in Philadelphia last year wasn’t national news, and massive school closings in the poorer neighborhoods of cities across the country is not news either.

It’s not news because school closings and school privatization, the end game of the bipartisan policies the Obama administration, Wall Street, the US Chamber of Commerce, a host of right wing foundations and deep pockets and hordes of politicians in both parties from the president down are pushing down the throats of communities across the country, are deeply unpopular. The American people, and especially the parents, teachers, grandparents, and other residents of poorer neighborhoods where closings and privatization are happening emphatically don’t want these things.

Even the word describing their policy, “privatization” is so vastly unpopular that they’ve taken it out of circulation altogether. The best way, our leaders imagine, to contain and curtail resistance to their deeply unpopular policies is to avoid naming them for what they are, to keep them on the down low, to not report on their implementation, and certainly to not cover any civic resistance to them.

Local elites in each city and school district concoct real or imaginary “crises” to which the solution is always firing more experienced teachers, hiring more temps in their place, instituting more high-stakes testing, closing more public schools and substituting more unaccountable (and often profitable) charter schools, frequently in the same buildings that once housed public schools. In Chicago the “crisis” is precipitated every year when the CPS (that’s Chicago Public Schools – Chicago’s never had an elected school board, they’re all mayoral appointees) honchos announce the schools are in a billion dollar hole. The Chicago Teachers Union of course, took a look over the same books and revealed that despite the host of top $100,000 a year officials whose jobs never seem to be cut, the system was nine figures in the black, not ten in the red. Naturally, local and national media didn’t report that either.

Chicago’s teachers have done what those in New York, Houston, Dallas, L.A. and others have not, and spent their union dues funding outreach and collaboration with parents across the city, so neighborhood hearings on the school closings are packed to overflowing with outraged parents, indignant local business people, angry teachers and concerned students. If CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News gave the school closings and privatization story a fraction of the coverage they gave deceptive and dishonest pro-privatization movies like Waiting For Superman and Won’t Back Down, the outrage against the move to privatize education would be unstoppable. The most coverage the wave of school closings have received lately was a misleading segment on Melissa Harris-Perry’s weekly TV show on whether school closings were “racist” or not, with no examination of the how or why they happen or the growing resistance to them.

Oceans of ink and hot air have been expended claiming that “social media” would somehow take up the slack created by the disappearance of local news gathering organizations, and how these things can somehow fuel and sustain a wave of public outrage that can topple unjust authority and make the will of the people felt. But when it comes to the war of our elite waged to privatize public education, we haven’t seen it yet.

Contact Bruce A. Dixon at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

February 27, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , | Comments Off on Why Isn’t Closing 129 Chicago Public Schools National News?