Tag Archives: Arne Duncan

Canter School Makes The Nation

This week The Nation took the struggle to keep Canter Leadership Academy open nationwide. While it’s a great boost for the community fighting to keep it open, it also should heighten the debate about public education and corporate school reform.

As I pointed out in my earlier post, more and more research is surfacing that shows how closing schools has not solved any problems, financially or otherwise, and in fact has been proven to be harmful to children.

In meetings with our elected representatives they have raised the issue that many Canter students, a middle school in Hyde Park, are not from the feeder schools the school was intended to serve. Perlstein’s article supports this with testimony from many of the kids who found Canter after floundering in other schools. As one young man put it (and I’m paraphrasing), “It takes a lot for me to walk through my neighborhood with bus money in my pocket, but I do it because I want to learn something.”

Canter students plead with CPS officials not to close their school.

Canter students plead with CPS officials not to close their school.

It’s useless to point out that if we had strong schools in every neighborhood this wouldn’t be the case because these officials are more concerned with who votes for them. In fact, one local official pretty much admitted that Canter was the sacrificial lamb to keep other schools in his district open.

But Canter has an interesting history. Formerly Louis Wirth Elementary School, it opened in 1969 after completion of the new building for Kenwood High School (now Kenwood Academy and formally housed in the Wirth/Canter building). The school was meant to be a place where students from different socio-economic, and racial backgrounds from surrounding schools (Reavis, Kozminski, Shoesmith, Ray, and Murray) that fed Kenwood High School could meet each other before they would all be in school together in High School. This was the dream of Miriam G. Canter, a community activist who championed the cause of an integrated middle school, according to her son Evan.

Wirth served grades 6th through 8th. In 2002, school’s CEO Arne Duncan decided that the Middle School model was the way to go. Further, it made financial sense to consolidate the considerable resources necessary for the upper grades (counselors, algebra teachers, etc.) in one building rather than have it duplicated through all Hyde Park schools. Wirth would lose a grade (6th) in order to house the influx of 7th and 8th graders from feeder schools and be renamed Miriam G. Canter Middle School.

The Board of Ed promised to invest $1.5 million into the school, and $500,000 in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds were promised for a new science building. Of the promised $2 million, only $300,000 (half of that TIF money) found its way to Canter, according to those involved in the transition.

Despite reneged promises and lack of CPS support, Canter built an excellent program and attracted stellar teachers. As The Nation article and four hours of testimony have demonstrated, under the guidance of Dr. Collen Conlon they have carried out exactly the remit of a Middle School: it is a safe environment sensitive to the needs of kids transitioning into high school with high academic standards.

But according to CPS, Canter is “underutilized” at 58 percent with 228 students in a building that they say should house 390 (as per their 30 students in a classroom and special needs kids in a closet formula). Seventy-nine percent of its students are reading at or above state level, while 78 percent are at or above state math levels. Enrollment levels are on the rise, and the mobility rate is relatively low at 10 percent.

The relevant fact for Canter is that Barbara Byrd Bennett has decided that the K-8 model is what CPS should be following, similar to the way Arne Duncan did the opposite just ten years ago. And, since we’ve had five CEOs in just four years, does it make sense to instigate this massive upheaval in the lives of these middle schoolers because she is the flavor of the month?

Further, it’s not clear whether the trend to eliminate middle schools for K-8 schools is based on sound research. A five-year longitudinal study of 40,883 eighth-grade students in the Philadelphia City School District in the concluded that the “higher student achievement in math and reading associated with K-8 schools has more to do with student demographics, grade size and the school transition issue than with the K-8 grade structure.”

Bennett was brought here for the scorched earth policy she initiated in Detroit, where 124 school district properties languished on the market at the end of 2012. Beyond Chicago’s deplorable policy of revolving door CEOs, why should our children suffer such a massive change when it’s unclear she will even stick around (especially since she’s still registered to vote in Cleveland.)

We need to slow down the trend from middle schools to K-8 as much as stop the massive closures due to be wrapped up May 22.

 

Busy week for education in the news….

At long last, it seems that education is making headline news across the country. Unfortunately, it’s not good news. Perhaps we can thank Rahm Emanuel for his insistence on closing a record 54 schools  while “turning around” 11 even though schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett thought the system could only handle 40 closings, according to Newstips‘ Curtis Black. WBEZ reports that school closings will not save money and in fact will cost $25 million a year for the next 30 years, while research continues to demonstrate that school closings in fact do more harm than good. (See the Washington Post and Education Weekly.) Ironically, the Education Weekly article is headlined “Proceed with Caution,” a statement Emanuel does not understand.

Standardized testing is also in the news, and fingers are once again pointed to schools’ chief Arne Duncan. His “Race to the Top” put more emphasis on test scores, despite continued evidence that social issues like poverty contribute more to a failing system than inadequate teaching. Headlines are not only lumping President Obama’s policies with Bush, but Duncan’s much touted Chicago method of closing schools is now proven to be a failed policy.

Are you listening Mr. President?

Do They Really Want to Hear the Voice of Parents?

 “I wish we had more demand. I wish we had a lot more parents … demanding a world-class education—not just on the policy side, but on the advocacy side.”       Arne Duncan, Education Week

I have to wonder sometimes if I’m on the same planet as my elected officials. How many parents did I see out on the picket lines with Chicago Public Schools teachers last September demanding quality conditions for quality schools? Who was at those rallies at city hall when Rahm shoved through the longer school day with no supports or programs for the additional time? And the candlelight vigils around closed schools?private publiv

Meanwhile, WBEZ reported that while CPS plans to close upwards of 100 schools they have applications to open 14 new contract and charter schools. Further, in a grant to the Gates Foundation, they say they plan on opening 60 charter schools in the next five years.

The article gives us a nice bit of math:

Right now, 14 percent of CPS’s 681 schools are privately run charter and contract schools.If the district closes 100 schools, and then opens 60 new charters in the next five years, the percentage of privately run schools could jump up to 27 percent. In a grant application to the Gates Foundation, CPS leaders said they planned to open 100 new schools in the next five years, 60 of them charters.

At the same time I am in conversations with a parent who moved into a district where the rumors are flying that the school will close.  She’s concerned that the school next to her is a Level 2 school and if her child begins in the district she’s in and it closes she’ll be shuttled to a new school next year.

And Arne Duncan has the nerve to suggest parents don’t care?

Mr. President, Can We Talk about Education?

Dear President Obama,

I am still so very glad to wake up every morning to find you are still president. I worked hard to help make that happen, especially because the Affordable Care Act made a difference to me as it did for millions of people. But I’d like to talk to you about something else that is very important to me: education.

Education is not your strong point. Now, I understand you’re pretty busy with Iran and the fiscal cliff and all of this nonsense with Generals Petraeus and Allen, but that’s why you appoint people who you trust to implement what is best for the country. So I need to clue you in on something that millions of public school teachers, parents, and scholars already know: Arne Duncan is not your guy.

I can tell you this personally as my son briefly went to the same Chicago Public School as the Duncan children. With my own ears I heard him scold our PTA for not raising enough money to hire aides for his child’s classroom. “This is how public schools are going to pay for things,” he insisted. “Other schools are doing it and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

At the time I thought, “This is the philosophy of the guardian of public education in Chicago? If parents want aides in the classroom they must pay for it?”

So last May, when Chicago schools’ chief Jean Claude Brizard stunned a panel of educators by announcing he was in favor of using federal funds (i.e., vouchers) for private education, I was not surprised. His predecessor – now the person leading education policy in this country – had already determined that the future of public schools is privatization. In Chicago, Arne Duncan’s “Renaissance 2010” accelerated the privatization of the public school system by blaming teachers for low performing schools and expanding the number of charter schools.

Now he’s taken that campaign nationwide.  “Race to the Top” told schools they had to compete for federal funds. His “reform” policies opened the door to Astroturf organizations like Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform. As Bill Ayers and Diane Ravitch have already pointed out, the “reforms” pushed by these organizations fly in the face of research on key issues like standardized testing and the impact of poverty on learning. They are chasing out good teachers and looking for private organizations to run schools.

Mr. President, you said you would protect our senior citizens and not privatize social security; why won’t you protect our children? I thought the idea of a public school system was that it makes sense to have an educated population, and that education is something that should be a basic right and not a privilege.

I spent most Saturdays in October in a swing state trying to get you re-elected. I spent three three days before the election in Wisconsin getting out the vote. Do you know why? Yes, to re-elect you, but also I because I believe in the democratic process. It warmed my heart to see mothers making their children vote, to see a young woman spend an hour explaining to her younger sister why it was important to go vote.

That is what democracy looks like: me, pounding the pavements for weeks and those young people going out to vote. It’s not about heavily-funded Astroturf organizations with their own political agendas. The problem is, Mr. Duncan is listening to hedge fund managers like Bruce Rauner and crowing union-busters like Jonah Edelman while shutting the rest of us out.

You have promised to listen to us, the people who worked hard for you, this time. Take a look at your own children to see how large their classroom is and how many tests they take and how many children in their class go to school hungry. Do what you’re good at: read, listen, ask around, think – and I mean really think – about the meaning and future of public education.

Then have a chat with Arne Duncan about the purpose and meaning of public education. As president, you set the tone and policy. It’s time you educate yourself on education.