Tag Archives: CPS

Is Public Education a “Radical” Idea?

At a recent family picnic, an elderly uncle growled at me for wearing a “radical political” t-shirt. My shirt has the popular internet meme “Every Chicago Public School is My School,” which accurately captured the groundswell of anger at Rahm Emanuel’s closing of 50 neighborhood schools. Every schoolIn fact, when Parents4Teachers spokesperson Erica Clark read out the names of the school at the CPS meeting finalizing this deal (the Board did not; they voted them closed in an omnibus vote that took all of one second) people began shouting “my school” when they heard their school’s name. Very shortly the entire room was shouting “My school!” after every name read.

I’ve been wearing this shirt a lot because it gets such a response, mainly “I like your shirt!” But to my uncle I took the opportunity to say, “It’s a sad day in this country when public education is a ‘radical’ concept, isn’t it Uncle Moe?”

Yesterday Catalyst reported that a $20 million no-bid contract went to an organization with connections to CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett. This comes as no surprise to CPS teacher and parent Timothy Meehan who claims in his SunTimes commentary that CPS is starving schools n order to privatize.

This corporate reform of education is part of the neoliberal viewpoint that says that school systems should be run like businesses. There’s an inherent problem with this view: it collides with a societal view that democratic ideals include a thriving public school system that offers opportunities. As we go to hearings and protests and file lawsuits, we need to keep alive the question of what is meant by democracy and what is really meant by freedom.

Freedom is not throwing public education open to the free market so parents are free to “choose” a charter school; freedom is knowing that your child can walk to school in a safe neighborhood.

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?

Divesting in Neighborhoods IS Racist

The first comment Rahm Emmanuel had about school closings was that he wasn’t going to get pulled into name-calling and “schoolyard taunts.” The intent of that was to further polarize the city by throwing it back to Chicago Teacher’s Union president Karen Lewis. Further, it allowed Barbara Byrd Bennett to get all indignant as a “woman of color.” But as Curtis Black points out, institutionalized racism is a whole other ballgame. We all know that BBB is taking the hit for Rahm, and her attempts to downplay the impact on the community by staging her a counterwalk to the “Walk the Walk” campaign shows she is far removed.

Perhaps he didn’t count on the organization of parents citywide who are arming themselves with facts. The recent protest walk conducted by Leif Ericson Elementary Scholastic Academy in Garfield Park highlighted questionable CPS planning. Pegged for closing, Ericson is at 3600 W. 5th. The receiving school, Charles Sumner Math and Science Academy, is at 4320 W. 5th Avenue, just sic blocks away, right? Wrong! Fifth Ave. is intersected by both Garfield Park and the Eisenhower Expressway. The sidewalks crossing these busy intersections have no parkways, and cars entering and leaving the expressway are mere inches from the sidewalk. The thought of primary school children prancing along or dawdling and daydreaming or running along the curb would give any parent nightmares.

Parents and students walk past one of the many abandoned buildings on the proposed CPS route to the "welcoming" school.

Parents and students walk past one of the many abandoned buildings on the proposed CPS route to the “welcoming” school.

Further, the remaining blocks are lined with abandoned buildings, and according to parents, as many as four gangs intersect in this area. On the map it may look short as the bird flies, but it’s well over a mile. I’m a hardy walker – I can easily do a mile in 15 minutes. I walked briskly for 20 minutes and found myself two blocks shy of Sumner when I realized I had to turn around to get back to my car or I’d miss a meeting.

CPS bounces back from their position: first it’s about lack of funds, then underutilization and poorly performing schools. So why close Ericson? Ericson’s reading scores have been on the rise since 2007 – from 41 percent reading at or above state levels to 77 percent. In Math they’ve gone from 58 percent to 79 percent. Ericson is at 65 percent capacity (according to CPS, whose utilization calculations would have autistic kids in a closet and no art rooms, libraries, or computer labs), and while the receiving school appears to have a low enrollment (28 percent utilization) and higher test scores (94 percent in reading and 83 percent in Math) the mobility rate is twice that of CPS average at nearly 34 percent. This means that test scores are unreliable since they don’t necessarily reflect the same students. Ericson’s mobility rate is 16.5 percent and below the CPS average. This reflects a stable school.

The decisions made by CPS do not make sense when looking at these schools on the ground. We have food deserts in these neighborhoods, and now we are creating education deserts. Strong schools make for strong neighborhoods, and if we continue to remove them people will eventually stop sending their kids to overcrowded schools and start clamoring for “choice,” thus allowing Rahm to open more charter schools. Or they pick up and move to Aurora or Kenosha, but Rahm doesn’t care about that because it’s clear from the 250 people marching in Garfield Park amid a cacophony of horn-blowing support – firefighters, CTA bus drivers, lone drivers in cars – his approval rating of 19 percent will only go down. I go back to my point … is this racist or whose interests does he have at heart?

Rahm and Bennett have posited that they will not “short change” CPS students by leaving them with the status quo. However, no one has pointed out that investing in education – a logical principal in a democratic society – is an option as well. Let’s make sure that his education policies become synonymous with the blizzard of ’79 that bounced Bilandic out of office.

Wal-Mart Funds Charters While Running CPS School Closure Hearings.

Note: This post was from February25, 2013

How hypocritical is it that CPS says that school closings have nothing to do with charter schools – yet the Walton Family Foundation (who have made CPS the largest recipient of funds for charter schools in their massive funding around the country, according to the Daily Kos) are running the community outreach hearings on school closings?

I attended last Monday’s hearing for the Burnham district (my district) and it was somewhat surreal. The church at 60th and Michigan was packed, including the balcony, and it was  standing room only. Three CPS officials sat at a table while two representatives from the 44 schools in the district were called to the microphone alphabetically where their pleas were met with raucous cheers from the audience.

School ClosingsSuddenly, about halfway through the school list, the moderator announced that if your school had spoken they should retire to the basement for “break-out” sessions. Now, not only was this diluting the support for schools most at risk, but these “break-out sessions” were nothing more than a PowerPoint presentation informing the community that the process for “right-sizing” these schools (I hate it when people create new verbs) was going to be done in a way that addressed everyone’s concerns. CPS would protect children from gang crossfire as well as preserve every special program in the school. (And if you believe that ….)

Beyond the chaos of people speaking over each other to one of the two “session leaders” – who by the way don’t work for CPS and were allegedly taking notes and trying to hear above the din, was the acceptance that schools are closing. It quickly then became every school for himself/herself. “Here’s why you shouldn’t close MY school” became the theme.

My favorite part of the night when was when Joy Clendenning, a member of Hyde Park Community Area Residents Empowering Schools (HPCARES) and parent of four children who attend three different CPS schools,  stood up and outshouted everyone to urge parents not to fall prey to the Board’s divide and conquer strategy.

It’s also likely that CPS is strategizing by starting with a big list and hoping people will be relieved when they cut it in half.

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.