Tag Archives: schools

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.

A Tale of Two Strikes

In the 1980s I covered three Chicago teacher strikes as an education reporter for a community newspaper. Today, twenty-five years after the last strike I reported on, I am watching as a parent.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what is different about this strike, and I’m not sure that watching it from this parental angle is what makes it different.  Two things have changed: In the nineties most of the issues were around salaries and benefits. And in those days parents were largely on the sidelines and the children were in the middle .

Today, both the teachers and the Chicago Board of Education say that it’s no longer about the money. It’s about class size, standardized testing, charter schools, and teacher evaluation.  It’s about a steady stream of policies – from charter schools to more tests to abruptly shutting schools without parent involvement. Parents understand  gang boundaries; the suits downtown do not.

Parents get it. Most have experienced that hollowed out feeling on the first day of school when leaving a wide-eyed six year old in a classroom with 35 other six year-olds and one adult. We learn about “high stakes testing” when  we see the ten year old worry  over a test that will determine whether or not he or she gets into a selective enrollment middle school, which would ensure a similar enrollment in high school, which would have a direct impact on where he went to college. For some kids, it determines whether or not they go to college.

And they want more tests? Parents see how these tests shape their education long before they even have to take them. Preschools and kindergarteners suffer lockdowns with no recess, quiet lunches, no music, or dancing or loud talking while the Big Kids take the test. They practice filling in scantrons and watching the clock in first grade. I told my frustrated first grader to take his time with his math homework, and then learned he was just practicing timed tests. We understand “Race to the Top” better than our elected officials think we do.

When the 1987 strike ended,  some say it was parent outrage that forced the two sides to settle. But that happened three weeks into the strike. Parents have been angry about tests and class size for years, and seeing this taken to a national discussion has been somewhat cathartic.

On the third day of the walkout, parents from the University of Chicago Lab schools –  where Mayor Emanuel sends his kids –  joined  teachers on the picket line at the school where Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent his kids before he went off to DC.  They volunteered at the hastily organized camps in a nearby neighborhood club for parents who don’t want to cross the picket line. “Our teachers don’t get subjected to these evaluations and our kids don’t get tested the way they do in public schools,” a parent told me.

Apparently Emanuel’s disconnect extends beyond public schools teachers and parents.

These past few days have been difficult as parents scramble for short term solutions and pray for longer ones. I won’t predict how long the teachers will stay out, or what the outcome will be, but I hold out hope, remembering  that the long strike in 1987 resulted in school reform. That reform created Local School Councils (LSCs) where parents worked with teachers, they hired (and fired) their principals, and approved  the school budget. The long-term result is that parents are very involved and have a lot invested in the issues on the table. Mayor Emanuel doesn’t understand that the outrage of parents won’t come three weeks into the strike; it’s already there.

This appeared in the Christian Science Monitor’s “Modern Parenthood” column on September 12.

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/Modern-Parenthood/2012/0912/Chicago-teachers-strike-Mom-s-long-view-of-city-s-work-stoppages