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The charter contradiction

Barbara Byrd-Bennett talks about reestablishing trust between CPS and parents and communities – then she turns around and says that closing neighborhood schools has nothing to do with expanding charters.

Since nobody believes that, continuing to repeat it doesn’t seem like a very good way for the new CPS chief to build trust.

Recent revelations by the Chicago Tribune show that the rhetorical disconnect between school closings and charter openings is part of a conscious political strategy.

A CPS document — which “lays out multiple scenarios for closing neighborhood schools and opening privately-run charters,” according to the Tribune — notes the main contradiction in the administration’s claim that closings are necessary due to underutilization and budget constraints: big plans to open scores of new charter schools.

This “core prong of CPS’s academic improvement strategy” – charter expansion – creates a “perceived inconsistency,” according to the document. Therefore large-scale charter expansion must be held off until after large-scale neighborhood school closings are accomplished.

Indeed, the problem is that charter expansion reveals that closing schools isn’t at all about “right-sizing” or saving money – it’s all about privatization.


Byrd-Bennett has emphasized that the September 10 document – and specifically its “pre-decisional discussion” of closing 95 schools, mainly on the South and West Sides – predates her administration.  Byrd-Bennett was chief education officer at the time; she was named CEO a month later.

But Byrd-Bennett’s first proposal, a five-year moratorium on school closings, comes straight out of the September 10 document, according to the Tribune.

Besides helping to sell the legislature on an extension of the deadline for announcing school closings, the document shows, the moratorium has the political utility of creating a sense of separation between school closings and charter openings.

The document reveals a highly politicized approach to implementing school policy – a hallmark of the Emanuel administration, which has seen paid protestors and huge media campaigns attacking teachers.  The document proposes establishing a ‘war room” to monitor community opposition to closings, and outlines possible steps to push back against that opposition.

“Community engagement” is just another strategy to try to disarm the opposition.

And while Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett use their new administrations as political cover, claiming a disconnect with previous policies, another Tribune story shows the continuity of the current administration’s agenda with nearly two decades of failed school policies.


It turns out the “independent” commission appointed by Byrd-Bennett to get community input on school closings is being staffed by consultants with long ties to charter boosters.

The Civic Consulting Alliance, an offshoot of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, is advising the commission but not advocating for charters, the group’s executive director told the Tribune.

The Civic Committee itself, of course, is a major charter school backer.  The group was behind CPS’s Renaissance 2010 program and founded New Schools for Chicago in 2004 to promote and finance charter expansion.  CCA’s role in promoting charter schools goes back further.

According to a CCA promotional brochure, the group “played a major role” in the 1995 transition to mayoral control over CPS.  Ten years later, “CCA worked with the Civic Committee in helping to launch Renaissance 2010, an unprecedented effort to open 100 new charter, contract and performance schools.”  The other part of Ren10’s agenda was the goal of closing 60 “failing” schools.

Ironically, two Civic Committee reports – Left Behind (2003) and Still Left Behind (2009) – obliterated administration claims of progress at CPS in the late ’90s and under Renaissance 2010.  (The solution, according to both reports, was more charters.)

CCA has consulted for the city and its agencies on hundreds of projects and assisted CPS with a range of management issues.  Along the way it helped lay the groundwork for charter schools’ entry into Chicago.


§ In 1995, CCA helped CPS develop the process for launching charters, including the application process, financing, selection and startup.

§ In 2004, CCA produced a business plan for New Schools for Chicago, which calls itself “the catalyst of the charter movement in Chicago.”

§ In 2005, CCA developed the RFP process for CPS’s Office of New Schools to solicit charter proposals.  (Yes, all those level-3, non-performing charters were vetted under a process developed by CCA.)


More recently the group helped CPS analyze the teachers contract – and recruited a Fortune 500 executive with no education experience to oversee school closings and charter openings for CPS.

Now Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett pretend they’re doing something new and urgent.  The reality is that instead of closing 60 schools and opening 100 charters, like Renaissance 2010 did, they want to close 100 schools and open 60 charters, as promised in the Gates Compact.

When Emanuel says, speaking of the need to close schools, that “over the years, what could have been done over a decade…was not done, it was all postponed,” what is he talking about?  Where has he been?

If Byrd-Bennett is serious about restoring trust – if it’s not just yet another talking point – stopping this kind of game-playing would be a good first step.

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Category: CPS, school closings, school facilities

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One Response

  1. Valerie F. Leonard says:

    Curtis, I apologize for making a duplicate comment in the comment sections of two separate blog entries. I really think it is important that your readers know about two grassroots petition efforts to address school closings on a national and state level. The first petition is to the President, asking him to stop education policies that promote mass school closings while expanding charters. The second is to the Governor and State Legislature asking them to create a master education facilities planning board. Regardless of where you stand on the issues of mass closings and rapid expansion of charters, you should be concerned that such drastic measures have not resulted in greater school quality. All schools could benefit from school districts taking the time to adequately plan.

    Here’s the link to the petition to the President.

    Here’s the link to the petition to the Governor and State Legislature.

    Please sign and share both petitions. If we get 25,000 signatures on the petition to the President by January 30, he will provide a public response on his We the People website.

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