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More police in schools?

New federal funds for safe schools should go for more counselors, social workers and psychologists, and not more police in schools, several groups are arguing.

Students and parents from across the city will hold a press conference Monday, January 21, 2 p.m. at CPS headquarters, 125 S. Clark to make their case.

Participating are Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, POWER-PAC, and the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance.

President Obama has proposed spending $150 million on police “school resource officers,” counselors and psychologists.

“We have ten full-time school security guards and two full-time armed school police, but we don’t even have one school psychologist,” said VOYCE student leader Ahkeem Wright in a release.

A CTU study last year found CPS was staffed far below recommended levels for school nurses, social workers, counselors, and psychologists.

CPS’s approach “has led to record-public spending, stark racial disparities and the overuse of school-based arrests for misdemeanor offenses – even as homicide and gun violence in the surrounding communities skyrocket,” the groups maintain.

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Closing schools without a plan

With the school utilization commission issuing an interim report – and schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett responding to a parents group’s inquiry about school closings – the task force created last year by the legislature to monitor school facilities policy in Chicago is holding the first of four community hearings on Saturday.

The Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force hearing takes place at 10 a.m. on Saturday, January 12 at the New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, 4301 W. Washington.

While it’s likely to provide a forum for wide-ranging community concerns about CPS school closing plans, the hearing is focused on gathering public input for the draft ten-year facilities master plan that’s due May 1.

As mandated by the legislature, that process is supposed to include input from every school in the district on its long-term educational vision and facility needs.  But CPS has yet to unveil any plans to engage school communities in the process, said Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together, chair of CEFTF’s master planning committee.

That could be because CPS is focused on announcing a huge wave of school closings – before a long-term plan is done.

Community members “have told the task force that doing more school closings and drastic interventions before there’s a long-range plan in place is ‘putting the cart before the horse’ and just doesn’t make sense,” Carroll said.

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In its interim report, the school utilization commission appointed by Byrd-Bennett in December calls on CPS to spare high-scoring and improving schools with low enrollments.  And in order to reduce the risk of violent incidents, it calls for no closings of high schools.

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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.

Politicized

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.

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More questions: charters, partners, and planning

(This is the second of two posts – part one looks at questions for the Commission on School Utilization including enrollment numbers and savings from closing schools.)

 

Mayor Emanuel, CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett and utilization commission chair Frank Clark have taken the position that “right-sizing” the district has nothing to do with the district’s expansion of charter schools.

One has to do with declining enrollment and snowballing deficits, the other with choice and quality, according to this view.

The argument would work better if CPS’s enrollment and utilization numbers held up; if school closings actually saved significant amounts of money; and if charters consistently offered quality rather than undermining most parents’ first choice – a quality neighborhood school.

Even then, though, it’s hard to separate the proliferation of charters from enrollment declines at neighborhood schools.

[Based on revelations in Tuesday’s Tribune, the separation of school closings and charter expansions is purely strategic; when officials say they are unrelated, they are lying.]

 

A hundred new schools

In the past decade, as CPS lost 30,000 students, it’s opened more than 100 new schools with space for nearly 50,000 additional students, according to a new report from CTU.

While CPS closed scores of schools during that period, the number of schools in the district went from 580 to over 680.

“To the extent excess capacity exists, the main driver is the district’s aggressive charter proliferation campaign,” according to the report.  “The current ‘utilization crisis’ has been manufactured largely to justify the replacement of neighborhood schools by privatized charters.”

Throughout Renaissance 2010, “there was no facilities plan” and facilities decisions were “ad hoc and haphazard,” according to CTU’s report.  Adding to the confusion was the practice of approving charter schools without specifying their location, and some charters’ practice of repeatedly relocating their schools.

“CPS has opened charters haphazardly, without considering how they affect nearby schools,” according to a Sun Times editorial.

As Catalyst points out, new charter schools have been concentrated in the community areas with the largest number of schools listed as “underutilized” by CPS.  North Lawndale, with the most schools now rated as underutilized, has gotten more charter schools than any other community.

In general, those schools aren’t outperforming neighborhood schools, according to Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance.

 

A new round of failure

While school closings and new charter schools have been concentrated in low-income African American communities, these students are actually better served by neighborhood schools, according to CTU, citing reading score gains 10 percent higher in traditional schools than in charters in such areas.

Meanwhile students in closing schools have suffered mobility-related academic setbacks, faced transportation and security issues, and landed in worse-performing schools – while achievement rates in receiving schools have been adversely impacted.

It looks like the very students whom CPS has failed for a generation – whose schools have been systematically neglected and underresourced – are once again being failed.

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Questions for the commission: enrollment, finances

There’s an awful lot of confusion around the CPS’s new commission on school utilization.

There’s confusion over administration claims of an enrollment crisis, as WBEZ has detailed – and, as at least one CPS official has acknowledged, there are strikingly different ways of estimating the number of “empty seats.”  There’s confusion on the part of parents and educators testifying before the commission with no idea whether their schools are threatened, as the Tribune notes.

There’s confusion on whether CPS’s five-year moratorium on school closings only covers school closings due to underutilization; whether a shelved-for-now plan to have charters take over neighborhood schools will be revived; how much money closing schools really saves; and, especially, just why CPS continues to roll out new charters while citing enrollment declines and budget deficits to insist on closing neighborhood schools.

There’s also widespread confusion over just how independent this “independent commission” is.

Even among the people naming and chairing the commission, there’s confusion.  CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett says the purpose is to come up with a list of schools to close; commission chair Frank Clark has repeatedly promised only a “broad set of recommendations” for how to address the issue.

In one recent Tribune article, Byrd-Bennett said she’s expecting a list of schools to close from the commission, and CPS spokesperson Becky Carroll said it’s “up to them [the commissioners] – we don’t know at this point” what they’ll recommend.

Behind the commission’s charge is a lot of talk, especially from Byrd-Bennett, about restoring trust.  But merely delivering a list of school closings —  without taking seriously widespread concerns about the assumptions behind CPS’s policy of closing schools — will just engender more cynicism.

Is the commission going to acknowledge and address serious questions about CPS’s facilities policies, or is it just providing political cover for a foregone conclusion?

 

A rapidly shrinking crisis

“The accuracy of how CPS calculates school utilization” is one of the “key issues the commission must consider,” according to a Sun Times editorial last month.

Indeed.  In  mid-October, Mayor Emanuel was saying there are 200,000 “empty seats” in CPS – 600,000 seats for 400,000 students; by the end of October, the crisis had eased by half, with only 100,000 empty seats out of 500,000 total.

Maybe there was a rush sale of classroom chairs?

Then new census numbers were rolled out, with CPS touting Chicago’s loss of 145,000 school-age children over the past decade.  But CTU pointed out that CPS’s actual enrollment had declined by just 31,500 in that period – during which CPS added 50,000 new seats, mainly in charter schools.

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On school closings, a political ploy

The promise of a five-year “moratorium” on school closings – “announced” by new CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett and “endorsed” by Mayor Emanuel – has all the fingerprints of a master at political gamesmanship.

The Tribune is certainly right that the offer is intended “to help sell drastic school closings this year.”  And CTU financial secretary Kristine Mayle is certainly right that it’s intended to push the closings as far as possible from the 2015 mayoral election, as she tells the Sun Times.

It would also seem to take away a major issue that drives the grassroots school reform movement here, which is the biggest challenge to Emanuel’s domination.  It even co-opts their call for a moratorium.

But for all its political oomph, it’s lacking in other areas – including basic logic, as Julie Woestehoff of PURE points out.

***

If “chaotic, disorganized closings are such a bad idea,” as Emanuel said in backing the idea, why demand yet one more round of them before you agree to stop, she asks at PURE’s blog.  “It sounds as if the mayor is saying, ‘I promise to stop beating you after I get in this last round of punches.'”

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On the ballot: elected school board

In the wake of a dramatic school strike — and just prior to the anticipated announcement of scores of school closings — residents of 327 precincts in 35 wards will vote next month on an advisory referendum calling for an elected school board.

With 77 percent of Chicagoans backing an elected school board according to a Chicago Tribune poll, the challenge facing Communities Organized for Democracy in Education, the coalition of groups backing the referendum, is making sure voters know about the referendum and go to the end of the ballot to vote on it, said Austin schools activist Dwayne Truss.

On the West Side, State Representative La Shawn Ford has sponsored two forums on the referendum, with a third scheduled for Monday, October 29 at 6 p.m. at Carey AME Church, 1448 S. Homan.

Ford, who’s sponsoring legislation establishing a legislative task force to study the issue, has invited supporters of the referendum as well as CPS and Democrats for Education Reform, the group that paid for Mayor Emanuel’s post-strike TV ad blitz.  CPS and DFER have declined to participate, Truss said.

Tuesday forum features Karen Lewis

On Tuesday night, CODE is holding a forum on the referendum at the Logan Square Auditorium,  2539 N. Kedzie (7 p.m., October 23), featuring Karen Lewis, Ben Joravsky, and Pauline Lipman of UIC and Teachers for Social Justice.

Tuesday’s forum will be broadcast live on CAN-TV 27.

At Ford’s October 8 forum, Lipman reviewed findings from her 2011 study of elected and appointed boards.  Chicago’s school board is the only appointed board in the state and a rarity in the nation, where 96 percent of school boards are elected, she said.

Elected boards “tend to look more like the people who elect them,” Lipman said.  “They have parents and teachers and community organizers and education experts.”  Chicago’s board “has corporate CEOs and bankers and real estate developers,” she said.

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School-to-jail march targets CPS suspension rates

With new research once again confirming that CPS leads the nation in school suspensions — including suspension rates for special education students – youth groups will protest the “school pushout crisis” and the “school-to-prison pipeline” tomorrow.

CPS students and parents from Blocks Together and Access Living‘s Advance Youth Leadership Power, along with other community groups, will hold a press conference at Crane High School, 2245 W. Jackson, at 12:15 p.m. (Saturday, September 29) and march to the Audy Home juvenile detention center, 1100 S. Hamilton.

Youth activists want to physically dramatize the school-to-prison pipeline by marching from a school to a detention center, said Ana Mercado of BT.

Crane also represents “a neighborhood school that was underresourced for years before it was put on the list to be phased out,” she said.  “We see school closings as one of many forms of student pushout.”  (Other “pushout” factors include suspensions and expulsions, lack of social workers and counselors, and a curriculum heavily geared toward performance on standardized tests.)

At the Audy Home, activists will discuss efforts to reform the Cook County Juvenile Justice system.

CPS leads in suspensions

Illinois had the largest gap between black and white suspension rates of any state, as well as the highest rate of suspensions for black students with disabilities, in a new report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

CPS led urban districts by a wide margin in the percent of black male students with disabilities who were suspended at least once – a whopping 72.5 percent.

That caught the attention of activists in AYLP, a disability-rights youth leadership group, said organizer Candace Coleman.  AYLP and Blocks Together are part of the High Hopes Campaign, which is pressing CPS to implement restorative justice practices in all its schools.

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        By Stephen Franklin Community Media Workshop   A 3-year-old child died on a plane from Chicago to Poland. This, Magdalena Pantelis instantly knew, was a story her readers would care about. But she needed more detail to write about it for the Polish Daily News, the nation’s oldest daily newspaper in Polish, founded Jan. […]
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