school reform – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.12 Corporate lobbying group draws fire http://www.newstips.org/2013/08/corporate-lobbying-group-draws-fire/ Thu, 08 Aug 2013 00:17:36 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7589 A broad coalition of labor, community, environmental and faith groups will protest the 40th anniversary annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC.

The meeting takes place August 7 to 9 at the Palmer House, 17 E. Monroe; the rally takes place there on Thursday, August 8 at 12 noon.

Long a major but shadowy behind-the-scenes player, ALEC came to prominence in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s killing, when the group’s role working with the NRA to promote Stand Your Ground legislation became known.

With funding by major corporations and membership by one-third of the nation’s state legislators, ALEC provides model legislation in a wide array of areas.

The group joins corporate America’s economic agenda with a right -wing social agenda, according to In These Times editor Joel Bleifuss.  He joined Rey Lopez-Calderon of Common Cause and Brian Echols of Concerned Black Men on a recent episode of Chicago Newsroom to discuss ALEC.  (Watch it here.)

“They’re a great example of the power of Corporate America in American politics,” Bleifuss says.

In 2011 In These Times first exposed ALEC’s use of model bills — despite its tax exempt status which prohibits legislative activity — to undermine public employee unions and privatize government.

Charge tax fraud

“We think it’s tax fraud,” Lopez-Calderon says.  Common Cause and the Center for Media and Democracy recently filed a complaint with the IRS charging ALEC with filing fraudulent tax returns.

ALEC has gone after collective bargaining rights, clean energy legislation, and campaign finance reform, Newsroom panelists relate.  The group is behind a series of restrictive voter ID laws as well as SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial “Show Your Papers” law.

Echols notes that, on behalf of private prison corporations, ALEC has pushed the War on Drugs’ harsh sentencing laws, targetting African Americans and vastly increasing the nation’s prison population.  Now they’re pushing laws that will increase the detention of immigrants on behalf of the same corporations, Lopez-Calderon notes.

“They’ve viewed this as a long-term way for corporations to make money,” he says, adding that ALEC helped create the Corrections Corporation of America.

Schools and prisons

ALEC is also behind efforts to push charter schools and the privatization of public education.  In Illinois the group’s model bill created the Illinois Charter School Commission, which has the power to approve charter applications that have been turned down by local school districts.

One major beneficiary is K12, a nationwide purveyor of virtual charter schools now moving into Illinois, Echols notes.

“My view is they’ve got them coming and going,” he says — making money providing inferior education on the front end, then making money from incarcerating young people who can’t find gainful employment and are forced into the street economy.

According to Lopez-Calderon, ALEC’s guiding light is Margaret Thatcher, who pioneered the idea of finding ways for corporations to profit by taking over public sector functions.  (He adds that “in terms of Thatcherism,” Mayor Emanuel “is lockstep with this agenda.”)

Recently ITT reported on ALEC’s promotion of scores of  laws to erode wage and labor standards by undermining minimum wage, prevailing wage, and paid sick leave protections.

Senator Dick Durbin has announced he’ll hold hearings this fall on the role of ALEC and the NRA in spreading Stand Your Ground laws.

For extensive background, see the Center for Media and Democracy’s website, ALEC Exposed.

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Teach For America alumni organize ‘resistance’ http://www.newstips.org/2013/07/teach-for-america-alumni-organize-resistance/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/07/teach-for-america-alumni-organize-resistance/#comments Sat, 13 Jul 2013 01:42:23 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7562 In a major step for a growing “countermovement,” Teach For America alumni and teachers are meeting at a conference here this weekend to organize “resistance to TFA’s efforts to promote corporate education reform.”

Meanwhile  CPS, which is laying off hundreds of teachers, is stepping up its financial support for the controversial organization, which provides graduates of top colleges with cursory educational training and places them in classrooms in low-income urban and rural areas.

An assembly on Organizing Resistance to Teach For America takes place Sunday, July 14, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at Uplift Community High School, 900 W. Wilson.  It’s part of the national Free Minds, Free People conference, aimed at “promot[ing] education as a tool for liberation.”

Among the organizers is a group of New Orleans TFAers who formed a Teachers Roundtable to foster community discussions after they realized their training hadn’t prepared them for issues of racial justice and community displacement, according to the American Prospect.

The Sunday event aims to focus the efforts of an emerging group of TFA alumni and others who are critical of the organization’s role backing privatization and the charter school movement, said Kerry Kretchmar, an assistant professor of education at Carroll University in Wisconsin.  Kretchmar was a TFA teacher-intern in New York City from 2004 to 2006.

Contributing to inequality

While TFA “uses the language of the civil rights movement” and talks about ending educational inequities, the group “perpetuates systemic inequalities”  including the lack of certified teachers in low-income urban schools, Kretchmar said.  And while it started out a quarter century ago filling teacher shortages in poor districts, today its “corps members” are replacing veteran teachers.

TFA spokesperson Becky O’Neill said in an e-mail that research “shows that corps members’ impact on student achievement exceeds that of other teachers in the same high-needs schools, even when compared with veteran and fully certified teachers.”  According to Kretchmar, peer-reviewed research doesn’t back up that claim.  (More on the question here.)

It’s a sensitive subject in Chicago, where hundreds of teachers were displaced when Mayor Emanuel closed 50 schools recently, and hundreds more are expected to lose their jobs with cuts to school budgets now under consideration.

Meanwhile, Substance reports, CPS has increased its contract for TFA to refer teacher-interns to the district from $600,000 to $1.59 million, raising the number of first-year TFAers to 325, up from 200 two years ago.

That money is for referrals (some call it a “finder’s fee”) and for on-going support; CPS also pays TFA teacher-interns the full salary of a starting teacher.  (CPS did not respond immediately to a request for comment.)

It’s not like it’s particularly hard to find available teachers in Chicago.

No teacher shortage

“In Chicago, we don’t have a teacher shortage; we have a huge population of veteran teachers who’ve been thrown out of their jobs,” CTU president Karen Lewis told Newstips.  “It’s primarily middle-aged black women.  And it’s very difficult for them to find open positions.”

Chicago is not the only place that’s happening, either.

O’Neill argues that in Chicago, hiring decisions are made by principals, who “continue to hire our corps members based on the impact they make in the classroom.”

But Lewis point out that with the district’s shift to per-pupil funding, principals have a strong financial incentive to favor lower-salaried first-year teachers over those with experience — even though research shows that teachers with five or more years of experience are far more effective than novices.

She adds that TFA has raised hundreds of millions of dollars from pro-privatization foundations; the group’s total assets in 2011 topped $350 million, according to the Prospect.  “So why is CPS subsidizing them?  It’s ridiculous.”

Targeting communities

In May, local teacher/blogger Katie Osgood raised alarms about a TFA statement that “by 2017, we aim to create a network of eight or more neighborhoods with exceptional levels of student achievement….

“Through a focused influx of corps members and alumni, we will reach critical mass in the Near West Side, East/West Garfield Park, North/South Lawndale, Archer Heights, Brighton Park, Gage Park, and Englewood.”  The statement was included in materials for a gala, $10,000-a-table fundraiser at the Drake Hotel.

Osgood wrote that TFA was targeting “the very same communities being traumatized” by massive school closings.

“And TFA wants to go into those communities after mass layoffs — where many quality veteran teachers will be displaced and many may not be rehired,” among them many teachers with deep roots in the community – “and offer them uncertified, poorly-trained novices, many of whom have never even been to the Midwest, much less know the varied individual neighborhoods of Chicago.

“It’s like TFA is kicking these communities while they are down.”

Commented O’Neill, “Based on the success that our corps members have had teaching in some of our highest-need communities and feedback from principals in these areas, we’re open to the idea that it might be worth increasing the number of corps members we recruit, train, and support to partner with kids and families in these communities in particular.”

Since up to 70 percent of Chicago TFAers work in charter schools, including the politically-connected Nobel and UNO chains, it could be yet another sign that the school closings weren’t about “underutilization” or saving money after all — they were to lay the ground for charter expansion.

Guinea pigs

More recently, Osgood has scored TFA for using CPS summer school classes — for students who failed courses during the school year — as training sites for their interns.

“These are the children most in need of expert teaching and support; many may have or eventually may need special education services,” she wrote. “Instead, TFA partners with certain schools where students are used as practice tools the entire day, as novices have their very first experiences working with a group of children.”

According to Osgood, a veteran teacher she knows reported his class was taken over, and he “was told to sit silently in the back of the classroom” as “five novice TFAers fumbled their way through lessons for four whole weeks of a five-week summer term.”

“They are using my kids as guinea pigs,” he told Osgood.

“The organization is working to deprofessionalize teaching,” charges T. Jameson Brewer, a former TFAer who’s now a PhD candidate at Univerity of Illinois at Urbana-Champagn

“The assumption is that anybody can teach — that if you went to a good school and got good grades, then you can teach,” he said.  “I can assure you that’s not the case.”

Brewer took a curious route into TFA.  After university training he was certified as a secondary school history teacher in Georgia — but at the height of the recession, a two-year job search was fruitless.  He joined TFA thinking, “anything to get in a classroom,” he said.

Burnout

He took notes and even volunteered as a staffer for summer training institute his second year to gain more insight.  (TFA trainers are not a whole lot more experienced than their trainees.)   His account of his experience will be published in a forthcoming issue of Critical Education devoted to TFA.

He’s also written on burnout among TFAers: he thinks the combination of minimal training and the ideology that every student failure is solely the teachers’ fault is a powerful factor, and contributes to low retention rates for the organization.

Brewer recalls witnessing a TFA adviser yelling at an intern who’d sought his guidance regarding a student who consistently failed to bring a pencil to class.

The adviser excoriated the intern, according to Brewer, “insisting that if the corps member had properly ‘invested her students in their learning’ that the student would bring a pencil.  The corps member was brought to tears and quit three days later.”

Time to fold?

Another local blogger who’s a TFA alum has suggested it’s time for the organization to fold.  A recent TFAer in Colorado, Matt Barnum is now a student at University of Chicago Law School; he seems generally supportive of mainstream “reform” goals.

But he argues that TFA is now replacing veteran teachers, and points to the “wasted investment schools make in teachers who leave within a few years.”  He questions TFA’s cost-effectiveness, pointing out that the group’s annual budget in 2009 amounted to $38,000 per intern, more than double what it cost in 2005.

Barnum says his five-week training was “close to useless” and the support he received through the school year was perfunctory and “little help.”  Considering the group spends over $200 million a year, perhaps there is a better use for that money, he writes.

Osgood has called on TFA members to quit, saying the organization claims to fight inequality but in fact contributes to char it.

“I have nothing against the corps members,” says Lewis.  “They’re young people who have a lot of empathy and want to do something, want to give something back.”

In fact, she says, “I came into teaching like they did” — graduating from an Ivy League school and going through an alternative certification program.  “I didn’t know I was going to make a commitment to teach, but I got the teaching bug.”

“I know that you are trying to help, but you are becoming part of a system that is destabilizing children’s lives,” she says.  “Realize that you’ve been sold a bill of goods.”

What should they do?  “Make a commitment, learn how to teach, check your egos at the door.”  By this she means questioning the organization’s Super Teacher fantasy, the notion that an elite education gives you special powers that mere mortals lack.

“And don’t buy into the finger-pointing at veteran teachers.  We have to do this together.”

***

CTU is a sponsor of Free Minds, Free People, along with Northeastern Illinois University, the University of Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program, the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Education, and a number of national groups, including the Alliance for Eeducation Justice, Rethinking Schools, and the Brown University Department of Education.

Karen Lewis will speak as part of the plenary town hall meeting, Saturday, July 13 at 2:15 p.m.

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Charter waiting list inflation http://www.newstips.org/2013/04/charter-waiting-list-inflation/ Thu, 04 Apr 2013 22:48:15 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7088 The Chicago Tribune isn’t going to admit error with their claim that 19,000 students are languishing on charter school waiting lists, “yearning” to be free of CPS. But they may not throw the number around with the same panache after WBEZ’s expose.

As Becky Vevea showed, the 19,000 number counts applications, not students — and students typically apply for multiple schools — and it also includes over 3,0000 students who’ve dropped out and are seeking admission to alternative schools.

The Tribune now cites Andrew Broy of the Illinois Charter Schools for the “estimate” (though as Michael Miner points out, they claimed the number as fact in their editorials) , and Broy has regrouped quite nicely.

Wednesday he was saying the real number was probably “around 65 percent” of 19,000, based on his own “spot checks.” Thursday he insisted that 19,000 is a “conservative estimate” — the real number probably higher than that, he now says — since it excludes non-reporting charters and new charters that are just ramping up.

But if families are applying to charters at the same rate they’re applying to selective enrollment and magnet schools — admittedly a big “if,” but they would be if there were such a “yearning” out there — the number of actual students waiting for places is probably closer to 4,000. Vevea’s numbers suggest that for CPS schools requiring applications, there are about four applications from every student.

The number only matters to charter proponents because it’s the only argument they have left, points out Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Reponsible Education.

They used to say that charter schools were needed because students performed better there, she said.  Then research started coming in, and it consistently debunked that claim.  The only argument left was the popular demand for charters supposedly demonstrated by waiting lists.

“The Tribune hit those numbers very hard, as if they’re scientific numbers and they prove the need for more charters,” said Woestehoff.  “It’s like everything else in the corporate reform movement — the numbers are not real. They’re imaginary numbers. And the whole argument falls apart when you scrutinize it.”

In 2008, PURE’s report on charter accountability — in which two-thirds of the city’s charter schools and networks ignored a letter from the attorney general saying they had to respond to the group’s FOIA request — showed that many charters “do not have waiting lists” and “some struggle to keep up their enrollment.”

In fact, as WBEZ reports, CPS says there are currently 3,000 to 5,000 open places in charter schools, and during  last year’s strike, charter groups said a third of the city’s charters had seats available.

What’s most remarkable, as Miner and Steve Rhodes point out, is that while charters could claim 16,000 applications, and maybe more, selective enrollment and magnet schools together boast over 99,000 applications.

What that shows is the opposite of what the Tribune wishes the numbers showed, Woestehoff said: “People really want their kids in public schools, and they’re not very interested in charters.”

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Teachers demand respect http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/teachers-demand-respect/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/teachers-demand-respect/#comments Mon, 17 Sep 2012 23:54:57 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6647 Entirely aside from what the school strike has revealed about Mayor Emanuel’s executive incompetence – or how he intends to spin the eventual outcome – and far more important, there are several layers of historic significance to the teachers’ fight.

Here are three:  it’s marshalled broad popular support in a period when public-sector unions are under assault on many fronts; it’s dramatized and exposed the costs and compromises of the corporate school reform agenda; and – particularly going forward, as the outcome unfolds – it represents a signal battle in the fight against the austerity agenda of the world’s elites.

They’re also teaching us about an old-fashioned value that we may hope is not yet out of date: respect.

The Chicago Tribune actually editorialized that the teachers were on the wrong side of history, fighting the inevitability of corporate reform.  On any given day, the editors could have looked out their window and seen the streets filled with multitudes of red-shirted teachers who were actually making history.

Unhinged

The paper seemed to become unhinged after its pet cause of merit pay was abandoned as Emanuel sought to avoid a strike.  (That may have been the most startling revelation in the paper’s behind-the-scenes report – that the mayor actually feared a strike.  For a whole year it had seemed clear that he was actively courting one.)

First the Trib came out for vouchers.  That’s the reformer’s nuclear option: if they can’t run schools without interference from anyone else, they’ll blow up the public education system.  Then, as negotiations began to progress, they actually called on Emanuel to withdraw the latest CPS salary proposal and go back to merit pay – no matter how long it took.  All that concern for children out of school was apparently just for show.

Then they ran an utterly insulting op-ed by Bruce Rauner, Emanuel’s billionaire buddy who dabbles in school reform.  While negotiators were trying to find common ground, Rauner and the Tribune was busy pouring gasoline on the flames.

As if that wasn’t enough, the paper then gave us an endorsement of Emanuel and denunciation of the union by none other than Jeb Bush, a major proponent of charters and of online learning – which, as Mother Jones notes, “siphons money from public institutions into for-profit companies” while it “undercuts public employees [and] their unions.”  Like charters.  (Problem is, also like charters, “many online schools simply aren’t very good.”)

Maybe they thought this demonstrated “bipartisan” support for their agenda, but for a mayor forced to shrug off a full-throated endorsement by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a shout-out by the brother of America’s worst president had to be a major embarrassment.

Who needs unions?

There is indeed history being made here, but its final chapter is yet to be written.

Over the past generation, private-sector unionism has been decimated, starting with the Reagan administration’s approval for replacement workers in strikes, and especially with the passage of NAFTA, one of Mayor Emanuel’s signal achievements. (And much as he likes to brag about saving the auto industry, he helped destroy hundreds of thousands of American manufacturing jobs by pushing NAFTA through a reluctant Congress.)

That’s led to an economy where corporate profits soar and the middle class sinks; de-unionization is a key factor in the dramatic growth of inequality since 1980 and the economic stagnation that’s caused.

Public employee unions were only organized in the 1960s (with support from people like Martin Luther King), at a time when public workers made much less than private-sector workers.  Now the situation is reversed, and business leaders see a chance to destroy collective bargaining – and unions as a political counterweight to corporate dominance — once and for all.

Teachers and other public workers are under the gun across the country.  Last year they made a heroic stand in Wisconsin but were unable to overcome the influence of big money, which sought to stir up resentment among regular folks who’ve seen their standard of living tumble.

Democrats against unions

In Chicago teachers confronted an all-out attack by Emanuel, who has campaigned against them since returning here.  His stated goals of closing neighborhood schools and opening charters are clearly aimed at reducing the number of unionized teachers.  And teachers saw a similar motivation behind CPS’s evaluation proposals.

The anti-union animus is clear in some of Emanuel’s major supporters.  Take Democrats For Education Reform, founded by billionaire hedge-fund traders.

“The financial titans, who tend to send their children to private schools, would not seem to be a natural champion of charter schools, which are principally aimed at poor, minority students,” notes the New York Times in an article on DEFR.

“But the money managers are drawn to the businesslike way in which many charter schools are run; their focus on results, primarily measured by test scores; and, not least, their union-free work environments.”

Then there’s Penny Pritzker, the billionaire heiress appointed to the school board by Emanuel, whose family’s Hyatt Hotels face a worldwide boycott due to anti-union practices — among them, replacing union members with minimum-wage temps.

In the face of all this, the Chicago Teachers Union have given the nation a remarkable display of unity, solidarity, and militancy.  They gave Emanuel a very public drubbing. And they’ve brought a new level of unity for all city workers, whose unions have been nibbled away bit by bit by Emanuel for the past year.

Two visions of school reform

The strike also puts two visions of school reform in sharp relief.  As Diane Ravitch delineates, on one side are the billionaires pushing for school closings, charters, and cracking down on teachers.  On the other are teachers and parents opposing the disinvest-and-close approach and demanding investments in smaller classes, social workers, and air conditioning (which Emanuel, in attack mode, ridiculed).

There’s history here too:  as CTU points out, the so-called “accountability” movement (driven as Mark Naison demonstrates by an entirely irrelevant business ethos) superceded an earlier era of reform based on the values of the civil rights movement – equality, inclusiveness, democracy, and public services to alleviate the impact of poverty.

Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, the black-white achievement gap shrank.   As Jitu Brown of KOCO pointed out at Saturday’s rally, that progress has been reversed under mayoral control, under which that gap has steadily grown.

One accomplishment of the strike was to bring parents and community groups out to support teachers around a common agenda.  Not only on the picket lines and in the mass demonstrations, but in the opinion polls too.   As Emanuel moves next to close neighborhood schools and open charters, will that unity and energy keep pace?

Respect

At Saturday’s rally (which was amazing), I was struck by the deeper significance of a few of teachers’ slogans.  Especially the demand for “respect.”  You heard it again and again.  And yes, it refers to the way Emanuel and the Tribune and Bruce Rauner and Jeb Bush talk about teachers.

But it’s also about how teachers are treated, and how teaching is treated as a profession.  I ran into an old friend, Josh, who’s spent years in classrooms, most recently teaching social studies, first in a selective enrollment high school, then in an inner-city neighborhood high school.

The contrast was striking, he said.  The first school had plenty of everything – including basic things like books, enough textbooks for every student.  At the second school, kids had to share textbooks or teachers had to prepare their own materials.

The first school’s building was well-maintained and fully air-conditioned; the second school was run down, and only the principal’s office was air-conditioned.  (That’s how it is in many schools listed as air-conditioned by CPS.)

“That’s something that’ll piss a kid off – that’ll piss anybody off,” said Josh.  “The principal’s all comfy and the rest of the school is a heatbox.”

At the second school, kids were dealing with all kinds of issues, every day – getting arrested, getting pregnant, the gamut.  In one section something like 14 out of 18 girls were expecting or new mothers.

The reformers view students more or less like sliders at a fast-food joint, he said – how many can you flip and how fast can you flip them.  But each one is completely different from the next one.  Not only that, each one is different from how they were three months ago.

Since social studies isn’t a tested subject, he was told to work on their reading, an area in which he has no background; he split the difference, teaching them how to examine a primary document – often going over it word by word – and how to think about those kinds of things more deeply.

He worked hard with them and was gratified every time a kid got something.  It wasn’t easy.  The small victories come one student at a time, with hard work.

Then enrollment dropped and his position was terminated.  He spent a year as a cadre sub.  Now he’s day-to-day, with no benefits.  He was really interested in the proposed contract’s job security provisions.

High schools aren’t hiring middle-aged teachers, he said.  Principals want young teachers.  It’s basically because they’re cheaper, Josh says, but it’s also because they’re easier to shape.

The schools don’t want teachers who came up with those civil rights values.  If they get teachers young, the new way of doing things, with its focus on test scores, will be the only framework they know.

And I look at this guy, who’s so sharp, so dedicated, who is exactly the kind of person you would want teaching your child.  And there’s no place for him, because some politicians and business people have decided that the thing to do is destroy the teaching profession.

That’s disrespect on a level far more profound than the kind of language that’s used.

I hope the new contract provides real hope for this kind of teacher.

At the rally, Che “Rhymefest” Smith recalled a science teacher who tried to convince him to buckle down and graduate (while the principal discouraged him) — who signed him up for an alternative school when he dropped out, who later helped him fill out college applications.  “I’ll never forget Ms. Harris,” he said.

“I realized that the system had failed me and the only person trying to get me back in the game was this teacher,” he said.  “Truly I see a system that’s not only failing the children but failing the teachers too.”

Let’s remember Ms. Harris.  And please, let’s give her some respect.

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Don Moore’s legacy http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/don-moores-legacy/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/don-moores-legacy/#comments Fri, 07 Sep 2012 01:06:12 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6606 Don Moore’s life had an impact far greater than many more famous and powerful people:  more than anyone, he was responsible for creating and defending Chicago’s Local School Councils, while demonstrating their value as the most effective vehicle this city has seen for improving urban education.

He was among the first to push democratic school governance as the solution to Chicago’s schools crisis in the 1980s, and in the following decade, as politicians and CPS administrators sought to recentralize power – and brought the city’s business and philanthropic elites back under their sway – he defended LSCs from legislative attacks and mobilized community involvement in LSC elections.

Meanwhile, in a remarkable body of research, he demonstrated that while central office interventions from probation to turnarounds had little effect, the high-poverty schools that showed steady long-term improvement in Chicago were those with what he termed “school-based democracy.”

“It’s not a stretch to say that had he not been doing this work, Local School Councils would have disappeared from the scene – and we would have lost one of the most important engines of educational improvement in the nation,” said Ray Boyer, who directed public affairs for the MacArthur Foundation until 2004 and collaborated on projects with Moore after that.

As reported by Substance, Catalyst and the Sun Times, Donald R. Moore died last week at age 70.

In 1977 Moore founded Designs For Change, a multi-faceted organization that housed his rigorous research along with organizing, training, and advocacy efforts.  When a decade-long school crisis came to a head with the 1987 teachers strike, Moore seized the opportunity to rally community groups and business leaders to his vision of school-based democratic governance.

Critical role

Amid a vast and often conflicting array of groups pushing reform, Moore “played a critical role” in creating and pushing legislation that established LSCs in 1988, according to Mary O’Connell’s fascinating account of that struggle.  As Catalyst notes, when O’Connell asked participants in that movement who was “most responsible” for school reform, Moore was named most often.

He was “brilliant” in “bringing a theoretical concept into reality,” said Rod Estvan of Access Living, a former Designs board member, and he was commited to the idea that even in a society scarred by poverty and racism, “if people had some democratic control over their schools, they could make them better.”

In the following years – especially as LSCs came under attack from the mayor and CPS administration — Moore amassed what Boyer calls “an amazing body of work,” a series of studies showing that high-poverty schools with sustained academic improvement were overwhelmingly open-enrollment neighborhood schools led by effective LSCs.

His 2005 report, The Big Picture, identified 144 such schools (with 100,000 students) with 15 years of steady improvement, while showing that schools where CPS appointed principals under probation had “no significant improvement.”  Those 144 schools’ success should be studied with an eye to replicating it in other schools, he argued.  While new top-down reform efforts aimed at creating a network of successful schools that could serve as models for others, he pointed out, “that network already exists,” he wrote.

Those 100,000 students, and all those who’ve followed them, owe much to their parents and teachers – and much  also to Don Moore, who helped build and defend the local governance model under which their schools are able to come together and thrive. (Contrary to the media image, most LSCs function well, according to research; they certainly function better than the Board of Education, where no committees meet and decisions are routinely rubber-stamped.)

Moore also identified the key elements contributing to school success, which he termed “the five essential supports”:  effective leadership, family-community partnerships, a supportive school environment, teacher development and teamwork, and a focus on the instructional program.  The Chicago Consortium for School Research subsequently tested and validated Moore’s framework for school success.

Transformative

“It was a transformative idea,” said Boyer.  “You’re not talking about personnel changes – you’re not saying we need a new principal, or replace all the teachers – you’re talking about changing the structure of the school, how it works.”

“It’s a lot smarter than just looking at test scores from one year to the next,” said Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education, another group with roots in the late-’80s reform movement.

Moore’s “user-friendly reports were truly the ‘wind beneath the wings’ of the LSC reform movement,” Woestehoff commented in a PURE blog post.

His research had little impact on CPS policies, however, which have veered from one expensive fad to the next, disrupting schools, communities and students’ schooling without measurably impacting student achievement.

His most recent study identified 33 high-poverty neighborhood schools performing above the city average on reading scores, and compared them to turnaround school, not one of which meets that standard, even after several years and millions of additional dollars.  It recommended that “the resources now used for turnaround schools …be shifted to helping these effective [neighborhood] schools become resources for other schools.”

Moore was at the forefront of successful fights against a series of legislative attempts by Mayor Daley, CPS chief Paul Vallas, and others to take away LSCs’ power to hire principals, and he was among those raising awareness of LSC elections every other April and mobilizing community groups to recruit candidates.

Last April he spearheaded a protest when CPS for the first time refused to routinely release candidate information to community groups and neighborhood news sites.

“I wonder what’s going to happen at the next election, when he’s not there to beat the drum,” said Boyer.

As the Sun Times notes, his groundbreaking work on high-school dropouts revealed that Chicago’s drop-out rate was far higher than claimed; his research on CPS’s failure to meet its obligations to special education students led to a major civil rights lawsuit and consent decree.

Last November he raised the concern that CPS was closing schools based on their probationary status, decided by very questionable use of data — while failing to meet its legal obligations to assist schools that were placed on probation.  That led to a civil rights lawsuit by LSC members at schools being closed by CPS.

‘He cared’

Maria Hernandez was referred to Moore in 2009 after her alderman blew off a meeting at his office with 100 parents and children from Carpenter Elementary School.  They’d just learned that CPS was planning to phase out their school.

“He cared,” she said.  “He really cared.  He listened to us.  He came to our school, he met the parents, he talked to the children.”

It was a marked contrast to her alderman or to CPS officials, as she tells her story.  Parents testified at the school board, but “they ignored us.”  CPS chief Ron Huberman promised to come to a meeting but didn’t show.  When they then scheduled a meeting at his office, “he was there three minutes,” she remembers.  “He came in and shook our hands and said thank you for coming, pleased to meet you, we’re going to work this out. And now I have another meeting to go to.”

Moore threw himself into the fight by parents to save Carpenter and nearby Andersen Elementary.  They were the kinds of schools he’d championed:  academically successful, LSC-run schools in low-income communities of color.  Carpenter had an effective principal, a strong program in fine and performing arts and a thriving special ed program; its students were to be sent to a school that was on probation. Both schools were being displaced to accommodate new campuses for Gold Coast schools.

“He was with us throughout the entire fight,” Hernandez says.  After the school board ignored arguments that CPS’s claim that the schools were underutilized overlooked the needs of special ed students, Moore helped parents file a complaint with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights.

She remembers him calling late in the evening, still working on the complaint, asking one more question, nailing down one more detail.  They didn’t win that battle, but he shared their outrage and helped them speak truth to power.

That fight led to another that Moore threw himself into: State Rep. Cynthia Soto’s legislation to increase transparency and accountability in CPS facility planning.  Along with Valencia Rias, his colleague at Designs, he served on the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force created by the bill.

A week before his death he was at a task force hearing with CPS officials, demanding greater clarity on the district’s criteria for closing schools, said Jacqueline Leavy, a consultant with the task force and longtime community activist.

“Don was passionate about the persistent, inequitable pattern of inadequate resources for neighborhood schools,” she said.  “He never gave up.”

What amazed me about Don Moore was his sheer tenacity in the face of so many frustrations.  His data was so strong, yet it was ignored by politicians and bureaucrats with agendas impervious to on-the-ground realities. He kept cranking it out.  The school board voted to close schools despite the most compelling arguments.  The attacks on LSCs never ended – but he knew the people who serve on the councils, and he knew what they are capable of accomplishing.

He had a quiet sense of righteous indignation that was anchored by a vast patience and unfailing sense of humor – and a meticulous attention to detail.  Wisdom, is what it was.

Moore faced many defeats and never gave up – but looked at historically, considering the 100,000 kids learning every year in thriving neighborhood schools that he helped make possible, recognizing the model of successful urban education that he helped create and keep alive in the face of such odds, his life was one of great success and accomplishment.

 

More on Don Moore:

Del Valle backs LSCs on principals

School closing numbers challenged

Recruiting LSC candidates

Complaint: Olympic bid discriminates

LSCs celebrate 20 years

Promoting segregation (on changes in magnet school admissions)

Emanuel wrong on charter performance

School closings, the law, and alternatives

West Side parents fight ‘education apartheid’

Charge CPS obstruction on LSC election

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Parents stand up for teachers under attack http://www.newstips.org/2012/02/parents-stand-up-for-teachers-under-attack/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/02/parents-stand-up-for-teachers-under-attack/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2012 22:43:18 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=5604 With Mayor Emanuel aligning himself with an extremist group focused on attacking teachers, a group of Chicago parents has decided it’s time to speak up in their defense.

“We’re upset with all the teacher-bashing that’s so fashionable today,” said Erica Clark of Parents For Teachers.  “It’s a complete distraction from the real issues facing our schools.”

The group, which started recently with a Facebook page, held its first action Tuesday, the first of several “phone-in days,” with members of parent and community groups calling CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard asking him to withdraw current plans to close and “turnaround” 16 schools. The group argues that a 15-year record shows that these policies don’t work.

“Whenever anyone talks about ‘school reform’ these days, the first thing you hear is some attack on teachers,” Clark said.

She points out that SB 7, which reduced teachers’ collective bargaining rights, “was heralded as the most important ‘school reform’ bill of the year – but it had nothing at all about what really matters: class size, equitable funding, less emphasis on standardized testing, a richer, more interesting curriculum.  It was all about attacking teachers.”

“If you listen to the rhetoric of so-called school reform, you would think there are no good teachers in the system,” she said.  “But if you talk to parents – if you look at the data CPS collects in the surveys where parents rate schools and teachers – there’s a lot of support for teachers.

“Parents deal with their kids’ teachers on a regular basis, they see how hard they work, they see that they are working in the trenches every day for their kids.”

Breitbart connection

Emanuel appeared in a video produced by the Education Action Group, based in Muskegon, Wisconsin.  EAG’s leader, Kyle Olson, blogs on the Big Government website of journalist-provocateur Andrew Breitbart, whose exploits include doctoring video to make U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod look like she was fomenting racial division.

Two years ago Olson was forced to apologize after he was exposed for videotaping an interview with Frances Fox Piven, the activist academic who was a frequent target of Glen Beck, under false pretenses.

LSCs and parent power

Meanwhile, Parents Across America, a national coalition of parent groups including Parents United for Responsible Education in Chicago, released a position paper on parent empowerment that holds up Chicago’s Local School Councils as a model.

Corporate school reformers have recently sought to rebrand their efforts as “parent empowerment,” a term encompassing school choice, vouchers, “parent trigger” laws, and “other attacks on public education,” according to the group.

(“Parent choice” is the major theme of the Education Action Group, which supports vouchers and charters.)

“We know that these strategies do not reflect what most parents actually want, or what works for children and schools,” PAP argues. “A 2010 Phi Delta Kappa poll found that 54 percent of Americans think the best thing to do about low-performing schools is to keep the school open with the same staff and give it more support. Only 17 percent wanted to close the school and reopen it with a new principal, and just 13 percent wanted to replace it with a charter school.”

The group notes that LSCs and parent involvement “are not magic bullets,” and that problems persist in Chicago.

“However, the research-based LSC model is a vastly superior ‘choice’ for  involving parents when included in a comprehensive set of proven reforms including equitable and sufficient funding, pre-K programs, full-day Kindergarten, small classes, strong, experienced teachers, a well-rounded curriculum and evaluation systems that go beyond test scores.”

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School reform ‘myths’ and the next mayor http://www.newstips.org/2011/03/school-reform-myths-and-the-new-mayor/ Wed, 02 Mar 2011 22:52:30 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=3419 A new group of local academics working on education issues held a forum last night comparing the “myths” of school reform in Chicago with the “realities” documented by research – and examining the education platform of mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel.

Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CReATE) held a panel discussion at UIC last night, and the overall assessment — of Chicago’s record and of Emanuel’s promises — was highly critical.

Emanuel’s focus on individual actors – his agenda (pdf) consists mainly of proposals concerning principals, teachers, and parents – reflects a common approach by proponents of charter schools which deflects attention from systemic problems, said Kevin Kumashiro of UIC.

One example of this approach — the notion that “lazy or incompetent teachers” are the problem — comes out of think tanks and foundations which push market-oriented reforms, said Sumi Cho of DePaul.  In fact, research has determined that family income is by far the strongest predictor of student performance on standardized tests, suggesting that poverty and inequality are the basic problem (and that test design could be a factor).

The mayor-elect’s proposal for principal autonomy and accountability may sound good (though he would remove principal hiring powers from local school councils), but William Watkins of UIC said it reminded him of King Louis XIV and feudalism: “He would relegate principals to feudal overlords subservient to the king.”

His plan to expand “school choice” flies in the face of research that shows such policies have not increased overall student achievement, said Leslie Rebecca Bloom of Roosevelt.

His proposal to compensate teachers based on student test performance (he would also use achievement levels rather than seniority to guide layoffs) ignores research showing that a focus on test preparation narrows the curriculum and shortchanges critical thinking, said Isabel Nunez of Concordia.

Greg Mitchie, also of Concordia, said his student teachers  reported back that schools were focusing almost exclusively on reading and math, with virtually no science or social science.

Several speakers criticized another casualty of high-stakes testing, reductions in arts education, particularly in low-income schools. They said research has shown that arts education is important for problem-solving skills, raises achievement levels, and can help keep kids in school.

Several activists also participated.  Jackson Potter of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators urged attention on major donors to Emanuel’s campaign like “the Pritzkers, the Crowns, the same millionaire families that are funding a campaign to strip teachers of their bargaining rights – not in Wisconsin, but right here.”

He noted recent reports showing that half of TIF money has gone to some of the city’s biggest corporations, “siphoning money out of the schools.”

A parent said that when her neighborhood school was closed, “I tried to buy into school choice, but my children were not eligible to get in the new school” –though she could see it from her window. Josephine Norwood of the Peer Parents Education Network of the Grand Boulevard Federation said two of her sons had been through three school closings and four schools.

She talked about PPEN’s grassroots school planning process and stressed the value of “listening to parents as problem-solvers.”

“School choice is a coward’s way of not dealing with the fact that you have not equalized education in this country,” said Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.  “Parents don’t want school choice, parents want to be able to sent their children to a world-class school in their neighborhood.”

Brown added: “Teachers and parents and young people should be locked arm in arm, because we are all being targetted.”

Earlier this year, CREaTE issued a background paper on Chicago school reforming listing over 40 local academics who are available for comment on various issues.  The group was founded to provide reseearch backup “in support of the efforts of community groups to ensure quality education in their communities,” said David Stovall of UIC.

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Students: Emanuel errs on charter performance http://www.newstips.org/2011/02/students-emanuel-wrong-on-charter-performance/ http://www.newstips.org/2011/02/students-emanuel-wrong-on-charter-performance/#comments Wed, 09 Feb 2011 23:54:31 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=3272 Rahm Emanuel “didn’t do his homework” when he touted the supposed superiority of charter schools in a televised debate, three Chicago high school students assert in a Youtube video that’s attracted widespread attention.

Chicago news media didn’t do its homework, either, when it allowed Emanuel’s baseless assertion to pass unchallenged.

In the debate on WGN on January 27, Emanuel said: “If you take out Northside [College Prep], if you take out Walter Payton, the seven best performing high schools are all charters.”

In fact, none of the best-performing high schools are charters, the students point out.

“Four hundred thousand students go to their neighborhood public schools [in Chicago],” they say on the video.  “You want a real school turnaround? Invest in us!”  The video supports Miguel del Valle’s candidacy.

Sullivan junior Gerardo Aguilar, who’s involved in a Mikva Challenge civic participation project at the school, attended a January 17 candidates forum sponsored by Mikva and WTTW.  He says he liked Del Valle’s repeated emphasis on neighborhood schools, and he came back to school and organized fellow members of the Latino Club to canvas for him.

On the last Saturday of January, they watched the WGN debate online, so they’d have a better grasp of the issues when they went door-to-door later that day.

‘Did you hear what he said?’

They immediately realized Emanuel’s error; they knew that nearby Lane Tech was a top-ranked school, Aguilar said.

“We were talking about it: ‘Did you hear what he said?'” relates Alexandra Alvarez, also a junior at Sullivan. “If he doesn’t care about neighborhood schools, what’s he going to do to help them?”

All in the same day, they researched the issue, scripted, shot, and edited the video, and posted it on Youtube, with the help of a neighbor who’d been Aguilar’s coach for the Young Leaders Conference of the National Hispanic Institute.

(Latino Club advisor Jacquelyn Rosa gives an account of the video’s creation at Achy Obejas’s Citylife blog.)

As far as Emanuel’s inaccuracy, the students’ charge is on the money, said Don Moore of Designs for Change, who analyzed rankings at Newstips’ request.

In fact, the top nine high schools – based on the percentage of students at or above state standards in combined reading, math, and science scores on the Prairie State Achievement Examination – are all public, non-charter schools, he said.

“Emanuel’s claim has no factual basis,” Moore said.

The Emanuel campaign did not respond to a request for clarification.

Not only are no charters among Chicago’s top-ranked high schools; not one charter is among the twelve Chicago high schools with 50 percent or more of students meeting standards.

Unlike charters, eleven of the top performing schools are governed by Local School Councils, which select their principals for four-year performance contracts. (The twelfth, Rickover Military Academy, has an advisory LSC.)  Also unlike charters, all twelve are staffed by unionized teachers.

In addition to favoring privately-operated, nonunion charters, Emanuel has called for removing the power of public school LSCs to appoint principals – a central accountability feature of Chicago school reform – and returning it to the central bureaucracy.  (Several efforts by Mayor Daley to accomplish this over recent years failed to gain traction in Springfield.)  And Emanuel has backed legislative efforts to severely constrain teachers’ seniority and collective bargaining rights.

‘Fix existing schools’

For the students, the concern seems to be continued disinvestment in neighborhood schools to benefit new schools that soak up resources but serve much smaller numbers of students, without better results.

“There are schools that already exist that need fixing, that need resources,” said Alvarez.

“Going to a neighborhood school, we don’t have a lot of resources,” she said.  But although “the attention the school gets is for violence, gangs and drugs,” there are “programs that help students do better.”

Aguilar mentions the school’s medical careers academy, as well as the Paideia program, which was withdrawn last year when funding ran out.

Beyond that is a concern that school policy will be based on prejudices rather than facts.  Emanuel’s misstatement “shows that the people that people think know everything aren’t really looking into the problems they say they want to fix,” said Christina Henriquez.

Moore backs this up too. “The public needs to know the truth about the charter school myths,” said Moore.  “A lot of their supporters speak of them as the solution, but the evidence doesn’t bear this out.”

He cites a study (pdf) commissioned by the Renaissance Schools Fund, a business-backed group that raises money for charter schools in Chicago, that found no difference in achievement when matched pairs of charter and public school students were compared over two years.

Indeed, Moore’s analysis indicates that more than two-thirds of the charters currently serving grades 9 through 12 have less than 27 percent of students meeting standards.

Finding Emanuel’s error “got us to ask, how much does he really know about schools?” said Henriquez.  And it led them to fear that “he doesn’t care about us.”

Beyond all that, perhaps, the students’ achievement – catching a significant gaffe by a major candidate which completely slipped past the city’s news media (this reporter included) – is a testament to the unsung accomplishments of students and teachers at Sullivan and in neighborhood schools across the city.

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