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‘Change is hard’

“People are anxious” because “change is hard,” said Mayor Emanuel the other day, referring to the school closings and turnarounds which his Board of Education approved as expected Wednesday night.

“But,” he added, “watching, year in and year out, children captured in a system that’s failing, is harder.”

Yes, change is hard.  And year in and year out, the system has been failing its students by denying resources to neighborhood schools attended by the vast majority of students, setting them up for failure and then handing them over one by one to private entities, which get all the goodies (and still don’t perform).

That’s the status quo, of course.  And in an achievement Orwell would find remarkable, it’s that status quo that’s being defended by people like Emanuel and the Chicago Tribune, as they rail about challenging the status quo.

More on AUSL

The other day we noted discrepancies between AUSL’s approach at Orr Academy High School and the CPS code of student conduct – which among other things, says that suspensions aren’t a first resort, students get to respond to accusations, and kids won’t be turned out on the street for not having their uniform.

On Tuesday, Designs For Change released a report exposing AUSL’s failure to come anywhere near meeting the promises it made to raise achievement at the schools it’s taken over.  (Contrary to what you may have read, annual growth rates are unimpressive at many AUSL elementary schools.  At elementary schools “turned around” by CPS itself, they’re very low.)

Now the Occupied Chicago Tribune has published an astonishing interview with two Orr teachers who describe utter administrative incompetence creating “chaos” and a “toxic atmosphere” that is dragging kids down.  (Real News Network has video.) All hat and no cattle doesn’t come close to describing this outfit.  There’s a vast amount of hype covering up an execrable record.

Now AUSL has six more schools.  Talk about failing our kids.

No one home

Emanuel wasn’t concerned about the quiet demonstration past his house on Monday, but at the Tribune, Eric Zorn was.  It’s “inherently intimidating,” he writes.  He’s concerned that people might intimidate Rahm Emanuel.  That’s a fresh take.

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Pushing out students: Noble, AUSL, and CPS

There were two big school stories in the past week – the hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for minor infractions charged to students by Noble Charter Schools, and the sit-in at Piccolo Elementary by parents and supporters opposing a turnaround by the Academy of Urban School Leadership – and one issue that cuts across both is growing opposition to harsh, ineffective discipline policies that force kids out of school.

At AUSL, where the Board of Education will vote on six additional turnarounds on Wednesday, it raises questions about unstable school leadership, wildly shifting school policies, and failure to support programs promised in AUSL submissions to CPS.

Largely lost in the coverage of Noble (particularly in the Chicago Tribune’s editorial, once more attacking critics of CPS) was the actual source of concern – the campaign by Voices of Youth in Chicago Education to reduce the dropout rate, which has led them to focus on disciplinary policies which push kids out.

“We agree there should be consequences for minor infractions, but Noble is not doing it the right way, and as a result, students are leaving,” said Emma Tai of VOYCE.  She said Noble has acknowledged that 40 percent of entering students leave before senior year.  (Ben Joravsky has previously reported on Noble’s fines, demerits, counseling out of kids, and charges for make-up courses.)

Bigger picture

But Noble is “just one piece of a much larger picture,” Tai said.  “Whether it’s demerits and fines at Noble or suspensions, expulsions, and arrests at [traditional] schools, there are practices in all our schools to keep students on lockdown and push them out.”

Concern over test scores may be a bigger driver of the approach than concern over safety, she suggests.

“We should be making sure that all schools are putting a full-faith effort into keeping young people in schools,” she said.  “What’s happening in all our schools [reflects] the real failure of our public officials to use our public dollars to make sure every child gets a quality education.”

At Piccolo, parents protesting the proposed turnaround charged that at other turnarounds, “AUSL has not lived up to promises  of increased support for at-risk students” and “AUSL has pushed out students through zero tolerance discipline” as well as “dropping students and counseling out low-performing students.”

One group backing Piccolo, Blocks Together, has worked extensively with students at Orr Academy, now in its third year as an AUSL turnaround school, and they report a variety of practices that seem to conflict with AUSL’s commitments to CPS.

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Piccolo supporters say CPS is blocking a real school turnaround

Parents and community supporters are asking why CPS has chosen Piccolo Elementary for a “turnaround” by the Academy of Urban School Leadership next year, when a brand-new principal – herself a veteran of an AUSL school — has just begun an overhaul that has won widespread support and is already getting results.

Piccolo parents, teachers, and students will hold a press conference and rally at the school (1040 N. Keeler) on Friday, December 9 at 3 p.m.  to highlight the school’s strategic plan and oppose CPS’s proposal.

Dr. Allison Brunson was named principal in July, after teaching at AUSL’s Dodge Academy in East Garfield Park.  Before this year, CPS policy prohibited school actions where principals had been in place less than two years.

Brunson has developed a strategic plan for the school and implemented a new disciplinary policy, a professional development program, and a new reading curriculum, including a two-hour reading period each morning, said Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together, which partners with the school on parent engagement.

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Orr students have some questions for Bill Gates

Chicago students want to contact Bill Gates to make sure he knows how his money is being spent.

Gates’ foundation is giving $10.3 million to a plan to “turn around” two high schools and nearby elementary schools.

Orr students gathered outside the Board of Education meeting this morning pointed out that just two years ago Gates gave $21 million to fund curriculum improvements at 14 schools including Mose Vines Preparatory Academy on the Orr campus.

The “turnaround” is the third central office intervention at Orr, which has controlled the school for many years without much success.

> Read the rest of this entry »

School closings 4

Expect a lot of outrage at tomorrow’s Board of Education meeting, with groups across the city organizing against proposals to close, consolidate, or “turn around” 19 schools that are on tomorrow’s agenda.

School supporters will speak at a press conference Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m. at CPS, 125 S. Clark, backing a Chicago Teachers Unionproposal for a moratorium on the proposals in order to consider improvement models for regular neighborhood schools that don’t involve disruption for children and job loss for teachers.  PURE and Designs for Change are coordinating the press conference.

Blocks Together and the Save Orr Schools Coalition is circulating a petition calling on board president Rufus Williams to oppose the “turnaround” plan for Orr — they say an Academy for Urban School Leadership takeover will fire teachers with masters degrees and replace them with inexperienced trainees who lack teacher certification, using a model the groups say is unproven.

They’re also asking Bill Gates, whose foundation is funding the move, “to honor the will of the community and make an investment with people versus for people by stopping the AUSL proposal.”

Like many community sources interviewed by Newstips in recent weeks, BT organizer Carolina Gaete characterized CPS hearings on the proposals as completely inadequate.   “We are not satisfied with that being the only outlet for our opinion,” she said.  While CPS chief Arne Duncan called the hearings a chance to “ask the hard questions,” in reality “the hearing officer had no answers for us,” Gaete said.

“They have been very disrespectful, imposing this decision with no outlet for us to even ask questions,” she said.

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