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AUSL turnarounds called ineffective, expensive

Why is deficit-challenged CPS proposing to spend over $1 million a year to “turn around” each of six schools, using a program that’s produced mediocre results — especially when teachers at four of the schools have voted to support a far cheaper and more effective turnaround proposal?

Could the political connections of the Academy for Urban School Leadership — whose big-dollar donors include major contributors to Mayor Emanuel, like David Vitale, Penny Pritzker and Bruce Rauner — have something to do with it?

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Of twelve turnaround schools listed on AUSL’s website which the group took over between 2006 and 2010, ten of them are on academic probation today.    Only one of them is rated as Level 1 — “high performing” — by CPS.

Of those twelve schools, eleven were below the CPS district-wide average for ISAT composite scores.  AUSL’s top-scoring school had a composite score that was equal to the CPS average, which is lower than half its schools.

Three AUSL turnarounds at CPS high schools are abject failures, with scores far below district averages and negligible growth.

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Engaging communities and counting classrooms

If the “community engagement” hearings recently held by CPS were intended to rebuild broken trust, as Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said, they might be counted as the first failure of a long season.

“Up until a couple weeks ago, I  believed what CPS said about utilization and a budget shortfall, and that they had to close schools,” said parent Beth Herring at a recent meeting of Hyde Park parents and teachers.

Then she went to a community hearing.

“It is not community engagement to invite people to come and beg to keep their schools open,” she said.   “Maybe some schools need to be closed, but there has to be a much more serious process, not just giving people two minutes to literally beg to keep their schools open.”

At a West Side hearing last week, an alderman put it more directly:

“This process is insane,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (29th).  “It pit schools against one another, it pits communities against one another.  This is no way to run a school system.”

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This weekend, the Grassroots Education Movement and the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force are offering two alternative forums for school issues.  Perhaps CPS and the school board could learn something about open and respectful communications from them.

Point one might be holding meetings at times when working parents and teachers can attend them — apparently not the goal of school board, which postponed its March 27 meeting because it was during spring break.

On Friday, March 8, 6 p.m., GEM is holding a People’s Board Meeting at the First Unitarian Church, 5650 S. Woodlawn.  Parents and teachers from across the city will be speaking on school closings and other issues that CPS doesn’t address, like smaller class sizes, charter expansions, and an elected school board.

GEM is a community-labor coalition; the meeting is envisioned as the first of an ongoing series.  Elected officials have been invited.

On Saturday, March 9, 10 a.m., CEFTF holds its monthly Second Saturday session at the Humboldt Park Library, 1605 N. Troy, focused on the ten-year facilities master plan, another subject CPS isn’t discussing.  The district is required to produce a draft by May 1.

CEFTF, a task force of the state legislature, is asking schools to report on whether CPS has engaged them in the planning process, and the task force is soliciting the kind of fine-grained information about school use that CPS’s utilization standard completely ignores.

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That’s one of the problems at the dozens of community hearings on school closings in recent weeks, where thousands of parents and teachers have turned out and make eloquent and emotional pleas for their schools.

CPS and the people in its schools are using different utilization standards.

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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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CPS pressed on discipline reform

A City Council resolution will call on CPS to implement school discipline reforms, and students, parents, and community and faith leaders will release a report showing that a restorative justice approach could make schools safer and save the school district money.

The High Hopes Campaign will hold a press conference in the main entrance hall of City Hall at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14.  Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) will discuss a resolution he will introduce Wednesday’s council meeting, and students and parents who are implementing restorative justice in Chicago schools will describe their experiences.

CPS added restorative justice to its student code of conduct in 2006 but has never implemented the approach system-wide. The approach uses peer juries and peace circles to improve school safety and culture by holding students accountable for their actions and supporting them to get on track.

The report presents findings that restorative justice is more effective at improving student behavior and achievement than punitive discipline methods, including suspensions, expulsions, and arrests.  It reviews best practices and makes recommendation on what’s needed in terms of funding and staffing, as well as monitoring and evaluation. [Read the report.]

CPS could save money now spent on having police officers and large numbers of security guards in schools – and on expulsions and arrests — by focusing on approaches that improve behavior, said Ana Mercado of Blocks Together.

The High Hopes Campaign (it stands for Healing Over the Punishment of Expulsions and Suspensions) includes Access Living, Community Renewal Society, Enlace Chicago, Organization of the North East, Blocks Together, Trinity UCC, Southwest Youth Collaborative, and POWER-PAC.

Last week the U.S. Department of Education released findings confirming that African-American students in CPS face harsher discipline than other students.  It’s time “to figure out what’s working and what’s not,” said Secretary Arne Duncan at the time.

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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King Day: Occupy the Fed, foreclosures, schools

The civil rights movement, the Occupy movement, and community organizations will come together for a series of events marking Martin Luther King’s birthday this week, including a demonstration Monday at the Federal Reserve led by African American clergy including Rev. Jesse Jackson.

At the time of his assassination, King was organizing an “occupation” of Washington D.C., and after his death thousands of people occupied Resurrection City there from May 12 to June 24, 1968, demanding jobs, housing and an economic bill of rights.

In other King Day activities, housing rights groups are stepping up the drive to occupy foreclosures, and teachers and community groups are demonstrating against school “turnarounds.”

Over a thousand community activists are expected for an Occupy the Dream event (Sunday, January 15 at 3 p.m. at People’s Church, 941 W. Lawrence), where elected officials will be called on to support jobs and tax reform, including closing corporate tax loopholes and instituting a financial transaction tax.

It’s sponsored by IIRON, a regional organizing network that includes Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, Northside POWER, and the Northwest Indiana Federation. Occupy Chicago has endorsed the event.

“We are organizing in the tradition of the civil rights movement,” said Rev. Dwight Gardner of Gary, president of the Northwest Indiana Federation.

“In Dr. King’s very last sermon, he warned us not to sleep through a time of great change like Rip Van Winkle,” he said. “This is a moment of great change and we must put our souls in motion to occupy his dream.”

At the Fed: National Day of Action

Monday’s action at the Federal Reserve (Jackson and LaSalle, January 16, 3 p.m.) is part of a national day of action to “Occupy the Fed” by the Occupy the Dream campaign, with African American church leaders moblizing multicultural, interfaith rallies in 13 cities.  They’ll be emphasizing racially discriminatory practices by banks which have resulted in high foreclosure rates, as well as the issue of student debt.

“There needs to be economic equality, there needs to be jobs for all, there needs to be opportunities for the next generation,” said Rev. Jamal Bryant of Occupy the Dream.

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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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Two new libraries represent community victories

The official opening of the Richard M. Daley Library last month attracted lots of dignitaries (including the former mayor himself, as well as his successor) and lots of attention.  Now the community which fought for years to get the library is holding its own celebration.

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