charter schools – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.13 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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PURE, UNO, David and Goliath http://www.newstips.org/2013/06/pure-uno-david-and-goliath/ Tue, 18 Jun 2013 22:24:51 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7523 Ben Joravsky gives deserved kudos to Dan Mihalopoulos for his work exposing financial shenanigans at UNO Charter Schools (though after a decent interval, the state dollars are again flowing).

The Sun-Times has also taken credit for a state probe of UNO finances.

But we shouldn’t forget what got this ball rolling — a demand back in January by Parents United for Responsible Education, joined by parents in Pilsen, that the state inspector general investigate UNO finances.  (Here’s the press release.)

PURE emphasized UNO’s reliance on financing by tax-exempt bonds — and the growing debt-per-student costs that resulted.  It looks a bit like a pyramid scheme, like a house of cards that would collapse if UNO failed to keep expanding.

Which is a question that should be considered — if one of these operators goes belly-up, who picks up the pieces?

PURE is a small, scrappy advocacy group with a long history.  In the last couple years it’s taken on the two most politically connected charter schools with impressive results.  Last year, a report by PURE and Voices of Youth in Chicago Education got the Noble Network on the front pages for harsh discipline policies involving extensive fines and pushing students out.

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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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‘Disaster capitalism’ at CPS http://www.newstips.org/2013/03/disaster-capitalism-at-cps/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/03/disaster-capitalism-at-cps/#comments Sun, 17 Mar 2013 19:33:28 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7034 The tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War fell about ten days before CPS was set to announce what could be the largest single school closing operation ever.

The parallels are striking: ambitious programs dictated top-down by politicians over widespread public disapproval, administered willy-nilly by overburdened bureacracies — both driven by ideology that wilfully disregards the perspectives of people on the ground.

In Iraq — a war which Mayor Emanuel enthusiastically supported, and which has cost at least 200,000 lives and over $2 trillion to the U.S. treasury — there was a political and media consensus on the threat of weapons of mass destruction that depended on ignoring the facts being reported by international monitors at the time.

There was a political, ideological hubris that ignored warnings of chaos likely to ensue.  And there was a huge push to sell off publicly-owned enterprises, resulting in massive corruption.

At CPS there’s a $1 billion “budget deficit” and a claim of 100,000 “empty seats,” and an elite consensus that this situation requires closing schools.  The consensus depends on ignoring CPS’s record of wildly inflating projected deficits, as well as many unanswered questions about the costs and savings of closing schools — including the cost to struggling communities.

It requires ignoring the fact that CPS doesn’t have an accurate measure of its utilization.  Raise Your Hand and the Chicago Tribune have documented how the district inflates underutilization rates by using inflated class sizes in its building capacity measurement.

And in community hearings, school after school, principals, teachers and parents, one after another, have argued that CPS’s building capacity measure fails to account for program capacity, the standard that is used by cities across the country — and a standard that would result in higher utilization rates.

***

So CPS can’t really say what its budget deficit will be, and can’t really say how well its schools are being used.  But these are details.

The central contradiction in the establishment consensus over school closings is Emanuel’s plan to spend millions of dollars to open a new wave of charter schools.  This puts the lie to every claim about budget constraints and empty seats.

Pilsen/LV Closings Commission Hearing

The consensus depends on ignoring the district’s stated goal of opening 60 new charter schools.  It requires ignoring the expedited application process promised to charter operators — and the promise to identify underserved areas available for new charter operations — in the Gates Compact signed last year.

It requires ignoring Emanuel’s statement that he hopes charter operators view the compact as “an opportunity to set up shop” in Chicago.

It requires overlooking the strategy document for closing neighborhood schools and opening charters, revealed by the Tribune in December, that notes the “perceived inconsistency” and suggests staging the closings and openings in two phases.

Throw in charter expansion, and budget and capacity issues go out the window.  It becomes clear that the agenda is purely about privatization.

It’s a textbook case of what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism” — a theory first inspired by the “reconstruction” of Iraq — using (or creating) a crisis as cover for turning over public services to private interests.

It’s all about the ideology.

Sure, some neighborhoods are gaining population and some are losing.  But that’s a different discussion — unrelated to the number of “empty seats” in the district as a whole — and one that requires a facilities master plan.   It requires planning based on demographic projections, not a rush job based on this year’s numbers.  It requires considering the impact of school closings on these communities, too.

It’s clear Emanuel has a plan of his own for CPS — he just doesn’t want to let the people of Chicago know what it is.  That’s not transparent, of course, and it evades accountability.  Beyond that it’s dishonest, framing the discussion in false terms, and it seems a little cowardly.

***

CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett promised to hold a respectful, meaningful community engagement process and to listen to what parents and community members say.

But judging from the audio of a call with reporters released by WBEZ, Byrd-Bennett is engaging in selective listening.  She’s hearing what she wants to hear.

Saying the “overriding themes” of the testimony were concerns over student safety and the quality of receiving schools, Byrd-Bennett claimed, “Everybody got it that we really needed to close schools, that we really needed to consolidate.”

This was based on reports on the hearings prepared by staff or perhaps consultants, according to Byrd-Bennett.  She ought to take five minutes and dip into any one of the videos of community hearings posted by CPS.  She’ll see rather quickly that her staff reports are incomplete.

Speakers representing school after school tell why they should not be shut down.  Many community residents speak out against the entire school closing plan, challenging its basic premises and calling for no more charters.

At every hearing I attended, every alderman who spoke demanded no school closings in his or her ward.

“Everybody” doesn’t “get it.”

Pilsen/LV Closings Commission Hearing

Perhaps Byrd-Bennett hasn’t heard of the legislation to block school closings this year (SB 1571 and HB 3283) that’s been introduced in Springfield?  It’s sponsored by Senator Willie Delgado, chair of the Senate Education Committee, and cosponsored by dozens of Democrats including the chairs of the black and Latino caucuses, Representatives Ken Dunkin and Cynthia Soto. Delgado is holding a hearing on the bill Tuesday.

The bill calls for a moratorium on closings until CPS rolls out its facilities master plan.  That point was made also repeatedly in the community hearings, though Byrd-Bennett may not have heard it. (CPS spokesperson Becky Carroll told the Sun-Times that the facilities plan “has nothing to do” with the utilization issue.  It’s a “visioning” thing.)

“We’re not gonna sit back and say, ‘OK, Mayor Rahm Emanuel — do what you want to do, how you want to do it, when you want to do it — at our expense. It’s OK with us, buddy.’” Dunkin said. “Not on this issue.”

These legislators, and the aldermen speaking out against closings, are a good barometer of sentiment in the communities impacted by the proposed closings.  They’re the ones getting the calls from voters.  And they understand that school closings are just one more huge cutback of public services, and another big step in the painful process of disinvestment from these communities.

“Whether Byrd-Bennett agrees with [parents] or not, she should not mischaracterize what happened at the hearings,” commented Raise Your Hand.  “So much for rebuilding trust.”

***

Meanwhile, our roving mayor was on a panel in New York City on Friday, holding forth on what’s wrong with Chicago schools.  (He was also on a panel of “education mayors” in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago.)

“The real problem,” he said, “is not just the education of our children.  We have parents that can’t be parents.”

Sure, all parents have issues, and some have lots of issues.

On the other hand, Emanuel seems somehow to have missed the tremendous outpouring, in the recent community hearings, of thousands and thousands of parents who care deeply about their children’s education — in the very communities he has targeted and now describes so dismissively.

And how does his analysis work as a guide to policy?  Chicago is in the top rank of the nation’s cities for black unemployment; over 20 percent are unemployed — 2.5 times the unemployment rate for whites here — and according to the Chicago Reporter, 56 percent of the city’s African Americans are out of the labor force.

Many thousands are locked in permanent unemployment due to run-ins with a criminal justice system that targets blacks with far higher rates of arrest and conviction and much harsher sentences than whites committing the same infractions.

The mayor’s economic development policies are focused on building a “global city,” while his response to the epidemic of violence focuses on locking up more young people, a strategy that will only perpetuate the cycle.

He’s laid off hundreds of city workers, most of them black, and farmed out city services to private agencies that will cut wages. His schools policy, meanwhile, threatens the middle-class jobs of thousands of African Americans in these communities.

“It’s easy for him to go to another city and shift the blame away from himself, rather than investing in programs to improve parenting and provide economic opportunities,” commented West Side education activist Dwayne Truss “I guess the mayor is too busy touting corporate jobs transferred from other cities, while he’s firing janitors, lunchroom staff and teachers.”

Emanuel’s New York comments reflect the “family values” rhetoric of the “New Democrats” of his formative years in the 1990s (and their pro-business, anti-worker ideology) — not to mention the “blame the victims” approach of the conservative backlash to the civil rights movement: they’re in the same vein, though not as extreme, as Newt Gingrich’s call for placing children of welfare families in orphanages. The policies Emanuel championed in those years — free trade pacts, elimination of poverty programs, the incarceration boom — have ravished the communities that are now threatened with losing their schools.

In New York, Emanuel touted twelve parent-child centers CPS is opening.  But he’s threatening dozens of schools that have used available space for create parent resource rooms, where adults without computers at home can look for jobs, study for GEDs, and connect with their children’s education.

How are communities struggling with epic foreclosure, unemployment and crime rates ever going to get traction for a comeback if their last remaining institutions are shuttered? Or does the “global cities” strategy actually, secretly, involve further depopulating them?

Photos by Sarah-Ji

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The charter contradiction http://www.newstips.org/2013/01/the-charter-contradiction/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/01/the-charter-contradiction/#comments Thu, 03 Jan 2013 22:58:31 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6862 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.

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

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

Continuity

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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More questions: charters, partners, and planning http://www.newstips.org/2012/12/more-questions-charters-partners-and-planning/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/12/more-questions-charters-partners-and-planning/#comments Wed, 19 Dec 2012 15:35:27 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6842 (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.

“CPS has to look at the damage they’ve caused to children and communities and be honest about it.” said Rod Wilson, education organizer for KOCO, whose members recently sat in at Emanuel’s office demanding a moratorium on school closings.  “First they have to correct what they’ve already done, then they can start correcting the rest.”

“A school is a community institution, it’s not just a unit of production where you can close one and open another,” said Wilson.  “They’re just providing children to charter schools that are creaming and pushing children out.”

Meanwhile, as the utilization commission was holding community hearings on school closings, CPS was approving four more charters – on top of nine approved earlier this year.

At a recent commission hearing, many speakers – including the education chair of the local NAACP — noted that school closings have been concentrated in the black community.  Many spoke of “our schools” to distinguish them from charters, asking why “our schools” are being targeted.

Now it turns out, according to CTU, that the utilization commission is sharing office space with three pro-charter advocacy groups including New Schools Chicago.  (In the members’ biographies on the commission’s website, chairman Clark is identified as a founder of the Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy but – perhaps in order to build “trust” – the fact that it’s a charter school and part of the Noble Street network is omitted.)

 

Room for partners

At the commission hearing last Monday at St. Sabina’s, 19th ward Ald. Matt O’Shea testified against closing Esmond School, noting that its 40 percent utilization rate would go up if its1972 addition were closed.  The 40-year-old addition is in disrepair, O’Shea said, while the original 1891 building is “in pretty good shape.”

How many of the 140 schools listed as eligible for closure due to underenrollment, O’Shea asked, have annexes that could be closed?  Before the commission starts recommending wholesale school closures, it should look at closing secondary buildings, he said.

Austin schools activist Dwayne Truss of Progressive Action Coalition for Education makes the same point.  “A lot of schools out here have one or two additional buildlings,” he said.

Indeed, hundreds of CPS schools have had annexes added in recent years. Many of these buildings would be perfect to house a range of the administration’s initiatives, such as early education and community college programming.

Extra space in schools could be productively used to support the newly-announced reinvigoration of the district’s highly successful Child-Parent Centers, or to replicate successful programs like school-based health clinics or community schools, which bring in community partners to offer after-school enrichment for children and ESL, GED, and computer classes for adults.

“Across the country, school districts are increasing utilization of their buildings by extending access to non-school users,” according to a report on joint use by the 21st Century School Fund.  Public agencies and nonprofit partners are offering program that extend schools’ curricular goals, address social, emotional, and health barriers to success in school, and help families provide more educational support at home.

In a school district struggling to meet parents’ demands for arts programming with a longer day, or to provide enough social workers and other support staff to deal with problems like truancy, extra space could make possible partnerships with the city’s many arts and social service agencies.

Indeed, it’s in the low-income communities with some of the higher rates of underutilization that these needs are greatest.

There are many challenges to managing such partnerships, according to the report, but some districts are succeeding at it.  Among the possible benefits:  “When school buildings are underutilized, a paying joint-use arrangement with either public or prviate partners can make continued operation of the school building fiscally possible.”

 

No plan

The large number of annexes in school buildings also demonstrates the need for long-range planning, said CTU researcher Sarah Hainds. In some cases, because it takes years to for approval and construction of such projects, additional buildings intended to ease overcrowding opened after school enrollments started going down, she said.

That’s because school facilities decisions in Chicago are made ad hoc and in response to political pressure, not based on any kind of plan, she said.

Earlier this year CPS officials said they hoped for early release of a ten-year facilities master plan, whichwas due in January under 2011 school facilities reform legislation.  But when Byrd-Bennett came in, she said the district needed more time, and a bill extending the deadline for announcing school actions also extended the deadline for the ten-year plan.

A master plan “would give us an opportunity to look at population projections, housing development, long-term factors” that will impact enrollment down the road, said Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together, chair of the master plan subcommittee of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force.  “But these are things CPS doesn’t want us talking about before they close schools,” she said.

Instead, CPS wants to shut 100 schools based solely on this year’s census and enrollment figures.

“I can’t believe they want to close all these schools without any kind of plan,” said Hainds.

Carroll suspects that doing ten-year projections would show that large-scale school closings are ill-advised.  And she worries that CPS sees the ten-year plan as merely a means to “right-size” the district without “a forward-looking strategy for sustaining and improving neighborhood schools.”

CPS wanted to put the draft plan’s deadline back to October, but the final bill gives them until May 1.  That means – if CPS meets its legal obligation — some kind of long-term plan will be on the table after school actions are announced but before the board can vote on them.

Carroll said there’s little transparency around the planning process, indeed little indication that it is underway.  For one thing, outreach to principals and LSCs – whose input with educational visions and long-term facility assessments for their schools is required by the facilities law – hasn’t taken place.

 

Time to wait?

Grassroots activists maintain the CPS should put school actions on hold until it’s developed a long-range facilities plan.  CTU has called for a year-long moratorium; KOCO has called for two years.

The Sun Times has called for waiting a year to “right-size” the district, based largely on eminently practical considerations: “There is no way CPS can humanely right-size its district, closing dozens of schools in just a few months….

“Even under the best circumstances, CPS rarely pulls off a complex task well.  We’re talking about relocating thousands of children and teachers, finding new schools for them, ensuring their safety and well-being.  The odds of that happening successfully in a matter of months are extremely low.”

In addition, the district is required to hold three hearings for each school action it proposes – that would be 300 hearings for 100 closings in little over a month — and school board members are expected to consider that testimony.  And the deadline for schools that require applications – a major reason the legislature pushed the deadline for school action announcements to December last year – has come and gone.

Will the commission consider the option, widely backed among informed observers, of waiting for a long-range plan before implementing whole-sale school closures?  Or are they just expected to collect community input, ignore it, and deliver a list of schools to axe?  Is this an “independent commission,” or is this a done deal?

There’s a larger picture:  school closings are happening in urban school districts across the country.  According to Diane Ravitch, districts like New York’s are “repeating the pattern that was established in Chicago.”

The idea of closing schools to improve education was also embodied in the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind law, which mandated sanctions for low test scores.

The original rationale for closing schools came from the business world:  the way to improve education, it was argued, is to subject eductors to rewards and punishment based on standardized tests.  That logic hasn’t been validated by Chicago’s experience.

And while this year there’s a brand new rationale, presented with all the theatrics of an imminent crisis, the policy is the same.

Behind school closings, Ravitch writes, is “the dynamic of privatization: as public schools close, privately-managed charters open, accelerating the destruction of neighborhoods and public education.”

At WBEZ, Becky Vevea points out that if the district closes 100 neighborhood schools and opens 60 charters, the proportion of privately-operated charters in the system will double — to more than a quarter of CPS schools – dramatically reshaping the district.

Is this a decision the public gets to weigh in on?

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Questions for the commission: enrollment, finances http://www.newstips.org/2012/12/questions-for-the-commission-enrollment-finances/ Wed, 19 Dec 2012 01:56:42 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6831 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.

It’s simple, according to WBEZ: a higher proportion of Chicago’s kids are attending CPS than ten years ago.  (Among other factors, this could reflect the closing of scores of Catholic schools and lower dropout rates.)  But it’s a lot less dire.

Meanwhile, Jeanne Marie Olson, a CPS parent and systems analyst who’s part of the Raise Your Hand coalition, dug into the school utilization formula, which identifies underutilized schools and is behind estimates of “empty seats.”

She points out that the range considered “efficient enrollment” takes CPS’s recommended maximum number of students per class as the midpoint, and extends it by 20 percent in either direction.  So enrollment at a school with 36 students in each classroom – 20 percent higher than the district’s class size policy recommends, and wildly imappropriate, for elementary schools particularly – is considered “efficient.”

(Chicago has the largest class sizes in Illinois, which is one of a minority of states without legal class size limits; but a class size targets as high as 36 is remarkable even among big-city districts.  New York City has a “target capacity” of 20 students in K-3 classrooms; and instead of CPS’s range of 80 to 120 percent, New York’s “programming efficiency” range is 75 to 90 percent, giving a “standard classroom potential capacity” for those grades of 15 to 18 students.  In CPS the range is 24 to 36.)

 

How many “empty seats,” really?

Recalculating enrollment levels for elementary schools using the CPS maximum as the top number for efficient enrollment, Olson found far more overcrowded schools and far fewer with underenrollment.

With an efficiency range reflecting class size policy, she found, the number of underutilized elementary schools drops from 50 percent to 38 percent; more significantly, the number of elementary  schools at less than 50 percent underutilization – the point where school closings are considered —  drops from 20 percent to just 8 percent.

And instead of 62,695 “empty seats,” there are just 7,467.

So with a more realistic and humane utilization standard, we could be looking not at 100,000 “empty seats” but something closer to 15,000 district-wide.  [A new analysis by RYH puts the total district-wide number at 25,000.] This “crisis” seems to fade by the week.

At a hearing of the General Assembly’s Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force where Olson presented her findings last week, CPS business operations manager James Dispensa argued that the space utilization formula doesn’t correlate to class size and is designed instead to reflect how resources are allocated to schools.

He pointed out that one problem with underutilized schools is that, because they lose staffing positions with enrollment, they tend to have overcrowded classrooms.

Olson argued that class size issues are central to space utilization, since the district’s formula is based on the number of kids per homeroom.

At the hearing, CPS public affairs director Michael Rendina said that perhaps the space utilization formula needed to be adjusted.

For many months, the legislature’s facilities task force has been arguing that the district’s space utilization formula doesn’t meet the requirements of the 2011 facilities reform law, mandating consideration of age and grade, educational program, and uses by after-school programs and public and community agencies.

But Substance reports that at one hearing, Commissioner Terrence Hilliard revealed that he hadn’t heard of the task force.  This is quite remarkable.

CEFTF has been doing research, holding public hearings, and engaging CPS for a couple of years.  It has raised a series of concerns about CPS’s failure to abide by the 2011 law – for one thing, its inability to monitor the impact ofthe most recent school actions on 7,700 affected students.  Hopefully commission members will acquaint themselves with this work.

They may not want to rely solely on State Senator Iris Martinez, a member of both the commission and the task force, however: she recently was reported reciting CPS talking points about census figures and empty seats.  These are among the assumptions that need to be examined.

At its most recent hearing, CEFTF co-chair State Representative Cynthia Soto announced plans to hold monthly “Second Saturday” community hearings to give LSCs a chance to testify on utilization and facilities issues – including cases where CPS school utilization reports have faulty data.

 

What savings?

Another essential task for the Commission on School Utilization, according to the Sun Times, is to “verify CPS’s estimates of school-closing savings.”  Indeed, there’s a good bit of confusion around this.

CPS says they’ll save $500,000 to $800,000 for each school they close.  Where do the savings come from?  District spokesperson Becky Carroll told Sarah Karp of Catalyst that “savings generally come from eliminating those positions that go with the building itself – a principal, clerk, maybe custodian. Other savings generally come from reduced utility, maintenance and repairs costs.”

But the Rosalind Rossi reports at the Sun Times, “To achieve any savings, Carroll said, closed buildings would have to be leased out or sold.”  In fact, that’s been the experience of other districts.

As Karp points out, “selling buildings has been a particular challenge as many times closed buildings are in poor neighborhoods where property values aren’t high. Also, vacant school buildings often don’t have other uses, and are expensive to tear down in order to repurpose the land.”

She cites a national study that found that school districts actually saved far less than they projected by closing schools; in some cases, savings were negligible.

According to a recent report from CEFTF’s long-range planning subcommittee, estimates of savings from school closings in Washington D.C. failed to take into account the costs of closings –costs including loss of property value, relocating or disposing of equipment, demolition or continuing maintenance of buildings, transportation for students, and displaced student services – costs which “negated DC Public School’s projections that school closings would save money.”

One theme at the Clark commission hearing last week at St. Sabina’s is that neighborhoods already struggling with abandoned homes don’t need the hulking eyesores of abandoned school buildings.

 

Parking meters redux?

Closed schools won’t go to charters because they’ll be sold or leased, according to Byrd-Bennett.  But with social services struggling, Catholic schools closing, and a depressed housing market, it’s hard to picture a market for old school buildings – unless it’s a venture capital operation such as that floated two years ago by Bruce Rauner, Mayor Emanuel’s best billionaire buddy.  According to Greg Hinz, Rauner projected using private equity and debt to purchase 100 old schools and lease them back to charters.

If that’s the plan – public facilities sold to private parties and leased back to taxpayer-funded entities – we deserve to know about it now.  It sounds a lot like a recent parking meter deal.

Even in the unlikely event that CPS’s projections of savings came true, savings from 100 school closings would only reduce the district’s  operating budget by about 1 percent – or the $1 billion deficit by 5 to 8 percent.  (The real reduction savings would likely be half that or less.)

CPS’s budget crisis isn’t caused by overcapacity; it’s largely caused by the district’s failure to make contributions to its pension fund.  And “right-sizing” CPS will entail massive disruption and without getting the district anywhere near right-sizing its budget.

 

Part two examines charter expansion, community partners, and planning.

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Does Rogers Park need a new charter school? http://www.newstips.org/2012/08/does-rogers-park-need-a-new-charter-school/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/08/does-rogers-park-need-a-new-charter-school/#comments Sun, 05 Aug 2012 21:43:04 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6516 A new charter school in Rogers Park will undermine neighborhood schools in multiple ways, say residents who complain there was “no discussion” about siting the new school.

UNO Charter Schools announced last week it is leasing the building which housed St. Scholastica Academy, 7416 N. Ridge, and will open a K-8 school there.  UNO chief Juan Rangel promised “a very aggressive recruitment campaign,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

UNO’s goal is to recruit 570 students.  Most “will be pulled from the surrounding community,” said Jim Ginderske of Occupy Rogers Park.  The group protested at the announcement of the new school last week.

Rogers Park has six elementary schools, he said.  They have a range of performance levels, but all “have a good mix of students,” dedicated teachers, and parents  who are involved in trying to garner more resources for their schools.  And all are seeing enrollments decline.

Every student recruited by UNO will cost a neighborhood school thousands of dollars in per-pupil state allocations, and by recruiting more motivated students, UNO will undercut local schools’ academic strength, he said.

It’s happened before (and not just here).  At a community hearing in 2009 Kristine Mayle, now CTU’s financial secretary, described the process where she taught, De La Cruz Middle School, which was closed in 2009, the year it won a Spotlight Award from the state board of education.

“We were an award-winning school, and then UNO started pulling kids away from our school and our numbers dropped,” she said, as Substance reported at the time.

(The De la Cruz building was then used to house UNO’s Paz school, its first and lowest-performing campus, while its facility was renovated.)

The big question is whether CPS really needs to open 60 new charter schools, as planned, when it has hundreds of underfunded neighborhood schools in buildings it says are underutilized.  Especially when charters  perform no better than neighborhood schools.

Meanwhile, UNO schools in non-CPS buildings get $400 thousand each in annual facilities funding from the school district,  WBEZ reports.

That’s a sharp contrast to neighborhood schools, where CPS funds repairs only “as needed,” with repairs often deferred for years.  Half of CPS schools will get no facilities funding under the proposed budget, BEZ reports.

And the CPS subsidy is on top of $100 million in state funding UNO’s getting for new school construction – from a state that fails to meet its constitutional mandate for fair school funding.

“What’s really happening here is starving neighborhood schools of resources,” Ginderske said.

Charter school proponents used to argue that public schools would improve with competition.  But with this kind of competition – for scarce resources – that’s not how it works.  This is cut-throat competition.

Ginderske criticized Ald. Joe Moore for backing the new school without consulting his constituents.

On top of Moore’s action squelching an advisory referendum on an elected school board, he said, “Many people feel they elected [Moore] as a progressive, and he’s no longer a progressive.”

“You don’t have to agree with the mayor on everything,” he said.

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