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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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Better schools?

CPS claims  this year — as it has in past closings — that all students in closing schools will end up at better schools.

The gym of Attucks Elementary's first building, closed in 2008; its current location is now proposed for closing (photo by Nathan Goldbaum, CTU)

A recent view of the gym of Attucks Elementary’s first building, closed in 2008; its current location is now proposed for phaseout (photo by Nathan Goldbaum, CTU)

As the Sun-Times and Tribune both report, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  According to the Trib, whose analysis included several schools for which the Sun-Times couldn’t find data, nearly half of closing schools will send their students to schools with the same performance rating.

By my count, at 28 closing schools — more than half of the 53 on the list — students will be transferred to schools that are on academic probation.

The Sun-Times points out that eight receiving schools actually have lower test scores than the schools they’re absorbing students from.  (This includes four receiving schools that have higher performance ratings but lower ISAT composite scores than the sending schools, which tells you something about CPS’s performance policy; Matt Farmer tells you more here.)

In many cases, the “better school” claim is a shell game.  That’s where you see one school “closing” and another school with better scores moving out of its own building and into the “closed” school.

‘The numbers don’t work’

So, on the North Side, Stockton, a Level-3 school (on probation), is “closing” and its students are “moving into” Courtenay, a Level-2 (“in good standing”) school.  But they’ll stay the same building. The Courtenay building is closing, and its students and staff will be sent to the old Stockton building.

Courtenay is now a small school that takes students who apply from across the city.  No longer.  Courtenay will now take on Stockton’s attendance boundaries.

With about 250 Courtenay students joining Stockton’s 450 students, what this really means is that Courtenay is closing but its administrators are being shifted to Stockton, along with its name.  But with much less space.

Both schools have huge special ed populations — Courtenay’s is 33 percent, Stockton’s is 30 percent — and both have large ELL student populations, which have their own, less stringent legal class size limits. So they really don’t have as much room as CPS thinks they do, since the district’s calculations ignore special ed and ELL space requirements.

“Stockton has four or five empty rooms,” said Wendy Katten of Raise Your Hand, who’s visited many of the closing schools (and found much detail that’s lost in CPS’s decision-making process).  “But they’re getting what — ten new homerooms?  And both schools have huge special ed populations, which CPS is still not factoring in.”

So class sizes will go up, even as two distinct student populations with special needs are merged.

It looks like, rather than liberating students who are “trapped in failing schools,” Emanuel and company are setting up yet another school for failure.

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Are school closings racist?

Some people think so.

At the most basic level, there’s the fact that decisions about African American communities are being made without their consent.

Of 54 school closings proposed by CPS, 51 are in low-income African American areas; 90 percent of students being impacted are black.

“If you look at the people making the decisions and the communities they’re talking about, you have white males saying they know what’s best for African American students,” said Austin schools activist Dwayne Truss.

“Barbara Byrd-Bennett is not calling the shots,” he said.  “Mayor Emanuel and David Vitale and Tim Cawley are calling the shots.  She’s just an expert in closing schools who they brought in to do that.  She’s just the messenger.”

Comments Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition, “She’s put in place to implement these policies so they can hide behind her.”

Byrd-Bennett “would not have been hired if she was not on board with [Emanuel's school closing agenda] — and with the priority of providing opportunities for private educational interests to make money bringing in mediocre interventions for black children,” said Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization.

Three high schools

For Brown, it’s about the school system’s priorities — and that’s a civil rights and human rights issue.

“The priority has been to disinvest from minority communities and invest in failed programs, invest in charter schools and contract schools,” he said. “The priority has been that minority children don’t have the same quality of education.

“Example: Look at North Side College Prep, they have 22 AP classes.  Lakeview High, with about 18 or 20 percent African American students, a few blocks from the mayor’s house, they have 12 AP classes.  Dyett High School, 99 percent African American and 95 percent low-income, no AP classes.

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On school closings, West Siders offer alternatives

West Side parents and educators have called for a boycott of CPS’s school closing hearing Saturday morning and will hold an alternative community meeting instead (April 6, May Community Academy, 512 S. Lavergne, starting with a press conference at 10 a.m.) where they’ll present a community school plan.

Perhaps Mayor Emanuel ought to go.

He’s the one who recently said, “What I won’t accept is when people are asked, what’s your alternative, what’s your idea, and there’s silence.”

In fact several communities have developed their own plans, including strategic visions developed by six Community Actions Councils sponsored by CPS to improve communications with its stakeholders.

“They all fall on deaf ears,” said Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition.  “The mayor has said his decision is final, and he doesn’t care what people have to say about it.”

“It’s a waste of time to go to the CPS hearing,” said Dwayne Truss of the Save Our Neighborhood Schools coalition.  “Nobody that can make any decisions is going to be there.  It’s a dog-and-pony show.”

As for CPS staff, he said, “They’re sticking to their talking points.”

CPS has proposed closing four schools in  Austin, impacting 2,000 students, according to Austin Talks. Saturday’s official hearing is for Louis Armstrong Elementary.

Reducing truancy

SONS will present an alternative plan that will minimize school closings and save CPS money, Truss said.

The plan is based on the strategic educational plan developed by the Austin CAC, which Truss co-chaired with Ald. Deborah Graham (29th).  The council included 25 elected officials, LSC members, religious and community leaders, and city agencies.

That plan focused on solutions to problems like high truancy rates and a lack of all-day early education programs, and proposed developing a range of curricular choices for Austin students, including an IB network running from elementary through high school.

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Fuzzy math: the CPS budget crisis

As citywide opposition to Mayor Emanuel’s massive school closing program comes into sharper focus every day, the rationale for the plan gets fuzzier and fuzzier.

Take the question of money.

When CPS chief Barbara Byrd Bennett accepted her utilization commission’s call for taking high school closings off the table, the potential savings from school closings was significantly reduced, says Dwayne Truss, organizer of the Save Our Neighborhood Schools coalition on the West Side.

That’s because high schools are a lot bigger and costlier to operate than elementary schools.  Closing elementary schools saves you less.

Publicly, CPS has projected annual savings of $500,000 to $800,000 for each school closed.  Privately, their estimates are lower – as low as $140,000 per school.  And they estimate that upfront closing costs, including severance pay, security, and moving costs, could be as high as $4.5 million per school, potentially wiping out any savings for many years.

With only elementary school closings, we’d be smart to expect the savings to come in on the lower end — if at all.

Truss points to an additional cost that he insists must be taken into account – the loss of hundreds, maybe thousands of good jobs for African American teachers, principals, lunchroom workers and engineers.

Under a city administration hellbent on eliminating public service jobs that form the backbone of the black middle class – where black unemployment rates are more than double the rate for whites — and in a district facing civil rights compliants for targeting black teachers, he sees layoffs resulting from school closings as another drag on the economic vitality of the neighborhoods.

 

The sky is falling!

Then there’s the billion-dollar deficit, which we’re told time and again means we have to close schools.

Last week CTU blew the whistle on CPS’s budget manipulations, showing that instead of a deficit requiring the district to drain its reserve fund and deny teachers compensation for the longer day, the final audited budget showed a surplus of $344 million.

“Perhaps it’s time to have an honest budget discussion, before any schools are closed,” union president Karen Lewis said.

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School closings: what ‘everyone knows’

“Everyone knows schools must be closed in large numbers,” according to a Chicago Sun-Times editorial published Thursday.

The editorial questions the savings involved in school closings and calls on CPS to be “more open and inclusive,” and to release a new facilities master plan required by state law before more closings are announced.

But does “everyone” really know schools must be closed?  At hearings on proposed closings in recent years, there’s been consistent opposition – until paid protestors, later connected to Mayor Emanuel’s political operatives, began showing up.

We asked around, and here are some responses:

 

Laurene Heybach, Director, The Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless:

The notion that “everyone knows [Chicago public] schools must be closed in large numbers” is a remarkably un-researched assertion. As a member of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, I can say unequivocally that such is not the case. And CPS has never been able to make such a case.

Parents want quality neighborhood schools, not experiments (charters) which drain resources from their neighborhood school and don’t deliver. We hear this again and again, and parents are getting increasingly frustrated with a city that can help decorate the Willis Tower but tells neighborhood schools “no” for every request, from a math teacher to a working heating system to an air conditioner. Indeed, one parent spoke directly to the CPS representative on our task force to say precisely that: the Board of Education’s answer to just about anything our parents want is “no.”

It’s top-down and political people who push closures.  This is why we need to return facility planning to our communities and stakeholders — parents, teachers, students and principals — and take it out of the hands of politicians.

 

J. Brian Malone, Executive Director, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization:

Everyone knows there has been population loss on the South and West Sides of the city. The issue with underutilization, at this stage, is largely the result of CPS cramming charter and contract schools down the throats of communities of color, while also:

(1) raiding the coffers to fund these schools that do very little (if anything) to improve educational outcomes, but do a great deal to create wealth for the private operators and investors; and

(2) siphoning the human capital, material, and financial resources from neighborhood schools, which make them look unattractive when compared to the “new” school with the great marketing budget.

Disinvesting in neighborhood schools has done more to reduce the appeal, and by default the enrollment, of neighborhood schools, creating this manufactured need to close schools, which was orchestrated by the Renaissance 2010 plan and continued forward.

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Parents air concerns on longer school day

Parents in meetings on the West and North Sides this week discussing the proposal for an extended school day expressed a range of concerns far beyond the “for-or-against” terms in which the issue has been framed by Mayor Emanuel and the media.

Both groups released surveys – one large, one small, neither scientific but both gauging the views of parents who are particularly active in their children’s schools.   How the longer day will be implemented and how it will be funded are major concerns.

But how long it should be is also an open question for parents.  The Raise Your Hand Coalition surveyed 1200 parents in 230 schools and found broad support for a longer school day – but little support for making it as long as Emanuel has proposed.

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TIF reform? Not yet.

With the release of his TIF Reform Panel report, Mayor Emanuel may want to check “TIF reform” off his to-do list, but community activists who work on the issue say that would be highly premature.

“They’re talking about transparency as if that’s all we have to do,” said Sonia Kwon of the Raise Your Hand Coalition.  “Transparency and accountability are just tools to reform TIF.  I don’t see this as TIF reform.”

In any case, Emanuel’s panel skips “the first step in transparency” – listing TIF information on property tax bills, said Kwon.  “To know you are in a TIF district and how much of your tax money is going to TIF – that’s the first step.”

That was a major proposal of the Community TIF Task Force of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, which brought together dozens of community groups, said Jacqueline Leavy, former executive director of NCBG.  (It was also a major proposal of then-Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley, apparently forgotten when he reacted enthusiastically to the report this week.)

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