Progressive Action Coalition for Education – 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=4.4.14 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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West Side parents fight ‘education apartheid’ http://www.newstips.org/2012/03/west-side-parents-fight-education-apartheid/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/03/west-side-parents-fight-education-apartheid/#comments Thu, 15 Mar 2012 20:51:32 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6008 A successful neighborhood school on the West Side is fighting “disinvestment” while a failing charter nearby gets millions of dollars worth of renovations, parents charge.

On Friday, March 16 at 8 a.m., the Emmet Elementary School LSC and the Austin group Progressive Action Coalition for Education will hold a press conference and rally against “education apartheid” at the school, 5500 W. Madison.

Emmet’s scores have improved dramatically in recent years and its performance rating is currently Level 2 (“good standing”) and headed toward Level 1 (“excellent”), said Dwayne Truss of PACE.  In a recent Designs for Change study, Emmet was one of 33 very high poverty schools performing above the CPS average on the ISAT reading test.

Emmet’s success is the result of “the LSC, the teachers, and the principal working together,” Truss said.

Hazards 

But the school is badly in need of capital improvements, he said.  Students are served lunch in the hallway and eat their lunch in the same room used for physical education and assemblies.  This creates scheduling difficulties, and the lack of space and the presence of permanent seats creates a hazard for kids in gym class, he said.

The school’s fieldhouse is decaying and dangerous, with “paint chips all over the place,” and while CPS is planning to implement recess next year, the school’s playground is pocked with potholes, Truss said.

In addition CPS recently cut the school’s librarian.  The school has 450 students in Pre-K through 8th grade.

The charter advantage

Meanwhile CPS is spending $13 million to renovate an annex at Nash Elementary, 4837 W. Erie, for a revived ACT Charter school.  ACT’s low-performing high school suspended operations in 2010; the new school plans to serve 5th through 8th graders.

It will be operated by KIPP, whose Ascend charter school now serves 5th through 8th graders – and like ACT, is rated at Level 3 in performance.  (If charters were subject to probation, KIPP Ascend would be on probation.)

“CPS likes to talk about quality schools, but here’s a quality school that’s not getting the investment it needs,” said Truss, speaking of Emmet.  He said the school has been seeking repairs from CPS for many years.

Effective schools

The Designs report looked at all 210 very low income elementary schools, including turnarounds, and found that all of the most successful ones – 33 schools, including Emmet, that topped the CPS average on reading scores —  had elected LSCs hiring and evaluating principals and approving the school budget and plan.

Of twelve turnarounds, none bested the citywide average and only three ranked in the top half of the high-poverty of schools on performance – despite an additional investment averaging at least $7 million per school over five years.

The report notes that while turnaround schools have received extensive news coverage, successful neighborhood schools rarely get publicity.  It recommends that “the resources now used for turnaround schools …be shifted to helping these effective [neighborhood] schools become resources for other schools.”

At a press conference on the report last month, Dunne Math and Science Academy LSC chair Bernard Kelly spoke of that Far South Side school’s academic success – and  presented slides showing damaged ceilings and walls due to roof leaks, a crumbling exterior, and a small multipurpose room used for lunch, gym, and assemblies.

The building was originally intended to be temporary, and the community has been seeking a new facility for thirty years, he said.

“This school, if given the opportunity, the sky’s the limit,” Kelly said.  “We don’t need to keep building new schools somewhere else.”

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School closings, the law, and alternatives http://www.newstips.org/2011/11/school-closings-the-law-and-alternatives/ Tue, 29 Nov 2011 21:08:50 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4981 School closings to be announced by CPS on Thursday—expected to be unprecedented in scope — are the first under a new state school facilities planning law, intended to bring transparency and accountability to decisions over school buildings.

But does the school district’s new guidelines for school actions, which must be finalized by November 30, abide by the spirit of the law?  Many of its proponents – and some of its legislative sponsors – say no.

Meanwhile community groups continue to call on CPS to work with communities to improve struggling schools, rather than imposing top-down strategies that have no record of success.

“I don’t see them as being really ready to adhere to SB 630,” said State Representative Esther Golar, a member of the legislative task force which developed the bill.   The legislation “was intended to require CPS to work as partner with parents, teachers, and the community.”

She adds: “That’s something they haven’t been doing….And they’re still saying we’re going to run the schools the way we want to, and you don’t have any say-so.”

“It’s the same failed policies,” said Dwayne Truss, co-chair of the Austin Community Action Council, established by CPS.  “They just want to open up buildings for more charter schools.”

‘Too vague’

The guidelines for actions are so broad that they leave nearly a quarter of CPS schools open to action, circumventing SB 630’s attempt to encourage transparency in school closing decisions and limit the administration’s ability to act in an arbitrary manner, supporters of the law say.

The guidelines are “too vague,” said Golar.

By using school performance and probationary status as the basic standard for school actions, CPS relies on statistically questionable measurements – and risks exposing its own failure to meet obligations to schools on probation, said Don Moore of Designs for Change.

The number of schools on probation, now amounting to 42 percent of CPS schools, mainly reflects “erratic changes in the CPS probation policy from year to year,” said Moore.  “A large number of Chicago’s probation schools are scoring very well and carrying out good practices,” he said.

Probation standards are currently set to include nearly all schools with significant low-income enrollment, he said.  Schools making steady progress can end up on probation if they slip a couple of points one year.  Due to complex (and controversial) “trend” score calculations, some schools on probation actually have higher scores than schools that aren’t.

Nor does the performance policy account for many challenges faced by neighborhood schools.  Truss points to two Austin schools:  Louis Armstrong Elementary and Plato contract school, located nearby.  Armstrong has 27 percent of its students getting special education, versus 11.4 percent at Plato; the mobility rates are 24.6 percent versus 8.5.  “And Armstrong takes in third graders that Plato doesn’t want,” he said — just in time for tests.

Charter schools, most of which have scores comparable to neighborhood schools, are exempt from the district’s performance policy.

Schools on probation neglected

Moore underscores a common complaint by critics of the guidelines:  “CPS has consistently failed to carry out its own obligations under the probation policy.”

“The schools on probation, what help have they received from CPS?” asked State Reprentative Cynthia Soto, who co-chairs the facilities task force, talking with the Tribune.

At a recent hearing on the school action guidelines held by CPS on the West Side, parents at Marconi Elementary argued CPS has never addressed the problems which led to probation for the school, Catalyst reported.

“The school’s air conditioning is broken, they don’t have a gym, there’s no computer lab, no science lab, ceilings are falling in – there are a lot of issues,” said West Side activist Carol Johnson, who works with Truss in the Progressive Action Coalition for Education.  “CPS officials did a walk-through, they have a list of everything that parents said they needed, but they haven’t done anything.”

“If you’re going to turn around a school and then put in resources, that doesn’t seem right,” she said.  “If you’re going to give resources, do it before you close the school.”

CPS has failed to follow the mandates of state law governing probation – a possible ground for opposing school closings based on probationary status, said Moore.

State law requires that schools placed on probation – under which control over school improvement plans, budgets, and principal hiring is taken from local school councils and given to the central administration – must get a plan from the school district outlining specific steps to be taken to correct identified shortcomings, with specific expenditures in the school budget targeting educational and operational deficiencies.

Supporters of schools facing closing could file freedom of information requests for documentation that these steps have been taken, Moore suggests.  CPS failure to comply would constitute grounds for independent hearing officers to determine that the district hasn’t met legal requirements to close the school.

What about charter performance?

The school action guidelines include a range of factors, and Golar said the legislative task force has written CPS raising a number of questions and concerns.

Some of these include: how do they measure student safety?  Are there any specific criteria for “co-locating” schools, or is that decision entirely up to the whim of CPS?  Will school actions result in smaller class sizes?  Why was the previous policy of exempting schools with new principals dropped?

And a big one for her:  why are charters and turnarounds not subject to the same performance requirements?

Golar has been pushing for accountability for charters since she was elected in 2006.  “Charter schools have the same issues traditional schools have, yet they don’t have the same performance measures,” she said.  “They have all these computer labs, longer school days, better books, all the things parents are asking for, and with all that, they’re still failing.”

It’s quite possible for students from closing schools to end up at charters that are performing no better, CTU has argued.

A neighborhood agenda

There’s an alternative.  Instead of disinvesting from and closing neighborhood schools, community organizations recently proposed an agenda to invest in and improve them.

It’s a comprehensive program – the proposal for college preparation and readiness begins with pre-school for all and full-day kindergarten in every school.  It’s based on the successes of community organizations that have worked in schools for years.

The agenda proposes that all neighborhood schools follow the community school model.  It includes programs like parent mentors in the classroom, smaller class sizes, arts education and recess, restorative justice and mental health services, local teacher development and improved bilingual education.  It stresses partnerships with community groups and community governance, including local school councils with decision-making power at every school, and support and training for LSCs.

In Bronzeville, community groups have worked for two years on a plan for Dyett High School and five elementary schools that feed into it.  Dyett would  become a Community High School of Green Technology and Leadership, and the elementary schools would focus variously on math, science, engineering, languages and global citizenship.

There would be curriculum alignment throughout the “village,” says Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, along with health centers, a social worker and nurse, social-emotional and leadership programming, restorative justice, safety patrols, and pre-K for all.

The groups have called for a moratorium on school closings in Bronzeville, which has been hard hit by closings over the past decade, and which has a large number of schools which meet the new criteria.

“We’ve had ten years of closings, consolidations, and turnarounds, and they have not helped our students,” said Andrea Lee of Grand Boulevard Federation.

Brown points out that Dyett was under-resourced when it was turned into a high school to serve students who couldn’t get into the new King College Prep;  a couple years later it was “completely destabilized” when Englewood High was closed and students were sent to Dyett.

Constant destabilization

“We have to defend ourselves against our own school district,” which is “setting up our schools to fail,” he said.

“We’re looking at schools being constantly destabilized with models that just don’t work – just moving children around – and no accountability when they don’t work,” he said.

There’s evidence that the alternative strategy works.  Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s community schools are nationally acclaimed, and in a high-poverty, high-crime area on the Southwest Side, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council has worked for eight years in schools and seen steady improvement in  achievement levels.

BPNC’s full-service community schools provide afterschool academic support for struggling kids and homework help for others, followed by two hours of enrichment activity – music, art, drama, sports, “everything you can think of,” said Patrick Brosnan.

There’s ESL, GED, citizenship, and computer classes for parents, aimed at assisting them in supporting their children in school. There’s parent and student leadership development.

Each school has a resource coordinator and a social worker.  Funding comes from the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program and other public and private sources.

“It’s building ownership over the school and trying to promote the school as a center of the community,” Brosnan said.  “We’ve seen tremendous results in schools that have a lot of challenges.”

Soto has announced the legislature’s Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force will hold a hearing on CPS school actions on Thursday, December 1 at 10 a.m. at the Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle.

The Chicago Teachers Union is holding a teach-in on stopping  school closings for teachers, parents, and community groups on Saturday, December 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at King College Prep, 4445 S. Drexel.

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