Illinois Supt. on Presidential Task Force

Illinois State Schools Superintendent Chris Koch has just been named to a presidential education transition task force. I sent him this e-mail.  

Dear Dr. Koch:

Congratulations on your appointment to the Council of Chief State
School Officers Presidential Transition Task Force! What a wonderful
opportunity for the state of Illinois to bring even more of our local
knowledge, expertise, and commitment to bear on national policy
making.    

Our organization, Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE),
would like to share with you some of the concerns and ideas about our
schools that we have already shared with President-elect Obama. We hope
that, as our state school superintendent, you will communicate our
message to yur colleagues on the education transition task force.  

Most importantly, PURE is concerned that the national approach to
public education under the current administration’s implementation of
the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is in dire need of an adjustment.

We reject the push to remake our schools in the image of business and
promote “competition” as the answer to underperforming schools. We hope
our nation will return to an approach that addresses the whole child
and focuses on preparing him or her to be a happy, contributing
citizen. This is the change that parents want.

The “competition” approach has turned our economy into a nightmare and is beginning to do the same for our schools.

One example of this disturbing trend is the way the Chicago Public
Schools has turned over control of several low-performing schools to
the private management company, Academy of Urban School Leadership
(AUSL). AUSL’s first turnaround school, Sherman, reopened in the fall
of 2007. In one year, Sherman’s enrollment dropped 20 percent, the
number of low-income children dropped 10 percent, and the mobility rate
went up 17 percent. We believe this data shows that Sherman is
manipulating its student body to “improve” its outcomes.

This very expensive, problematic model, which also involves firing
entire school staffs and disbanding the elected parent-majority local
school councils, is being rapidly replicated under CPS’s Renaissance
2010 program. Parents, teachers and the public in Chicago are calling
for a moratorium on additional expansion of such a problematic model.
 

In addition, we urge you to recommend that President-elect Obama select
an excellent educator rather than a business person as his Secretary of
Education.    

Specifically, we have counseled Mr. Obama against appointing CPS’s
Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. This
important position should be held by someone with a strong background
as an educator who has a proven knowledge of research-based best
practices in education and a track record supporting and engaging
parents and families. We assert that Mr. Duncan does not meet any of
these criteria.
   

Specific recommendations for a better approach to public school reform
can be found in our study, Chicago School Reform, Lessons for the
Nation.

Thank you for your attention. Good luck with your important work. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Julie Woestehoff

More on our recommendations to President-elect Obama against the appointment of Arne Duncan here, and in support of high quality education reform here

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.