Robin rocks

FOX Chicago’s Robin Robinson has been taking a no-nonsense approach to public education in Chicago for a while (disclaimer – I’ve been on her schools segment a couple of times).

She actually asks the questions WE would ask – the ones that we usually end up shouting at the TV during these interviews.

Last night she really put CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard to the test on the subject of school closings:

Robin: “Around those school actions there’s a lot of angst. Parents who say, ‘What about the upheaval in those students’ lives, those neighborhoods?’ ”

Brizard responds that CPS doesn’t do that any more, they’re moving students to better schools or leaving them in turnarounds.

Robin comes back: “But you understand the skepticism when it has not been proven that moving kids from failing schools to, usually, other schools that are failing almost as badly has not resulted in some better outcome for them. And in fact, many of them aren’t even tracked so we don’t know the result of them being moved from a low-performing school.”

Brizard: “Which is why we’re not doing that, that’s exactly it. We have seen in the past, this is what CPS has done, and I understand we have to gain peoples’ trust to understand that we are very different than what happened in the past and we understand that. Which is why we did not do that.” (Wow – don’t remember hearing that testimony at Arne Duncan’s confirmation hearing…)

Robin comes back again: “But then you’ll read of other parents who said their school was low-performing and it was phased out, phased down their kids were supposed to go someplace else, and the someplace else is no better, there may be a better option in their neighborhood, a charter school for instance that they can’t get into. So for many kids, they’re just kinda caught in the shuffle.”

Brizard: That’s exactly it, you are on target, so… Our issue with charters is that we don’t have enough seats,. which is why we have to have a lottery. So we need better, more and better, high quality seats in schools across the city so parents don’t have to go through a lottery, they don’t have to beg to find a good school. That is our aim.

Robin moves in for the kill: “Why, the question is, can’t you bring those resources to bear on an existing neighborhood school — probably the people there could succeed if they had all those resources?”

Brizard claims that “We’ve spent millions in places like Price and Guggenheim and other schools in the city with no results whatsoever.”

Robin’s not buying it: “So if you’re in a neighborhood with five low performing schools, one of those is being turned around next year and they’re gonna have full time social worker, etc. — how do the other schools who were not targets for action compete with that? They still have all the lack of resources that kept them low-performing.”

Brizard tries to weasel out of it: “I would argue very simply it’s not about competition. It’s about creating good schools everywhere. At times, I think we have as a system, we have to admit failure, and say that we’ve poured millions into these schools, we’ve given them a lot of those kinds of support, with not much difference in terms of the achievement. I think I met the principal of Howe Elementary back in May. She said to me that the former staff came and visited and they said what’d you do with the kids? And she said, walk around. It’s the exact same kids but a whole different atmosphere in the school, leadership, the teachers, all of the above was changed to create a different sort of mix that created success in that school.

Robin won’t back down: “But didn’t that principal have some resources that the previous administration at that school didn’t have?”

Brizard answers: “Some, but not much. But, but –”

Robin’s not done: I know principals who say you give me a full time social worker, etc., two assistant principals, and I can make a world of difference in this school.

Brizard: I was a principal, I can tell you that won’t work. Having a social worker in one school will not make a school better overnight.

Robin: Nothing’s gonna make it better overnight!

Awesome. She also manages to get in some sharp questions about the longer school day and teaching to the test in the same interview. You can follow her @robinrobinson. Right now she’s pretty sure it’s going to snow soon and there are no salt trucks out!

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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.