PSAT for 4-3-12: It’s LISTEN UP time!

Aren’t you tired of speaking out and not being heard?

Aren’t you fed up with school boards holding hearings but not listening?

Don’t you feel like screaming every time Arne Duncan, Rahm Emanuel or JC Brizard spout the same cliches and unsubstantiated pronouncements about how to improve schools?

Don’t you think it’s time that we called these appointed officials out on the b******t???

I’m going to tell you how in a minute.

What got me started on this today? Well, it doesn’t ever take much, as you know, but this time it started with my previous blog post about the apparent deafness of the Illinois State Board of Education to thoughtful, legitimate concerns raised by the public about its proposed new testing and school labeling system.

But then I’ve also been thinking about the earnest efforts of Chicago parents, including the Raise Your Hand and 19th Ward Parents groups, fighting CPS’s proposed unfunded, one-size-fits-all Longer Day, They have been politely but firmly asking to be heard and to have their reasonable questions answered about what exactly will be happening during this longer day, only to be met with arrogance and nonsense.

A while back I brought to your attention the great analysis of my current research heroes — those delightful debunkers at the the National Education Policy Center — of the Public Agenda report explaining to self-described “education reformers” how they can give us stupid, stupid parents the run-around on school turnarounds despite our natural opposition. Here’s how NEPC describes the plan:

(P)arents can, the report explains, be brought around to support what the authors characterize as “bold action to transform deeply inadequate schools, including closing or fundamentally reshaping the leadership, programs, and staffing at these schools.”

To accomplish that, the report provides eight “communication strategies” directed at parents and communities. The strategies, and the report itself, are based in large part on an unspecified number of focus groups conducted with parents in four cities. For instance, turnaround advocates are told to “Provide information—not too little and not too much” and to “Remember to tell stories [testimonials].”

….After hearing directly from parents who described their concerns about school turnaround proposals, these concerns were set aside – as a practical matter, they were ignored.  Instead, the focus groups were used “to test messaging that would manipulate those groups’ participants (and, by extension, the wider community) into favoring federal turnaround approaches,” according to Mathis. The result is a document that’s “paternalistic and arrogant” in its “criticism of parents for not knowing what’s good for them.”

What’s even creepier than the plan itself is the way the rich backers of corporate reform and school privatization have collaborated in dumping millions of dollars into their propaganda war.

OK. So what do we do? How do we fight the propaganda and force them to listen?

The answer, I believe, is to keep doing what we’re doing but do it more and more in front of legislators, aldermen, etc. They have power, too, and because they are ACTUALLY ELECTED,  they are more responsive than appointed school boards, appointed secretaries of education, etc.

And it’s already working. The elected officials are beginning to make our arguments for us, and they are the ones who have been the targets of Stand for Children’s money and corporate reform lobbying. I gave you three local examples just recently:

  • The debate in the Senate Education Committee over Senator Delgado’s proposed bill to stop Noble charter school from imposing disciplinary fines: “Delgado pointed out that no research has generated findings that such ‘financial punishment’ has beneficial effects.”
  • The drubbing JC Brizard took at the Illinois House Education Committee meeting last Thursday when Rep Monique Davis asked, “Is [CEO] Brizard just a figurehead? Someone is making big dollars … to manage the turnarounds.”
  • The opinion piece by Congressman Danny Davis opposing Noble’s discipline policy.

Someone’s listening now!

And it’s not just here in Chicago or Springfield. Listen to these arguments made by Mississippi legislators opposed to charter expansion in that state – don’t they sound familiar? (The answer is yes! We have been making them for several years now!):

  • Why not begin with a pilot program and see what works and what does not?
  • National studies show that charter schools do not outperform charter schools on a sustained basis.
  • If we want to improve education, how can we do that by reducing the number of certified teachers?
  • What remedy does a parent have to make sure a charter school does what it is supposed to do? To whom can they turn? All you can do is leave the school, which is not an effective way to hold the charter school accountable.
  • X asked about charters cherry-picking the best students and casting out those that under-perform academically or misbehave.

You’d think they were reading my blog….

So, for Public Schools Action Tuesday, it’s LISTEN UP time! Reach out to an ELECTED official and tell them some truth about our schools. Some of them are listening, and some of them can make CPS listen.

Chicago Aldermen contacts here. You might ask them to dig into the longer school day – here are some ideas from Raise Your Hand.

Illinois Senators here and Illinois Representatives here. You might ask them to read Congressman Davis’s opinion piece on Noble charter school here and support Sen. Delgado’s bill SB 637 to end charters fining low-income students.


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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.