PSAT for 4-8-14: Let Springfield know the truth about charter schools

April 8th, 2014

psat_logoToday, charter school advocates will be taking out their checkbooks to fund Springfield trips for folks to lobby for less oversight of and more money for charter schools.

Mayor Emanuel says that the truth about charter schools’ mediocre performance compared with regular schools is “yesterday’s debate.”

Not really. The truth always matters, and the truth about charter schools is only beginning to get front page coverage.

So, while Bill Gates’ and the Walton’s minions are trudging down to Springfield to echo the Mayor’s efforts to brush off the truth about charters, please call, fax, or e-mail your state representative and senator with the truth.

Here’s what I faxed to every member of the Illinois House:

Look at charter school evidence, not expensive PR

Yesterday, Chicago’s two major newspapers made it very clear that charter schools can be very problematic and DO NOT provide better academic results.

But today you will be approached by busloads of well-financed charter school advocates trying to spin the facts while they ask you to ignore the truth and pave the way for more money and  “freedom” for charters.

Here’s the truth about charter schools:

The Chicago Tribune reported on the drastic, regressive discipline policy of one of the largest of these charter franchises, the Noble Network of Charter Schools. Even as the Chicago Public Schools is working toward more effective, positive discipline policies that keep students in school and learning, Noble is suspending and expelling students at a vastly greater rate than the district, and making their families pay significant dollars in the process.

The Sun-Times reported that Chicago’s charter school achievement rates are no better than that of the district overall, and far worse than the more comparable district magnet schools which have similar non-selective lottery enrollment systems. This confirms years of research which has been largely ignored as corporate reformers demand an ever-expanding “marketplace” for privately-run charter schools.


  • Pay attention to the research, not the rhetoric about charter schools.
  • Support HB3937, (HCA1) which extends the moratorium on virtual charter schools.
  • Support HB4591, which would require charter schools to return pro-rated funds for the kids they “counsel out.
  • Support HB5328, LSCs and other accountability for charter schools.
  • Support HB5887, which puts reasonable financial accountability on virtual charter schools.
  • Support HB6005, a major charter school accountability act.

Thank you!

Charter school truths hit the front page

April 7th, 2014


Today was not a good day for charter school public relations folks.

The Chicago Tribune’s front page carried the above headline (left) on a story that described the discipline policy of the Noble Network of Charter Schools as “extreme,” “stricter than zero tolerance,” and “out of proportion,” and shared an example of a Noble student who was given a demerit for saying “Bless you” when a fellow student sneezed.

PURE first brought Noble’s harsh discipline practices to light after a parent at the school told us about how its discipline code had affected her son, and our Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Noble raked in nearly $200,000 in student fines that year. Noblesuspensionsexpuls

Just over a month ago, the Tribune reported that the student expulsion rate for CPS charter schools was more than 30 times that of the rest of CPS.

Also today, the Chicago Sun-Times detailed a study it carried out with the Medill Data Project at Northwestern University which concluded that traditional CPS schools outperform privately-run charter and turnaround schools. From the Sun-Times/Medill story:

Rather than look at the percentage of students exceeding or meeting standards, some experts prefer to calculate average scores on the state tests. By that measure, too, elementary students at charter schools and neighborhood schools in Chicago were in a virtual tie on the reading and math exams last year, the Sun-Times/Medill Data Project analysis found. And the average test scores for charter high schools were only slightly higher than those at the city’s neighborhood high schools.

The analysis included results from 48 traditional CPS schools — almost all of them neighborhood schools — that the city closed after the last school year, citing poor academic performance, declining enrollment and the costs of maintaining aging buildings.

Neither charters nor neighborhood schools require admissions tests. Unlike charter schools, which can draw students from a broad geographic area, neighborhood schools must adhere to CPS’ attendance boundaries.

Some education experts say charters are most comparable to magnet schools — which dramatically outperform charters in Chicago — in that both use random lotteries when there are more applicants than available seats.


 Last week in Springfield, it was clear that Illinois legislators are up to speed on many of the problems with charters. The Illinois Senate Education Committee voted to send several bills to the full Senate that will rein charters in and hold them accountable for their discipline policies, spending, and other problems.

It’s time to spread the intelligence to their Congressional counterparts, who recently held a hearing on a new proposal, HR 10, the “Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act” with testimony from charter supporters only.

Please share this testing survey with 5th-6th grade parents/students

April 3rd, 2014

High-Stakes Testing; The Student Voice Flyer


Deadline April 23.

Dear Parent or Guardian,

I am conducting a research study entitled “High-Stakes Testing: The Student Voice” with 5th and 6th grade student in the Chicago Area. We are interested in examining the student perspective of high-stakes standardized tests. Ultimately, my hope is to learn if students feel that high-stakes testing affects them emotionally or academically. We are requesting that you allow your child to participate.

Participants in the study will be asked to complete an online survey which consists of 45 questions. Afterwards, 10-25% of the students will be selected to participate in a one-on-one interview. The total time to participate in the study will be approximately two hours. Students who participate will complete the survey online.

There are no foreseeable risks to participating in the study.

Names will be used in filling out the study’s forms, but all responses will be anonymous. No one at the school will have access to any of the information collected. Surveys will be kept on Loyola University server and will be accessible only to the researchers.

Participation in the study is entirely voluntary and there will be no penalty for not participating. All students for whom we have parent consent will be asked if they wish to participate and only those who agree will complete the forms. Moreover, participants will be free to stop taking part in the study at any time.

Loyola University Chicago’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) has approved this study. Should you have any questions about the study please contact Dr. Noah Sobe at (312) 915-6954 or, if you have questions about your rights as a research participant, you can contact the Loyola University Office of Research Services at (773) 508-2689.

Confidentiality will be maintained to the degree permitted by the technology used. Your participation in this online survey involves risks similar to a person’s everyday use of the Internet.

Please print this letter for your records.

Julianna Cechowski
Culture of Education and Policy Studies
Loyola University Chicago

Mark as junk?

April 3rd, 2014


OK. So, do I mark this as junk or spam?

Paul warns us that under Bruce Rauner:

  • 13,000 teachers will lose their jobs.
  • Communities will be forced to decide between hiking their property taxes and closing their schools.
  • We will have a weakened school system.

And this is different from your slash-and-burn approach to school reform how??

PSAT for 4-2-14: Speak out, sign up, pencil in

April 2nd, 2014

psat_logoI know it’s Wednesday – springing ahead can do crazy things to the schedule, especially when it’s barely spring, right?

1) Speak out about the AUSL turnaround proposals at three schools. Please share this quick fact sheet about AUSL’s lackluster contributions to student success.

Also, if you can, take time to review these charts from Catalyst showing pretty much the same story. Details about the three hearings this afternoon here.

2) Sign up for the April 9th Parents4Teachers dinner fundraiser honoring the opt out students, parents and teachers. More info here.

3) Pencil in the many excellent forums and events that are coming up:

April 7: Forum at DePaul 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM

Why our Schools are Still Segregated and What We Can Do About It:  DePaul College of Education hosts a presentation by Richard Rothstein, Economic Policy Institute Education Policy expert.
Schmitt Academic Center, 2320 N. Kenmore, RM 161

April 24: Forum at DePaul, 6 – 9 PM

Promoting Progressive, Democratic Education in an era of Standardization: A Visit from Mission Hill Public School in Boston
DePaul Student Center,  RM 120
So much discussion of education practice and policy today is centered on critique – of high stakes testing, value-added measures for teacher evaluation, growth of charters, deprofessionalization of teaching through short alternative programs and other “reforms.” We find that our students are looking for alternatives to today’s current “reform” prescriptions. Mission Hill offers one such example.

April 26th, 10am –Noon

Quality Education for Every Child; How do we get there? Finnish scholar and educator Pasi Sahlberg joins Raise Your Hand for a talk.
You must register for this event on the RYH website. Seats are limited and filling up fast.

Creole food and courage: come to the Parents4Teachers fundraiser 4-9-14

March 27th, 2014

honoranddefendPlease join Parents4 Teachers (I plan to!). You might consider paying for an extra ticket for one of the parents, students or teachers as well. Share the flyer, too!

Celebration to Honor and Defend the ISAT Boycott Teachers and Families

Join us for a dinner celebration to honor the brave teachers, families and students who boycotted, opted out and refused this year’s ISAT.

Teachers could face retaliation from the mayor’s hand-picked board of education, and families and their children were intimidated and lied to for their decision not to sit for the exam.

We need to make a strong stand in support of these courageous teachers and families. Boycotting teachers should face no disciplinary action.  Let our teachers teach! Let our kids learn!

Honor and Defend the ISAT Boycott
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
5:30 to 8:30pm

Wishbone Restaurant
3300 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago IL

doors open 5:30 | dinner 6:00 | program 7:00
Live Latin Jazz by Maestroson
dinner | drinks| childcare

Hear from teachers and parents who boycotted the ISAT

General Admission: $25 (includes a free drink ticket)
Students:  $10
Children under 5 free

Purchase tickets on-line here.

Limited tickets available at the door.  No one will be turned away.

Any funds raised will be used to support Chicago’s anti-testing resistance movement.

Contact for paper tickets or more information.

Testimony on data privacy to Illinois Senate Education Committee

March 24th, 2014

PURE, MTAS, and PAA strongly believe that parents must have control over any use of their children’s school data outside of the school building and the district.

PURE and other parent groups are very concerned that the federal education department under Arne Duncan has made changes in federal FERPA laws that have opened the door to potentially massive sharing of student data without parental knowledge or consent. In late 2013, we became aware of a proposal in Illinois to share student data with the inBloom company and possibly other third parties in connection with the Illinois Shared Learning Environment (ISLE). PURE and More Than a Score joined with the ACLU of Illinois, Parents 4 Teachers, Raise Your Hand Illinois, the Chicago Teachers’ Union, the CReATE organization of university researchers, and the national group EPIC, to educate parents and others about this move, and to share our concerns with Chicago Public Schools and school board officials. I’m happy to report that CPS subsequently decided not to share student data with inBloom.

While we are pleased that District 299 has chosen to opt out of the inBloom program, we are concerned that there are still districts in our state that may soon begin to transmit confidential student information to the state database, data that may be shared with third party for-profit companies without parental notification or consent. In fact, few parents have any idea that this is about to happen, and soon. When PURE and MTAS first began to talk about this issue, it was clear that many state officials, school board members, and the media, among others, were only hearing about it from us here in Chicago and Illinois, and from Parents Across America and a handful of other groups nationally.

That is why we are so grateful to Senator William Delgado, sponsor of SB3092, and chief co-sponsors Senator Don Harmon and Senator Chapin Rose, for bringing forward this important bill. It is especially important considering what little information has been communicated to parents about the plans Illinois has for sharing their children's school information.

PURE supports SB3092 because, while state and local agencies claim that any data sharing will comply with applicable state and federal privacy laws, with FERPA recently weakened to omit parental oversight parents are not reassured. FERPA allows districts to decide what data is shared and with whom it will be shared.

PURE supports SB3092 because, while we are further told that “industry best practices” will be in place to ensure that the data is protected, none of this provides adequate assurance to parents who know that, despite the sincerest of efforts, data breaches will happen that may dramatically impact children’s futures.

PURE also supports SB3092 because the issue of student data privacy is deeply connected to the growing misuse and overuse of standardized testing, which I will just touch on here briefly.

You may have heard about a recent dust-up in Chicago when some parents opted their children out of the state test. Parents are sick of the way testing has taken over schooling. Opting their children out of one test was a reflection of that frustration. People may disagree with these parents about the value of giving dozens of standardized tests every year to children as young as 4 or 5. But the fact that the district met this opposition with harassment and disinformation, and even pulled children out of class later to interrogate them (their words) about opting out, shows a level of focus on testing that is only going to get worse. In fact, implementation of the Common Core state standards and the associated tests is about to usher in a feeding frenzy in the “education marketplace.” And student data will become one of the main currencies in that marketplace.

I will conclude by quoting Todd Farley, a recent guest essayist on the Washington Post Answer Sheet blog:

(T)he United States seems to be heading towards taking the decisions about American education out of the hands of American educators and instead placing that sacred trust in the welcoming arms of an industry run entirely without oversight and populated completely with for-profit companies chasing billions of dollars in business. When next some standardized test scores are found to be incorrect or fraudulent (because they will), or some standardized testing company commits or tries to cover up another egregious error (because they will), perhaps then we can admit large-scale assessment isn’t the panacea it’s often been touted to be. Perhaps then we can concede that an educational philosophy based on a system of national standardized tests isn’t any Brave New World of American education; it’s just a bad idea that even the Chinese are already turning away from as being too inefficient and antiquated.

SB3092 will provide a good start for refocusing education on learning and not testing.

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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.