Posts Tagged ‘charter schools’

PSAT for 5-6-14: Tell your congressman to vote no on HR10 to expand charter schools

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

psat_logoThe U.S. House is likely to vote this week on HR10, the charter proliferation bill.

Of course, they call it the “Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act.”

Please take a moment today or tomorrow to call or e-mail your Congressman asking him or her to vote NO on HR10. Here’s the fax that PURE sent to Chicago’s delegation:

Chicago parents oppose charter proliferation in HR10

Look at charter school evidence, not expensive PR


This week you will be asked to consider HR10, a bill that funds more charter schools without putting into place adequate accountability requirements. Charter school advocates will try to spin the facts while they ask you to open up the nation’s wallet for more of these privatized programs

Recently, Chicago’s two major newspapers made it very clear that charter schools can be very problematic and do not provide better academic results to justify additional millions of dollars that could be directed towards struggling neighborhood public schools (“Chicago’s Noble charter school network has tough discipline policy; critics say too many students are being expelled,” Chicago Tribune, 4/7/14; “Charter schools show little difference in school performance,” Chicago Sun-Times, 4/7/14).

A research report released yesterday by the National Education Policy Center, “Wait, Wait. Don’t Mislead Me! Nine Reasons to Be Skeptical About Charter Waitlist Numbers,” concludes that charter advocates vastly overestimate the number of students on their waiting lists. No doubt because charter schools have not proven to be better than traditional schools, privatization promoters are using the “waiting list” argument to explain the urgent need for Congress to pay for more charter schools seats. Yet the truth is that even this argument is shaky.


  • Pay attention to the research, not the rhetoric about charter schools.
  • Demand more accountability for charter schools, including a requirement that they hold open, public meetings and provide transparency on student discipline and attrition.
  • Understand that what parents really want is a high-quality, well-funded neighborhood school.
  • Vote no on HR10 in its current form.

Thank you!

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

Tuesday, 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

Monday, 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.

PSAT for yesterday: This is why we have elections

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

psat_logoTuesday really got past me – though I did vote. And this is why we have elections, folks – so that once in a while there are legislative proposals like 6 out of 7 of the ones mentioned below, that actually address important issues in useful ways.

The wonderful Tim Furman at Rogers Park Neighbors for Public Schools has pulled together an excellent list of bills that need your support and deserve at least your filed witness slip (it’s easy!) and if possible your electronically submitted testimony for TOMORROW’s education committee hearing. That’s Thursday March 20.

I also submitted this testimony in support of three of the bills.

From Tim:

1. HB3937, Linda Chapa LaVia (HCA1) extends the moratorium on virtual charter schools. Be a Proponent; this is a good bill. Here’s the Witness Slip For This Bill . Go! Be a proponent for the Amendment.

2. HB4591, Martwick. Charter schools would have to return pro-rated funds for the kids they “counsel out.” Here’s the Witness Slip For This Bill. Go be a proponent! Look who’s opposed, natch.

3. HB5328, Hernandez. LSCs for charter schools, among other things. Here is the Witness Slip For The Bill. Go! Look who’s opposed:

4. HB5330, Chapa LaVia, Along with Amendment One sets up an intelligently formed and tasked committee to look at assessment. Here is the Witness Slip For The Bill.  Here is the Witness Slip For the Amendment.  Go be a proponent! (yes, you can be a proponent for the original bill, too.)

5. HB5887 Crespo, puts reasonable financial accountability on virtual charter schools. This one is interesting, I’m for it, and it looks like some people are weighing in for it. Here is the Witness Slip For This Bill. Go be a proponent. 

6. **HB6005, Chapa LaVia, Charter School Accountability. Excellent, Excellent bill. Deserves your written testimony. Here is the Witness Slip For The Bill. Go be a proponent! This bill in its entirety is reasonable, responsible, and fair, and it would start to eliminate a lot of the shenanigans, including some of what’s going on in the Gulen-affiliated operations.  This is the most important bill of my recommendations tonight. Here’s a CTU fact sheet on the bill. Get moving on this bill. You are a proponent!

Guess who doesn’t want this kind of accountability for charter schools?

7) More from Tim on a Heather Steans-introduced bill pending over in the Senate, SB3412. Tim’s take on Jim Broadway’s explanation of the bill:

This bill is Steans’s way of codifying into law the testing on the Common Core Standards without using the actual words “Common Core.” It appears to have the effect of approving the standards, as well, a process that people now recognize was a bit problematic.

I will say this much: that Heather Steans knows how to be a bit sneaky in a bill. The whole family does. It’s how this entire ed reform movement has operated nationally, sort of under the radar. If you feel that your voice was left out of the original Common Core discussion in Illinois, then in the future, they’re going to say that this new Steans bill was your chance to pipe up and yet you said nothing. So say something.

RPNPS doesn’t work on the Common Core Standards, so I haven’t filed a witness slip opposed yet. But I’m going to as an individual. I wish I could go back and be on the record against NCLB, but I can’t. This I can do. Here is the Witness Slip for the bill. I myself am an opponent, and that’s how I’ll fill out my slip. But I’m going to try to write my own testimony tonight. Submitting written testimony to the Senate hearings is a bit harder than in the House; more on that later.

PSAT for 2-25-14 (1): Support HB 4558 to protect student data privacy

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

psat_logoFile an electronic witness slip in favor of an Illinois House bill to strengthen parent control over student data.

Over the past few months, PURE and others have raised red flags about proposals to share Illinois students’ data with for-profit companies like inBloom. Just days after November’s More Than a Score forum on student data privacy, CPS announced it would not share data with inBloom. The state board has clarified that its own data warehouse, ISLE, is not connected with inBloom and that districts can decide individually whether they want to purchase services from inBloom.

This may be the end of inBloom in Illinois — for now. But we know that the will of education marketeers to capture and profit from student data remains strong. InBloom can simply change its name — as it has before — and try again under another guise.

That’s why it is still important for parents to have the ultimate control over their children’s private school information. That right was undermined the Duncan Ed department made to the federal student privacy act, called FERPA. Those changes took away parental rights to decide how student data would be shared with third parties.

Now Illinois State Representative Scott Drury, a Democrat from north suburban Highwood, has introduced HB 4558, a bill that would require parental consent before student data could be shared with third parties in Illinois.

The bill is called for a hearing before the House education committee tomorrow. You can submit an electronic witness slip in support of the bill.

Other bills listed on for this hearing that deserve your support are HB 3754, HB 4237, and HB 4767.

Here’s more on those bills from Illinois Jobs with Justice:

State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia has introduced three crucial bills.  The first two would restore local control over charter decisions, and the third would assure that all public schools be fully-staffed with certified teachers. Please ask your State Senator and State Representative to sponsor these bills.

HB 3754.  This bill would eliminate the Illinois State Charter Commission, which was created to overtuen decisions of local elected schools that have rejected applications of charter schools.  The Commission was put together to under the heavy influence of wealthy hedge fund managers and their front groups: Stand for Chilren and Advance Illinois.    Click    to read the bill.   The companion bill in the Senate is SB 2627.
HB 4237 would allow districts to hold a referendum if the charter commission overturned the decision of a local school board.  Click  to read the bill.
HB 4767,  would require all schools to hire only state certified teachers, and would require uncertified teachers to become certified  by September of 2016.  Currently, up to 25% of teachers in charter schools are uncertified and are paid less than their counterparts in neighborhood public schools.  Many of these teachers are given a 6-week course through Teach for America.  This  leaves them woefully unprepared for the challenges of the classroom.  The practice results in high turnover among those teachers, and a lower quality educational experience for the student. Click    to read the bill.
Please call or email your  Illinois State Representative  and tell him or her to sign on as sponsors of HB 3754,  HB 3754, and HB 4767. Ask your State Senator to sign onto SB 2627.  Click on this link to find out who represents you and  get his or her contact information.

Is “secret sauce” headed for the back burner?

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Today’s Tribune suggests that CPS may require charter schools to agree to more progressive discipline policies in order to win or renew their contracts.

CPS has been changing its discipline code in large part because of a powerful student-led campaign by Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE), with the support of its affiliate community-based groups. VOYCE has been working to dismantle CPS’s zero tolerance discipline code and replace it with a more effective policy that actually contributes to student learning,

This has got to be bad news for the Noble Charter Network. The recipe for Noble’s “secret sauce” – much loved by Mayor Rahm – is three parts oppressive discipline, one part sky-high fines, and one part push-out route for the unwanted student. The sauce may be headed for the back burner.

STNobleFrom the Tribune story:

Two years ago, Parents United for Responsible Education, which is against charters, released a report that showed that one of the district’s largest charter networks, the Noble Network of Charter Schools, had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from disciplinary fees.

CPS has “a real public relations problem with some of the charter schools” that have used such tactics, said Julie Woestehoff, PURE’s executive director.

Here’s what I said at a 2012 press conference with VOYCE where we first exposed Noble’s oppressive discipline policies:

  • It isn’t “noble” to treat teenage students like two-year olds.
  • It isn’t “noble” to impose an arbitrary discipline system in which anyone can be punished and fined for almost anything.
  • It isn’t “noble” to pick the pockets of families who are already struggling with fees, fines and taxes that go higher and higher every day in Chicago.
  • It isn’t “noble” to treat your predominantly African-American and Latino students as though they are all potential criminals whose every movement must be harshly controlled.

Try to get on the right side of history, Noble Charters.


Pellet or pain: Oppression the “Noble” way

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

NoblePress2-12cropThe following post is a companion to the story above about Katie Osgood’s January 2014 testimony to the Chicago Board of Education, in which she stated that “far too many (Noble charter school students) are ending up in a psych ward.”

In February 2012, PURE, along with the Advancement Project and VOYCE, first publicly exposed the “secret sauce” of the discipline policies of the Noble Network of Charter Schools.

Using material from a Freedom of Information Act request, we found that Noble’s discipline system charges students $5 for minor behavior such as chewing gum, missing a button on their school uniform, or not making eye contact with their teacher, and up to $280 for required behavior classes. 90% of Noble students are low-income, yet if they can’t pay all fines, they are made to repeat the entire school year or prevented from graduating. No waivers are offered, giving many families no option but to leave the school. We pointed to a recent Illinois State Board of Education report showing that 473 students, or 13% of the previous year’s student body, transferred out of Noble over the summer of 2010.

While some defended Noble’s policies, others reacted with shock and disapproval, including Congressman Danny Davis and State Senator William Delgado, chair of the Illinois Senate Education Committee, and media pundits  (also here).

Does Noble incentivize its “push-out, shaming, and abuse”?

We began to hear rumors that there might actually be some incentive for Noble teachers and other staff to assign student demerits, and that there are other odd employment practices at Noble. We also learned that Noble teachers are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the charter network, which makes it quite challenging to break through the secrecy of Noble’s practices.

In order to learn the facts, PURE filed additional Freedom of Information requests and eventually acquired guidelines for each campus for staff bonus systems, campus audits, and the like. Overall, this material reflects a Byzantine set of rewards and punishments, an elaborate pellet-or-pain system for staff that mirrors the student discipline code.

Each Noble school has its own version of the staff bonus/demerit system, but they are clearly written off of a central plan with few deviations.

What we found

The campus audit: This is apparently a regular site visit whose results affect the bonuses of all staff.

  • Items reviewed during the audit include “no trash on the floor; binders, books, etc. should be properly propped up; void of chewing gum; distracting/disrespectful students addressed; toilets should be flushed.”
  • The audit also closely tracks staff implementation of the student discipline code (including Acting SMART*, SAVE – Speak in Standard Vernacular English) incorporating the extensive student dress code.

The bonus system: Besides the campus audit, there are additional, exhaustively detailed lists of ways to gain points towards a monetary bonus and, conversely, to lose points, which impacts your various eventual monetary bonuses.

  • Items included in the bonus point system encompass achievement data, discipline status, attendance, and adherence to all other rules and requirements.
  • Possible bonuses range from as much as $50,000 for principals based on results in 10 categories, to $25 for the assistant dean of discipline for each locker sweep.

Is there a monetary incentive to give students demerits?

We did not find a direct monetary incentive for awarding demerits, fines, or LaSalles, which is what most Noble schools call detention. However, all of the Noble behavior systems include a loss of points for staff members who do not consistently and at all times enforce all of the behavior systems, and that goes all the way up the line to the principals, who can lose some of their bonus money if their staff does not enforce the rules.

  • Staff receive bonus points when 80%-100% of their students are not in LaSalle DAILY. That means that you lose NO POINTS if up to 20% of your students are in in-school detention EVERY DAY.
  • Since you will lose points if you do not give out demerits, and you can get a bonus even if 20% of your students are in detention on a daily basis, you are actually incentivized and can receive monetary bonuses if you successfully give out a certain number of demerits every day.

For example:

At Noble JC Pritzker:

The Assistant Dean of Discipline can earn significant money based on how many JCP students have 36 or less detentions at the conclusion of the school year. If no JCP students have more than 36 detentions (appx one per week), the assistant dean gets $500. But even if 10% of the students have more than one detention per week, the ADD still earns $300. And the ADD can also lose incentive points if students are NOT “properly” disciplined.

Here’s how it breaks down at Noble JCP:

>90% with less than 36 detentions = $300;

>95% = $400;

>100% = $500

At Noble Rowe Clark:

Staff can earn PRPs = Professional Responsibility Points

  • According to the RC staff handbook, a PRP is similar to a demerit; a mulligan is what they call a PRP that does not count against your bonus.

For example, here’s what the RC staff handbook tells staff to do to earn PRPs in the area of the discipline and dress code: consistently assign demerits, students not leaning on the walls and they do not have their feet on the bookrack. Collar of polo showing with sweatshirt, chain not exposed outside of polo


There is a whole lot more of this, but you get the picture.

The bottom line is that Noble’s “secret sauce” is no more than a carefully-worked out system of oppression.

Here’s how that works, according to Just Conflict, a group that promotes creative conflict resolution:

Built into the very fabric of our society are cultural values and habits which support the oppression of some persons and groups of people by other persons and groups. These systems take on many forms but they all have essentially the same structure:

Patterns of Abuse: Systems of oppression are created by a series of acts of abuse which establish and maintain dominance.

Social Justification: These acts are justified by the dominant group in the dominant culture as being ways to maintain the “appropriate social order.”

Secrecy: Nevertheless, the specific acts of abuse themselves are hidden in some sense from public view. They are not to be witnessed.

Internal distress: And the conflicts that appear to be between the oppressor and the oppressed are actually conflicts that are interior to the oppressor but acted out in relationship to the oppressed.

That last point may explain why Noble is a business created by a white man with a student body of nearly 100% students of color. I guess it was either inventing Noble’s “secret sauce” or founding a military school.

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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.