Posts Tagged ‘charter schools’

A smorgasbord of a Mike Madigan/Gulen charter school scandal!

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

xmastable1998cropIt took today’s expose of the Gulen charter school network by the Sun-Times’ Dan Mihalopoulos (yes, the one I resent!)  to pull me away from my Christmas baking and cooking. There was just such a banquet of choice items to share….

PURE has been reporting for a while on the secretive Turkish cult behind the largest network of charter schools in the nation. We first learned about Gulen charter schools from Parents Across America founding member Sharon Higgins, who maintains the most comprehensive web site on the schools and other enterprises run by the Turkish emigre to the US Fethullah Gulen, a recluse now living in southern Pennsylvania.

Gulen runs the Concept charter school chain in Chicago, which includes its Rogers Park school, Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA), and two newer schools in McKinley Park and Austin. CPS refused to approve those two schools but its decision was overruled by the Illinois State Charter School Commission run by former head of CPS’s office of New Schools (or whatever it was called then), Jeannie Nowaczewski.

The Sun-Times story includes the following tidbits:

  • As the first, and so far only, charter operator to benefit from the decisions of the 2-year-old state agency, Concept is getting 33 percent more funding per pupil for those two new schools than the city school system gives other charters.
  • CPS officials denied Concept, citing concerns over “fluctuations in its academic performance” in recent years and also because CMSA test scores didn’t outperform the average scores of schools in its section of the city by at least 10 percent — the benchmark CPS uses to decide whether current charter operators will be allowed to expand.

  • Concept officials boast that 90 percent of the students at CMSA are accepted to colleges. Data from the National Student Clearinghouse, though, show 50 percent of CMSA graduates actually enroll in college, compared to the public school system’s average of 57 percent.
  •  Most of Concept’s schools are in Ohio, where the network was started. Of its 19 schools there, 12 were given D grades by state officials, 4 got C’s and 3 received B’s this year. Concept’s Indiana Math and Science Academy in Indianapolis got an F, according to state officials.

So, why the support for Gulen in Chicago?

Well, Nowaczewski drags out that old lame “waiting list” excuse: “Parents are smart consumers.” Not when they are lied to about the product, Jeannie.

No, the real reason for the support is the one driving all other major decision making in this state of shame: clout. Here’s how the Sun-Times details it:

  • Michael Madigan (is) … a powerful advocate of Concept and the faith-based Gulen movement to which the schools are connected.
  • In a video the school posted on YouTube, Madigan praised the school.
  • The speaker’s son Andrew Madigan also visited and filmed an endorsement of the CMSA campus…. Andrew Madigan works for Mesirow Insurance Services Inc., whose clients include CMSA and the two new, state-approved Concept schools…
  • Madigan has taken four trips in the past four years to Turkey as the guest of the Chicago-based Niagara Foundation — whose honorary president is Gulen — and the Chicago Turkish American Chamber of Commerce, according to disclosure reports the speaker has filed.
  • State records show Madigan’s visits were among 32 trips lawmakers took to Turkey from 2008 through 2012. The speaker and members of his House Democratic caucus took 29 of those trips, which they described as “educational missions.
  • Turkey was the destination of 74 percent of all foreign trips Illinois legislators reported receiving as gifts during the five-year period.

And why did the state charter commission choose to overrule CPS on these two schools? The Sun-Times suggests a couple of reasons:

  • More than half of the state charter commission’s budget has come from private contributions, Nowaczewski said. That includes $200,000 from the Walton Family Foundation, linked to the family of the founders of Wal-Mart, and $115,000 from the Joyce Foundation in Chicago. The groups are major financial backers of charter schools.
  • Glen Barton, retired chairman and chief executive of Caterpillar Inc., was among the commission members who voted yes. Barton is president of the board of a Peoria school that’s managed by Concept, but commission officials decided before the vote that Barton’s ties to Concept didn’t prevent him from voting on the plans.

The state law that formed the state body mandates that all members must support charter schools. State Representative Linda Chapa La Via has introduced legislation, HB3754, to shut down the commission.

Broken communities -> disconnected students = skyrocketing truancy rates

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

From 2013 “Halve the Gap” report on disconnected youth

According to a new study to be unveiled Thursday, Chicago and Illinois school dropout rates appear to be declining, but truancy and chronic truancy are dramatically escalating.

The study, by Dr. Andrew Sum of Boston’s Northeastern University, will be presented at a forum which will also feature panelists from CPS, the state legislature, and local alternative school administrators. Pre-registration for the event has closed, but you can still probably show up and get in to hear the presentation scheduled from 9:30 to noon at Chicago’s Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson.

I don’t know what Dr. Sum will say tomorrow and I’m no scientist, but it’s clear to me that city policies have completely sabotaged the feelings of belonging and engagement that students need to stick with school. Chicago’s formerly proud, vibrant and close-knit communities have been decimated by Mayor Emanuel’s devastating school closings. Neighborhood schools that are still open are forced to compete with self-contained charter schools which generally have little connection to the community where they are sited.

How many students have been rejected by a charter school? How many have no neighborhood school at all? How many have given up going to school out of fear for their safety? Whose set our children up this way?

I am suspicious of upbeat drop out numbers from the “cook-the-books” folks at CPS. There have also been changes in the way dropouts are counted. Though I can’t prove it, I believe that more students drop out at earlier ages (which the Consortium on Chicago School Research’s Ending Social Promotion study found to be true of students flunked under CPS’s terrible elementary promotion policy).

The press alert on tomorrow’s event says that the presentation of this new data is intended to support the work of the Truancy in the Chicago Public Schools Task Force which will convene on Friday, December 6, 2013. Where do you think they will go to look for answers?

PSAT for 8-20-13: Don’t buy school supplies at WalMart

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

psat_logoPublic Schools Action Tuesday is usually about something you can/should do to support public education. Today it’s about something you shouldn’t do.


It’s that time of year when everyone is stocking up on new notebooks, shiny folders, colorful pencils.

It’s also a time when parents, teachers and students in places like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington DC are feeling more dread and despair than the excitement that usually accompanies the first day of school, because we can see so how the privatization and austerity moves in these cities are threatening every fundamental of our children’s education.

It’s a time when many are planning strong push-back activities against Rahm Emanuel and other autocrats who are listening only to their rich friends while thumbing their noses at the people who actually use the public schools, at solid education research, and ultimately at the mostly poor, mostly black and brown children whom they claim to love so much.

It’s a terrible time. It’s a time to act locally, but also to think and act globally. We have to do both – these guys have way too much money to spend on their pet strategies, and that money is coming from us.

Much of the blame for the disaster in our nation’s public schools today can be traced to the Walton family’s wealth, which in turn comes from the money people spend in their stores on school supplies and other items. Here’s what some $700 million of the money we spent at WalMart between 2005 and 2010 went to support and promote:


  • more charter schools: $3.8 million in Chicago alone  including $230,000 for UNO charter schools.
  • more school closings: $500,000 to pay for Chicago’s sham “public engagement” school closing hearings.
  • more astroturf “parent” groups like Stand for Children (millions) and Parent Revolution ($6.3 million) to push the parent trigger and other corporate reforms.
  • more high-stakes standardized testing: Walton supports teacher bonuses linked to raising test scores.
  • more vouchers for private and religious schools.
  • more Michelle Rhee: despite the recent scandals involving Rhee, WalMart recently raised her allowance to the tune of $8 million.

Doesn’t this year’s WalMart’s Back-to-school campaign slogan, “More School for your money,” just expose the greed behind their schemes? WalMart

As I’ve said before, it’s not that I think we can bring WalMart to its fiscal knees with a boycott. But companies like WalMart have what one marketing blogger calls a “fragile corporate image.” They want consumers to think of them as benevolent, loving rich folks who desire nothing more than to take care of the rest of us through their generosity. They want us to have a warm fuzzy feeling when we think about them, which will lead us to ignore their growing reputation as horrible bosses, and go buy some more stuff at their stores.

In fact, WalMart’s public image is getting more fragile all the time – read “The Real WalMart: Six Big Fibs in WalMart’s New Ad Campaign” by Calvin F. Exoo in yesterday’s Daily Kos, which suggests that WalMart is feeling the heat.

In all likelihood, the Waltons actually want our children to get a poorer, narrower education (or drop out early) so that the best they will be able to aspire to is working for low wages and few if any benefits at WalMart, leaving them little choice but to shop at WalMart in order to stretch their pennies.

So, where should you shop?

I’m not in the business of promoting one business over another, but I did do some research into Office Depot’s corporate giving and I can’t find anything like the rap sheet on the Waltons. In fact, Office Depot offers special rebates to teachers, provides grants for teacher-determined projects on the order of the Donors Choose program, gives away thousands of backpacks every year to low-income children including students in Navajo Nation schools, and even supports Lady Gaga’s anti-bullying efforts.

Just saying.

Trib corrects self

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013


Now if they would just correct their uneducated opinions about testing, ALEC, NCLB, school closings, and charter schools, we would be making real journalistic progress.

Tribune keeps repeating lie about charters’ “100%” grad rate

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Tribune 100% graduation rate correction from 2008

I sent the Tribune “Corrections and Clarifications” department a note today about the error in Sunday’s report about Hales Franciscan going coed, which included this passage about Chicago’s single-sex charter schools:

“Urban Prep Academies’ three campuses in Englewood, Near West Side and Bronzeville and Young Women’s Leadership Charter School in Bronzeville reported 100 percent graduation and 100 percent college acceptance in recent years.”

I wrote:

While these schools claim 100% college acceptance (which could mean nothing more than an aggressive counseling program coupled with requirements that students apply to many levels of college), neither of these schools claims to have a 100% graduation rate, which would be a much more impressive achievement.

The Tribune and other media have reported on the significant enrollment attrition between freshman and senior year for both of these schools.

For example:

See also

The Tribune had to correct a similar story in 2008 (see photo) but apparently hasn’t passed the word on.

We’ll see if they actually print the retraction.

What parents want in a renewed NCLB

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Signing upToday’s Tribune editorial proposed that a renewed No Child Left Behind law be based on Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s “waiver” program, by which they mean more testing and “accountability.”

I wrote this response (though the Tribune has not printed one of my letters in quite a while…):

The Tribune’s editorial proposal that a renewed No Child Left Behind law be based on Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s “waiver” program is not supported by research, best practices, or most U.S. parents.

For example, test-score based teacher evaluation is strongly discouraged by experts at the National Academy of Sciences and elsewhere as unreliable and potentially damaging.

The Tribune’s overall idea of “accountability” is rejected by most Americans. For example, 54 percent polled by Gallup in 2010 agreed that the best thing to do about low-performing schools is to keep the school open with the same staff and give it more support. Only 17 percent wanted to close the school and reopen it with a new principal, and just 13 percent wanted to replace it with a charter school.

These findings are echoed in a July 2013 poll of public school parents by the American Federation of Teachers, which found that 77 percent support strong public schools over expanded vouchers and charters. 57 percent agreed that there is too much emphasis on testing today.

No one has more at stake in better schools than parents, but parents want improvements to be based on responsible, effective policies, not the misguided and destructive initiatives of Secretary Duncan’s waiver program.

Most parents support fair, adequate school funding, smaller class sizes, and experienced teachers who are respected as professionals. We want our children to be treated as individuals, not data points. And we refuse to be used as pawns in corporate reformers’ “parental choice” game. Parents across the U.S. want a real, substantial role in all decisions that affect our children’s schools, such as the one provided by Chicago’s local school council system.

UNO charter scandals Part 3: Rangel family using UNO schools as personal party venue

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Does the Rangel family pay rent to these charter schools or are they just personal family banquet halls?
























Here’s Part 1. Here’s Part 2.

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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.