Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Public Schools’

CTU vision for a quality education for all children

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

This morning the Chicago Teachers’ Union presented a comprehensive set of research-based proposals to strengthen the Chicago Public Schools, called “The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve.”

I was pleased to be asked to say a few words on behalf of PURE. This is what I said:

I’m very glad to be here. First of all, as a parent group, PURE wants to take this opportunity to reaffirm that we stand strong with our children’s teachers in the fight for a high quality education for every child. Parents trust teachers more than politicians, mayors, former basketball players, education hobbyists, (here I added “Tribune editorial writers” to be timely) or wealthy philanthropists to know how to educate children. We know that teachers care about our children’s education the way we do, and we trust teachers to know and do what’s best for them in the classroom.

These days parents are being bombarded with million-dollar advertising – some of it trying to pass as news and some as movies and documentaries – promoting the privatization of public education. Every day we hear about how terrible the schools are and how terrible the teachers are. We’re supposed to feel afraid, and that’s supposed to make us run scared to the hyped up charter or turnaround schools.

It’s easy to know that this strategy isn’t working because now the privatizers are funding fake parent groups to create the appearance of parents wanting what corporate school reformers want – you know, more testing, more charters, fewer union teachers.

This leads me to the second reason why it’s so good to be here on this occasion. I want to take the opportunity to thank the Chicago Teachers Union for putting together such a well-researched report about the kind of education our children need to succeed, and to thank them for bringing attention to what we should all really be talking about, starting with the fact that children who live in poverty need smaller class sizes, better prepared, experienced, and compensated teachers, more resources, less teaching to the test, and parents who are welcome partners in the school improvement process.

We look forward to sharing this excellent resource with parents in Chicago and across the nation as we move the conversation forward about what children really need.

The sports report: Bears owners oppose closing Crane; who’ll get Dyett’s shiny new gym?

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

It’s refreshing to hear that at least one powerful Chicago family is willing to come out publicly against Mayor Emanuel’s relentless attack on neighborhood schools.

According to the Chicago Journal, the McCaskey family, owners of the Chicago Bears and heirs of Bears founder George Halas, recently donated a plaque and $20,000 in honor of “Papa Bear” to Crane High School, Halas’ alma mater.

But Crane is in the Mayor’s school closing crosshairs this year, and the McCaskeys aren’t too happy about that.

Patrick McCaskey — Halas’ grandson — wrote this in a letter to J. C. Brizard:

“We lend our support to the principal, Richard Smith, the staff, students and community to keep Crane High School a neighborhood school, just as it was when my grandfather attended Crane. The children of the neighborhood need a neighborhood school to attend that sits in close proximity to where they live. Please let the tradition continue on just as the tradition of the Chicago Bears continues on.”

In sharp contrast to so many of Chicago’s power elite, the McCaskeys understand and honor the important place public schools hold at the heart of the community.

In its continuing effort to prove that it is completely tone-deaf, CPS through its spokesman Frank Shuftan confirmed to the Journal “that they had received the letter, but sent back a generic response identical to one the schools have been giving out throughout public hearings on Crane.”

The $20,000 will go a long way towards upgrading a football program that has been sorely lacking. The Journal reports that “Last year, the school couldn’t finish the football season because it didn’t have enough players, partially because of the program’s older equipment and lack of appeal, according to Crane Athletic Director Bennie Horton.”

And who will benefit from the new equipment? That’s what Athletic Director Clarence Smith of Dyett High School is wondering about the brand-new gym built at his school as a result of his award-winning entry in an ESPN contest. Here’s the story from News In Black’s J. Coyden Palmer:

Photo by Torrick Hall; used by permission

Who gets the prize of a refurbished athletic facility at a South Side high school, which is on the verge of becoming a casualty in the war for Chicago public schools, is causing a major uproar in the African-American community.

Dyett High School was featured nationally in October on the ESPN network after winning a contest to have its athletic facilities renovated. But the school is now in jeopardy of losing it all after the Board of Education voted in November to phase out Dyett by 2015. The decision has angered students, staff and parents of the Washington Park community school, but especially those associated with the athletic program who view what CPS is doing as nothing more than larceny.

“Having been here so long and being through what all we’ve been through to be considered a legitimate high school, it hurts, what the board is doing,” said Dyett Athletic Director Clarence Smith. “I fought hard here trying to do what’s right by kids and our student athletes, and to see it all go to waste would be something I’d never forget.”

Last year, through a contact at the Illinois High School Association, Smith learned about a contest being sponsored by RISE UP, in which schools from across the country could apply to have their athletic facilities renovated for free. He wrote an impassioned letter detailing the severe disadvantages and obstacles Dyett students faced on a daily basis. The old gymnasium at Dyett had an old, warped wooden floor, dim lighting and the dreary colors made for an aesthetic nightmare.

Current girls basketball Head Coach Joe Crumb said the gym was an embarrassment for the kids. He said things were so bad, his team preferred to play away games. But after it was announced in June that Dyett had won the contest and would be featured on ESPN, he saw an immediate a change in the students.

“Their whole demeanor was uplifted,” Crumb said. “You could tell they were proud to say they went to Dyett.”

In partnership with the Chicago Bulls’ community outreach program, a Chicago-area construction company and New Orleans architectural firm, RISE UP installed a brand new basketball court, updated the weight room with state-of-the-art equipment, added new padding along the walls adorned in the school colors and logo, updated the lighting and bleachers and provided all of the sports teams with new uniforms and equipment.

The renovations would have costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to taxpayers, according to Smith. But he is most upset that those who should be benefiting from the new upgrades the most will not be able to do so in the future.

“I’m glad the kids that are here now are getting a chance to enjoy it while it’s here,” Smith said. “But if in fact they close the school down the stuff will still be in good shape and where does it go from there? Who’s the recipient of it? A charter school? A private school? Maybe even a Catholic school?

Parents expose CPS longer day baloney

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

I’m sharing, with permission, the report from a parent meeting at Mt. Greenwood school last week with CPS representatives pushing the 7.5 hour day. The notes indicate CPS’s position that there will be no extra money to implement the extended day. The parents also expose several CPS statements as pure baloney, including the CEO Chief of Staff’s claim that Mt. Greenwood students needed a 7.5 hour day to be able to go to college, and the Network Chief’s assertion that a 7.5 hour day is the norm across the US.

The parents’ group meets again tonight at Mt. Greenwood Library at 110th and Kedzie Avenue from 6 pm to 7:30 pm.


Parent Feedback Regarding CPS Meeting Held at Mt. Greenwood School
Jan. 25, 2012

At the January 25th meeting, parents felt patronized and insulted when Todd Connor, Chief of Staff to CEO J.C. Brizard, insisted that without a 7.5 hour school day our children would not attend college. Parents wondered how Todd could ignore Mt. Greenwood’s high ISAT scores.

Parent Michelle Bever challenged Todd’s assertion that other school districts have a 7.5 hour school day. “Come on, give us one – you can do that – give us a name.” He said, “New Trier.” Michelle promised she would check and found that New Trier Township does not mandate a 7.5 hour school day for any of its schools.

Dr. Karen Saffold, Chief of Elementary Schools, Rock Island Network, repeated the same talking point — that CPS only wanted to bring its school day up to the national average. A parent expressed surprise at her statement, and replied that no state has an average school day as long as 7.5 hours. The average school day in Illinois is 6.5 hours. Dr. Saffold had no reply to that.

Alex Fralin, Deputy Chief of Staff to the CEO, reiterated what Jennifer Cheathem, Chief Instructional Officer, had said at the November 30 community meeting; there is no money for the long day, long year initiative, and schools will have to rely on the “efficiency of their principals.” Parents felt this indicates CPS is throwing principals, teachers and parents under the bus.

Todd Connor went on to say that Mt. Greenwood “school is not performing as well as you think.” Mt. Greenwood needs the 7.5 hour day, he said, because the 8th graders didn’t score very well on the EXPLORE test.

According to database, Mt. Greenwood’s 6th grade ISAT Math score was 97, and Reading was 97.4 in 2010-11. That puts it ahead of schools like Palos South Middle School, Deer Path Middle School East in Lake Forest, and Maple School in Northbrook.

We did more research. We learned Todd should not use one score on one test for one grade to make this kind of decision. “I do know it is unwise policy to base major decisions solely on test scores. If I read you right, it was a one-time low score on one test in one grade that has led to this action by CPS,” wrote Monty Neill of Fair Test.

Next Julie Woestehoff, executive director of PURE, explained that the Explore test is a practice test to the PLAN test. The PLAN test is a practice test to the ACT. (CPS administers the Explore test to students in both 8th and 9th grades. It administers the PLAN in 10th grade and the ACT in 11th grade.)

Then we asked Diane Ravitch, noted Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education, what she thought of Todd’s reasoning for adding 105 minutes to the school day. On January 28 she replied in an email:

“I don’t know anything about Explore other than that it is a practice test for the real test.”
“All of this is nuts.”
“There is no evidence that longer school days produce better education, unless children are engaged in wonderful after school activities that give them a chance to sing, dance, inquire, play, and just be children.”

(Last October, the Sun Times found that for the top 10 suburban neighborhood elementary schools, the school day was one hour less than CPS’ proposed 7.5 hours. The school year was 5 days less a year than the 180 days CPS has put forward.)

At the end of the Mt. Greenwood School meeting, parents expressed frustration that CPS hadn’t offered solid answers to their questions. They decided to reach out to Jesse Sharkey v.p. of the Chicago Teachers Union. He will speak at Mt. Greenwood Library at 110th and Kedzie Avenue from 6 pm to 7:30 pm on Thursday, February 2.

Otherwise the January 25th meeting was a huge success. In two hours in the middle of the afternoon parents collected 500 signatures in favor of either no increase in the day or a maximum increase of 6.5 hours. Only 13 signatures were collected from parents who supported the 7.5 hour day.

Thank you,
19th Ward Parents

CEO Brizard teaches a class – “It’s historic”

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

The Sun-Times reports today that Chicago schools CEO J. C. Brizard taught a class for students in several CPS classrooms via iPad in celebration of national Digital Learning Day.

For many kids at Chicago’s Spencer Technology and 10 other Chicago public schools, the lesson was special because Brizard was teaching it.

“I thought it was exciting that the CEO came to our school … and taught a science lesson,’’ said Lucretia Woods, 13, one of the Spencer seventh-graders who got to see Brizard teach live Wednesday. “My principal said it was historic.”

Historic, indeed. It has been 26 years since the top “educator” running the Chicago Public Schools had a teaching credential, outside of Terry Mazany brief interim stint.

PSAT for 1-31-12: Call for Mr. Brizard – no school closings!

Monday, January 30th, 2012

  Another new parent group has formed in Chicago (it’s a hotbed! or is it that parents are  getting more and more fed up…).

Parents 4 Teachers is just what the name suggests – a group coming together to show the deep and strong support parents have for our children’s teachers. Please help make their first action a success, and also be sure to “Like” their Facebook page.

I’m sending this out as this week’s Public Schools Action Tuesday (PSAT) promotion a little early (to give you a full day to call!).

From Parents 4 Teachers:

Dear Parents and Community Members, 

As concerned parents we ask that you call Mr. Brizard, Chicago Board of Education CEO, on Tuesday, January 31, and urge him to immediately withdraw plans to close 6 schools and turn around 10 others. It will send a strong message if CPS receives many calls on the same day. 

Alsoplease call each Tuesday–February 7, 14, and 21—prior to the February 22 Board meeting when they will vote on the proposed actions. Please forward this email to others, share on facebook, and spread the word! 

School closings and turnarounds are harmful to children, their families, and their communities. These 15-year old policies have failed. When schools are closed students have to walk or be transported out of their neighborhoods. This results in an increase in violence and disruption of students’ education. Students lose up to six months of academic achievement for each school change. At turnaround schools administrators and teachers are fired. This disrupts the continuity of students’ relationships and academic instruction in a traumatic way. The affected schools are in low-income African-American and Latino communities. Would the mayor and Board members inflict these policies on their children?

Call Mr. Brizard at 773-553-1500. Parents, please identify your child’s school when you call.

Tell him… Mr. Brizard, I urge you to immediately withdraw plans to close 6 schools and turn around 10 others. Closing schools and turning them around did not work in the past and will not work now. These 15-year old policies increase violence, disrupt students’ education, and have not led to higher academic achievement. That students will attend better schools has proven to be a false promise. CPS should make every neighborhood school a great school.

Closing schools and turning them around blames teachers, administrators, students, and families. But the root causes of the problems are

  1. the effects of racism and poverty
  2. CPS’s refusal to invest sufficiently in high poverty schools
  3. policies like high stakes tests and large class size. 

Privatization continues. CPS proposes that six of the 10 turnaround schools be run by Academy for Urban School Leadership–a private corporation. AUSL’s record shows it has not improved schools, even as they have been paid millions–at taxpayer expense. Chicago Board of Ed Chair David Vitale and CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley are former AUSL employees. In whose interests do these public servants serve? 

Please email us at to let us know CPS heard your voice. We’d like to keep track of how many calls they receive. Parents 4 Teachers is a new group of parents who have come together to stand up for teachers and defend public education. 

Thank you very much,       

Parents 4 Teachers Defending Public Education

PSAT for 1-24-12: Call for a moratorium on school closings

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

We’ve done it before, but the momentum for demanding a citywide moratorium on school closings grows stronger than ever.

Why do I say that?

1) The front-page headline story in the Sun-Times exposing the rent-a-protesters at school closing hearings has turned up the heat on CPS and its refusal to listen to the real people in the school communities who are affected by district actions.

2) The Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force (CEFTF), a state legislative advisory body established to assure that CPS facilities decisions are fair and transparent, has done its due diligence in collecting information and analyzing the CPS process and policy. The CEFTF has determined on a near-unanimous vote to report to the Illinois General Assembly that the CPS school closing and turnaround process is out of compliance with Public Act 97-0474 (only the CPS representative voted no).  Rep. Cynthia Soto, CEFTF co-chair, is preparing to introduce a bill calling for a moratorium.

3) Community-generated plans for school improvement, such as the “Bronzeville Global Achievers Village School Improvement Plan,” are beginning to resonate with the public (see this story, for example, about changes to a legislative proposal in Florida to include consideration of parent-generated school improvement plans when schools are considered for intervention).

For today’s Public Schools Action Tuesday, please send a quick message like the following to CPS here and to Mayor Emanuel here, and if you have an extra minute, to your alderman:

CPS under mayoral control has had 17 years to fix our schools. By working against the desires, proposals, and concerns of local stake holders, CPS has nearly decimated the school system without significantly raising achievement. It’s time for a moratorium on school closings and turnarounds. CPS must re-engage with parents and the entire school community through LSCs, PACs, and other meaningful opportunities for open dialogue, collaborative planning, and all-way accountability.

There’s a Board meeting tomorrow where many threatened schools will be represented, and there are hearings this week and ongoing about the changes CPS proposaes for these schools:

Tuesday, January 24

5:30 to 8:30 pm – Crane Closing hearing, Talent Development Co-location hearing at 125 S Clark Street, 5th floor Board Chambers

Wednesday, January 25

5:30 pm to 7:30 pm – Best Practice HS Closing hearing at 125 S Clark Street, Rm 1550

8:00 pm to 10:00 pm – ACT Charter and Nash Co-location hearing at 125 S Clark Street, 5th floor Board Chambers

Thursday, January 26

5:30 pm to 7:30 pm – Chi Arts and Doolittle Co-location hearing at 125 S Clark Street, 5th floor Board Chambers

8:00 pm to 10:00 pm – Guggenheim Closing hearing at 125 S Clark Street, 5th floor Board Chambers

Friday, January 27

5:30 pm to 7:30 pm – Dyett HS Phase-out hearing at 125 S Clark Street, 5th floor Board Chambers

8:00 pm to 10:00 pm – Lathrop Closing hearing at 125 S Clark Street, 5th floor Board Chambers

Monday, January 30

5:30-7:30 p.m. – Casals AUSL Turnaround hearing, at 125 S. Clark St, 5th Floor Board Chambers

8:00 pm to 10:00 pm – Piccolo AUSL Turnaround hearing, at 125 S. Clark St, 5th Floor Board Chambers

Tuesday, January 31

5:30-7:30 p.m. – Herzl AUSL Turnaround hearing at 125 S. Clark St, 5th Floor Board Chambers

8:00 pm to 10:00 pm – Stagg AUSL Turnaround hearing, at 125 S. Clark St, 5th Floor Board Chambers

Wednesday, February 1

5:30-7:30 p.m. – Fuller AUSL Turnaround hearing, at 125 S. Clark St, 5th Floor Board Chambers

8:00 pm to 10:00 pm – Woodson South OSI Turnaround hearing, at 125 S. Clark St, 5th Floor Board Chambers

Thursday, February 2

5:30-7:30 p.m. – Marquette AUSL Turnaround hearing, at 125 S. Clark St, 5th Floor Board Chambers

8:00 pm to 10:00 pm – Smith OSI Turnaround hearing, at 125 S. Clark St, 5th Floor Board Chambers

Friday, February 3

5:30-7:30 p.m. — Chicago Vocational OSI HS Turnaround hearing at 125 S. Clark St, 5th Floor Board Chambers

8:00 pm to 10:00 pm – Tilden OSI Turnaround hearing, at 125 S. Clark St, 5th Floor Board Chambers


Robin rocks

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

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.