Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Tribune’

A PURE plan for Chicago schools

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

TribThe Chicago Tribune, the noted corporate reform cheerleader, has requested the public’s input into various phases of a proposed master plan for Chicago. This week they are looking at the schools.

Although the paper has been reluctant to share other pieces of wisdom from PURE and yours truly, I felt it might be worth a few minutes to dust off previous work and send it in.

Here’s what I just sent to You might want to take a few minutes to share your thoughts there, too.


A PURE Approach to School Improvement


  1. How do we improve struggling schools? Studies by the Consortium on Chicago School Research1 show that the most effective reform efforts are wholistic – and that reforms that fail to address all key areas will generally fail. In the 1990’s, principals and local school councils were creating and monitoring school improvement plans (SIPs) that addressed all key areas. Under Paul Vallas and NCLB, SIPs turned into plans to raise reading and math test scores. We think it’s time to go back to comprehensive plans that work.
  2. Who should be running schools? We believe in balanced governance – local decision making with centralized support and, where appropriate, collaborative intervention. Designs for Change has done key research2 on the difference in results between top-down and local decision making, finding that schools that kept local control saw remarkable achievement gains from 1990 to 2005 while schools at similar starting points which were subject to CPS interventions essentially flat-lined during the same period.
  1. What about accountability? We believe that accountability must start with the entity legally responsible for providing public K-12 education – that is, the state. And Illinois is a shameful state when it comes to meeting that responsibility; we are a wealthy state that funds its schools poorly. With respect to assessment, we support a balance of very limited standardized testing combined with performance and portfolio assessment which give students more control over their own progress and help them relate their work to their own lives. There are ways that this kind of assessment can be monitored and reported for accountability purposes.3 We oppose student retention, a very expensive practice (costing some $100 million per year) which does not work and actually harms students.
  1. What can be done about unmotivated students and parents? At the very least, students need curriculum and instruction that goes beyond test preparation, which offers them few rewards and lots of punishment. Regarding parents, briefly, we believe parents need to be welcomed in the school, given specific, meaningful ways to be involved, and offered a real voice in decision making. This position is shared by national parent involvement guru Joyce Epstein,4 and is reflected in PURE’s 2006 report on parent involvement in CPS.5
  2. What should CPS do instead of closings schools, flunking children and firing experienced teachers? Our children need more from CPS.Because too many children are not receiving the help they need, PURE recommends that schools create a personal learning plan(PLP)for any child determined to be behind or at risk of falling behind academically. CPS’s role would be to assure that schools have adequate resources to implement each PLP, that PLPs are being implemented, and that they are effective.








Parents United for Responsible Education


Tribune: “Off with their heads!” Fire school board for saying no to charter school

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Today’s Chicago Tribune editorial board fronts an attack on corporate reform’s next target: elected school boards.

Yep. The privatizers have decided that democratically-elected school boards just get in the way of “real reform” like privatization, expanding charter schools, and replacing experienced teachers with deer-in-the-headlights Teach for America kids.

PAA co-founder Leonie Haimson wrote about this in a recent Parents Across America blog post, referencing an article by Matt Miller called “First Kill All the School Boards” that argued that “local control has become a disaster for our schools.”

The Tribune calls for a “game change” in North Chicago, and wants the Illinois State Board of Education to “fire” the elected school board for refusing to hire the Chicago-based LEARN charter school network to open a new school.

The school board voted down the proposal, citing a concern about the loss of funding for the rest of the district’s schools.

Seems legitimate, given the tough economy and the cutbacks in state funding for schools.

If I were a North Chicago school board member, I would also ask about the rate of teacher turnover at LEARN, which has a 7.5 hour day and a 200 day school year. I’d review the personnel budget for the extra time as well as the lower class size the network boasts, to see if it could be supported.

Yes, LEARN’s test scores are impressive, but I might want to know more about numbers like these enrollment figures, from LEARN’s Interactive School Report Card.

2006: 60 students in 3rd grade

2007: 59 in 4th grade

2008: 41 in 5th grade

2009: 43 in 6th grade

2010: 36 in 7th grade

2011: 32 in 8th grade

LEARN had only one school between 2002 and 2008, when it opened a second school beginning in the primary grades, so that would not have affected the number of 5th graders and older at that point. So, apparently the original LEARN school had an elementary “dropout rate “of about 50%, from 60 to 32 students. What happened? Did LEARN “lose” some less-wanted students as is so common in charter schools?

But the Tribune demands that State Superintendent Chris Koch overrule the school board and approve the charter (yes, he can do that!). And, since the Trib considers it a capital crime to oppose any charter school, they also demand that Koch remove the school board and install a “new authority” (I guess he can do that, too).

Maybe the Red Queen is available. That would be a real “game” changer, for folks of a similar temperament who think education is just another game.

Response to Tribune attack on PAA “parent trigger” position

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

The Chicago Tribune didn’t publish a response letter from Parents Across America on the parent trigger, even though their April 29th editorial specifically slammed our position.

But a few days ago they did print this letter from one of the unions involved in the only parent trigger shoot-out so far:


This is in response to your April 30 editorial “Parent power.” When you refer to the McKinley Elementary School petition in Compton, Calif., as “parent-powered, child-focused,” you ignore the fact that the petition was circulated not by parents in the school but by paid organizers pushing a for-profit charter school operation. Dozens of parents signed their names after being given false information about the nature of the petition, and once they found out, asked to retract their signatures. That’s one important reason the board took action, a fact you leave out.

The quote you attribute to the California Federation of Teachers president did not appear, as the editorial implies, during the effort by the school board to stop the petition but nearly a year earlier, before the bill became law. Your comment “cue the hysteria” would more aptly apply to your editorial.

Carolyn Richie, president, Compton Council of Classified Employees, Compton, Calif.

Here’s the letter two PAA members wrote, which the Trib has not deigned to print:

To the editors:

It was surprising to see the Parents Across America position paper on Parent Trigger laws derided as “hysteria” in an April 29 editorial, misleadingly headlined “Parent Power.”

Our position is based on research and thoughtful understanding of the issues.  While the Parent Trigger allows parents to voice discontent with a school, it gives them no opportunity to choose among research-based reforms, rather than privatization, firing half the staff, or closing schools.  It also fails to promote the best practices for parent involvement from the ground up, and in  the process, creates huge potential for abuse, disruption and divisiveness.  We instead support policies in which parents are authentically involved at the ground level in developing strategies for improvement.

In Compton, the organization Parent Revolution selected the school and the charter operator before sending paid operatives into the Compton community to collect signatures. The campaign was secretive, and Compton parents had no opportunity to consider all the options. Soon after the petition was submitted, confusion and chaos broke out. Some parents who signed said they had misunderstood the petition, or had been misled about what it called for. Some Parent Trigger supporters said they had been harassed. Angry parents protested at a Compton school board meeting, and charges and countercharges continue to fly.

Our view is that divisiveness are inevitable in this poorly regulated process. The Parent Trigger is a distraction from the real work our schools require – implementing proven, common-sense strategies for parent involvement and meaningful education reform.

Signed,  Caroline Grannan (SF) and Leonie Haimson (NY) for Parents Across America.

The Tribune Effect: Misleading the public to sell “reform”

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

The Real Brizard Effect

The Tribune Effect

Today’s Tribune ignores the facts and goes with a whitewash of Jean-Claude Brizard’s record in Rochester.

The chart on the right was included in the newspaper’s print edition. It shows four years of data — raw numbers of graduates and dropouts from 2006-07 to 2009-10. Brizard came to Rochester in January of 2008, so, as they indicate with the faint pink column, only the last two year’s numbers are Brizard’s.

Two points.

One – raw numbers of graduates will go up and down every year. There are always “bulges” in enrollment from year to year, so a small gain in the number of graduates is relatively meaningless.

Two – this is not what Brizard is claiming. He is claiming that he oversaw a 12-13% increase in the graduation RATE. The Trib’s own headline says “New CEO, who led schools in Rochester, N.Y., oversaw rise in graduation rates but riled teachers.”

The truth is quite a bit different. I spent quite a bit of time yesterday trying to get at the data and found that there are a number of differing versions, so I decided to simply look at the accountability numbers cited for graduation rates each year in the state school report cards, a figure which is defined by NCLB.

My resulting chart is on the left, above, and shows the fairly unremarkable change in the graduation RATE in Rochester during the same time period shown on the Tribune chart, not including 2006-07 when Brizard was not there. So, Brizard is hired in the middle of the first year, graduation rates go up slightly after his first full year, from 49% to 52%, then fall again after his second year to 46%. These are the most current data from the New York State Department of Education web site. (I can’t link directly to the pages with the graduation data – you have to go to the web site link, choose a year, then choose the first item under “District/School report cards” which is “Accountability Overview etc.,” then choose Monroe County from the list of counties, then choose Rochester from the list of districts, then go to page 14 or 15 of that report. Sorry – but I couldn’t streamline it.)

I included these numbers in a press statement that I read and distributed at the Chicago Teachers’ Union press conference that took place at 3 pm Monday, just hours after Rahm’s announcement. The numbers I gave out have proven to be far more reliable than anything Brizard has claimed.

And in any case, he does not look like a magician, if that’s what we need. According to the exact same data on CPS’s district report card, our current HS graduation rate is 71.8%. So, again, I ask – why are we bringing Brizard here?

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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.