Posts Tagged ‘corporate reform’

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 9-24-13: Buy this book!

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013


Diane Ravich’s new book, Reign of Error, just came out and everyone’s talking about it!reign-of-error2Diane has been all over the airwaves and in print. Parents Across America President Dora Taylor and PAA co-founder Leonie Haimson have written excellent reviews.

Dora’s review (also posted on the PAA site) neatly summarizes the book:

This book is a perfect reference guide to all things ed reform. Don’t understand much about test scores? Check out the chapters “The Facts About Test Scores” and “The Facts About International Test Scores”. Don’t know the history of Michelle Rhee? Go to “The Mystery of Michele Rhee”. How about the Parent Trigger? Read the chapter “Parent Trigger or Parent Tricker”. (Love the title).The best part is that after Dr. Ravitch explains all things corporate reform, she provides real solutions to the challenges of public education. The answers aren’t easy, there is no silver bullet as she explains, but the solutions are based on a wide range and depth of knowledge, history, experience and good old-fashion common sense.”

Leonie’s review includes a call to action that we’ll use as our PSAT for today:

To defeat the likes of Murdoch, as well as the other pirates and privateers circling our schools like sharks,  we need to become better organized and enlarge our allies. You will never find a more succinct and compelling book than Reign of Error, with a crystal clear analysis of the way in which our schools are being driven into the ground by the Billionaire Boys club of Gates, Broad, Walton, Murdoch and Bloomberg, and other ideologues and opportunists eager to join in.

So go buy a copy for yourself, but more importantly, give extra copies to family members, your neighbors or even your school board. Send the book to your local legislator or Congressman, especially if he or she tends to support whatever nonsense the Obama administration is pushing in the name of education reform.
Give a copy to your brother, who works in finance and thinks that charters are the magic bullet that will help students in struggling urban districts. Send it to your cousin, a recent college grad who wrongly believes that Teach for America is the best thing since sliced bread. Order the book for your mother, who knows better but isn’t secure enough in her facts to be able to argue these issues with her friends. Buy a bunch and give them to all your relatives – and then discuss the book at Thanksgiving dinner.
We need to engage and woo potential allies, to show them how corporate greed and delusional deference to the free market is destroying public education, just as it crashed the economy –and that there is a better way to support, strengthen and improve our public schools. We must win this battle for the soul of our education system before it’s too late. I can think of no better way to achieve this necessary goal than making sure that as many people as possible read this book.

PSAT for 6-25-13: Sign Xian’s petition to return the public schools to the public

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013


The good news is that my son and daughter-in-law are expecting a baby and have signed a contract on a new house in Chicago.

The bad news is that as of yesterday, there is no neighborhood elementary school in their area.

As someone who has fought for high quality schools for every child in Chicago for 25 years, I find this a hard pill to swallow.

It seems that the whole city has been fighting back, but we still lost 50 schools. To add injury to injury, school budgets are being cut as much as 20% or more for the coming year.

People are angry and not sure what to do next. Sometimes it just helps to express our collective anger. Try signing this petition put together by the wonderful CPS teacher Xian Barrett.



This week’s leg fax: corporate reform not working in Chicago

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

FAX Machine 19In 2007, FairTest’s Monty Neill and I wrote a report called “Chicago School Reform: Lessons for the Nation,” which strongly cautioned against using Chicago and its mayoral controlled school district as a model for school improvement.

Six years later, our concerns have been confirmed by researchers Elaine Weiss and Don Long for the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education group.

I just shared their findings with the Illinois House and Senate Education committee members in this week’s PURE leg fax:

NEW REPORT: Market-driven school reforms, mayoral control causing more harm than good

A new study, “Market-oriented education reforms’ rhetoric trumps reality,” on the effects of market-driven reform in Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago concludes that little has been accomplished and some harm has been done to students, especially the underprivileged.

Market-oriented education reform refers to a series of initiatives that include educator evaluations based in large part on student standardized test scores, the closure of schools that are considered failing or underenrolled, and an increase in the number of charter schools, many of which are operated by for-profit companies. (Washington Post,

States and districts have been forced to adopt many of these reforms to comply with NCLB or apply for Race to the Top grants, with added pressure from corporate-backed groups like Students First and Stand for Children.

The executive summary of the report ( concludes:

  • Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts.
  • Reported successes for targeted students evaporated upon closer examination.
  • Test-based accountability prompted churn that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers.
  • School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money.
  • Charter schools further disrupted the districts while providing mixed benefits, particularly for the highest-needs students.
  • Emphasis on the widely touted market-oriented reforms drew attention and resources from initiatives with greater promise.
  • The reforms missed a critical factor driving achievement gaps: the influence of poverty on academic performance. Real, sustained change requires strategies that are more realistic, patient, and multipronged.


  • Support the CPS school closing moratorium bills SB 1571 and HB 3283.
  • Support community-based school improvement and stronger local school councils trained by independent, non-CPS training groups. (
  • Support an elected school board in Chicago.

Incentivizing philanthropy: Walgreen’s gets big no-bid contract after CPS gift card giveaway

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Walgreen's coupons created by Wade Tillett

It was only a couple of  months ago that Walgreen’s CEO Greg Wasson stood with Mayor Rahm at our old neighborhood school, Field Elementary, to announce the giveaway of $25 Walgreen’s gift cards to parents for picking up their children’s report cards. “This is a way, in my view, of incentivizing responsible parenting,” the Mayor said that day.

At the time, I sent this letter to Mayor Emanuel and CEO Wasson, suggesting that there are far better ways to involve parents.  I never heard back.

I guess that’s because they were too busy cooking up the $700,000 no-bid contract reported in today’s Sun-Times. The City of Chicago will pay Walgreen’s to screen city employees for a new wellness program.

The lesson here is an old one: corporations always have a financial agenda wrapped up in their generosity. Whether it’s just trying to make themselves look good, using their donations to promote the business, or out-and-out sucking up to the mayor, it’s really not about the kids.

Now that so many corporations are directing so much money into the worst corporate reform programs that actually hurt our children, it’s even more important that we put the pressure on them and do our best to incentivize responsible philanthropy.


Dilbert explains CPS community engagement plan

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Noreen Ahmed-Ullah and John Chase’s news bomb in today’s Tribune demonstrates to the rest of Chicago what public school advocates have known for a long time – when CPS speaks, they lie.

The internal CPS memo, which outlines in detail how CPS plans to close some 95 schools in one year, clearly takes a page out of the corporate reforrners’ cynically fake “public engagement” strategy book, the one funded by Chicago’s own Joyce Foundation which I wrote about back in February (see point 4 here).

The Tribune reports:

The document discusses how to deal with public reaction to school closing decisions, with ideas ranging from establishing “a meaningful engagement process with community members” to building a “monitoring mechanism to ensure nimble response to opposition to proposed school actions.”

My letter in Sojourners Magazine re: real reform

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Sojourners Magazine just published a blog comment/letter to the editor I wrote in response to a previous article by Nicole Baker Fulgham, “Beyond ‘Superman,’” which referenced “Waiting for Superman” in recommending that meaningful reform must involve all stakeholders having a stronger, more meaningful voice in school decision-making.

Fulgham wrote: “As an African-American woman and a Christian, I have undergone my own process to unpack the unique and often deeply held beliefs of communities that have been historically marginalized and disenfranchised within public discourse. I’ve come to believe that we have to find authentic ways to give all stakeholders a voice in the dialogue and decision-making. Otherwise we run the risk of well-intentioned school reforms being viewed with heavy doses of skepticism by those left out of the process.”

Read more of her thoughtful piece 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.