Posts Tagged ‘Renaissance 2010’

Stop the churn – give schools back to the community

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Churn rate (sometimes called attrition rate), in its broadest sense, is a measure of the number of individuals or items moving into or out of a collective over a specific period of time…. The phrase is based on the English verb “churn”, meaning ‘to agitate or produce violent motion’. (Wikipedia)

It’s great for butter but simply terrible for children, families, teachers, other school staff, communities, and the health of democratic public education. Who wants to go to school or work for a school system that is in constant upheaval, where people never know from one year to the next where they will be or what they will be doing? where life-altering decisions appear to be based on ever-changing and murky rationales?

History of failure

Yes, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has just announced another set of interventions which will potentially affect dozens of schools and tens of thousands of children and adults.

Since former Mayor Daley took over the schools in 1995 and his hand-picked schools CEO, Paul Vallas, first put schools on probation, CPS has tried one intervention after another.

How has that been working out for Chicago? Take a look:

You get the point. Corporate reform Chicago-style is stuck on the “agitate” cycle, while our children’s education is going down the drain.


In addition to the human costs to children and adults, here’s what CPS will be paying out in money they say they don’t have:

  • $5 million in the coming year to supplement services to schools affected by closures, phase outs, etc including schools that receive students from closed schools.
  • $20 million on the 10 turnarounds, including the 6 contracted to Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL), announced earlier in the week.
  • Busing students from shuttered Price to National Teachers Academy will cost an estimated $90,000 per year.
  • Watch for big capital improvement work to begin at the closing schools (if it hasn’t already) to make them nice for the new charter and other privately-managed schools CPS clearly has in mind to move into the empty buildings.

Give schools back to the communities

This has got to stop. All CPS has to show for its bankrupting expenditure of school funds on Vallas’s Folly, Renaissance 2010, and whatever Brizard calls what he’s doing, is a handful of schools with test scores that look better than the average Chicago Public School. Much of this is accomplished by providing these schools with more than their fair share of resources (like the millions in extra foundation and government money AUSL receives, allowing it to pay for 2 teachers per classroom) and turning a blind eye when they refuse to teach (or at least test) some of the most challenging students.

If the mayor had not taken over the schools 20 years ago, where might we be now? 20 years ago we were on track to make improvements in just the way the Consortium on Chicago School Research has affirmed is the only effective way to improve schools: by addressing all aspects of a school’s functioning, and by involving the entire school community. There were representative, parent-majority elected local school councils with real power who planned for school improvement in an open, public way using the five essential supports for school improvement devised by local educators.

Here’s a chart from the 2005 Designs for Change report, “The Big Picture,” that starkly demonstrates how struggling schools that retained local control (top line) improved far more more than similar schools taken over by the administration (bottom line). (Full size chart here)

Now, what if those locally-run schools had been given the extra help and resources that CPS always gives  schools AFTER closing or turning them around. Think where we would be now, and how a whole generation of children would have benefited.

PURE  and many others have consistently supported local control for school improvement. Recently, a coalition of local community Chicago groups offered a strong blueprint for community-based school improvement. CPS seems to have ignored them.

Think what would happen if CPS actually worked with school communities – if they harnessed all the energy of the parents, students, teachers, staff, and community of every school, and gave those who care the most about the school’s success the same tools and resources that they now give to outsiders and privatizers.

And if that doesn’t happen, think where we’ll be in another 20 years.


At the NAME conference today

Friday, November 4th, 2011

The National Association of Multicultural Education (NAME) has been holding their  21st annual international conference here in Chicago this week. NAME’s mission is to advance and advocate for equity and social justice through multicultural education.

I’ll be on a panel this afternoon with friend and true education reformer Bill Ayers and a bunch of other people, all who have contributed to a (we hope) soon-to-be-published book called “Educational Courage: Resisting the Ambush of Public Education.”

The book will offer stories of people and groups that have stood up to the recent attacks on public education to offer hope and some ideas for resistance.

In my allotted 5 minutes, I’m going to run through a few highlights of PURE’s actions, from our formation as an alliance of parents and teachers, to our challenge to test-based retention (including our parent broadsheet), to the fight against Renaissance 2010 (including fact sheets about Arne Duncan “Dodge-ing the Truth” and AUSL’s “Missing Children“), and ending with our co-founding of Parents Across America, taking the work nationwide.

The good news is that “just parents” can  have a strong voice and can make a difference.     

What’s behind the Wendell Smith uproar?

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011


There’s been a lot of hubbub about the Wendell Smith Local School Council voting to turn the CPS elementary school into a charter school. 

Is it legal? Are they crazy? Will this be the change that the community has needed? 

Before I make a stab at addressing those questions, let me go back in time. This is a situation that has been brewing for many years, and there’s a lot to learn from its history.

Here’s what we wrote about the situation back in 2002:              

Early in 2000, the Wendell Smith principal ignored the objections of the Smith LSC and submitted an unapproved budget to the central office. The LSC had disagreed with the principal’s idea that the school of 650 students needed both a disciplinarian and a school-wide coordinator paid for out of discretionary funds. The LSC wanted to see some of that money go towards purchasing new textbooks to replace the out-of-date series the school used. Later the LSC began to ask what happened to several computers which had been donated to the school; they never found out.

The regional office and School and Community Relations (SCR) ignored the LSC’s complaints that the budget and SIP the principal was implementing had not been approved by the LSC. Instead, the Accountability Office sent in investigators who determined (surprise, surprise) that the LSC was causing all of the problems at the school. Early on, the Board indicated support for the LSC and a public recognition that the SIP and budget should not be implemented without LSC approval. However, after the LSC refused to approve the principal’s illegal expenditures retroactively, the Board moved to declare an educational crisis at the school, blaming the LSC’s lack of cooperation. The LSC was disbanded.

The former Wendell Smith LSC filed a pending lawsuit against the Board. Two of the ousted members were re-elected in May, 2002.

The Board also eventually removed the principal. Still, shortly thereafter, then Board President Michael Scott gave the most outspoken of the Wendell Smith LSC members, Bertrand Murrell, a generous consultant’s contract to referee LSC disputes.

Conflicts of this kind are not uncommon, and in PURE’s experience, they often arise out of the LSC’s genuine concern that the school is not adequately serving students. PURE worked long hours with the Wendell Smith LSC, trying to help uphold the LSC’s right and their position that their students needed textbooks and other resources more than they needed extra highly-paid administrators.

In this case, CPS decided to get rid of the messenger.

And things did not seem to improve much as a result of the Board’s intervention. An August, 2010, Catalyst article detailing the inequity in educational opportunity across Chicago neighborhoods used Wendell Smith as an example of an under-resourced school: “The clearest evidence is the library. On each shelf, a few books lean against each other, gathering dust. Worn, used chairs and tables are scattered about. There are no computers and no librarian—and so, no students.”

Legal? Crazy? Understandable?

Here’s the language of the school code about converting a regular public school into a charter school:

27a – 8 In the case of a proposal to establish a charter school by converting an existing public school or attendance center to charter school status, evidence that the proposed formation of the charter school has received majority support from certified teachers and from parents and guardians in the school or attendance center affected by the proposed charter, and, if applicable, from a local school council, shall be demonstrated by a petition in support of the charter school signed by certified teachers and a petition in support of the charter school signed by parents and guardians and, if applicable, by a vote of the local school council held at a public meeting.

So, the LSC vote can be part of a legitimate process, but the certified teachers and parents also have a say.

It’s unlikely that there would be a majority vote by the teachers agreeing to the charterization.

What about the parents? Well, Phyllis Lockett and the generous folks at the New Schools for Chicago (formerly the Renaissance Schools Fund) have their mitts all over the situation at Smith. That’s one reason why PURE and Parents Across America oppose parent trigger laws – we know that charter schools can leverage plenty of cash to hire door-to-door canvassers who gather signatures and otherwise try to co-opt parents to agree to let charters can take over schools.

The LSC must know that there are no LSCs in charter schools (although an LSC-led proposal could write one in). They may not be as aware of the fact that most charter schools are not better than traditional schools, and that charters have a reputation for pushing out some of the most challenging students (which could mean YOUR child).

But as an indication of the level of frustration that many parents have with CPS, this is real, folks. Here’s a school where the parents and LSC have tried for years to improve their school, with little help and a lot of interference from CPS.

We need to make sure that the real culprit is identified in this story, and it’s not the LSC. We also need to be sure that those who want to take advantage of parents and LSCs for their own benefit don’t get that chance.

R2010 Fund promises millions more to CPS charter schools

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Somewhat overshadowed by the growing controversy over Mayor-elect Rahm’s schools pick, this Tribune story shows the intention of the privatizers not to listen to the research about charters or to the reasonable concerns of interim CPS CEO Terry Mazany, who said about his decision to postpone consideration of new charter contracts at his first board meeting last January: “We simply do not have any budget flexibility to allocate dollars that will not lead directly to improved educational outcomes for all of our students.”

According to the Trib:

Under the initial $50 million fund, Renaissance gave up to $750,000 each to 70 schools…. With the new fund, charters will get $1 million to $5 million apiece over two to five years. With the additional money, fund executives hope to attract outside charters like California-based Rocketship, YES Prep from Texas, East Coast-based Uncommon and more KIPP — Knowledge Is Power Program — campuses. The latter is the nation’s fastest-growing and most academically successful charter group with a school in Chicago.

While they’ve made academic gains in struggling communities, KIPP and other large charter networks have come under fire recently for high student attrition rates, discipline issues and failing to meet states’ standards.

“These are not innovative charter schools,” says Gary Miron, professor of education at Western Michigan University, who co-wrote a critical report on KIPP. “What we’re talking about are corporate schools or franchises.”

Whether charters are making significant academic gains remains a question, and until that can be resolved, CPS should hold off on adding charters, says Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education.

“Reports show they’re not outperforming neighborhood schools, and they’re taking resources from neighborhood schools,” she said.

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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.