Posts Tagged ‘school reform’

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


Blast from CPS past: Carlos Azcoitia on the Board

Monday, November 19th, 2012

It was something of a surprise to hear that Mayor Emanuel has appointed Dr. Carlos Azcoitia to the Board of Education to replace Rodrigo Sierra, who moves to the CHA Board.

Not mentioned specifically in his official City Hall bio was Dr. Azcoitia’s stint in the mid-1990s as the head of the Office of School Reform, the department which served local school councils, back when CPS served LSCs and back when reform really meant something. Also not mentioned was the time Paul Vallas, then CPS CEO, fired Carlos and then, after getting heat from PURE and others, rehired him to run the newly-named Office of School-Community Relations.

Azcoitia regularly invited reform groups to the table to work on LSC training materials and LSC-related policy issues. He was also a long-time friend of PURE founders Joy and Bernie Noven. The picture above is from Joy and Bernie’s retirement party in 1995. Carlos is the one with the moustache and the mic standing between Joy (seated left) and Bernie (seated right).

There were bumps along the way in PURE’s relationship with Dr Azcoitia, especially as Vallas began to make some heavy-handed moves against certain LSC members, but he is the first person appointed to the mayoral-controlled board with any real school reform credentials. It will be interesting to see if that makes any difference.

Nice tributes to Don Moore

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Take a look at Curtis Black’s excellent tribute to the late Don Moore, the leader of Designs for Change and a true school reform leader.

So far no information on if or when any services will take place. You can watch the DFC Facebook page for news.

PSAT for 3-15-11: Reach out to Japanese educators

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Scarf depicting Mt FujiI first met Dr. Yoshimi Tsuboi in 1997 when he came to Chicago from Japan to study local school councils. He gave gifts of scarves to those of us he met during his visit, and included this note:

“We Japanese, especially farmers and workers, use this handkerchief for wiping sweat…Mt. Fuji represents the supreme pleasure. Two hawk feathers means to bring something. Three eggplants represent common people. Then the combination of the picture means that working brings the sweetest joy of life to the people. I hope your daily hard work will bring happiness not only in your life but also to all children’s lives in the Chicago Public Schools.”

Since then I’ve had the pleasure of spending more time with Yoshi and later getting to know a student of his, Takeshi Shinohara. Takeshi has recently completed his doctorate and will begin teaching at a university next month. He was just here in Chicago doing some follow-up research, and flew home the day of the earthquake. Fortunately, he reports that he and Dr. Tsuboi and their families are all OK.

Takeshi is especially interested in how teachers collaborate with each other and the LSC on school improvement planning. I would encourage anyone who would like to share their experiences with Takeshi or send him a message of encouragement to contact him via his Facebook page.

There are a lot of ways to send money to Japan right now. I happen to like Wider Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. The UCC’s public school advocacy efforts are tremendous, and their mission work is similarly thoughtful, trustworthy, and well-grounded in the local communities.

Let’s help our friends in Japan continue to have the sweetest joy of life – working hard for the children.

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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.