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Education Reform — A Cover for Cronyism?

8:53 am in Uncategorized by tristero312

In the latest round of school closings in Chicago, schools are either being slated for turnaround or closure. Turnaround means the entire staff is fired and forced to reapply for their jobs. Closing schools will transfer their students to schools run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) a non-profit that draws in millions from the Chicago Public Schools. Recently, Mayor Rahm Emanuel tapped Tim Cawley, the managing director for AUSL to be the Chicago Board of Education’s Chief Operating Officer. There was little room for debate over whether or not the AUSL model is any better, but the Board is doing everything in its power to make these turnarounds and transfers a done deal. Unless we can have an open discussion about what schools need, the Chicago art of cronyism will run the way we teach and learn across the nation.

 

From Huffington Post:

The phrase “education reform” has been co-opted to mean a narrow party program advocated by the reform establishment (mainly billionaires and their designees) that includes a barrage of testing, charter schools, and taking experienced educators out of the classroom.

None of these measures have a track record of success, but the actual facts get obscured by Hollywood films and connected charter groups. It’s hard to get into the conversation when the corporate side of education reform uses the term as a bludgeon against anyone who questions its agenda — even when the concerns are supported by research.

In Chicago, you can add “Turnarounds” and “AUSL” to the list of what we are allowed to call reform.

Although some schools on the closure list like Casals Elementary and Lathrop school have outperformed AUSL schools, despite the board taking resources out of traditional schools and pushing millions into AUSL.

Julie Woestehoff from Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), described the tactic:

I think it’s deliberately starving these schools so that they become weaker and weaker before they’re killed off. It shows that they feel absolutely no responsibility toward schools that are struggling. They’re deliberately undermining them.

This was in response to an admisson from Tim Cawley, Chief Operating Officer of CPS stating that CPS doesn’t get enough “bang for the buck” in investing in struggling schools.

The press asked Cawley why Lathrop School is included in a $660 million capital improvement plan and CPS backtracked and stated that the school will not get the money if it is voted by the Board to be closed.

If the closing is approved, students from Lathrop will be transferred to Johnson Elementary School, an AUSL school.

This draws a lot of questions. Before the media brought to light the fact that Lathrop was slated for closure and receiving funds for capital improvements, what was the plan for Lathrop school’s building?

Another school, Guggenheim Elementary found itself on the closing list for the second year in a row. This may have been another case of sabotage.

Teachers and parents have been noting that the disruption of Guggenheim caused by the change of administration at the school would have eliminated the school from consideration for closing in previous years. But apparently that is not the case this year. The controversial new principal and assistant principal of Guggenheim were not in attendance.

At Guggenheim, Lathrop, Crane and other school community meetings busloads of people from outside the community were brought in to shill in favor of the turnaround. Some are believed to have been paid for their time.

School sabotage, sham community hearings, and clouted officials funneling money back into their organizations? Does this sound like “Education Reform” or does it sound like the same old, same old Chicago-style cronyism?

You be the judge.

In Defense Of The Mic Check

9:08 am in Uncategorized by tristero312

[Cross-posted in HuffingtonPost.com/Chicago]

After years of attending Chicago Board of Education monthly meetings, on December 14, 2011 I felt like I left one where the community was actually heard, by the public and by the board. During the “public participation” segment of the meeting, a lone voice stopped the business-as-usual.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Adourthus McDowell, a Chicago Public School parent and member of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, began the takeover by rising from his chair and interrupting a presentation by Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard on a new $660 million capital construction plan.

Using a ‘mic check’ technique borrowed from Occupy Wall Street protesters, McDowell read from a prepared text in short bursts so comrades planted around the room could repeat his words and thereby amplify them for the crowd.

The action continued. Parents, educators, and community activists repeated Mr. McDowell’s speech and were escorted out of the room one-by-one.

Vice President Sharkey holds Board of Education meeting in Board’s absence.

Some local bloggers and politicians have become highly critical of the “mic check” tactic, where public meetings and events are upstaged by the voice of those who feel voiceless. On its face, it does appear to be rude and counterproductive.

This would be true if these public meetings really were about providing community input. I’ve attended hundreds of public meetings, both as an activist and as a reporter. Board of Education “public participation” segments are two hours where taxpayers are allowed two minutes each to describe decades of neglect or outright sabotage of their school communities, as bemused members of the Board of Education play on their Blackberries.

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