UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

April 13, 2009

WHAT DUNCAN REALLY DID TO CHICAGO SCHOOLS

Rethinking Schools - For the past several years, Chicago's model of school closings and education privatization has received national attention as another beacon of urban education reform. . . . As Chicago Mayor Daley said in a 2006 press conference, "Together, in 12 years we have taken the Chicago Public School system from the worst in the nation to the national model for urban school reform." . . .

The myth is that Chicago has created a new, innovative way to improve education-Renaissance 2010. The heroes in this myth are Mayor Daley, who introduced Renaissance 2010 in June 2004 at a Commercial Club event, and Arne Duncan, who oversaw its implementation and was its chief spokesperson. Renaissance 2010 was touted as the future of education in Chicago, with a plan to close 60 schools and open 100 new, state-of-the-art, 21st-century schools. These schools would be either small, charter, or contract schools. Renaissance 2010 was (and is) marketed as an opportunity to bring in new partners with creative approaches to education. That's the myth.

There is a completely different reality on the ground. For affected communities who have longed for change, Renaissance 2010 has been traumatic, largely ineffective, and . . .

Arne Duncan has overseen the beginning destruction of neighborhood schools with neighborhood students. Schools are no longer community pillars because many students no longer live in the area. When CPS closes schools and reopens them as Renaissance 2010 charter or contract schools, there is no guarantee or requirement that students who attended the old schools will go to the new ones-and many don't. For example, not all new schools are the same grade level as the old schools. There are complicated applications and deadlines, limits on enrollment, requirements of families, and informal selection processes that may disadvantage some students.

Families with multiple children who used to attend one school have had to scramble as schools close and their children are split up. Young children who walked to their neighborhood school have had to leave their community and cross heavily trafficked streets. Schools that are "turned around" terminate all adults in the building, including security, custodial, clerical, paraprofessional, and kitchen staff (as if they contributed to students' poor performance), causing severe dislocation and job loss in the community. Tenured teachers who are released are reassigned for 10 months as negotiated in the union contract. During this time, they receive their salary and benefits, sub some days of the week, and look for a position on other days. At the end of the 10 months if they have not found a position, they can be "honorably terminated." As one parent of a child in a closing school said, "when you close a school, you kill the heart of the community."

In a democratic society, instruments of engagement allow citizen voice in decision-making processes. In Chicago education, that instrument is Local School Councils. The most powerful parent, community, and teacher, local-school, decision-making structures in the country, LSCs' responsibilities include hiring principals, monitoring budgets, and developing school improvement plans. . . A 2005 Designs for Change study of 144 of the most successful neighborhood schools in Chicago serving primarily low-income students listed effective LSCs as a key reason for success. Despite this and other evidence documenting LSC effectiveness, CPS, under Duncan, has worked tirelessly to weaken LSCs by whittling away at their authority.

The LSCs came out of the grassroots movement to elect Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor, in 1983. Parents and community members across the city made alliances and worked with school reformers to fight for local school councils, which the state legislature created when they passed the 1988 Chicago School Reform Act. Chicago's LSCs are probably the most radical school reform in the country and are the largest body of elected, low-income people of color (especially women) in the United States. . .

Why is CPS working to eliminate LSCs? Consider this: Chicago has almost 7,000 LSC members. If they were organized, they would be a major force in the struggle for equity in education. In fact, CPS has worked extremely hard to underserve LSCs. . .

Duncan publicly stated in April 2007 that he wanted to break the "monopoly" of the LSCs, and in October 2007, Board of Education president Rufus Williams, in a speech to the City Club of Chicago-a major grouping of business people-likened LSCs running schools to having a chain of hotels being run by "those who sleep in the hotels." . . .

To justify Renaissance 2010, Duncan has been a strong proponent of school choice-including military schools. He was quoted in the Nov. 2, 2007, issue of USA Today saying: "These are positive learning environments. I love the sense of leadership. I love the sense of discipline."

According to the CPS website, Chicago has "the largest JROTC program in the country in number of cadets and total programs." CPS has five military high schools, more than any city in the nation, and 21 "middle school cadet corps" programs. The military high schools teach military history and have military-style discipline. Students wear military uniforms, do military drills, and participate in summer boot camps. The hierarchical authority structure mirrors the Army, Navy, and Marines, with new students ("cadets") under the command of senior students who work their way up and require obedience from those in "lower ranks.". . . All but one of the military high schools are in African American communities. . .

Before Duncan, schools could be put on probation and have external partners forced upon them, but now schools are phased out, closed, or "turned around" by private contractors (some funded by the Gates Foundation). In the turn-around model, everyone is removed from their position, from principal to custodial workers. Accountability measures drastically increase pressure to do well on standardized tests. "Extracurriculars" rapidly disappear, like art, physical education, and recess, as reported in an Aug. 25, 2008, Chicago Sun Times article.

Two thirds of the 76 Renaissance 2010 schools are charter or contract schools. Not only do charter schools need only 50 percent certified teachers, but their teachers cannot be part of the Chicago Teachers Union bargaining unit of 32,000 members. As one might expect, the union opposes Renaissance 2010. Contract school teachers can join the CTU-but only if their administration permits it. Chicago is losing its certified, union teachers as schools are closed or "turned around," and displaced teachers with long-time seniority are becoming common. . .

2 Comments:

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April 14, 2009 8:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a teacher at one of these Charter schools. Let me tell you that all Duncan and the Mayor are doing is breaking the union. END OF STORY.

Look at scores from charter to regular schools; not much difference.

I hope America takes a real good look at Chicago and how NOT to go about school reform.

Close PUBLIC schools and turn them into public-private hybrids. TERRIBLE MODEL that does not work!

April 14, 2009 10:33 PM  

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