Archives for category: Chicago

An experienced researcher saw a story in the Economist about charter schools. It was, as is typical among news stories, incredibly naive. The writer didn’t ask the right questions. Maybe he already believed in the charter “miracle” story and didn’t ask any questions.

So my correspondent–who requires anonymity– decided that it would be helpful to reporters and members of the public to explain how to read stories about charter schools. Mainly it involves the ability to decipher false claims.

They do not have a “secret sauce,” the phrase once used by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to describe the Noble Network of Charter Schools, each of which is named to honor a very rich patron.

They do have a secret recipe, however, for manufacturing the illusion of success.

Be wise. Think critically. Read carefully.

Here is expert advice:

How to Read News Stories about Charter Schools

Reports and stories about charter schools are in the media every day. The majority of these stories praise charters, while often demeaning public schools. We propose that every reader of such stories ask the following questions before taking the claims of such articles seriously.

Does the story compare the demographics of the student population served by charter schools to the demographics of local public schools? Does it include data on the charter school attrition rate? Does it include data on how the students who leave the charters compare to students who leave public schools? Does it include numbers of students expelled? Does it include numbers of students suspended? Does the story focus exclusively on test scores? If so, has someone, with educational expertise, visited the school to determine if the school focuses on test prep at the expense of a rich curriculum? Are the test scores reported outside of school assessments such as the SAT/ACT or does the story only report test scores of exams that are proctored in-house? Does the story account for the fact that, due to the need to apply to the charter school, parents of the students at charters are, on average, likely to be more engaged in education than the parents of students at public schools? Does it exclusively or primarily cite reports funded by pro-charter or conservative think tanks? Does it include quotes from academic scholars or does it just cite charter school advocates? Does it identify advocates or simply call them “experts” or “researchers”? Does it compare the resources available to charter schools to those available to public schools? Let’s call this approach “identifying charters’ bogus statistics” or the ICBS strategy.

It grows tiresome to dispute every tendentious article written on charter schools.  But let’s see how the ICBS strategy would help us evaluate a sample story. The Economist recently ran an article praising charter schools and attacking Bill de Blasio for proposing to charge rent to charter schools that use public space in New York City.

The Economist presents the Noble Network of charter schools in Chicago as a paragon of charter school excellence. “Around 36% of the…children enrolled with Noble can expect to graduate from college, compared with 11%…city-wide.” What does the data actually tell us about the Noble Network?  As is, unfortunately, standard practice across many charter schools, the Noble Network does not serve equal proportions of the neediest students. In fact they serve 35% fewer English Language Learners and 22% fewer special education students than Chicago Public Schools. This lack of inclusivity extends to other areas too, such as their ban on a Gay Straight Alliance student group.

An op-ed by Congressman Danny Davis noted that the Noble Network suspends 51% of its students at least once during a school year. This includes suspending 88% of the African American students who attend its schools. It might be hard to understand why a school would want to suspend so many of its students…until you realize that this encourages students to leave. And it specifically encourages the more challenging students, the ones most likely to bring down test scores and college graduation rates, to depart. This is not the only such strategy they employ. One exposé revealed that the Noble Network’s “discipline system charges students $5 for minor behavior such as chewing gum, missing a button on their school uniform, or not making eye contact with their teacher, and up to $280 for required behavior classes. 90% of Noble students are low-income, yet if they can’t pay all fines, they are made to repeat the entire school year or prevented from graduating. No waivers are offered, giving many families no option but to leave the school.” The data show that this strategy works. The Noble Network loses over 30% of the students in each class that enters its schools.

As has become all too common, the public school district officials refuse to acknowledge these facts. The former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools told a reporter that he’d turn over data showing that charters don’t “have policies that systematically weed out weaker students.” But as the story notes “the district didn’t keep that promise. WBEZ did obtain an internal CPS memo. It’s titled “Memorandum on Charter School Myths.” The four-page report actually finds that traditional schools held onto more kids than charters did for the year CPS examined.”

The other set of Chicago charter schools praised by the Economist had their contract shortened from 3 years to 5 due to poor performance. Despite the Economist’s claim that “charters have worked well in Chicago,” the actual data show that charters are not working well. As reported by the Chicago Sun Times, “The overall passing rate at two city charter franchises — Aspira and North Lawndale — was below the city average at every campus those two groups operate. Four other chains — Betty Shabazz, Perspectives, North Lawndale and Chicago International — saw the majority of their campuses with over-all pass rates that were below the citywide average.” Even the Walton Foundation-funded CREDO report cited by the Economist, which did not account for the numbers-gaming we noted above, showed mixed outcomes by Chicago’s charters. “In reading, 21 percent of charters performed worse than traditional schools, while 20 percent did better and 59 percent showed no difference. In math, 21 percent of charters did worse, 37 percent performed better and 42 percent showed no difference. Black and Hispanic students continued to lag behind white students in reading, and received “no significant benefit or loss from charter school attendance” compared to students in traditional schools.”

And let us not even mention Chicago’s largest charter chain, called UNO, which received a state grant of $98 million to build new campuses. Its politically powerful CEO–who was co-chair of Mayor Emanuel’s election committee–resigned after revelations in the media of multiple conflicts of interest in the award of contracts and jobs.

But enough about Chicago. The Economist also claimed that “New York City’s charter schools generally outperform their neighbouring district schools.” The data do not support this. According to the data set on the New York City Department of Education’s website, when compared to similar elementary and middle schools, charter schools rank at the 46th percentile in English growth, the 41st percentile in English growth for students who start with scores in the bottom third, the 53rd percentile in Math growth and the 45th percentile in Math growth for students who start with scores in the bottom third. Not only do they not outperform they don’t even match. This past year charter schools saw bigger drops in performance on the Common Core exams than public schools. Additionally charter schools performed worse on average than public schools in English and the same as public schools in math. As do Chicago charter schools, New York City charter schools have extremely high suspension and alarming attrition rates. In fact a recent analysis by the NYC Independent Budget Office found that charter schools selectively attrite students with lower test scores. “The results are revealing. Among students in charter schools, those who remained in their kindergarten schools through third grade had higher average scale scores in both reading (English Language Arts) and mathematics in third grade compared with those who had left for another New York City public school.”

A school from the Success Academy network was singled out for praise by the Economist. What does Success Academy do? They seem to employ the same strategies as the Noble Network in Chicago. In one neighborhood, Success Academy serves 18% fewer impoverished students, 9% fewer English Language Learners, and 13% fewer team taught and self-contained special education students (at a negligible .01% of their student population) than the local public schools. What’s worse Success Academy seems to push out the few special education students that they do admit. Success Academy suspends students at rates well in excess of other public schools in the same district. According to one newspaper report “at Harlem Success 1… 22% of pupils got suspended at least once… That’s far above the 3% average for regular elementary schools in its school district.”

Success Academy has very, very high attrition rates. The data show that over half of each entering class disappears over time. The 2012 data reveal that there were 482 third grade students tested in 2012 but only 244 students were tested at the highest tested grade. The 2013 data reveal that 487 third grade students were tested in 2013, but only 220 students were tested at the schools’ highest testing grade. Assuming similarly sized entering classes at each school and only looking at schools for which we have data across years (i.e. excluding schools that have had only one testing grade which would not permit comparative analysis) over 55% of Success Academy’s students are lost from each grade. Success Academy’s strategy for “success” seems to be to get rid of students who are identified as not succeeding.

The Economist cites a report by “the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think-tank” on the rent question. Bruce Baker, of Rutgers University, has debunked that report. His conclusion, “it makes little sense for the district to heavily subsidize schools [i.e. charters] serving less needy children that already have access to more adequate resources. It makes even less sense to make these transfers of facilities space (or the value associated with that space) as city class sizes mushroom and as the state indicates the likelihood that its contributions will continue falling well short of past promises.”

Using the ICBS strategy it appears that the claims made by the Economist are unsupported by evidence. Stories like this will continue to be published but, armed with the ICBS strategy, readers should not fall prey to such propaganda.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is known for his love of the arts. But not for children in Chicago Public Schools.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Wendy Katten, 773-704-0336

Raise Your Hand Survey Reveals Arts Instruction Sorely Lacking in CPS

65% of reporting schools do not offer two hours of weekly arts instruction, as stated by Mayor Emanuel

CHICAGO, February 20, 2014 — In a recent survey regarding arts instruction at Chicago Public Schools, education advocacy group, Raise Your Hand found the majority of schools are not able to offer two hours of arts instruction per week, contrary to publicly stated support for this by Mayor Emanuel.

The web-based survey, conducted in January and February 2014 includes responses from parents and teachers representing 170, or nearly one-third of CPS. The survey found other grave inequities in exposure to arts instruction across Chicago. Of 170 schools represented in the survey:
· 14% have no arts instruction
· 51% have less than two hours of arts instruction per week
· 26% have two hours of art instruction
· 9% have more than two hours of arts instruction
· 31% saw a decline in arts instruction this year.

“CPS has an arts plan that supports increased arts instruction but a per pupil funding allocation that barely covers the most basic fundamentals let alone robust arts programming,” said Wendy Katten, Director of Raise Your Hand. “If CPS truly wants all children in Chicago to be exposed to a rich arts curriculum as they state, they will need to increase the per pupil funding rate to allow for this.”

The CPS Arts plan states: “the case for the arts is clear. We know that arts education strongly correlates to substantially better student engagement, academic performance, test scores and college attendance, along with significantly decreased dropout rates and behavior problems. And we know that the correlations are strongest for low-income students…Even more, there is growing recognition that the arts contribute to essential 21st century skills like innovation, creativity, and critical thinking.”

Parent Sherise McDaniel of Manierre Elementary said, “My third grader doesn’t have one art or music class. We were thrilled when our school was taken off the closing list last year but our school has seen significant budget cuts and we lost our art teacher. I wish my son had two hours of art per week, or even one. We also lost our librarian due to budget cuts.”

According to survey responses, many parents are paying out of their own pockets for arts instruction at their children’s schools.

Parent Colleen Dillon from Burr Elementary said, “In order to stretch our budget this year, not only were we forced to have a split classroom for the first time, but we also lost our art teacher. Now, the only arts classes offered at Burr are parent-funded and the amount we can fund certainly does not equal two hours a week.”

In the comment section of the survey, many respondents shared frustration at current school budgets, which have been cut to the bone and do not allow for any kind of shift in priorities.

LSC member Jennifer Gierat of Byrne Elementary said, “At Byrne, we do not offer and have never offered two hours of art per week. And we will never be able to offer two hours of art per week under the current budget. The students receive 45-60 minutes of art per week depending on the grade level, and they receive no music instruction. We have one wonderful art teacher doing a fantastic job. The mayor’s claim that our school is providing more than that in this broken system is a distortion.”

About the survey:
Raise Your Hand conducted a non-scientific, web-based survey during the month of January and February. The survey data is based on responses from 444 people representing 170 CPS elementary schools across the city.

RYH asked its members to report the amount of arts instruction received at their school and members called or emailed other schools for information. Responses were aggregated based on information provided by 170 schools. Schools that did not reply are not included in the analysis. When confronted with contradictory reports on the amount of arts instruction at a single school the higher estimate was used in the data analysis. Therefore, any errors are likely to over-state the amount of arts education rather than under-state it.

About Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education: Raise Your Hand is a growing coalition of Chicago and Illinois public school parents, teachers and concerned citizens advocating for equitable and sustainable education funding, quality programs and instruction for all students and an increased parent voice in policy-making around education. http://www.ilraiseyourhand.org.

Amy Smolensky
amysmolensky@comcast.net
312-485-0053

Teachers at a Chicago elementary school voted to boycott the next round of state testing, and their union supported them.

CTU SUPPORTS TEACHER BOYCOTT OF LOW-STAKES ISAT

CHICAGO – The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) supports teachers and parents at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy who announced today their intent to boycott the Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT). Teachers have collected more than 300 opt-out letters and the student council voted to encourage all students to opt out of the exam. Should these courageous educators face disciplinary charges by the district, CTU vowed to mount a strong defense of this collective action.

Saucedo’s action stance against the ISAT could spark a teacher and parent-led movement to “opt-out” throughout the Chicago Public Schools system.

“The Saucedo educators have taken a bold step in refusing to administer a test that is of no use to students and will be junked by the district next year,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has already said the ISAT will not be used for selective enrollment, and therefore this serves no purpose other than to give students another standardized test. We know that parents all over the city are opting their children out of this unnecessary test, and we commend them for doing what is in the best interests of their children.”

The ‘low stakes’ test is expected to be administered over the course of eight days in all elementary schools starting March 3rd. Formerly used to help qualify 7th grade students for selective enrollment high schools. The district recently issued a memorandum to teachers stressing the value of “rigorous, high-quality assessments,” in measuring student progress. The ISAT, however, is not aligned to any CPS curriculum, and in Chicago, it is no longer used to measure student progress, school performance, promotion, or for any other purpose.

For the last decade, since the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the ISAT test has been the primary lever used by CPS for its destructive, destabilizing policies of closures and turnarounds. System-wide, the ISAT has infected the vigor and breadth of curriculum as teachers and students became stymied by the requirements of a narrow test-based approach to learning. NCLB has now been panned as a broad failure, but with the transition into more new tests, CPS threatens to double-down on the failed policy of standardized-test based accountability.

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This letter from a teacher in Chicago public schools shows how gaming the system has become more important than helping each and every child achieve their best.

Data matter more than students.

Data matter more than learning.

Numbers trump education and equity.

The advice: focus on the kids closest to passing. Forget those at the top and the bottom: They don’t matter.

Here is the message:

 

Today we had a grade level meeting about the NWEA scores for the fourth grade students at my school. We teachers were all given printouts of our students’ most recent scores: RIT bands, percentiles, the whole shebang.

Then we were instructed to highlight the students in our classes who had scored between the 37th and 50th percentile. These students, the admin informed us, are the most important students in the class; they are the ones most likely to reach the 51st percentile when students take the NWEA again in May.

Making the 51st percentile is VERY important to CPS, and thus to principals, literacy coordinators, test specialists and teachers-who-don’t-want-to-lose-their-jobs.

It might not be important to individual students, their parents or anyone else, but it is life or death in Chicago Public Schools.

We nodded, wide-eyed. These students, our guide continued, should be your primary focus. Make sure they get whatever they need to bring them up to that percentile. Sign them up for any and all academic programs, meet with them daily in small groups, give them extra homework, have them work with available tutors…whatever it takes.

What about the kids at the very bottom, one teacher wondered, the kids under the 20th percentile…shouldn’t they be offered more support too? The admin squirmed a bit. Well, they don’t really have any chance of hitting the goal, so for right now, no. There was silence.

 

Left unsaid was what might, could, will happen to any school that does NOT have enough students meet that magic number. No one really needs to say it. We all saw the 50 schools that got closed down last year. We see the charters multiplying around us. We’ve also seen the steady stream of displaced teachers come through our school doors as substitutes. We know that we could be next.

In September 2012, the Chicago Teachets Union went out on strike to protest the conditions of teaching And learning in the schools. Surprisingly, the strike was supported by parents, who understood that the teachers were fighting for their children. More than 90% of CTU’s members supported the strike, outwitting the pernicious efforts by Jonah Edelman and Stand for Children to make a strike impossible by persuading the legislature to raise the threshold to 75% of members.

In this report, CTU explains its paradigm of unionism as “social organizing,” and contrasts it to an older, less valuable approach which it calls “service-model unionism:”

Here is an excerpt:

“The social-organizing model of unionism adopted by the CTU in the run up to the strike of 2012 played a crucial role in the success of the labor action.

“Broadly speaking there are two different types or poles of unionism operating in the US labor movement at this time – service unions and social-organizing unions. Service unionism, the most common model of unionism in the contemporary US labor movement, is characterized by the union providing a bundle of services to its membership (such as contract language, grievance proceedings, pay raises, and benefits) in a manner akin to how a business provides services to its customers. The leadership and staff of service model unions are the active agent and the rank and file membership are most often passive spectators in the activities of the union. Service model unions take a reactive stance towards management as union officers solve problems for members in response to complaints, concerns or issues that arise. The rhythm of union activity orbits around grievances, arbitrations, and contract deadlines. The key players in the union are the leadership, paid staff, lawyers and lobbyists. Decision- making is top-down and issues of importance are circumscribed by contract lan- guage. The de facto slogan of service model unionism is “If it’s not in the contract, it’s not our concern.”

“In contrast to service model unionism, social-organizing unionism sees unions as a social movement where the bonds of solidarity within the rank and file provide the foundation from which concerted collective action emanates. In the social-organizing model of unionism the leadership, staff and bureaucracy still exist, but their role is to organize, energize and activate the rank and file for collective action. Social- organizing model unions seek to set their own agenda in dealing with management. Social-organizing unions see organizing as a method to run contract campaigns and contract campaigns as a method to organize the rank and file; they are two sides of the same coin. Grievances, arbitrations and contracts are still key moments in the rhythm of the union, but the unity of the membership, and solidarity actions (often pre-grievance) take their place alongside the more officious features of unionism. In social-organizing unions, membership is active and decision-making is inclusive and consciously strives to expand democratic voice. Crucially, social-organizing unions see the contract, the membership and the union as embedded in a context that in- cludes the wider economy, the political system and culture. Therefore they actively engage the political process in order to fight for the conditions of their membership.”

This is not good news for Pearson, whose stock recently took a tumble. The Chicago Teachers Union is supporting parents who boycott the obsolete ISAT:

NEWS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                   CONTACT:                      Stephanie Gadlin

February 3, 2014                                                                                                                               312/329-6250      

 

CTU SUPPORTS PARENT BOYCOTT OF LOW-STAKES ISAT

Illinois State Achievement Test is costly, obsolete and steals learning time

 

CHICAGO—In advance of the Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) to be issued to Chicago Public School students March 3-14, 2014, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) today announced support for parents choosing to opt their children out of testing and renewed a call for the Chicago Board of Education to cease administration of the ISAT.

The ‘low stakes’ test is administered over the course of eight days in all elementary schools. Formerly used to help qualify 7th grade students for selective enrollment high schools. The district recently issued a memorandum to teachers stressing the value of “rigorous, high-quality assessments,” in measuring student progress. The ISAT, however, is not aligned to any CPS curriculum, and in Chicago, it is no longer used to measure student progress, school performance, promotion, or for any other purpose.

 “The ISAT is an obsolete test—it has no use to educators or administrators and the state is junking it next year,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “It is of no use in selective enrollment, and serves no purpose other than to give students another standardized test.”

Illinois paid over $18 million this year to Pearson Corporation for the ISAT. The portion attributed to CPS is roughly $3.4 million, impacting over 171,000 students. The total cost of administering the tests are the untold hours of preparation for the exam, and the loss of valuable instructional hours that could be spent on real learning.

  

For the last decade, since the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the ISAT test has been the primary lever used by CPS for its destructive, destabilizing policies of closures and turnarounds. System-wide, the ISAT has infected the vigor and breadth of curriculum as teachers and students became stymied by the requirements of a narrow test-based approach to learning. NCLB has now been panned as a broad failure, but with the transition into more new tests, CPS threatens to double-down on the failed policy of standardized-test based accountability.  

 The CTU believes that the letter teachers recently received was recognition of the fear that parents will opt out of the Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress (NWEA MAP) assessment, despite threats that students without MAP scores will not be eligible for selective enrollment, there will be no alternate instruction given during the days of testing and children who are not participating in the assessment will be left to fend for themselves in “self-guided activity.”  The CPS letter to parents also created an additional hurdle for parents, who oppose the excessive class time devoted to test prep and test administration, to opt their children out of testing.

 Last year, the CTU joined teachers, students, parents and education advocates nationwide standing in solidarity with Garfield High School in Seattle and all Seattle public schools refusing to administer the MAP.

An independent investigation found that nearly half of Chicago’s charter schools are under-enrolled, but the mayor-controlled school board plans to open more. This will drain more students and resources from the public schools. Mayor Emanuel hopes to destroy public education as his legacy to the city.

The mayor’s hand-picked board will vote tomorrow on authorizing 31 new charters.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Amy Smolensky, 312-485-0053

Data Analysis Reveals Nearly 11,000 Empty Seats; 47% of Charter Schools Under-enrolled

Pending Vote for Opening 31 New Charters Likely to Have Devastating Impact on Many Chicago Public Schools

CHICAGO, January 20 2013 — In an independent investigation of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) data from the 2013-14 school year compiled by parent Jeanne Marie Olson of the Apples to Apples project, parent group Raise Your Hand has discovered that 47 percent of CPS charter and contract schools had student populations below the CPS threshold for ideal enrollment. This equates to 50 schools with nearly 11,000 seats sitting empty. The analysis also reveals a decline in overall CPS enrollment of 3,000 students this academic year. Despite this drop, the Chicago Board of Education could approve as many as 31 new charters over the next two years.

These revelations combined with tremendous CPS budget cuts, a one billion dollar deficit and the recent closing of 50 neighborhood schools, have parents and community members demanding a halt to charter expansion. Opponents to the charter expansion, which is scheduled to be voted on during Wednesday’s Board meeting, are outraged at the prospect of adding 31 new charters (10 of which have already been approved) while neighborhood schools continue to receive funding cuts that have forced elimination of critical teaching and support positions as well as fundamental education programming.

“CPS has been opening charters in the Austin neighborhood for years and cannibalizing district schools,” said RYH Board member Dwayne Truss. “It is especially offensive to me as a resident of Austin that anyone would propose a new charter in our community after the closing of four district schools last year due to a so-called underutilization crisis manufactured by the district.”

CPS has contended that they will open more charters to meet parent demand and relieve overcrowding.

Raise Your Hand member Jennie Biggs said, “CPS claims to face another near billion dollar deficit. They risk destabilizing all of our schools by this unwarranted expansion. Every type of school in CPS has wait lists and this myth that CPS must open more charters to meet parent demand is insulting as a taxpayer and a resident of a community that had schools on the closing list last year and now has a charter proposal. We must strengthen our existing schools or we face another even more students leaving the system.”

Link to Apples to Apples: http://cpsapples2apples.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/a-history-of-cps-enrollment-1999-2014-rough-draft/

About Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education: Raise Your Hand is a growing coalition of Chicago and Illinois public school parents, teachers and concerned citizens advocating for equitable and sustainable education funding, quality programs and instruction for all students and an increased parent voice in policy-making around education. http://www.ilraiseyourhand.org.

For a list of under-enrolled charters, contact:

Amy Smolensky
amysmolensky@comcast.net
312-485-0053

Bruce Rauner is a fabulously wealthy equity investor who is running for Governor of Illinois.

He is also one of the most important financial backers of charter schools in Chicago. He even has a charter school named for him, part of the Noble network of charters.

In his gubernatorial campaign, he recently made headlines when he broke ranks with the other Republican candidates on the issue of the minimum wage. Democratic Governor Pat Quinn has called for an increase in the minimum wage to $10 an hour from its current $8.25 an hour. Four Republican candidates say it should be kept where it is. Rauner proposes to lower the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour to keep Illinois “competitive.”

According to this story, Rauner’s income in 2012 was $53 million.

“Despite his appearance as an average Joe who stays at cost effective motels and starts his day with Raisin Bran just like everybody else, Rauner need only shake his hammer for an hour to make what minimum wage earners make in a year. Rich Miller at Capitol Fax provides the breakdown:
To put this into a little perspective, somebody earning minimum wage in Illinois today (before any Rauner-enforced pay cut) would have to work 6,424,242 hours to match Rauner’s 2012 income of $53 million. That works out to 803,030 days, 160,606 40-hour weeks, or 3,088 years.
Rauner’s income averages out to $204K a day for a five-day work week, or $25,550 every hour of an eight-hour day. It would take a minimum wage employee 399 days to earn as much money as Rauner made in a single hour last year. And, again, that’s before any pay cut.”

To show what an average Joe he is, Rauner should try living on $7.25 an hour for one week, just one week.

I had a personal encounter with Bruce Rauner. Two years ago, I received the Kohl Education Award from Dolores Kohl, the woman who created it, a great philanthropist who cares deeply about the forgotten children and annually honors outstanding teachers. After the awards ceremony, Ms. Kohl held a small dinner at the exclusive Chicago Club. There were two tables, 8 people at each table. I sat across from Bruce and of course, we got into a lively discussion about charter schools, a subject on which he is passionate.

As might be expected, he celebrated their high test scores, and I responded that they get those scores by excluding students with serious disabilities and English language learners, as well as pushing out those whose scores are not good enough. Surprisingly, he didn’t disagree. His reaction: so what? “They are not my problem. Charters exist to save those few who can be saved, not to serve all kinds of kids.” My response: What should our society do about the kids your charters don’t want? His response: I don’t know and I don’t care. They are not my problem.

This was not a taped conversation. I am paraphrasing. But the gist and the meaning are accurate.

EduShyster wrote about Rauner’s charter school–part of the Noble network–here. The Noble network is known for fining parents if their children don’t follow the rules.

Oh, and one other interesting story about Bruce Rauner: The Chicago Sun-Times reported that he pulled strings with his friend Superintendent Arne Duncan to get his daughter admitted to Chicago’s very selective Walter Payton College Prep school after she was rejected; eighteen months later, Rauner donated $250,000 to the school’s private fund. Rauner also gave a handsome gift to the CPS foundation, run by “the school system’s top administrators”:

Rauner’s gift to the Payton Prep Initiative came two months after his foundation gave $500,000 to the Chicago Public Schools Foundation, run by the school system’s top administrators. His foundation previously had given money to that organization.

Rauner, a venture capitalist, called Chicago school officials in early 2008. Within days, his daughter was admitted to Payton for the 2008-09 academic year by the school’s principal, according to a source familiar with the matter.

MEDIA ALERT: TUESDAY FORUM
PARENTS DEMAND HALT TO CHARTER EXPANSION-

Community Organizations across Chicago Urge CPS to Vote Against Proposed Charter Expansion and Refocus on Protection/Funding of Neighborhood Schools

What: Following the closure of 50 neighborhood schools due to budget and a so-called “underutilization crisis,” parents and community members are furious at the proposal for the creation of 21 new charter schools, which will come up for vote at the School Board on January 22nd – bringing the total numbers of potential new CPS charter schools to 31 in the next two years.

Held in the Brighton Park community, this public forum will bring together community groups, area professors, parents and students from around the city to shed light on the facts surrounding rapid charter proliferation and the harm it is causing to district schools. The forum will address action steps to halt this expansion.

Date: Tuesday, January 14
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Location: Shields Middle School, 2611 W. 48th Street

Why: Despite tremendous CPS budget cuts, a one billion dollar deficit and the recent closing of 50 neighborhood schools, the Board is planning to vote to open up to 31 new charter schools in the next two years. Parents and community members are outraged as neighborhood schools continue to receive funding cuts that have forced elimination of critical teaching and support positions as well as fundamental education programming.

Topics will include:
· Charter impact on special education
· Financing issues and lack of transparency with charter budgets
· Academic performance of charters vs. neighborhood schools

Speakers and supporters to include:
· Students who have been counseled out of charters will offer testimony.
· Researchers:
· Members from the following organizations will be present: Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Blocks Together, Raise Your Hand, Parents4Teachers, Teachers for Social Justice,

Contact: If you plan to attend this event or have any questions, please contact Wendy Katten at 773-704-0336, wkatten@yahoo.com.

Amy Smolensky
amysmolensky@comcast.net
312-485-0053

This remarkable article by Cassie Walker Burke with assistance from the Better Government Association details the story of Juan Rangel and the UNO charter school network, the biggest charter chain in Chicago.

It is a gripping tale about the consequences of deregulation and privatization, of creating schools that are not subject to the same laws as public schools, and of the problematic nexus between charter operators and politicians. The charter operators need the money controlled by the politicians, and the politicians need the troops controlled by the charters.

Burke writes, after a lengthy interview with Rangel last fall:

What emerged is a cautionary tale about the intersection of ambition and opportunity. UNO and its CEO thrived mainly because of gaping loopholes in the charter school system. While UNO has received a staggering $280 million in public money over the past five years to spend on education, neither Chicago Public Schools nor the Illinois State Board of Education provided enough oversight. Without that, insiders say, UNO developed a free-wheeling culture that was ripe for abuse. It collected lots of money, and Rangel amassed lots of power. But he didn’t always use them for the benefit of the thousands of kids in his charter schools…

From the beginning, Rangel operated on the notion that charters were exempt from the school district’s nepotism rules (they are allowed to write their own ethics policies) and from the so-called Shakman Decree, a consent decree put into place in 1983 to curb the patronage practices of Chicago pols (it applies to CPS but not to charter operators). As the UNO organization grew, it created plenty of jobs: teachers’ assistants, IT consultants, central office administrators, and community relations officers that Rangel and Mullins filled as they pleased…

[After dismissing its external for-profit management company], UNO…began paying itself a “management fee” of $1 of every $10 it received from local, state, and federal sources. (Some years UCSN kicked up more. In 2012, those fees totaled $5 million.) Under Rangel and Mullins, UNO had control over how that cash was spent…

A third of the nation’s charter schools pay fees to management companies—a head-scratching arrangement when you consider that charters were created as a way to eliminate bureaucracy, not create it. Few rules govern these arrangements, according to Gary Miron, a professor of education at Western Michigan University who has studied charter financing (though not UNO’s specifically). Once the charter manager collects the fee, the funds go under “the veil,” says Miron. “Basically, all of this money ends up getting paid to the management company, but we don’t know how much goes into their pockets or how much they spend on administrators, or administrators’ nephews or uncles.”

Free from oversight or supervision, the UNO organization collected millions from private foundations (like Walton) and from the government; and it was rife with conflicts of interest.

In June 2009, the state legislature awarded UNO a $98 million grant for school construction. Even charter advocates were shocked by such a staggering sum handed out to a single operator. “Very few, if any, charters [nationwide], except UNO, get that kind of state money to build schools,” says Andrew Broy, the president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, a lobbying and resource group.

Anticharter parents’ groups and unions immediately cried foul. “What on earth was the state thinking?” says Julie Woestehoff, the executive director of Parents United for a Responsible Education, a Chicago advocacy organization. “We have this huge budget crisis. To be giving UNO $98 million—it’s preposterous. It throws into enormous relief the political nature of this organization, the clout they have.”

UNO’s coup was the result of a classic one-two punch. The cousin of Miguel d’Escoto, Rangel’s chief organizer at the time, had bused hundreds of parents in matching T-shirts to Springfield to rally for weeks in front of the Capitol and the TV cameras. Behind the scenes, Rangel had worked Republican lawmakers— many of them charter fans—from Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno on down. To reinforce the message, he had hired a cadre of powerhouse lobbyists, including Victor Reyes and Michael Noonan, a former Madigan aide.

“They were playing the ‘Kumbaya’ chord that this was for the betterment of Latino families,” recalls Senator William Delgado, a Chicago Democrat who chairs the Senate Education Committee and voted for the grant—a decision he says he now regrets. “But it was the wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. These guys [at UNO] weren’t responsible enough to get that much money.”

With that $98 million, UNO began scrambling to build new schools, Rangel’s two-campus Soccer Academy complex among them. No one inside the organization, it seems, bothered to read the grant agreement’s fine print. It specified that UNO “must immediately notify the [Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which administered the grant] in writing of any actual or potential conflicts of interest.”

As the Sun-Times would reveal in February 2013, a long line of contractors, plumbers, electricians, security firms, and consultants tied to many of the VIPs on UNO’s organizational chart got a piece of the action. Rangel spelled out in tax documents and in later bond disclosures that the construction firm d’Escoto Inc.—owned by former UNO board member Federico d’Escoto, the brother of Miguel d’Escoto—was the owner’s representative on three projects funded by the grant. Another d’Escoto brother, Rodrigo, was paid $10 million for glass subcontracts for UNO’s two Soccer Academies and a third school in the Northwest Side neighborhood of Galewood.

The vendor lists were peppered with other familiar names: a $101,000 plumbing contract awarded to the sister of Victor Reyes, UNO’s lobbyist, who helped secure the state grant; a $1.7 million electrical contract given to a firm co-owned by one of Ed Burke’s precinct captains; tens of thousands in security contracts to Citywide Security, a firm that had given money to Danny Solis, and to Aguila Security, managed by the brother of Rep. Edward Acevedo, who voted for the $98 million for UNO.

…Behind the scarlet curtain, UNO’s schools could be sloppy. Rangel rarely entered them. From 2008 until 2011, day-to-day operations fell to a strict Catholic nun, Sister Barbara McCarry, a veteran from the CPS office that vetted charters. To make up a budget gap from leaner times, UNO began stuffing more kids in classrooms (up to 30 in kindergarten and first grade, compared with the CPS average of 24) and levying “activity fees” on unsuspecting families. Expectations were high, tempers were strained, and a revolving door of principals (called directors at UNO schools) left a young and largely inexperienced crop of teachers casting about for guidance. Teachers say they felt pressure to please parents and to not draw any negative attention to the schools….

 

UNO’s teacher turnover rate careened toward 40 percent for the 2011–12 school year, though the network wasn’t the only charter operator in Chicago burning through staff. According to the independent Chicago education journal Catalyst,average teacher turnover at all local charters exceeded 50 percent the previous year….

[with legal troubles growing, Rangel resigned in December but UNO is still operating.]

UNO can’t count on more largess from the State of Illinois, at least until the inevitable political amnesia sets in. (In an email, a Quinn spokesperson wrote “NO” in all caps in response to the question of whether the governor would consider future UNO grants.) But the network’s authorizer, CPS, remarkably still seems to have its head firmly planted in the sand. Last February—after the Sun-Times stories broke—the board of education voted unanimously to extend UNO’s charter for another five years.

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