Archives for category: Chicago

Fred Klonsky reports on emails sent from Governor Bruce Rauner, when he was a private citizen, to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel fought in court to keep the emails under lock and key, but was eventually forced to release them by court order.

Citizen Rauner expressed his unedited views of educators in Chicago:

Gov. Bruce Rauner once told some of Chicago’s wealthiest and most influential civic leaders that half of the Chicago Public Schools teachers “are virtually illiterate” and half of the city’s principals are “incompetent,” according to emails Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration released Thursday under a court order.

Rauner made the assertion five years ago when he was a wealthy private equity executive and an active participant in Chicago school reform. His emails were part of a discussion with affluent education reform activists connected to the Chicago Public Education Fund, including Penny Pritzker, now U.S. commerce secretary; billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin; Chicago investment executive Mellody Hobson; and Helen Zell, the wife of billionaire real estate magnate Sam Zell.

“Teacher evaluation is critically important, but in a massive bureaucracy with a hostile union, where 50% of principals are managerially incompetent and half of teachers are virtually illiterate, a complete multi-dimensional evaluation system with huge subjectivity in it will be attacked, manipulated and marginalized – the status quo will prevail,” Rauner wrote in a December 2011 email arguing for a strong system of teacher and principal evaluations in the district. “It’s much more critical that we develop a consistent, rigorous, objective, understandable measure and reporting system for student growth upon which all further evaluation of performance will depend.”

We know that Governor Rauner loves charter schools, especially those that do not have unions, where the teachers are young college graduates with little or no experience.

Now we have a clue about why he has been unwilling to fund Chicago public schools.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Chicago is experiencing an exodus of experienced principals.

Forty-two Chicago Public Schools principals resigned this year, the most since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office.

And 23 principals, out of about 515 total, decided to retire, a number somewhat higher than the last several years. The 65 school leaders departing this past school year saw more budget cuts, including unprecedented cuts midyear. Since 2011, the next highest number was 37 resignations in 2014. In 2012, only 13 departed, but 96 retired that year.

Mayor Emanuel has made his contempt for public schools clear, as well as his preference for privately managed, non-union charter schools.

CPS’ chief education officer Janice Jackson acknowledged the financial pressures, saying, “Our principals and teachers are leaving for jobs where their district doesn’t have to take hundreds of millions of dollars out of the classroom to fund their pensions.”

Ousted CPS principal Troy LaRaviere, who recently took office as head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, said the pressure has been building for years.

“It’s the cumulative effects of being consistently under the weight of a district that finds one way after another to undermine the efforts [principals] put forth on behalf of their students,” he said. “Our ability to do our job depends on resources, and they take more of them away every year impairing our ability to do our job more and more.”

Until Thursday, when a temporary state budget was finally approved, principals were bracing themselves for cuts to their school budget of 26 percent on average. That was on top of cuts earlier in the school year to special education and warnings to stockpile cash so CPS could afford $676 million toward teacher pensions. They still don’t have budgets for September — and won’t for at least another week.

In recent years, the district privatized school cleaning, taking away principals’ power to manage janitors in their buildings. CPS shuttered a record 50 neighborhood schools. Budgets were cut sharply the same summer that former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett pushed a $20 million no-bid contract for principal training that participants immediately denounced as shoddy.

Mayor Emanuel is effectively driving the public schools and their personnel into the ground. He is a poor steward of public education. What public responsibility is greater than the education of the city’s children?

The death by a thousand cuts, that is the story of “school reform” in Chicago. It seems that no one in the Mayor’s office cares about the children in the public schools.

Mike Klonsky tells the sad story of the shutdown of the Children and Family Benefits Unit, a small group that drew in more money than it spent, all to help the neediest children.

Does society have a more sacred trust than the care, feeding, and education of children?

What are Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Bruce Rauner thinking?

They should be called out, every day, for their neglect of their greatest responsibility.

Juan Rangel, a political activist in Chicago, created the city’s largest charter chain, called UNO. Rangel was co-chairman of Rahm Emanuel’s mayoral campaign in 2011, when he first ran for mayor. UNO was an amazing cash cow. It collected $280 million over five years from the state. Governor Pat Quinn and House Speaker Mike Madigan took care of UNO, giving it a grant of $98 million to expand, a staggering amount for a single charter chain. Meanwhile, UNO fired its for-profit management firm and took charge of its operations, claiming 10% of all revenues for itself. None of UNO’s activities were monitored by anyone. Conflict of interest rules covered public schools, but not UNO.

Here is the ultimate nonpartisan article summing up the rise and fall of UNO and Juan Rangel. Here is my short summary of that brilliant article.

Once UNO won $98 million from the state, many friends and relatives got a piece of the action:

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 Halewood.

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.

As the scandals broke into public view, thanks to the enterprising reporting of the Chicago Sun-Times, Rangel resigned in December 2013.

Fred Klonsky writes about the consequences for Rangel. The SEC fined Rangel $10,000 while he admitted no wrong-doing. He is allowed to pay it off at $2,500 per quarter.

Klonsky writes in incredulity:

When he resigned from UNO he received a severance package of nearly a quarter million bucks.

$2500 a quarter?

That probably equals his lunch tab.

When Rangel ran UNO it was reported by the Sun-Times as having spent more than $60,000 for restaurants on his American Express “business platinum” card including thousand dollar tabs at Gene & Georgetti, the Chicago steak house.

A credulous reporter, Rebeka Lowin, wrote a glowing article about the miraculous charter school in Chicago that sends 100% of its graduates to four-year colleges.

Urban Prep, she writes, “boasts a whopping college acceptance rate of 100%. That’s right: Each graduate has been accepted to a four-year university.”

“Boasts” is the right verb, to be sure.

According to Mike Klonsky, referring ( to US Department of Education data, “This class started with 154 freshman. 67 made it to 12th grade.”

The point of stories like this is to imply that every neighborhood could achieve the same success if they did what this school does. But Urban Prep does not have a 100% graduation rate. It is not a neighborhood school. It is not a model.

Urban Prep is noted for its amazing attrition rate. This year, less than half its first-year students made it to graduation. The graduation rate is not 100%.

Klonsky, who lives in Chicago, congratulates those who did make it to graduation, but he adds some caveats.

Once you cut through all the hype, Urban Prep is anything but a miracle. For one thing, only about half of its students even make it to their senior year. This high attrition rate is typical of charter schools and neighborhood schools alike. For another, despite its strong emphasis on test scores, UP’s reading and math scores are among the lowest in the district and usually fall below the CPS average for African-American male students.

Last year the school had its charter renewed even though it failed to meet most of its own accountability targets. Only 17 percent of Urban Prep juniors passed their state exams a year ago, far lower than the district average of 29 percent. On the positive side, that beats the 8.4 percent passing rate in many neighboring high schools. But nevertheless, nothing to write home about.

As I pointed out last year, the school’s entire graduating class has been accepted to four-year universities even though only 12% of them met the college readiness benchmark in reading and only 36% met the benchmark in English on the ACT exam. And while UP’s composite ACT score is a few (3) points higher than nearby high schools, it’s important to remember that Urban Prep ISN’T a neighborhood school. It draws its students from 31 different zip-codes in the city.

As it happened, I first debunked the claim of “miracle schools” in the New York Times five years ago. When NPR lauded this very same miracle school, I wrote another commentary, this time noting the work of Gary Rubinstein and Noel Hammatt.

Note to reporters: Before you believe the press release, please google the name of the school. Be sure to check the attrition rate. If anyone knows Rebeka Lowin, please send her this post.

The Chicago Teachers Union plans a protest rally tomorrow, calling on Mayor Emanuel to fight for funding for the public schools. The schools face an intolerable 39% budget cut because of the failure of the city and state to fund them.

CTU to protest Mayor Emanuel’s refusal to stabilize Chicago Public Schools on Wednesday

CHICAGO—The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has turned an imposed Chicago Public Schools (CPS) furlough day into a “fight back” day and will lead a series of demonstrations throughout the Loop on Wednesday, June 22. The Union, parents, students, education justice activists and others are calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago City Council and other lawmakers to fund public schools and implement a series of measures that will lead to long-term sustainability of the district.

Last month, the CTU released details of a $502 million CPS revenue recovery package and called on Emanuel and the City Council to stabilize the district. The Union said this act of “self-help” will ensure lawmakers in Springfield that local leaders are fully committed to restoring funding to our schools.

The following is for planning purposes:


Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey & CTU Members
8:30 a.m.
United Center Protest @ Willis Tower

Chicago Teachers Union Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle & CTU Members
8:30 a.m.
Chicago Board of Education Protest/Elected School Board
42 W. Madison

Chicago Teachers Union Recording Secretary Michael Brunson & CTU Members
9:30 a.m. Civilian Police Accountability Council Protest/Elected Police Board
City Hall, 121 N. Lasalle

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis & CTU Members
11:00 a.m.
All Member, Parent & Community Rally/Speak Out @ JR Thompson Center
Wednesday, June 22, 2016

This is one of the best posts ever, written by a Chicago public school parent and blogger.

Julie Vassilatos asks the question: whose schools? Who do they belong to? In Chicago, they are currently “owned” by the mayor and his hand-picked board. In other major cities, they are being given away to boards controlled by hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs, and corporate chains.

In Chicago, the mayor wants to cut the schools’ budget by 39%. Unimaginable!

Julie has a different understanding: These schools belong to US. They are OURS.

She writes:

The public schools belong to us. They are ours. In a very personal way, in a theoretical way, and in an actual, absolute financial way. Chicago Public Schools belong to us, the families who pay taxes to sustain them.

They do not belong to a handful of small-minded men who want to break them down, write them out of their budgets, and sever our communities from each other. They do not.

They. Are. Ours.

Our buildings, some of them historic, we have upheld and gardened and and repainted with our own volunteer efforts. We have papered their walls with our children’s art. We have forged relationships with our teachers, we have worked at this and so have they. We have struggled to get educational access for our special needs kids–struggled to create conditions in which our kid can learn despite draconian state-imposed limits, struggled together with our counselors and caseworkers and teachers and paraprofessionals.

We have chaperoned field trips and ridden on noisy bouncing buses, we have invented, organized, and staffed creative fundraisers, we have helped out in the classroom from stapling papers to reading to kids to finding and putting tennis balls on chair feet.

We have served on PTAs and LSCs, anxious and striving, weeping and sweating, laughing over shared meals and cheering over bake sale profits, working out and forging action on critical things like who our principal is and how we can best allocate our few paltry dollars.

In many cases our kids go to the same schools we went to, and our hearts can be filled with pride over this or with shame that they may be using the same textbooks we used. These schools are ours over generations.

These schools are ours. We pay for them. They are for our children and our society. They are not for the profit and manipulations of a ruler class, some of whom we elected in foolishness, and many of whom are appointed and about whom we have no say whatsoever. These educational overlords have shown that they do not care about our children’s educations. They care about their own children’s educations, as indeed so do we for our own children. It’s comfortable and easy for them, but the costs for this are high–a shrinking Chicago tax base, an exodus out of the city that will soon become a torrent, a generation of kids’ educations in jeopardy, and the moral cost of all the effort to maintain a lower class whose educational opportunities are denied.

Friends, readers, CPS parents, public school parents of the nation, hear this. Your school is yours. Our schools belong to us. Do not forget it. We have some power we need to retake here. We have a district to reclaim.

Mike Klonsky reports that Chicago’s open enrollment public high schools are driving the city’s improving graduation rate. You know, the public schools that accept everybody.


“Well, it’s that time of year when the media spotlight in all the privately-run charters schools that supposedly enroll 100% of their students in a college program. Of course they fail to mention they mean 100% of the 25% or fewer that make it from freshman year to the graduation ceremony.


“I wonder how many of those 100%-ers actually show up for college classes, can afford skyrocketing tuition, or graduate some time down the road. Urban Prep, for example, continually boasts about it’s college-acceptance rate for the few that graduate, but rarely about reading and math scores which are among the lowest in the city. This year only 24% of students at this school are considered proficient in math and/or reading.”


“Check out the number of Urban Prep Charter Academy (Englewood) 9th-graders in 2014, compared with the number that make it to senior year.


“Or the high-flying Noble St. charters which lost about half their students by senior year.”


What’s driving the rising graduation rates? Not the charters, with their exclusion of kids with disabilities and ELLs. The open enrollment public high schools.



The Chicago Sun-Times reported on a startling conflict of interest.

The rightwing, anti-union Walton Family Foundation has been funding the Illinois State Charter School Commission, a state agency, as well as many charter schools in Illinois. When the Chicago Public Schools recommended closing two charter schools because of their poor performance, the Commission blocked the closing. The two failing charters were also funded by the Walton Family Foundation.

Have you ever heard of a public agency that relied for funding on a private foundation with a political agenda of privatization?

Reporters Dan Mihalopoulos and Lauren FitzPatrick write:

A private foundation started by the late Walmart mogul Sam Walton and his wife has contributed heavily to the Illinois State Charter School Commission and to two charter operators whose schools the state agency has blocked the Chicago Board of Education from closing over poor student performance, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

Even in the complex history of public education in Chicago, the situation involving the two charters, the Chicago Public Schools, the charter commission and the Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation is unusual.

Unusual is an understatement.

For years, CPS has faced criticism for allowing the expansion and taxpayer-financed funding of privately run charters even as it shut down traditional public schools over low enrollment and bad test scores.

Aiming to show it expects charters to meet the same standards as CPS schools, the Board of Ed moved last November to cut off funding for three schools — including the Amandla Charter School in Englewood and Lighthouse Academies’ school in Bronzeville — over poor student performance. The charter commission overruled the Board of Ed and, in March, blocked CPS from closing the schools.

Beside Amandla and the Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter School, the commission also saved the Betty Shabazz International Charter School’s Barbara A. Sizemore Campus in Englewood from being closed. The Walton foundation hasn’t donated to Shabazz.

CPS responded later in March by suing the state agency over its ruling, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s schools chief, Forrest Claypool, called “ill-advised and destructive.”

Over the past 20 years, the Walton foundation has given more than $45 million to educational groups in Illinois, including charter schools and the state commission that regulates them, records examined by the Sun-Times show.

The biggest recipients were the Chicago-based IFF — which helps charter schools finance construction projects and got more than $9 million — and the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, an advocacy group that’s received about $8 million.

The Illinois charter operator that benefited most from Walton grants was the UNO Charter School Network, which got more than $3.5 million from the foundation. Its last grant was in 2012 — a year before Sun-Times reports exposed a contracting scandal involving the politically connected charter operator.

Though the commission is a government agency, its initial funding came from private organizations and individuals, including the Walton foundation. Current and former commission leaders say they sought grants because state lawmakers didn’t provide funding when they created the agency.

Members of the commission insisted that they were not influenced by the Walton Family Foundation to stop the closure of the two Walton-funded charter schools.

Whether they were or they were not, it is strange to see a state agency underwritten by the sponsor of the organizations that the agency is supposed to regulate. A classic example of regulatory capture.

The next time you hear boastful claims about “reform,” think Chicago.


Poor Chicago! Arne Duncan launched his version of reform there in 2001, with Gates funding. School closings, test scores above all, new schools, charter schools. And what is left now: a public school system struggling to survive. The results of Arne’s reforms: zilch.


Then Obama named his basketball buddy as Secretary of Education and the reforms that failed in Chicago were imposed on the nation by the ill-fated Race to the Too, where everyone is a loser.


So, Mike Klonsky tells us, reform is business as usual. The Chicago way. Those that have, get more. Those that have not, get ignored.


Fifteen years of reform. Think Chicago. Where Democratic leaders pander to billionaires and strangle the public schools.


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