Archives for category: Chicago

Way back in 2004, Chicago’s then-superintendent Arne Duncan announced a bold initiative that he called “Renaissance 2010.” He closed 80 public schools and opened 100 charter schools. He implemented a disruptive strategy called “turnaround,” in which schools were closed and handed over to charter operators, most or all of the teachers fired. When he was appointed Secretary of Education by President Obama, the president saluted him for his courage in closing down “failing” schools. Not long after, some of the turnaround schools failed and were closed.

And now the Chicago Board of Education voted unanimously to put an end to the turnaround strategy. “Reform,” as defined by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, has failed.

Chalkbeat reports:

Chicago’s Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to end its largest school turnaround program and phase 31 campuses managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership back into the district fold across the next three years. 

The district will continue to pay the nonprofit organization to manage a key teacher residency program at a cost of $9.6 million over the next three years. 

Before voting to curtail the group’s school oversight after 15 years, board members said the recommendation illustrated a broader philosophical shift in Chicago toward sending new resources to neighborhood schools and their existing staffs as opposed to strategies like “turnarounds” that relied on disrupting practice by requiring school staffs to reapply for their jobs. 

“Turnaound is a relic of a previous era of school reform,” said Elizabeth Todd-Breland, a history professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and member of the school board.

Board members acknowledged the symbolism of the vote, which came in the same meeting as a discussion over the potentially negative enrollment impact of relocating a charter high school campus (the relocation was not recommended by district leadership).

Interesting turn of phrase: “Turnaround is a relic of a previous era of school reform.” Professor Todd-Breland is correct,

The Bush-Obama-Trump disruptive “reforms” failed. They are relics. It’s past time to invest in improving our public schools, where most students are enrolled, and supporting our teachers.

I think you will enjoy watching this spirited discussion between me and Karen Lewis at the annual NPE conference in Chicago in 2015. I spoke more than she did because I wanted to make it as easy as possible for her. She had already suffered her devastating brain tumor and was undergoing treatment, but as you will see, she has lost none of her sharp wit and edginess.

By now, you have read many tributes to Karen Lewis. She was an icon who fought the powerful. Teachers and parents trusted her because they knew she would never sell them out.

This is a beautiful tribute to Karen by Sarah Karp, one of Chicago’s most experienced education journalists. It captures Karen’s brashness, her fearlessness, her passion.

Some of her colorful quotes:

Lewis’ message resonated because she was willing to stand up for teachers at a time when teachers were under attack and somewhat downtrodden. She unapologetically labeled people as villains and enemies if she thought they disrespected public school teachers and public education.

Chief among them was former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Early on in her tenure as union president, she emerged from a meeting with Emanuel and revealed he had sworn at her. This came after she called the longer school day he was pushing a “babysitting” initiative.

“He jumped out of his chair and said, F-you Lewis,” she recalled. “And I jumped out of my chair and said, who the F do you think you are talking to? I don’t work for you.”

She called Rahm “the murder mayor.”

“Look at the murder rate in this city. He’s murdering schools. He’s murdering jobs. He’s murdering housing. I don’t know what else to call him. He’s the murder mayor,” she said during the school closing fight.

And she once told a group of community and business leaders that then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, who for years held up the passage of a state budget until his agenda was approved, was a new “ISIS recruit … because the things he’s doing look like acts of terror on poor and working-class people,” she said.

Matt Farmer is a lawyer, public school parent, and occasional songwriter who lives in Chicago. Matt had been writing articles about the needs of the public schools in Chicago when he got a message on December 22, 2011, from CTU President Karen Lewis. He had never met her. She wrote:

 “I am truly, madly deeply in love with your soul. May I buy you lunch early next year?” 

He couldn’t resist, of course. They met and became fast friends.

He wrote about his remarkable friend:

Karen was funny as hell (she’d done some stand-up comedy in the past). Like me, she was an absolute music geek. And when it came to caring about students and teachers, she took a back seat to no one.

I was honored to attend her bat mitzvah in June 2013, and I was proud to go door-to-door fifteen months later to circulate petitions for her brief mayoral run, which was quickly derailed by an October 2014 brain cancer diagnosis.

On May 23, 2012, at a meeting of CTU delegates, Matt Farmer conducted a mock trial of billionaire heiress Penny Pritzker, who was a member of Rahm Emanuel’s school board and later served as President Obama’s Secretary of Commerce.

Matt compared Penny Pritzker’s concept of what Chicago school children were entitled to receive (workforce preparation) with the rich curriculum, library, arts programs, and other necessities at the school her own children (and Rahm’s children) attended, the University of Chicago Lab School. Matt Farmer brought the house down. Sitting behind him is Karen Lewis and Jesse Jackson. It is a tour de force and you must watch! If you do one thing this day, watch this five-minute “trial.”

Emma Tai is executive director of United Working Families of Chicago. She describes in Jacobin the powerful lesson that she learned from Karen Lewis.

She writes:

At a time of austerity and teacher demonization, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis — whose death at age sixty-seven was announced today — dared to believe that educators and the working class as a whole could fight back and win...

The 2012 strike put tens of thousands of people in the streets of Chicago. At a time of austerity and widespread demonization of teachers, both in Chicago and around the country, the CTU walked off the job insisting that we deserved, and could actually win, schools and a city that served Chicago’s working class. The strike put black, Latinx, and working-class people, and a workforce that is overwhelmingly women, in the streets by the tens of thousands against a neoliberal mayor, Rahm Emanuel, to say that the schools and city belonged to us. Astonishingly, they won.

That strike changed the political landscape of Chicago and the whole country, touching off a wave of teachers’ strikes that continue to this day and that have even put ideas like a general strike back on the table for the first time in generations.

Up to that point, I had been trained as an organizer to pick winnable fights. I had been to dozens of Board of Education meetings where community members and students waited in line for hours in order to compete for a lottery spot to have two minutes to speak to the school board — a board that, in a travesty of basic democracy, was and still is handpicked by the mayor rather than elected by Chicagoans, and thus has no form of accountability to the average parents, students, and residents of the city they serve. I had watched parents and students, crying, dragged out of those meetings by security guards, their voices going unheard by the board.

But seeing the streets filled with tens of thousands of teachers and supporters in red changed my whole conception of what I thought we could win and transformed what I let myself imagine. We didn’t have to fight for crumbs from the people who ran the city. We, the working class, could run the city ourselves...

Karen Lewis taught all of us a lesson: Not to settle. If you fight, you can win. If you capitulate early, you never win. If your cause is just, don’t give in.

This is a beautiful tribute to a great teacher, a great labor leader, and a woman of valor by the people who knew her best: the union she led.

Chicago Teachers UnionSTATEMENT: 
For Immediate Releasectulocal1.orgCONTACT: Ronnie Reese 312-329-6235RonnieReese@ctulocal1.org

Karen did not just lead our movement. Karen was our movement.

CHICAGO, Feb. 8, 2021 — The Chicago Teachers Union released the following statement today regarding the passing of President Emerita Karen GJ Lewis:

Our union is in deep mourning today at the passing of our sister, our leader and our friend, President Emerita Karen GJ Lewis. We are sending heartfelt condolences to her husband, John Lewis, and her surviving family and friends. She will be dearly missed. 

Karen taught us how to fight, and she taught us how to love. She was a direct descendant of the legendary Jackie Vaughn, the first Black, female president of our local. Both were fierce advocates for educators and children, but where Jackie was stately elegance, Karen was a brawler with sharp wit and an Ivy League education. She spoke three languages, loved her opera and her show tunes, and dazzled you with her smile, yet could stare down the most powerful enemies of public education and defend our institution with a force rarely seen in organized labor. 

She bowed to no one, and gave strength to tens of thousands of Chicago Teachers Union educators who followed her lead, and who live by her principles to this day. 

Karen had three questions that guided her leadership: ‘Does it unite us, does it build our power and does it make us stronger?’ Before her, there was no sea of red — a sea that now stretches across our nation. She was the voice of the teacher, the paraprofessional, the clinician, the counselor, the librarian and every rank-and-file educator who worked tirelessly to provide care and nurture for students; the single parent who fought tremendous odds to raise a family; and the laborer whose rights commanded honor and respect. She was a rose that grew out of South Side Chicago concrete — filled with love for her Kenwood Broncos alumni — to not only reach great heights, but to elevate everyone she led to those same heights. 

But Karen did not just lead our movement. Karen was our movement. In 2013, she said that in order to change public education in Chicago, we had to change Chicago, and change the political landscape of our city. Chicago has changed because of her. We have more fighters for justice and equity because of Karen, and because she was a champion — the people’s champion.  

Our hearts are heavy today, but it brings us joy to know that Karen has joined Jackie Vaughn, Marion Stamps, Addie Wyatt and Willie Barrow as the vanguard of Black women who have forged a heroic path of labor, justice and civil rights in our city. Karen now sits among them, still guiding our every move, and still guiding our vision for the schools our students and their families deserve.

###The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in schools funded by City of Chicago School District 299, and by extension, over 350,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information, please visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.

It is with immense sadness that I share with you the news that the brilliant, charismatic Karen Lewis has died. As leader of the Chicago Teachers Union, she led the union to strike for “the schools our children deserve.” She understood that the union had to organize families and communities, not just their own members. She fearlessly confronted the powerful. She was considering a run against Rahm Emanuel for mayor when she learned she had an aggressive brain tumor.

Karen and her devoted husband John were dear personal friends. I saw them when I was in Chicago a year ago. She was in a nursing home. It was terribly sad.

All of us who care about children and their schools will miss her dynamic leadership.

Every time teachers strike for better education for children, they should remember this tireless, inspiring woman, our friend, Karen Lewis.

This article by the superintendents of New York City (Richard Carranza), Chicago (Janice Jackson), and Los Angeles (Austin Beutner) appeared in the Washington Post. For those too young to know, the Marshall Plan was a massive American investment in foreign aid package to rebuild Europe after World War II. It was proposed by General George Marshall.

President-elect Joe Biden has described the crisis in public schools caused by the pandemic as a “national emergency.” As the superintendents of the nation’s three largest public school districts — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — every day we grapple with the challenges that worry not just the president-elect but also the students and families we serve. Our schools, like thousands more across the nation, need help from the federal government, and we need it now.

The challenges school communities face aren’t for lack of effort by principals, teachers, staff, parents and students. Among our three districts, more than 2 million students and hundreds of thousands of educators have worked to transform teaching and learning from the inside out. We’ve seen teachers tackle long division from their kitchens and students debate the Constitution in Spanish from their living rooms.

But the fact is that for many — if not most — children, online and even hybrid education pales in comparison to what’s possible in a classroom led by a great teacher. Too many children are falling behind, threatening not just their individual futures but also America’s global competitiveness.

In Los Angeles Unified, where almost 80 percent of students live in poverty and 82 percent are Latino and African American, Ds and Fs by high school students have increased about 15 percent compared with last year. Meanwhile, reading proficiency in elementary grades has fallen 10 percent. In Illinois, students have lost more than a year of math progress. In New York City, 82 percent of students are children of color, largely from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the virus, suffering tremendous loss and trauma that accompanies kids into the classroom. Across the country, math performance on standardized tests lags the prior year by 5 to 10 percentile points.

It’s time to treat the dire situation facing public school students with the same federal mobilization we have come to expect for other national emergencies, such as floods, wildfires and hurricanes. A major, coordinated nationwide effort — imagine a Marshall Plan for schools — is needed to return children to public schools quickly in the safest way possible.

Schools have shown that they can stay open safely despite community spread of the virus, but that demands the right set of actions, and adequate financial support, to bring students back safely and address the impact of this crisis head on.

Part of the problem is that the Cares Act and subsequent relief packages did not designate public school districts as recipients. Direct federal support for schools must be specific and targeted.

A federal relief package for schools should cover the basic building blocks of a safe, healthy and welcoming school environment so that educators and students can focus exclusively on their mission: high-quality teaching and learning. Funds should be provided directly to public school districts for four essential programs: cleaning and sanitizing of facilities and providing protective equipment; school-based coronavirus testing and contact tracing to help reduce the risk for all in the school community; mental health support for students to address the significant trauma they are facing; and funding for in-person instruction next summer to help students recover from learning losses because of the pandemic. Many local districts have poured resources into these efforts, and places such as New York City have seen success. But it’s simply not sustainable without federal support, and as covid-19 infection rates surge across the country, the pandemic shows no sign of slowing.

The cost of this lifeline for schools — an estimated $125 billion — is less than 20 percent of the total earmarked for the Paycheck Protection Program and about twice the amount provided to airlines. That’s a relatively small price to safely reopen the public schools that give millions of children a shot at the American Dream and their families the chance to get back to work.

Getting children back in the classroom and helping them recover must be addressed by the federal government with the same urgency and commitment as other disasters. Failure to do so will allow a “national emergency” to become a national disgrace that will haunt millions of children for the rest of their lives.

Carol Burris wrote the following post. Marla Kilfoyle provided assistance. They asked me to add that there are dozens more exceptionally well qualified people who should be considered for this important post: they are career educators who believe in public education, not closing schools or privatization.

The media has been filled with speculation regarding Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education. Given the attention that position received with Betsy De Vos at the helm, that is not a surprise. 

In 2008, Linda Darling Hammond was pushed aside by DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) for Arne Duncan, with disastrous consequences for our public schools. Race to the Top was a disaster. New Orleans’ parents now have no choice but unstable charter schools. Too many of Chicago’s children no longer have a neighborhood school from the Race to the Top era when it was believed that you improved a school by closing it.

But the troubling, ineffective policies of the past have not gone away. Their banner is still being carried by deep-pocketed ed reformers who believe the best way to improve a school is to close it or turn it over to a private charter board. 

Recently, DFER named its three preferred candidates for the U.S. Secretary of Education. DFER is a political action committee (PAC) associated with Education Reform Now, which, as Mercedes Schneider has shown, has ties to Betsy De Vos. DFER congratulated Betsy DeVos and her commitment to charter schools when Donald Trump appointed her.  They are pro-testing and anti-union. DFER is no friend to public schools.

The DFER candidates belong to Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, an organization that promotes Bush/Duncan education reform, as Jan Resseger describes here. “Chiefs for Change,” you support school choice, even if it drains resources from the public schools in your district, of which you are the steward. In their recent letter to President BidenChiefs for Change specifically asked for a continuance of the Federal Charter School Program, which has wasted approximately one billion dollars on charters that either never open or open and close. They also asked for the continuance of accountability systems (translate close schools based on test results) even as the pandemic rages.

We must chart a new course. We cannot afford to take a chance on another Secretary of Education who believes in the DFER/Chiefs for Change playbook. 

We don’t have to settle. The bench of pro-public education talent is deep. Here are just a few of the outstanding leaders that come to mind who could lead the U.S. Department of Education. Marla Kilfoyle and I came up with the following list. There are many more. 

Tony Thurmond is the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, California. Tony deeply believes in public schools. Prior to becoming his state’s education leader, he was a public school educator, social worker, and a public school parent. His personal story is both moving and compelling. 

Betty Rosa dedicated most of her adult life to the students of New York City.  She began her career as a bi-lingual paraprofessional in NYC schools, became a teacher, assistant principal, principal, superintendent, state chancellor, and now New York State’s interim commissioner. 

Other outstanding superintendents include Joylynn Pruitt -Adams, the Superintendent of Oak Park and River Forest in Illinois, who is relentlessly determined to provide an excellent education to the district’s Black and Latinx high school students by eliminating low track classes, Mike Matsuda, Superintendent of Anaheim High School District and Cindy Marten, the superintendent of San Diego.  

Two remarkable teachers with legislative experience who are strong advocates for public schools and public school students are former Teacher of the Year Congresswoman Jahana Hayes and former Arkansas state senator Joyce Elliot

There is also outstanding talent in our public colleges. There are teachers and leaders like University of Kentucky College of Education Dean, Julian Vasquez Heilig, who would use research to inform policy decisions.  

These are but a few of the dedicated public school advocates who would lead the Department in a new direction away from test and punish policies and school privatization. They are talented and experienced leaders who are dedicated to improving and keeping our public schools public and who realize that you don’t improve schools by shutting them down. Any DFER endorsed member of Chiefs for Change is steeped in the failed school reform movement and will further public school privatization through choice. They had their chance. That time has passed. 

 

 

A federal investigation of Gulen charters in Illinois concluded with a large fine. Gulen charters are associated with the Turkish Imam Fethullah Gulen, who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania. Gulen charter schools can be recognized by the dominant presence of Turkish people in the board and the staff. In the past, they have been criticized for steering contracts to Turkish-owned firms, regardless of whether they are the low bidder.

The article, written by veteran reporters Dan Mihapoulos and Sarah Karp, describes the conclusion of a lengthy federal investigation.

A politically connected charter school chain based in the Chicago area has agreed to pay $4.5 million to end a long-running federal corruption investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Concept Schools Inc. — which has four publicly-financed campuses in Chicago and dozens of other charter schools in the Midwest — allegedly engaged in a bid-rigging scheme to steer federally funded technology contracts to insiders.

The costly, civil settlement with the government comes more than six years after federal agents raided the charter operator’s northwest suburban offices and other sites connected to Concept in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

In a statement this week, the Justice Department alleged Concept officials violated the federal False Claims Act “by engaging in non-competitive bidding practices” when they awarded contracts funded with taxpayer dollars from the government’s E-rate program. Through the program, the government subsidizes internet access at “needy public schools,” officials said.

“Today’s settlement demonstrates our continuing vigilance to ensure that those doing business with the government do not engage in anticompetitive conduct,” said Jeffrey Bossert, the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Government contractors and schools that seek to profit at the expense of taxpayers will face serious consequences.”

Concept has denied wrongdoing. The nonprofit organization is based in Schaumburg and runs 30 taxpayer-financed charter schools in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio.

Documents show all of Concept’s revenues come from managing taxpayer-funded schools.

Chicago Public Schools officials — who approved and oversee two Concept campuses in the city — are set to provide about $17 million for those schools this year. The two other Concept-run schools in Chicago are regulated by the state, which is giving them another $22 million for the current year.

The four schools in Chicago, in turn, pay a total of $3.8 million a year to Concept in management fees, records show...

The federal corruption probe came into public view in June 2014, when agents raided Concept’s headquarters at the time in Des Plaines and the Chicago Math and Science Academy, in the Rogers Park neighborhood.

Court records show authorities launched the raids because they suspected a long-running “scheme to defraud a federal program.” The feds said at the time that Concept funneled about $5 million in federal grant funds to insiders and “away from the charter schools,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

In announcing the settlement, the Justice Department accused Concept of giving its E-rate business to “chosen vendors without a meaningful, fair and open bidding process” and alleged the charter operator paid those vendors “higher prices than those approved by the [federal government] for equipment with the same functionality.”

And some of the equipment the federal government paid Concept for was “discovered missing,” the Justice Department said.

But in a statement last week, Concept officials sought to portray the settlement as an exoneration, because the probe did not result in criminal charges. They pointed out that in its press release on the settlement, the Justice Department said the “claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability…”

Concept officials also said they had been the subject of unfair allegations of wrongdoing from “foreign actors.” Although the statement from the charter operator did not specify what foreign critics they were referring to, the charter chain run by Turkish immigrants has faced criticism from the government of their homeland for several years.

In a civil case in federal court in Chicago in August, the Turkish government sought information about Concept and a long list of “relevant individuals and entities.”

Turkey says Concept and other charter school networks across the U.S. “were created to siphon public, taxpayer funds away from the education of children in order to finance the international political activities of Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Turkish cleric residing in the State of Pennsylvania.”

Gulen once was a staunch supporter of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the two men have become bitter enemies, with Erdogan pressing the U.S. to extradite Gulen. Erdogan has accused Gulen of orchestrating a failed coup against him in 2016.

According to the court filing here, Turkey “has initiated an investigation within its own borders to determine whether the proceeds derived from these illegal activities in the United States are being unlawfully transported and transmitted to individuals in Turkey in violation of Turkish criminal law, including international money laundering and fraud…”

Concept also has connections to one of the most powerful politicians in Illinois — state House Speaker and Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan of Chicago…

The speaker, his wife Shirley and other Madigan allies repeatedly travelled in Turkey as guests of a Gulen-led foundation and other Turkish groups in Chicago.

According to economic-interest statements he filed with the state, Michael Madigan made four trips to Turkey from 2009 through 2012 — before Gulen fell out with Erdogan.

This is a longer version of same article with details about Missouri Gulen schools.

https://chicago.suntimes.com/2020/11/6/21552520/concept-schools-charter-school-chain-investigation-settlement