Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rauner took my 'czar' advice seriously

Czar Purvis
Sun-Times headline reads:
Rauner paying education czar $250k from agency that funds autism, epilepsy services
Gov. Rauner must have read my Tuesday post -- the one where I go after the Tribune's editorial board for proposing that Chicago put a turnaround expert at the top of the school system, with "Mussolini-like powers to execute and implement."

I think my point was -- there's something about editorial recommendations that have the words Mussolini and execute in the same sentence...

As you may remember, I pointed out that they could have just said, "You know. We really need an education czar," and no one would have blinked. 

Well, it appears that Rauner actually took my czar advice seriously. Anyone who knows me would have told him not to do so. 

Anyway, the new czar's name is Beth Purvis. As you might expect, she's a former charter school director, a post which makes her eminently qualified for the czar's job. She served as CEO of the Chicago International Charter School, a network of 15 schools in Chicago and Rockford.

What Natasha Korecki's S-T article doesn't tell us is that it was Paul Vallas and Synesi that greased CICS and Purvis's entry into Rockford. Connections, anyone? You out there, reporters?

Unfortunately, Czar Purvis' quarter-million-dollar salary is being taken directly from Rauner's brutal budget cuts, otherwise known as “the Good Friday Massacre.” In other words, she's living off money that should be going for autism and epilepsy funding. 

I hope she chokes on it. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Feds turn over another rock and the plot thickens

Today's Sun-Times story by Lauren Fitzpatrick takes us even deeper into the seamy underbelly of Chicago's pay-for-play contracting process under the current system of mayor control of public education.

The most interesting part of the story for me was the way CPS practically stuffed it's $20.5 million, no-bid contract into Synesi/SUPES founder Gary Soloman's pocket. This after the State Board had found the group(s) unqualified to help the city's schools improve.
Though CPS touted Synesi’s past work in other urban districts, the Illinois State Board of Education found that Synesi failed at a fundamental level to show how it would actually help the schools improve if they were awarded the money, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
“No indication of a daily work experience that garnered results,” is how another state scorer summed up a segment of the review, awarding just 362 points out of a possible 580. In another graded section of its application, Synesi got just 5 points out of a possible 40, the records show.
 In April 2013, grant applications were submitted for Carver Military Academy, Corliss, Farragut and what then was called Marine Math and Science Academy, now the Marine Leadership Academy at Ames. Each planned to pay Synesi $270,000 per year for its help, according to the schools’ proposals. None of the principals answered Sun-Times questions.
CPS leaders contracted with them anyway, coming out-of-pocket after being turned down for state grants. The reason for such a giant waste of taxpayer money becomes obvious as the feds begin turning over rocks, ultimately leading to the cancelling of the SUPES contract and Byrd-Bennett's hasty departure.

Here once again, I feel this overwhelming need to keep reminding people that Synesi was from its very start, connected to Paul Vallas.  I don't mean to dwell on Vallas other than to show the origins of this shady approach to winning district contracts. It was always Valls' M.O. but an approach not just used by Synesi/SUPES, but throughout the entire system. Vallas continues to deny the connection and Solomon claims he used Vallas’ name without permission and it was a “mistake.”

But the idea from the time Vallas left for Philadelphia after being booted out of town by Mayor Daley, was for Synesi to capitalize on its Chicago connections and have Synesi offer districts a free consultation with Vallas in hopes that it would lead to a fat consulting contract. And it usually did. But not just because of Vallas.

The Synesi/Vallas connection was revealed back in 2005 by Sheila Simmons and Paul Socolar from the Philadelphia Public Schools Notebook.
The trail suggesting a business arrangement involving Vallas and Solomon began with SolTyra, a Chicago-based online marketing firm, which on a web page displaying a “case study” of its work, stated that its services were called upon by Solomon Consulting, “when some of the most successful leaders in educational reform came together to form a for-profit enterprise upon the exclusive rights to Paul Vallas’ model.”
Now we learn (actually many of us already knew) that Soloman and others sweetened the pot by offering both current and former top district administrators jobs as high-paid consultants, as in the case of Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and her head of strategic services (whatever the hell that is) Tracy Martin, in exchange for those no-bid contracts.

Back then, Soloman touted the "great Chicago successes" under Vallas' leadership and listed on his Synesi roster, the late Phil Hansen, Vallas' chief accountability officer in Chicago; Cozette Buckney, Chicago’s chief education officer under Vallas and now a senior consultant for SUPES; Sue Gamm, chief specialized services officer in Chicago during Vallas’ tenure, who also went with Vallas to Philly; and Gery Chico, who served as chair of the Chicago Board of Education during Vallas’ tenure.

More on this as the rocks continue to turn.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A 'Mussolini' for the schools?

Take your pick. Mussolini, Ivan the Terrible, or Rahm. 
An editorial in Friday's Trib calls on CPS to put a turnaround expert at the top of the school system, with "Mussolini-like powers to execute and implement."

Two things -- First, it's probably not workable. Don't we already have an autocrat running the schools? Rahm may not be a turnaround expert, but he is the Little Emperor. Does the Trib board want another dictator under the mayor? Who would dictate to whom?

Secondly, who was it on the editorial board that thought the Mussolini reference was a good idea? I mean, did one of the board members actually say: "Hey, I've got a great idea. Let's recommend that the schools be run by someone like Hitler. No...that might be pushing it a bit. How about Mussolini?"

They could have just said, "You know. We really need an education czar," and no one would have blinked. Czarism is still very popular in this country, even after the dismal performances of the White House drug czars, energy czars, healthcare czars, economic policy czars, and even the ebola czar, to name but a few. Here's a complete list of White House appointed czars.

How about someone like Ivan The Terrible to run the schools? Enough of this child-centered crap. Right?

A final thought... Mussolini didn't really make the trains run on time. And even if he had, I would gladly have waited a few extra minutes and been late for work, rather than endure fascism. Wouldn't you?

Monday, May 25, 2015


BIG WIN -- Philly schools activist Helen Gym elected to City Council.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Education activist Helen Gym's victory in particular promises to bring energy and independence to an often monolithic and backward body. -- Editorial
Jal Mehta, Salon
Across this history, we see some recurring themes. The first is the outsized faith that Americans have placed in the tools of scientific management as a mechanism for improving schools. -- Education reformers have it all wrong
Chicago teacher
The working conditions I experienced at Urban Prep were the worst of my career, which has been spent entirely in the inner city. -- Edushyster
Chicago Tribune 
 The people hired to take on corporate salvation projects have to have "Mussolini-like powers to execute and implement," turnaround expert Bill Brandt of Development Specialists Inc. tells us. -- Editorial: Why Chicago schools need a turnaround expert at the top
Howard Zinn (1976)
 Memorial Day should be a day for putting flowers on graves and planting trees. Also, for destroying the weapons of death that endanger us more than they protect us, that waste our resources and threaten our children and grandchildren… The Becoming Radical

Saturday, May 23, 2015

An entire Chicago community resists charter expansion

“Because CPS funds on a per pupil basis, every kids who’s not sitting at Lakeview or Senn or Amundsen is $5,200 that school doesn’t get.” -- Northside parent, Wendy Vasquez
  "As governor, I'm all in for you. I want to expand your charter network and get high-quality charters in every community throughout the state of Illinois." -- Bruce Rauner
Okay, it should be pretty clear by now that parents and educators don't want Noble Charters invading their North Side neighborhoods of Rogers Park and Lake View. Amundsen is one of two area high schools backed by growing, community support. Lakeview is the other. And when north-side parents, principals and community activists speak out, local pols listen. That's how the north side ducked Rahm's mass school closings.

Karen Zaccor, a teacher at Uplift Community High School and a resident of the Uptown Community, offers some strong testimony on Tim Furman's blog, about Noble's so-called "no excuses" approach to school discipline.
CPS, you need to use our public tax dollars to support our neighborhood schools, who educate every child, not just the best and the brightest. You need to invest your limited resources in full development of restorative justice programs that keep students in school and teach them better ways to resolve actual conflict. You need to invest in wrap around services to help students who are dealing with the traumas so often inflicted on poor children of color in our city. Say NO to Noble. 
Also, check out the letter to CPS from Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and most North Side reps opposing the proposed Noble Academy invasion. 12 elected officials and 15 LSCs wrote letters opposing Noble's expansion.

Ironically, the other thing the Noble opponents have going for them is Bruce Rauner. He's is a huge backer of Noble charters. Billionaire Rauner has given over $6.5 million to Noble and other charter organizations. And these days, anything that Rauner touches fires up the opposition. And that's a good thing that was missing during the Quinn days.

Like all charter schools, Noble’s are privately operated but publicly financed by tax dollars and with huge private donations from powerful foundations and corporate donors. It is one of the largest and oldest charter operations in Chicago.

I'm still feeling sorry for all those Rauner Charter students who were forced to walk around town during the governor's race wearing uniforms with the name Rauner emblazoned on them. Somebody please tell me how that's even legal.

But as it was for school closings, for the charter resistance movement to be successful it has to link up with communities south of Belmont Ave. A good way to start is by building opposition to HB814 House Amendment #2 which lifts the cap on charter expansion statewide.

Another is to oppose the attempt by the board to insert privately-run charters into those shuttered schools on the south and west sides that were supposed closed to save money. This, despite their own "promise" to the community that they wouldn't.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Charter school expansion and spin machine in full gear

Senn Principal Susan Lofton
"We have all been working so hard with our community to bring our schools up, to serve the community, to offer the programs our families want and to really engage in this resurgence where the community has a true community school that is an asset and a partner." -- Senn Principal Susan Lofton 
Andrew Broy, Chicago's minister of charter propaganda, uses Catalyst to spin a WBEZ report on  “freshman retention rate”to support his claim of charter school superiority. He's doing so to try to grease the wheels as one of his clients, Noble Network, makes a move on five north-side high schools,while Rahm's appointed school board tries to walk back its promise that no charters would be allowed to open in any of the 50 schools they closed.

Broy claims that he's looking at data "that has never before been disclosed" -- the number of freshmen who actually went on to earn a diploma from the school they first enrolled in. The first question that should pop into anyone's mind is: why wasn't this "data" ever disclosed? Was it classified? Top secret? The answer of course, is that the data has always been there. It's the spin that changes, depending on who's doing the spinning.

For example, up until now, CPS has always credited high schools (including charters) for graduating students who had left their school as early as the 10th grade. Charters have always used these misleading figures as a way to claim miraculous college-going rates.

More from Broy:
Contrary to the claims of charter opponents [researchers from Stanford and other major research institutions --mk], the results reveal that charter schools are graduating their original cohort of ninth-graders at substantially higher rates than their district counterparts. The average freshman retention rate for charter schools is nearly 10 percentage points higher than the average for district open enrollment schools.
But Broy lumps CPS schools into two convenient matched pairs, as if charters were one thing and district schools, something completely different. He excludes district selective enrollment schools on the pretext that charters aren't selective in their enrollment or in their retention policies. That's misleading at best. Charters enroll by lottery meaning, the students they enroll have engaged parents. They are well known for under-enrolling students with disabilities, special needs, homeless, formerly incarcerated students and English language learners.

More importantly, Broy never discusses the things that his charter clients are doing or not doing in different school settings to improve freshman retention rates. Or what's working and what isn't. For him, just being a charter is enough. And therein lies the problem with most charter school research.

But even if you accept WBEZ numbers, here's what you find:

Noble Rowe Clarke retains only 45% of their freshman. The highly touted Urban Prep charter retains only 35%. Other charters like Noble Muchin retain 63% (almost as high as neighborhood school North Grand at 64%). What does all this tell you about charters vs. public schools? Nothing. When you start averaging big groups of schools and comparing them as charters vs. regular, you get nothing but a mish-mash that can be spun any way you want.

When I asked Broy to clarify, he wouldn't respond and instead someone signing him/herself Confused About Charters and claiming to be a "northside parent" answered the bell.

Confused About Charters
When you instantly attack an article with inflammatory questions that are clearly answered in the article it comes across as extremely biased. It hurts your credibility and makes me much less likely to read through your longer post below where you might have some valid points. All of this bluster makes it harder for a northside parent to have an actual informed opinion.

Dear Confused (If that is indeed your real name). There's no such thing as "inflammatory questions." Read what you will. I will continue to ask and to "bluster" in response to Mr. Broy's silly propaganda.

Confused About Charters
There is pro-charter propaganda (Broy). There is anti-charter propaganda (you). When you knee jerk reply with an attack to what you believe to be pro-charter propaganda without reading the article it hurts your credibility and lowers the level of discourse. Paragraphs 3&4 directly answer your attack. Did you actually read the article before posting

Dear confused. Sounds like you're not as "confused" a northside parent as you pretended. "Knee jerk"? Not really. I've been debunking this stuff for 30 years. It's not "anti-charter". In fact, I helped start many of the early charters in Chicago when they were teacher-led and supportive of (not competing with) public education. The WBEZ article is NOT a real study. Its [Broy's] methodology is flawed. It compares apples and oranges and draws unsupported conclusions...But even using their numbers, it's easy to see that Noble has no claim to being better (more freshman retentive) that the five north side high schools near where they want to set up shop.

I couldn't help but add this:

If you look at the source, the U.S. Dept. of Ed (NCES) data base, you will see that Noble Charters reports officially as if they were one school.

Here's how they look as one school:

Enrollment by Grade:
9th-2,837 10th-1,889 11th-1,667 12th -1,306

Nothing to brag about, is there Mr. Broy.
Question is, where did those 1,531 kids lost between 9th and 12th grade go and why?
WBEZ never tells us. Neither does Broy.

When all is said and done, and all the numbers get crunched and re-crunched, the principals of the 5 north-side high schools under assault along with Ald. Cappleman and Ald. Pawar, probably make the best case for rejecting any new charters in their community.

They're not needed or wanted by the community itself. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

This came from VOYCE: Voices of Youth in Chicago Education

Jose Sanchez

Groundbreaking Bill to Address "School-to-Prison Pipeline" Passes Illinois Legislature

Legislative effort led by high school students takes aim at harsh and unjust school discipline practices

CHICAGO (May 20, 2015) – A bill passed today in the Illinois House of Representatives will require sweeping changes in the use of harsh school discipline practices across the state. Senate Bill 100, which was approved last month in the Senate with bipartisan support, represents the most comprehensive effort by a state to address the “school-to-prison pipeline.” 
SB 100 prioritizes the creation of safe and orderly schools while seeking to address excessive use of the most severe forms of discipline. Under the legislation students can only be suspended, expelled or referred to an alternative school if all other "appropriate and available" alternatives are exhausted. In other words, suspensions and expulsions become the last resort, rather than the first response. 
Additionally, the bill provides struggling students with academic and behavioral supports, and promotes fairness by holding public schools and charter schools to the same standards for school discipline. The final House vote was 73 yeses – 41 nos, with broad support from both Republicans and Democrats. SB 100 is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.
"In schools all across our state, African-American students are disciplined more harshly than white students. As legislators, we saw that this was a serious problem--and that it required our immediate attention. We want to work engaging educators, administrators, parents, students and experts to help us build support for SB 100. Through that process and hard work, we have passed SB 100, a common sense solution to ending this disparity and making our schools safer and stronger. Thanks to SB 100, Illinois is a national leader with a model piece of legislation,” said Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) chief sponsor of SB 100.
Extensive research shows that overly harsh discipline approaches are particularly harmful to students of color and do not promote school safety or academic achievement. Last year, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice issued joint guidelines on school discipline practices and warned against the discriminatory use of “zero-tolerance” policies on students of color and those with disabilities. The guidelines call on school districts to focus on creating positive school climates and to use suspensions and expulsions only as a last resort.
Illinois has one of the widest disparities between suspended black and white students in the country, according to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. In the 2012-13 school year, Chicago Public Schools issued 32 out-of-school suspensions for every 100 black students, compared to just five for every 100 white students. Overall, Illinois students lose over one million instructional days per year as a result of suspensions, expulsions and arrests. 
The effort to pass SB 100 was led by VOYCE (Voices of Youth in Chicago Education), a youth-led coalition comprised of various community groups throughout Chicago, and supported by allies from the Campaign for Common Sense Discipline. VOYCE drafted the bill in 2012 to address the impact that out-of-school suspensions and expulsions were having on their peers and their schools. 
For more than two years, dozens of students traveled repeatedly to Springfield to educate legislators on how disciplinary practices have led to students being pushed out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. They also demonstrated that there were practical, common-sense solutions to what has become a statewide problem. 
“For too long, harsh school discipline practices have contributed to the under-education and over-criminalization of young people, and especially youth of color,” said Dalia Mena, an 18-year-old member of VOYCE. “Illinois legislators have demonstrated that by listening to students, we can create schools where all students are valued and supported in their learning.”
More appropriate and effective disciplinary alternatives such as those promoted in SB 100 have already been applied in school systems around the country, resulting in better school safety, improved school attendance, increased academic achievement, and lower costs to taxpayers.
For more information on SB 100, or to request an interview with a representative from VOYCE, please contact Jose Sanchez at 773-827-6324.

Voices of Youth in Chicago Education is a youth organizing collaborative for education and racial justice led by students of color from community organizations across the city of Chicago. VOYCE’s work is driven by the belief that young people who are most directly affected by educational inequity are in the best position to develop meaningful, long-lasting solutions. VOYCE’s organizing focuses on three priority areas:
  • Ending the use of harsh discipline policies that push students out of school and into prisons;
  • Implementing the use of restorative practices in schools; and
  • Limiting the use of high-stakes testing and creating high-quality learning environments

At last night's meeting. Support builds for CTU in contract talks

There was a packed house at Luther Memorial Church last night for the forum on the current teacher contract negotiations. Parents 4 Teachers called the meeting and invited members of the CTU's negotiating teach along with Board Pres. David Vitale and acting schools CEO Jesse Ruiz (Byrd-Bennett is still in hiding). Vitale & Ruiz were no-shows.

CTU's Jesse Sharkey started it off, saying the negotiations are going poorly. The board is stalling. While there's a very real revenue crisis and it's questionable if the board can even afford to open schools in the fall, CPS is "broke on purpose".

Packed house at Luther Memorial last night.
More Sharkey: CPS is hiding money in reserve funds. There's lots of wasteful spending, ie. toxic interest rate swaps and the $20 million no-bid SUPES contract now under investigation by the feds.
They won't tax the LaSalle St. "gamblers", but instead are relying on illegal retiree pension take-backs and casino gambling profits for needed revenue. 
"We're looking for 3% pay increase", says Sharkey. "They're offering 7% cut."

No room for serious negotiations here. So what kind of game is Rahm and the board playing?

Members of the negotiating team made it clear that they're putting much more than teacher pay on the table. Union demands include:

  • Limitations on yearly testing, including an end to testing pre-K and kindergarten kids. 
  • Libraries and school nurses in every school.
  • Social (restorative) justice coordinators to deal with discipline issues as an alternative to the school/prison pipeline.
  • Full access to early childhood education for all kids. 
  • More community schools. Stop charter expansion.
  • $15 minimum wage for lowest-paid school staffers.
  • Save our pensions

Every union demand was greeted with cheers from the crowd of teachers and parents.