Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Halloween Spook-tacular!

Starring: Rahm Emanuel, BBB, and the Chicago Board of Education

Co-starring: School Choice

Featuring special guest: High standards

Just when we thought school closings were over, here comes news that Ames Middle School will become another branch of Marine Math & Science. Seems like a school closing to us, but maybe everyone just considers it some rebranding! It's a good thing BBB announced earlier this month the new, new rules on school closings!

Rahm is trying to silence all the whiners about TIF by bribing parents with $ 7 million in upgrades. We're to infer that rebranding means Marine Math & Science can deliver better results. And choice.

Let's look at how well Marine is doing on those test scores: 34% of Marine students meet or exceed Reading standards, and 31% of Marine students meet or exceed Math standards.

Compare that to Ames, where 36% of students meet or exceed Reading standards, and 39% meet or exceed Math standards.

Since Rahm & Co. are so big on tests, you'd think all of their number-crunchers would have pointed out that Ames scores are even a little higher. We're not the fairness police, but if one school is deemed low performing in the press, then the other one with nearly identical scores, should be, too.

Trick or treat, citizens!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Hey good-lookin'! Whatcha got cookin'?

We smell some books cooking in urban education!

Funny thing -- there seem to be about the same amount of absent kids in classrooms as always.  But guess what?  Official attendance rates are soaring!  Can you smell a whiff of attendance manipulation?  Mmmm, sure smells good to all the schools getting off probation!

There's a few more ingredients in the pot as well. You know freshmen, those 14 year-old wigglers whose "On-Track-to Graduate" rates are highly tied to school ratings?  Well, urban 14-year olds seem about the same as always: cute, still growing, braces, test scores pretty blah, a bit of gang-bang posturing for the benefit of the girls, some scrapping in the halls, a bit of unsupportive language here and there, not much homework going on.  But guess what?Freshman On Track rate is off the charts!  Smells good!

And maybe you've heard of a program called Advanced Placement?  It's super-hard classes for real go-getters; AP = rigor in EVERYONE's book.  And guess what?  More and more high schools are enrolling ALL their seniors in AP classes, even students with IEPs (that's an acronym for "Special Needs").  Not that kids with special needs aren't clever -- haven't you ever heard the story about Albert Einstein and high school math? But some kids with special needs have disabilities like dysgraphia (that means that they can't write, even if their teacher has really, really high expectations).  The tricky thing about an AP exam is that it has to be WRITTEN.  Let's just say this -- the AP graders are probably scratching their heads when they open the packet of test materials.  Lucky for urban schools, only ENROLLMENT in the class is needed to collect brownie points, not doing something hard, like passing the AP exam.  Nevertheless -- smells good!

The newest, magical ingredient in the pot is International Baccalaureate another SUPER RIGOROUS program for only the most selective of students....except in urban education. Some schools in Chicago are going wall-to-wall IB which is even better than SUPER RIGOROUS because everyone is enrolled! You think AP smells good, well, IB smells even better because it began in Geneva, Switzerland! That fragrance you smell wafting through the halls of IB schools are the core values of all IB learners (even those who don't want to be in the programme): inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, and reflective. Nevermind there are some big complainers out there who say IB costs districts lots of money, with little pay off later. Oh well -- smells good!

All of these ingredients have created a fragrant brew that's scenting halls and classrooms everywhere! You can't help but catch a whiff!  The only turd stinking up the pot is that dang ACT average.  Somehow schools can't cook that turd.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Rahm and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Tough Job

Rahm Emanuel let everyone in on a secret at the St. Regis hotel today: being mayor of the third largest city in America is hard! But worry not, darlings, he loves it! After referring to D.C. as a crap town a few days ago, he sings all of his many accomplishments as mayor here: the longer school day he couldn't quite afford, the skyrocketing murder rate, the mostly functioning new Red Line renovation, and improving parks that were fine to begin with. Yes, Rahm's been busy!

Since Rahm is always talking tough about pensions, especially those of the CPD and CFD, we were surprised at his upbeat take on everything: "because while there's a lot of tough issues, you can actually move the needle significantly." That's the spirit!

A quick review of how he's "moved the needle" recently:

We wonder if the crowd he was speaking to--the change loving Center for American Progress --knew that Rahm's "moving the needle significantly" means moving it in the wrong direction?

More on UNO [Update]

Fellow blogger Tim Furman of Rogers Park Neighbors for Public Schools asked us to post news about this worthwhile forum that will happen this Saturday, October 26th from 1 to 2:30 P.M. at the Rudy Lozano Branch of the Chicago Public Library. Consider attending! We're sure it will be informative and eye-opening.

Update: Byron Sigcho's analysis of the UNO network and its many ties to politicians, as well as the intricacies of their budget and funding sources was as alarming as it was outstanding. Consider attending his Nov. 30th forum!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hot investing tip: sticky notes!

Did you miss out on investing in Apple during the mid-90s?  Don't worry, because we've got a great new investing suggestion:  sticky notes!

Sticky notes are transforming the progress and pace of urban educational reform; thanks to sticky notes, students are able to effectively engage in much more effective active interaction with their assigned readings.  Smart urban teachers everywhere are handing out stacks of sticky notes to their students and watching as struggling readers are suddenly making predictions, connections, observations and visualizations about the text!  Furthermore, formerly apathetic students are now sticking sticky notes onto posters all over CPS classrooms in order to ask clarifying questions and offer positive feedback!

What's really exciting about sticky notes is that administrators and educational profiteers are also taking note of their strength as a learning tool.  During classroom observations, administrators know that they're seeing rigor and a student-led environment when they see lots of sticky notes.  Educational profiteers even suggest that teachers themselves can use sticky notes during course team collaboration in order to promote greater democracy!

Don't be dissuaded by grumps like Kelly Gallagher who claim that sticky notes contribute to readicide.  He's just sorry that he's stuck writing a bunch of boring books about how schools are killing reading.  If he climbed down from his ivory tower and looked around an actual urban school, he would learn a thing or two!  And maybe make a hot investment!

Hey urban kids: Let's think about thinking!

Unlike suburban kids with high test scores, you urban kids need to do a lot more thinking about thinking!  You see, suburban kids have parents who do things like take them to museums and talk to them about what's in the newspaper.  This is why they have high test scores!  As a result of their high test scores, they can just do regular thinking when they go to school.  But since your test scores are low, you guys need to think more about your thinking!

The first way to think about your thinking is to write down the kind of thinking that you're supposed to be doing.  Some schools call this the "learning objective."  You'll know that you're on the right track when you're writing down words like, "inference," "analyze," "synthesize," and "classify."

The next thing that you need to do is to listen very carefully to your teacher when she is talking to you about the kind of thinking you are supposed to be doing.  A very important man named Dr. Benjamin Bloom wrote a big list of all of the different kinds of thinking, and your teacher will tell you about each kind.  You will know that your teacher is doing a good job if she is young and if she talks about Dr. Bloom a lot.  If your teacher is old and does not talk about Dr. Bloom, then she might not be making you college-ready!

Once you understand the list, then you have to start making sure that you're not just doing plain old regular thinking. You have to do thinking like "evaluating" and "synthesizing" so that you can have high test scores like the suburban kids!  Also, you need to make sure that you know WHEN you're doing the kinds of thinking that Dr. Bloom says are the hard kinds.  It might not seem fair, but remember, the suburban kids have parents who listen to classical music and jazz, which is another reason why they don't have to think about their thinking.

Look at it this way:  it might be okay for the suburban kids just to have regular thoughts when they're doing worksheets and questions at the end of the chapter, but that's not good enough for you because your test scores are low!  But don't worry!  Hopefully you will have a teacher right out of college with really high expectations.  And if she uses lots of rigor (that's a big word for something that's hard), then she will talk to you a lot about Dr. Bloom's list! She will make sure to give you a lot of tests that have the different kinds of thinking. Then, you will be college-ready!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Leave your poor sister UNO alone!


Let's get this straight:
  • Juan Rangel, who stepped down from both UNO's school and community boards when the first scandal unfolded, is still CEO. He was co-chairman of Rahm Emanuel's 2011 mayoral campaign, and coincidentally, Rahm Emanuel is a big proponent of charter schools.
  • Martin Cabrera, Jr.--the founder and CEO of Cabrera Capital--the supposed UNO-reformer, resigned last month. Instead of citing the tired excuse of more time with the family, he resigned over a "difference in philosophy and mission." Perhaps he felt more public money could be used for private enterprise.
  • Miguel d'Escoto, a senior VP at the company school, resigned after it was discovered he gave contracting jobs--under a $98 million state grant--to his brothers. Just in case you were about to get mad about how the brothers of a VP got state grant money, don't. Proper hiring practices were followed, sillies.
  • Juan Rangel continues to draw his $250,000 salary for doing 2/3 less work. 
  • Martin Cabrera still sits on the Public Building Commission's Board of Commissioners whose chairperson is Rahm Emanuel. Conflict of interest, anyone?
  • Nobody is talking about revoking UNO's charter for obvious mismanagement

A quick internet search of UNO returns the following words: clout-heavy, corruption, SEC violations, and cronyism. Ah, Chicago politics. Or is it Chicago education? We're not sure anymore. 

Cynics that we are, we wondered why more people haven't been talking about this since the charter school industry has made itself beyond reproach with all of the proven unproven things they do better than the same as traditional schools. But, then there's the Sun Times editorial on October 18th which defends charters. Maybe since it was the Sun Times who first outlined the scandal, they were feeling sorry for UNO. The public is urged to withhold judgement. After the first few paragraphs, we had to go straight to our fainting couch to finish the article. We read it so you don't have to. Here's what we learned:
  • The charter school landscape in Chicago is "beleaguered." Can anything that is backed by the likes of Bruce Rauner, Rahm Emanuel and the Pritzkers be considered "under siege"? When organizations enjoy decision-making with almost no oversight, get to make up their own rules, and have city officials green lighting ill-conceived schools, it doesn't seem like they are hemmed in.

  • According to the fabulists who write at the Sun Times, charters are having a hard time finding affordable real estate. They need lower real estate prices (don't we all), so they don't have to borrow from their instructional dollars to build or update their facilities. Funny, but CPS schools need instructional dollars so badly that some schools decided to forgo toilet paper

  • Funding for charters is only "modest." We wonder if the editors over at the Sun Times know what modest means since charters received 12% more funding from CPS this year versus last. We agree with Trib's more accurate description of funding for UNO as a money spigot.

Readers are admonished for thinking anything negative about charters, and we're reminded they too are our public brethren. They too are plagued by inadequate facilities because they have to be extra choosy when selecting real estate so as not undermine neighborhood schools. The editors must have been too busy writing love letters to Juan Rangel to notice what Noble Street is trying to do to Prosser.

The editors at the Sun Times may not have a command of the English language or reality since their proclamations stand in stark contrast to our experience. There are no money spigots flowing into CPS, neighborhood schools and their teachers grow more beleaguered by the day, and those of us teaching in CPS must constantly justify our salaries/pensions/existence to any and everyone.

Readers: what do you think? Does the public need to be nicer and more understanding of charters?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The choosiest mayors choose choice

We're no psychologists here at Windy City Teachers, we're no Dr. Phil, but we are used to helping people get the help they need. Clearly, Rahm Emanuel made a cry for help today when Chicago's Plan Commission approved zoning to open up another Noble Street Chain School across the street from Prosser Career Academy, a selective enrollment school in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood.

There are many people who want to help Rahm get the help he so desperately needs: parents who didn't ask for a charter school to open in their neighborhood for one, Alderman Nick Sposato whose ward will inherit Prosser in 2015, and likely the staff at Prosser who find a job preferable to no job.

The unbuilt school will cost about $20 million to construct. Not to worry, darlings, it will all be privately funded. We think CPS is showing their hand a bit, because even though "official" approval has yet to be given by CPS, the campus is set to open next fall. What's "official" in the age of choice? We can see why CPS is so eager to green light this school. Right now it can promise:
  • Parking spaces for 32 cars.
  • An athletic field.
Wowee!! The choosers must be going nuts over those lavish amenities the Noble spokesperson felt at liberty to disclose.

Compare that to the currently functioning Prosser and the programs it offers right now that make their students employable:
  • Product-Market Entrepreneurship
  • Computer Programming and Technology
  • Chefs Culinary Arts
  • Graphic Design
  • Graphic Communication
  • Modern Machine Technology
  • Construction Technology
  • Cabinet making
  • HVAC
  • Automotive Technology
  • Auto Body Repair
While some of these choices may seem unrefined and decidedly untrendy for the choice crowd, they are jobs that will keep people steadily employed and give those talented and driven enough a chance to own their own business.

While we don't know if there's a cure for Rahm's condition, we humbly suggest immersion therapy where the patient is slowly exposed to that which they fear. In this case, Rahm should visit successful public schools like Prosser to see what they do right and how the city can best invest in this school and other neighborhood schools.  Maybe then he'll see the neighborhoods and students our public schools serve deserve better than they're getting from the city. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The welcoming plan that wasn't

Both the Chicago Tribune and WBEZ  take time to note that CPS's welcoming plan is less than successful: the Trib states that 48% of students are not attending their designated welcoming schools, while WBEZ puts that number slightly better at 40% of students. Either way, CPS earns a D-, or worse, for their plan. If CPS were a teacher, they'd be explaining their failure rate to an administrator right now.

That's just what pathological denier district spokesperson Becky Carroll attempts when she chooses to don the rose-colored glasses to explain the failure this way, "Thousands of parents every year choose to enroll their child at a different school in our district--or even outside the district--and we support those choices."  While most of us would feel that only a 52% - 60% success rate sounds more like failure, Becky is ever the optimist! Huzzah, huzzah for choice, dear reader(s)!

Maybe if anyone at CPS had actually listened at all of those community hearingsthe district could have been spared:

  • Spending $233,000,000.00 in renovations that went to the welcoming schools CPS chose versus the schools students, parents, and families thought it was best to go.

  • More spending--$15.7 million--for 600 Safe Passage monitors and increased police presence along those routes.

  • Students attending elementary schools like Metcalfe and Langford that do not have accommodations or facilities for disabled students who might be attending, and haven't yet received funds to make upgrades since they were not deemed welcoming schools.

Rahm Emanuel, when asked about the discrepancy between the projected enrollment (80%) at welcoming schools and the reality (52% - 60%), refused to answer the questions. Seems everyone is Chicago is in a choosy mood, especially Emanuel, who silently refuses to acknowledge the problem he created.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

GEMS: Your friendly neighborhood school

Did you get your invite to the GEMS Meets Chicago Launch festival on Friday? Yeah, neither did we. We were shocked we weren't invited since the world is our neighborhood. We were really jealous when we read about all of their thoughtfully global activities:

"The face painters are creating animals from around the world, there's a coloring contest with flags from all the countries with GEMS schools, and at our tie dye station, kids can learn about the techniques of fabric dyeing used around the world." Did the kids also learn about various child labor indignities or gross educational inequities in countries with GEMS schools? Kidding! We know that's not what's meant by an international vibe.

We've always thought you paid for a neighborhood school with your tax dollars. Wrong again! GEMS is special in that way, too. Sending your child there for their amazingly, corporate-y, international-y schooling will run you (in total): $464,000.00. That's a lot for face painting and tye-dyeing, isn't it, darling?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Dumb luck + $$$ = success

Safe Passage Greatest Hits

Seven weeks into the school year and all of the finger-crossing done by BBB, Rahm, the CPD, and the CFD, must be paying off. The one goal of the program: student safety, is intact. It's not powerful strategies that have kept students safe, but plenty of good luck. There's also plenty of idiocy: workers being shot at and beaten on the job, the many sex-offenders who live along the routes, other city services suffering because city workers are being pulled off their jobs to monitor Safe Passage routes (especially while this warm weather lingers) and the price tag: $15.7 million dollars. Sounds real successful, everyone. 

We've helpfully broken down Safe Passage problems into five categories.

#1: Safe Passage workers and their "issues": We've always been taught to keep your personal life at home, but Thursday's Trib reports an attempted drive-by shooting on a Safe Passage worker. The police say this was likely a domestic dispute since the worker's ex-husband is a reputed member of the Gangster Disciples and has a record going back to 2009. The same article also gives additional clues about workers and the problems they bring to the job:

  • Another SP worker has been arrested twice on the job, the second time for failing to show up for a court date when he was arrested on his route in September. 
  • Another worker arrested on her route (and presumably on the job) for beating a woman and stealing her LINK card.
  • Unrelated to the article, we've heard that someone was mugged by a SP worker, or someone posing as a SP worker.

#2: Safe Passage and their contractors: In order to staff the streets, the city has contracted with numerous, questionable non-for-profits in neighborhoods with SP routes. One route, to Haley Elementary is subcontracted to CeaseFire Roseland. Yes, this is the same organization that Chicago has already given $1 million dollars to so they can "interrupt" violence with no measurable results. Yes, these are ex-gang members who've still managed to pass what CPS describes as "vigorous background checks."  Does anyone else see a problem with ex-gang members patrolling gang lines? It seems like this category, and the worker issue category, are closely related.

#3: Safe Passage routes and their "safety": An article in the Sun Times several weeks ago that pointed out the following:
  • 48 of the 53 Safe Passage routes designed by the city to get kids safely to and from school have registered sex offenders living along the routes or within in a block of the routes.
  • 10% of the city's total registered sex offenders live along Safe Passage routes.
  • Cather Elementary has 80 offenders along its route.

#4: Deputized Safe Passage workers and their "real jobs": DNAInfo reports about 100 city employees from 15 agencies are still be used to assist in "back-to-school" efforts. Just a heads up from WCT: back-to-school season really only lasts about 4 weeks. Anyhow, things like building inspections and street cleaning will just have to wait. The city workers are not getting overtime, but are instead working their 8 hour day, leaving items for their real job, undone. Taxpayers who pay for these services must be thrilled.

#5: The CPS and city response to any questions about problems: It appears anyone who is in the upper ranks of any city agency and their spokespeople suffer from denial on a pathological level. The medical term for this is "impaired awareness," where the afflicted cannot recognize their reality. The following quotes reveal this might be the case:

  • Becky Carroll on Thursday's attempted shooting: "No children or other community members were present during the time of the alleged incident." Alleged? There were two witnesses.
  • Becky Carroll on routes loaded with sex offenders: The city took a 'holistic' approach to routes. We guess this means, "on the whole, things could be much worse."
  • BBB on walking the SP routes: she did not feel "unsafe." Well, we'd hope a 62 year old woman, likely with reporters and a security detail in tow, didn't feel unsafe. What about the 6 or 7 year old walking?

The city will end up spending $15.7 million for this?! Will they spend this much again when school ends this year, and then again when it begins next year? There are many schools who could use $15.7 to ease over-crowding, update and replenish resources, and offer more to their students in the way of college or career readiness. Instead, let's throw money to groups like CeaseFire, leave long waitlists for city services, and then call it a success. Yep, sounds like Chicago.

Does anyone work or commute along a Safe Passage route, what do you think? Has anyone reading noticed a lack of city services because of workers being put on SP? Leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

How to spot a Chicago educational profiteer

Social class:  bohemian bourgeois

Ride:  hybrid

Crib:  North side or hip neighborhood made edgy by population of orderly immigrants

Husband:  attorney (not store-front), professor (humanities), consultant, IT start-up

Education:  advanced degree from highly selective institution

Clothing:  urban chic;  Etsy + Patagonia

Hair:  tastefully tousled; trim + color touch-up every 6-8 weeks

Nails and brows:  done

Handbag and shoes:  no less than 400 dollars, darling

Cosmetics:  tasteful department store

Affect when trying to appear friendly:  breezy, whimsical

Affect when engaging in corporate edu-speak:  intense, joyless, steely

Fav corporate lingo:  excellence, high expectations, people of color, norms, contextualize, codify, synergy, college-ready, data, socialize, protocol

Secret thoughts about teachers:  “Nice pants. Kohl's must be having another sale.”  “Jesus, can’t she trim her cuticles?”  “What is she eating, her kid’s Lunchable? Gross.”  “Here we go, another fucking conversation about the broken copy machine.”   “Good point, Einstein.”

Salary Philosophy:  Earning 150K in sales?   Vulgar money-grubbing,  darling.  Earning 150K through educational profiteering?  A win-win combination of spiritual profit by modeling and promoting  excellence plus the secondary benefit of earning a corporate salary.

NYC charter families, hear our cries

Psst...Coalition for Education Equality in New York, hi, it's Windy City Teachers asking you for two favors: one, can you make sure Rahm Emanuel and BBB never ever see the letter you just sent to the next mayor you elect, and two, could we have some of whatever great prescription (or off market drug, that's cool) you've gotten your hands on? It must be really awesome shit for you to ask for the following:

  • Free rent (we're going to try this with our landlords and mortgage lenders!) for charters that will be co-located in city-owned buildings. We're guessing charter schools are so virtuous and excellence-inducing with their private funding and public funding that they deserve free rent.
  • To support the opening of 100 co-located charter schools to help the apparently educationally starved masses numbering 50,000 who want choice, choice, and yet more, choice.
Your proposition is just the thing BBB and Rahm, plus all the charter CEOs, would cackle over in their meetings on Clark Street, and then try to get a group of parents to agree to. Now that a 5 year moratorium on school closings is in place, CPS announces  new rules about how and why schools can close. So, equity-seekers, we're nervous all over again.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Summiting the peaks of EducationNation

Sunday, NBC News kicked off their fourth annual education summit known as EducationNation. We've missed the first three, and probably would have missed the fourth, but the scheduled appearances by Hollywood-types caught our eye: Goldie Hawn, M. Night Shyamalan, and Tony Bennett. Wow! An actor, director, and singer all coming together to give teachers a well-deserved pat on the back. Sounds nice, but it's also not true. Without a day of teaching in the classroom, they are panelists. These must be a new breed of entertainers called edutainers. If they get to be panelists for an education summit, do we get a chance to vote for the Oscars and Grammys?

This year's summit "...will explore What It Takes for us as a nation to ensure students are successfully prepared for college, career, and beyond. Leading experts and stakeholders...will delve into critical factors that impact students' chances of success...The three-day gathering brings together more than 300 of the country's top thought leaders..." We stopped reading after the paranoia-inducing, "thought leaders," so we're not sure what more than 300 of them are going to tell us. Probably that we're not working hard enough, we're overpaid, we're lazy, our pensions are bankrupting America and we need to improve test scores by delving (or, latest buzzword: taking a deep dive) into data.

Touchy-feely explorations aside, the corporate agenda of this summit is razor-sharp. The panelists include:

  •  CEOs and directors of various charter schools.

  •  CEOs and managing partners of companies like AOL, Goldman Sachs, and ExxonMobil (in the case of the latter two companies, looks like some do-gooding to atone for their pesky economic and environmental disasters, respectively).

Public schools are represented from across the country and Chicago gets some local representation. A CPS teacher from Fenger Academy sits on one panel, and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association is featured in a case study of how parental involvement can improve a school. Regardless, much of the floor time goes to all manner of reformers.

It would have been especially enlightening to see Monday's 8:15 - 9:00 AM panel (we were teaching) What It Takes: Keeping Up With Competition. The lone representative for public schools was Dr. William Hite, the superintendent of the embattled Philadelphia Public Schools. Yes, the same Philadelphia Public Schools that almost failed to open on time this year due the $50 million hole in their budget. Yes, the same system that laid off 3,800 teachers and closed 23 schools.  Yes, the same superintendent who almost a year ago gave raises to non-union employees because it's a cost of doing business, while teachers took a 10% pay cut. Sound familiar, Chicago? Hite, BBB, and Emanuel must share lesson plans on how to run a district into the ground. In 21st century education, keeping up with competition must mean financially starving a district, making schools non-functional thanks to a self-induced manpower shortage, and using austerity as a means of reform. 

The summit seems useless and especially disingenuous since it's orchestrated by NBC (at one time owned by General Electric, now owned by cable giant Comcast). More disconcerting is that over the three days of carefully curated panels, not one is devoted to poverty, violence, and funding and the role each plays in school climate and student success. But fear not, for Andrea Phillips, Goldman Sachs' VP of their Urban Investment Group was a panelist today, too. Perhaps she explained credit default swaps or subprime mortgages to the crowd...we jest. It's difficult to have the "solutions-focused" conversation the summit promises without so much as a mention of the poverty, violence, and the inequity of funding many schools face.

What about you, readers, will you tune in for any of this? How do these issues play out in your schools? Let us know what you think and leave a comment!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A real gem

Have a spare $37,000? 

If you do, the new GEMS World Academy is for you. Making its debut in Chicago's ritzy 42nd ward in time for the 2014 - 15 school year, it will begin with kindergarten (a cool $30,000 a year) and expand into grades 5 through 12 (an even cooler $37,000 a year). The Dubai company has schools throughout the world, and they use their acronym to underscore their worldliness: Global Education Management System. How very...corporate. Just what Chicago needs, another education profiteer swooping in to offer their services. 

The school will be located in The New Eastside neighborhood, home to many luxury high-rises and sleek condos. The residents have asked the city and Board of Education since 1969 for a public elementary school since their only options for public schools are Ogden Elementary and Wells H.S.  Sure, there are charter schools within a few miles, and residents could choose to send their kids the three miles to the academically abysmal Wells. We're guessing parents who pay steep taxes to live in the neighborhood don't want to send their kids to a school where only 2.3% of the students are considered "college ready." Enter: GEMS

Why would GEMS want to open their only U.S. chain store school in Chicago? They helpfully outline in their 2012 pitch to the 42nd ward that:

  • Education is a major topic (armchair punditry alert: it is?!).

  • The location is at the heart of Chicago's business, hotel, and museum districts (you can almost hear the sound of money being stuffed in pockets when you read that).

  • Many single family residences are in the area (the sound of yet more money being stuffed into pockets).

  • They would be in the vicinity of many public and private schools and could forge partnerships (something tells us they won't make their way to Wells to forge anything).

Sounds like these are the same reasons a public school should be opened here. Neighborhood schools, and their teachers, have taken a beating for years. An outstanding neighborhood school could revive and redefine what a neighborhood school means, and maybe let some middle- or working-class students take advantage of a possibly excellent public school might they be in the attendance boundary. Plus, there are the many motivated, supportive parents in the neighborhood who want their taxes going to a neighborhood public school (and not, say, a DePaul basketball arena in the South Loop). There is even a large tax base of business dollars to properly fund the school. Still, the city continues to pass. We can only guess as to why. Is it because it's easier to educate students whose parents are willing to pay upwards of $30,000 so their kids can learn their ABCs? Would any public school opened in that location also take in students whose socio-economic status differs greatly from families who live in The New Eastside, and force something of a real discussion about the gap between wealth and poverty? 

Beyond that, a bigger clue as to why the city is so welcoming to GEMS might be the philosophies of its leaders, who believe:
  • Private school companies shouldn't have to apologize for being for-profit businesses.
  • If fees (charged to parents) are low, there's only so much innovation that can take place. Innovation in some cases meaning astroturf play areas.

  • Teacher salaries should be kept low. 

This sounds like the city's dream partner. Turn a profit, charge exorbitant fees, and lowball the workers. Public schools to be proud of and education as path to leaving poverty behind will have to wait, there's money to be made.

Readers, what do you think, do you want a school like this in your neighborhood? Leave a comment!

What are we missing here

We are CPS high school teachers, meaning that we spend a lot of time creating lessons for teenagers. Many of our teenagers are quite behind. We also spend a lot of time figuring out how our students are doing with their learning.  Some of our students are even getting close to being ready for college.  Maybe not Northwestern, but still.  Teaching is our thing. If we were into the business world, we probably wouldn't be driving ten-year-old cars.

Nevertheless, even we can smell something fishy.  Basic knowledge and some research yields the following facts:

1. Barbara Byrd Bennett is the CEO of CPS

2. Barbara Byrd Bennett has a side job:  "Executive Coach in the Broad Superintendent Academy"

3. The Broad Foundation wants to tran$form public schools

4. On the Broad Foundation's Board of Governors are two President/CEOs of AIG

5. In 2008, AIG was the recipient of the biggest corporate bailout in American history. No citation needed for this one, readers.  Urban Dictionary puts it best: "One of those heinously corrupt organizations that takes money-grubbing scum to new levels!  These bastards took more than $160 billion in government bailout money and then gave top executives more than $160 million in bonuses."

Broad Institute + AIG = better schools for low-income city kids?? What are we missing here?  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Calling all armchair pundits

Stay in D.C., bubble boy

Arne Duncan, our current Secretary of Education, best known here for his stint as one of many CPS CEOs (and his mad b-ball skillz), seems frustrated and confused.

In his state of education in America speech on October 1st, Duncan helpfully divides anyone
involved in education as either "in the bubble" or "outside the bubble." He lashes out at the bubble-dwellers, who include:
  • Armchair pundits who say our schools are doomed to fail.

  • Armchair pundits who say our schools are fine.

  • Overconfident inhabitants of alternate universes (don't fret, he means D.C.) who are unable to listen to opposing viewpoints.

  • Those who might be, "...advancing false narratives about a federal takeover of schools by mind-controlling robots." Armchair punditry alert: we hope this is Duncan being facetious.

Duncan places himself squarely in the real world, and begins to shower praises on those brave enough to survive outside the bubble, who include:
  • Courageous reformers.

  • People raising expectations! People raising standards!

  • Real-time data gatherers who will help inform whether the courageous reforms are working.
Finally, he admonishes anyone who feels poverty and education are inextricably linked, and we're guessing a large percentage of us outside the bubble believe this. According to Duncan, those people use poverty as, "a catch-all excuse to avoid responsibility." In Arne's world, the virtuous and responsible path is to continue trying to solve poverty by throwing money at the problem. Anecdotally, it doesn't seem throwing government money and resources at poverty has ever worked. So who's living in the bubble, Arne? Teachers, law-enforcement, and social service providers see first-hand the effects of poverty: agitated, weary students; absent parents; neighborhoods overrun by gangs.

Duncan shows he's doesn't have a foot on planet Earth by suggesting that those who choose to disagree with him are wrong and irresponsible, while those that do agree with him are courageous realists who are willing to overlook the beast that is poverty.