chicago students

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel with the help of Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett who has connections with the Broad Foundation, Gates and all things corporate, is moving right along with the privatizers’ playbook of closing schools and converting many of those schools into charter schools. Fifty four schools are slated for closing.

Last Monday, the students held a protest against the closing of these schools:

Students March on City Hall, Call School Closings ‘Racist,’ Dangerous

Calling school closings “racist” and saying they could lead to “children dying,” dozens of students held a march Downtown Monday to protest last week’s announcement that 54 schools would close.

Declaring themselves the Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools, they marched from Chicago Public Schools headquarters to City Hall to deliver a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel demanding a moratorium on school closings and a publicly elected Board of Education.

“We represent the thousands of students in Chicago Public Schools that will be directly affected by school closings,” the letter stated.

Closings would lead to “more violence and more children dying,” as students walk to school across gang boundaries, the letter said. It said low-income African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods were unfairly targeted by the “racist decision” to close schools.

Although most of the two dozen students were high-schoolers, and no high schools are slated to be closed, they said they were speaking for younger students without an established voice.

“We are united and we are fighting for public schools,” said Israel Munoz, a senior at Kelly High School.

“It is our responsibility to stick up for them,” added Malachi Hoye, a senior at North Grand High School.

“As a student from Englewood, I can speak firsthand to the danger that lies ahead if these schools are closed,” said Brian Stirgus, a senior at Robeson High School. He said his elementary alma mater, Banneker, was being closed to merge with Mays Elementary Academy. The two schools, he said, are on opposite sides of Halsted Street, a gang boundary in that area. “Why potentially put kids in more danger?”

Isis Hernandez, an eighth-grader at Stowe Elementary, said her school had avoided the closure list, but “it’s not just about my school. It’s about saving all our schools.”

She said the closings would have a dramatic impact on neighborhoods. “This means more abandoned houses and more families moving away,” Hernandez said, adding, “We have the same right to a decent education as a rich kid.”

To read this article in full, go to DNA

Then on Wednesday, thousands of teachers, students and parents took to the streets to protest the school closings:

Chicago protest

Chicagoans Flood Streets To Protest ‘Racist’ School Closings

Thousands of Chicagoans filled downtown streets on Wednesday evening denouncing the city’s plans to close 54 schools, most of them in African-American neighborhoods. Protesters called the closings a “racist” move that will slash jobs and destabilize communities.

In an act of planned civil disobedience, more than 100 people were arrested sitting in the street outside City Hall. Among them were church leaders, school janitors, cafeteria workers and teachers. People cheered loudly as the arrestees walked along a gauntlet of supporters, their hands cuffed behind their backs. One woman in a purple SEIU T-shirt gave a kiss on the cheek to one of the officers after being arrested.

There was a sense of déjà vu to the protests: In September during the Chicago Teachers Union strike, crowds filled the same streets and likewise waved signs attacking Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his plans to revamp the public education system. At the start of the rally, CTU President Karen Lewis described the school closings as an unjust move.

“We’ll have one set of schools for children being taught to be [Wal-Mart] greeters, and we’ll have one set of schools for children being taught to rule the world,” said Lewis. “Let’s not pretend that’s not racist.”

School social worker Marie Smith’s handmade sign featured three prominent African Americans involved in the school closings: Board of Education member and Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp, former ComEd CEO and charter school founder Frank Clark and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett. “Modern day Judases, selling out black children for a few pieces of silver,” the sign said.  

“I think he’s a great manipulator and liar,” Smith said of Emanuel. “And Andrea Zopp—she should be out in our communities creating jobs, not closing schools.”

Zakkiyyah Muhammad, a home healthcare worker and SEIU member, sees the closings as part of a larger trend. She worked for the Board of Education in the 1980s, before the mayor’s office took control of the school system and got the power to appoint the school board.

“[Emanuel’s] plan is to run black people out of these communities and clear the land, so they can bring in people who don’t look like us,” she said. “I agree with Karen Lewis that he’s a racist and a murderer.”

A student marching band performed a Michael Jackson medley as protesters marched around City Hall. In a city that is divided into a crazy quilt of gang allegiances, numerous students told In These Times they think gang and violence problems will get worse as some neighborhood schools are closed and others are combined into one building.

chicago students protestRehab Ghasin, 20, worries about the safety of her 15-year-old sister once the plan goes into effect. “They’re not acquainted with our neighborhoods,” she said of the board. “This doesn’t matter to our mayor.”

“Kids will drop out and violence will go up,” predicted Rehab’s sister, Asalh. “It’s a stupid decision.”

“The shootings and killings will increase,” added Niaira Marshall, 18, a high school senior who plans to study elementary education in college. “As a future elementary school teacher this affects me. And there are generations that grew up in these schools. My principal also went to the school. Parents and grandparents, a lot of memories.”

“Students and parents are the ones being affected and they didn’t have a voice in this,” added her friend Christopher Canady, 17.

Alberto Guzman, 10, carried a sign celebrating his school, William H. King Elementary, which is closing. “It’s the best school I’ve ever known, I’ve been there five years,” he said somberly. His sign read: “What happened to all the dreams of becoming the next president? Barack Obama this is your city, why we aren’t getting no support?”

To read this article in full, go to In These Times.

Two years ago, a criminal probe began of Broad grad Beverly Hall. (For additional information on her investigation, see Ed Reform “Miracles” – or Mirages? 10 Years of “No Child Left Behind” has led to cheating & lies.) That investigation ended last week with Beverly Hall being indicted on charges of racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements.

From the New York Times:

Ex-Schools Chief in Atlanta Is Indicted in Testing Scandal

Beverly Hall

During his 35 years as a Georgia state investigator, Richard Hyde has persuaded all sorts of criminals — corrupt judges, drug dealers, money launderers, racketeers — to turn state’s evidence, but until Jackie Parks, he had never tried to flip an elementary school teacher.

It worked.

In the fall of 2010, Ms. Parks, a third-grade teacher at Venetian Hills Elementary School in southwest Atlanta, agreed to become Witness No. 1 for Mr. Hyde, in what would develop into the most widespread public school cheating scandal in memory.

Ms. Parks admitted to Mr. Hyde that she was one of seven teachers — nicknamed “the chosen” — who sat in a locked windowless room every afternoon during the week of state testing, raising students’ scores by erasing wrong answers and making them right. She then agreed to wear a hidden electronic wire to school, and for weeks she secretly recorded the conversations of her fellow teachers for Mr. Hyde.

In the two and a half years since, the state’s investigation reached from Ms. Parks’s third-grade classroom all the way to the district superintendent at the time, Beverly L. Hall, who was one of 35 Atlanta educators indicted Friday by a Fulton County grand jury.

Dr. Hall, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for her; she could face up to 45 years in prison.

During the decade she led the district of 52,000 children, many of them poor and African-American, Atlanta students often outperformed wealthier suburban districts on state tests.

Those test scores brought her fame — in 2009, the American Association of School Administrators named her superintendent of the year and Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, hosted her at the White House.

And fortune — she earned more than $500,000 in performance bonuses while superintendent.

To read this article in full, go to the New York Times.

And now on to Minnesota.

Education Reform Industry Targets Twin Cities

…a group of unelected, corporate oriented, “education reform leaders” have announced that they are pushing to develop 20 more charter schools in Minneapolis. Last year, Charter School Partners, a pro-charter school lobbying and advocacy group rolled out their “Charters 2.0” initiative, in which they will use public funds to finance “the creation and growth” of charter schools and fast-track the approval process for new charter schools.

Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul owner of Fox News and dozens of other companies around the world, recently announced he was moving into the “education” business. He said, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone.”

Murdoch is part of a growing list of corporate executives who see schools as profit centers. The education reform industry and their privatization efforts that have virtually destroyed the public education systems in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans have been quietly, and not so quietly, targeting the Twin Cities.

Since 1995, budget cuts and poor policy decisions have closed at least two dozen public elementary schools in Minneapolis, according to Eric Myott, research fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity (IMO). The impact has been larger class sizes and fewer neighborhood schools.

At the same time, the number of taxpayer funded charter school slots in Minneapolis has skyrocketed by over 600 percent from 1,529 in 2000 to 10,895 in 2010. In St. Paul, the increase in public funded charter seats has grown from 3,721 to 8,339, a 124 percent increase, according to school enrolment data compiled by IMO.

As our public schools deal with insufficient resources and increasing challenges, they need more support, not less.

But a group of unelected, corporate oriented, “education reform leaders” have announced that they are pushing to develop 20 more charter schools in Minneapolis. Last year, Charter School Partners, a pro-charter school lobbying and advocacy group rolled out their “Charters 2.0” initiative, in which they will use public funds to finance “the creation and growth” of charter schools and fast-track the approval process for new charter schools.

As part of their coordinated “Education Reform” effort, organizations from around the country are pouring money into an aggressive lobbying and public relations efforts to promote the expansion of charters.

According to recent lobbying reports, StudentsFirst, Inc., the controversial Sacramento-based education reform group headed by Michele Rhee, spent $99,122 over the past two years on media advertising to “influence legislative action” and other lobbying efforts. Meanwhile, the New York City-based 50CAN, Inc. spent $144,396 to lobby here. The chair of 50-CAN, Minnesota’s own Matthew Kramer, is also the CEO of Teach for America, a group that has also been spending money in Minnesota to impact legislation and campaigns.

What the national and state charter school proponents fail to reveal is that their “solution” to the challenges facing public education in America is failing.

For example, charter schools in the Twin Cities are even more racially isolated than our public schools. As of 2011, fewer than one in five Twin Cities’ charter schools qualified as “integrated.” As our cities grapple with the negative effects of segregation, charter schools in Minneapolis are making the problem significantly worse.

Just as troubling is the fact that studies continue to prove that charter schools are not “high achieving.” A major study conducted by the University of Minnesota School of Law’s non-profit; non-partisan Institute on Race & Poverty determined that “traditional schools outperformed charter schools after controlling for student poverty, race, special education needs, limited language abilities, student mobility rates and school size.”

The greatest threat of all is that charter schools are undermining the fundamental American principle that public schools should be governed by the communities they were built to serve. But one need only look at the Board of Directors of these various charter schools to see where education reform is taking us. Hiawatha Academies, for example, has a board of executives from major corporate entities such as United Health, Best Buy, Standard Health, and U.S. Bank. Similar evidence can be found with dozens of other charters. In some cases, the charter chain headquarters are not even located in Minnesota.

I will leave you with Diane Ravitch where she spoke at an event sponsored by the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education & Law Project and Public Schools First NC.

What is the future of public education in the United States? Sadly, if policy developments of the kind underway in North Carolina and several other states continue to take hold, it could be quite bleak. Where once we viewed and treated public schools as both an essential “common good” institution and a critical bulwark of our democracy, today they are increasingly marginalized as just another consumer “product” to be consigned to the vagaries of “the market.”

The results of this attitude shift are palpable and destructive: Privatization, vouchers, unfettered charter schools and re-segregation are all on the rise as families, schools and communities scramble to “compete” to protect their own narrow, short-term interests.Fortunately, more and more groups and individuals are standing up to resist these trends. And among this group no one is more visible or effective than Diane Ravitch.

Dora Taylor