November 5, 2009

In Altgeld Gardens, Problems Run Deeper than Fenger Violence


Photo by Layton Ehmke/MEDILL

Written by Layton Ehmke, Justine Jablonskaand John Lund
Oct 27, 2009

Altgeld Gardens looks like a war zone. From burned-out CHA structures to potholes deep enough to make streets unpassable, it looks and feels more like war-torn Baghdad than Chicago. If you live in the housing project, off 130th Street on Chicago’s Far South Side, a few things are within convenient walking distance: A wastewater treatment plant, a rolling mountain range of Chicago’s garbage, a polluted river.

Parents, Activists Say Renaissance 2010 Exacerbates Youth Violence

Listen to the full audio here:

Produced by Linda Lutton on Wednesday, October 28, 2009 

Parents, activists and some former CPS students are saying that Chicago school officials ignored their warnings that school closings would cause increased violence.
The activists say closing schools forces kids to cross neighborhood boundaries and attend schools where they’re not wanted. And they say they’ve been warning school officials for years at public hearings that closing schools would increase youth violence. Matthew Johnson spoke to reporters before addressing the Board of Education today:

JOHNSON: I was a parent, I spoke out over a year ago. The kids was talking about things like this before it even happened. 'Aw…they gonna bring them over here, we gonna do this to them.' This was shared more than a year ago. I told them that would be a bad move to even make that decision. CPS does not want to hear us.

A separate report out today looks at the educational impact of school closings. It finds that kids whose schools were closed tend to end up in other low performing schools; most students continue the same learning trajectory they were on before their school shut down.

Report: CPS School Closings Neither Help Nor Hurt Learning

Visit to hear the full Audio.

Produced by Linda Lutton on Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A study out today finds that Chicago’s practice of shutting down schools has not helped the vast majority of kids academically.

The University of Chicago report tracked more than 5,000 students who were displaced by school closings. The district has closed dozens of schools because of poor performance or under-enrollment. 

Study co-author Marisa de la Torre says when kids find out their school is being closed, their academics suffer temporarily. 

DE LA TORRE: And the effects after, when they move to the receiving schools, it really depends on the characteristics of the receiving schools they go into.

Most displaced students ended up in other low performing schools. Just 6 percent ended up in significantly better schools; those kids did see improved academic success. 

The study didn’t examine social or emotional effects of school closings on kids. Nor did it examine whether the closings influence school violence. 

Spokeswoman Monique Bond called the study fair, and said CPS will consider the report as it develops future school closing policies.

Photo by Max Klingensmith.

School Closings Don't Impact on Student Performance: Report


Closing underperforming Chicago schools and shuttling the kids who went to them elsewhere has virtually no effect on the kids' learning, according to a new University of Chicago report.

One reason: Most students are just sent to other crappy schools.

Just six percent of kids at schools that were shut down were re-assigned to significantly better schools, the study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research says. Those students did improve academically, suggesting that perhaps the city's best schools should be reserved for students who need them most instead of those with the most clout.

Chicago school officials have argued that closing a low-performing school is sometimes a better solution than trying to fix it. Chicago has closed 44 schools since 2001, though that also includes schools closed for "underutilization," meaning low attendance.

The report's six major findings:

1. Most students who transferred out of closing schools re-enrolled in schools that were academically weak.

2. The largest negative impact of school closings on a students' reading and math achievement occured in the year before the schools closed.

3. Once students left schools slated for closing, on average the additional effects on their learning were neither negative nor positive.

4. Although the school closing policy had only a small overall effect on test scores, it did affect summer school enrollment and subsequent social mobility.

5. When displaced students reached high school, their on-track rates to graduate were no different than the rates of students who attended schools similar to those that closed.

6. The learning outcomes of displaced students depended on the characteristic of receiving schools.

And that last one really seems to be the point. If you're just going to send kids from one bad school to another, closing schools has little academic value.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.
Copyright NBC Local Media
First Published: Oct 28, 2009 7:30 AM CST

CPS parents voice concern over Renaissance 2010 program

CHICAGO - Chicago Public School parents and community leaders voicing their opinions on the Renaissance 2010 program at the CPS board meeting today.

Some parents alleging that Renaissance 2010 is endangering students lives, disrupting communities and wasting public dollars. Parents also saying there is a connection between recent school violence and the Renaissance 2010 program.

Protesters Charge that Renassaince 2010 Increases Violence

Some parents, former students and community activists charged today that the Chicago Public School's Renaissance 2010 plan increases violence.
They gathered in school board headquarters to claim that closing allegedly poor schools can force students to transfer to distant buildings.

They say that's inconvenient, and sometimes deadly.

"We should have the right to be able to have our kids to go to a school within the neighborhood, not to take two buses and walk to a school that they've been fighting in it for the last four or five years," said Cheryl Johnson, People for Community Recovery.

"If there's a possibility that a policy that you're putting into place is killing children and leading to escalated violence, you need to put the brakes on," said Julie Woestehoff, Parents United to Help Education.

Woestehoff said violence would be reduced if every community had a high-quality neighborhood school.


(Copyright ©2009 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

New research supports moratorium on school closings

Two studies were released on Tuesday Feb 17th at a GEM press conference.  They can be found below at the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education website.

The first critiques CPS school closing criteria, examines patterns of gentrification and school closings, and has three case studies of schools to be closed (turn-around, phased out). The second analyzes ACT scores of charter and neighborhood high schools, and looks at differences in the student bodies.

1)  Examining CPS' plan to close, phase out, consolidate, turn-around 22 schools 

2)  The Charter Difference: A Comparison of Chicago Charter and Neighborhood High Schools

'We're Not Blind. Just Follow the Dollar Sign'

Summer 2005
Chicago's "renaissance" could mean dark age for city's public schools
By Pauline Lipman

Students, teachers, and parents in Chicago are resisting a plan to revamp Chicago's schools — a restructuring that is harming unions, communities, and eliminating democratic control.

Last summer, Chicago's Mayor Daley announced Renaissance 2010, a dramatic new plan he said would revitalize Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The plan calls for closing 60 public schools and opening 100 new small schools, two-thirds of which will be charter or contract schools run by private organizations and staffed by teachers and school employees who will not be members of CPS unions. The schools also will not have Local School Councils (LSCs). LSCs, established with Chicago's 1988 School Reform law, are elected school governance bodies composed primarily of parents and community members. They have power over a school's discretionary budget, approve the School Improvement Plan, and hire the principal.

Arne Duncan and the Chicago Success Story: Myth or Reality?

Spring 2009
Illustration: Michael Duffy

By Jitu Brown, Eric (Rico) Gutstein, and Pauline Lipman

When ex-President Bush was elected in 2000, he brought with him former Houston Superintendent of Education Rod Paige to be Secretary of Education. He also brought the "Texas miracle"—supposedly increased test scores attributed to Texas' strict accountability system. All eyes smiled on Texas as those measures quickly became part of No Child Left Behind, passed into law in 2001 by both political parties. Before the end of Bush's first term, Paige would leave in disgrace, thanks to revelations of cooked scores, forced-out students, and other barely legal means of inflating test results.

Click HERE to read the rest of this article.

From Accountability to Privatization and African American Exclusion

Pauline Lipman, University of Illinois at Chicago
Nathan Haines DePaul University 

This article analyzes Chicago's new Renaissance 2010 school plan to close public schools and reopen them as choice and charter schools. Grounding the analysis in participatory research methods, the authors argue that Chicago's education accountability policies have laid the groundwork for privatization. They furthermore argue that Renaissance 2010 is part of a neoliberal corporate and financial urban agenda of gentrification, African American displacement, and the class conquest of the city by the middle and upper-middle classes. The authors conclude with a discussion of emerging resistance to the plan, suggesting that education may be a focal point of anti-neoliberal economic and social struggles.

Click HERE for access to this article.

Renaissance 2010 and students with disabilities

Report finds students with disabilities do no better in Renaissance 2010 Schools

-- Today, Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago released Renaissance 2010 and Students with Disabilities, a report that tracks performance outcomes of students with disabilities at Renaissance 2010 Schools. The report finds that while “Renaissance 2010 was developed by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as a way to substantially improve schools that had fallen far below academic standards,” the performance of students with disabilities in Renaissance 2010 Schools has not improved. The report tracks the performance of students with disabilities in new schools created through Renaissance 2010, compares that performance with students with disabilities who attend traditional schools, and makes recommendations for improving the performance of students with disabilities.

Reports highlights CPS Position on Renaissance 2010

Teachers for Social Justice is a network of Chicago area teachers committed to critical, anti-racist, multicultural, participatory, democratic education. We believe that real school improvement requires the full participation of those with the most stake in high quality public education for all students –families, students, community members, and committed teachers and administrators. We oppose Chicago Public Schools' Renaissance 2010 Plan for the following reasons:

1. Renaissance 2010 will give private organizations and “vendors” the power to decide what will happen in public schools. Public institutions need democratically developed public solutions.

Renaissance 2010 and School Violence

This article on the closing and merging of schools was originally published "Schmidt Speaks: Crime & Violence In CPS" on District 299, Nov. 1, 2006.

Here's another commentary from George Schmidt, entitled "Why is Chicago covering up crime and violence in Chicago's public schools?

"While there was a great deal of hand wringing (and even a summit of sorts by the President of the United States) about school violence after a rash of shootings in schools earlier this fall, most of the problems in Chicago the past month have been covered up."

Here is a sampling:
"At the September meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, the Board (as
usual, without discussion or debate) passed a resolution approving spending $4
million to purchase police services for six months. Buried in the resolution
(but on the public agenda for anyone to read) was the following admission:

"During the period from January 1, 2006 - June 30, 2006, there were 5,508 physical
arrests in and around schools made, 27,899 student school absentees found, and
20 guns recovered..."

"Less than two years ago, the Tribune was quoting Arne Duncan and hyping a reduction in the number of guns in CPS schools in an article (January 5, 2005) headlined: "School report good gun news..." and noting the fact that in the previous six months (prior to January 5, 2005) only one gun had been recovered in a Chicago public school. Arne Duncan was quoted in January 2005 about how the word was out not to bring guns to schools, but nothing in September or October 2006 about why guns in schools had increased by 2,000 percent since he was quoted earlier about the reduction.
"Partly as a result of the high schools closings and conversions to exclusive charter schools on the west side (Collins, Austin) and South Side (Englewood, Calumet), gang violence continues to increase in the schools -- and be generally covered up by CPS and the Chicago media.

"While the gang outbursts at Marshall and Bogan high schools in September and
early October were in the news (generally, one paragraph in the Metro briefs),
similar problems at Harper (one student killed), Crane (ongoing), Englewood
(Homecoming) and other high schools were covered up. As predicted three years
ago, the closing of high schools like Calumet and Austin sends students to
other schools, with bad results.

"At the October 25 Chicago Board of Education meeting, First Ward Alderman Manny Flores noted that security is still a problem at Wells High School (which was in the news last winter because of the impact of the Austin closing on its gang situation) and at Clemente High School (both in Flores's ward). A parent from Harper High School (6520 S. Wood St.) noted the increasing violence at Harper (where are Rev. Sen. Meeks and Jesse Jackson on this?) partly because of the fragmenting of the Disciples street gang, a faction of which has a major presence within the school itself (including, according to the parent, in school sports). The situation at Harper was brought before the October 25 Chicago Board of Education meeting by Harper parent (and LSC member) Paul Collins.
"Things are, if anything, worse in the elementary schools. While the high schools have Chicago police (paid for by CPS, not out of the Chicago city budget) and some security, the elementary schools have been forced to provide their own security (out of poverty funds in many cases) or do with little or none. Often, if one person is out (or in court), the elementary school is without security.

"At the October 25 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, a parent
(Terence Gadsden) LSC member from Penn Elementary School (1616 S. Avers) asked the
Board to provide more security for the school because of the problems of local
gangs and drug dealers.

"On October 6, a "parent" entered Melody Elementary School (412 S. Keeler), stole teacher purses from a number of classrooms, used one teacher's car keys to steal the car, drove around the neighborhood and pulled the same scam at two other schools, then abandoned the car a few blocks from where it was stolen. CPS and Chicago police finally put out information after the first day of thefts was over, so when the (dumb) thief tried to run the scam a second time the following Tuesday (October 10) he was caught at Ericson (3600 W. 5th).

"More than two years ago, as I've testified to before the City Council Education Committee, the Chicago Teachers Union predicted the increase in violence and gang problems that would result from the closing of high schools (at that time, Austin and Calumet; since, Englewood and Collins). On June 12, 2004, at 10:00 a.m. (Calumet) and 2:00 p.m. (Austin), I testified on behalf of the Chicago Teachers Union, where I was at the time director of school security and safety. We warned that the closing of Austin and Calumet would result in increased violence at the receiving schools. The same warning could have been issued in 2005, when Englewood was closed, and in 2006, when Collins was closed. Instead, the media generally hailed the closings as necessary "toughness" because the schools were slandered as "failing."

"This school year, the problems of violence are worse and earlier than in the past three years. In many cases, they are the direct result of the disruption of the city's poorest communities by school closings under "Renaissance 2010." The additional pressures on west side elementary schools caused by the closings of Frasier and Morse elementary schools is added to the community pressure caused by the closing of Collins High School. On the south side, the pressures caused by the Calumet and Englewood closings continue to hammer schools as far east as Hyde Park and as far west (now) as Bogan.

"Problems are festering or growing at every general high school on the west and south sides right now. And the cause of the increase in those problems, this year and for the last three school years, has been the school closing and "Renaissance" policies of CPS.

"Since these results were predicted from the beginning of school closings and the transfer of buildings to private charter schools, it's time that someone brought action against CPS when a child is hurt, or worse. CPS was placed on notice about the result of these policies as early as April 2003 (especially regarding the closing of Williams and Dodge schools). CPS has been on notice about the impacts since."

Complaint: Renaissance 2010 Hiring Racially Biased

Originally published at:

It's now been six years since Chicago Public Schools officials began plowing forward with the Renaissance 2010 school reform initiative. As the dust begins to settle, the effects of closing and reorganizing dozens of troubled schools is starting to come to light. The independent Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) has pointed out repeatedly that one of the major byproducts of the plan is the loss of experienced teachers (as they've been replaced with younger and cheaper hires). As Howe Charter School Principal Keisha Campbell recently explained it, these new teachers "best fit the school organization we are trying to build." Some of those young teachers at the city's largest charter school operator, Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS), have gone to great lengths this year to move towards union representation and workplace protections.

But one point that's gotten lost in the conversation over the "turnaround" strategy is what's happening with the veteran teachers who are being replaced.

CORE recently did some research of its own and discovered a troubling hiring pattern that's emerged under Renaissance 2010; since the initiative was adopted in 2002, the number of African American teachers in Chicago fell from 39 to 32 percent, meaning that there are now 2,000 fewer black teachers in the classroom. That prompted three CORE teachers to file a joint complaint (PDF) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission yesterday, alleging that hiring under the Renaissance 2010 system is discriminatory. Specifically, they argue that the hiring pattern demonstrates a violation of Title VII, which prohibits "practices that are fair in form but discriminatory in operation." One CORE member explains the complaint via a release:
For Karen Lewis, a teacher and co-chair of CORE, the turnarounds have undermined an entire sector of black teachers in the Chicago Public Schools. “Since the beginning of the year, I’ve met black teachers who are working as substitutes. They are in tears, not just about the loss of their jobs but also about the loss of their status in the community.  These school and position closings are insidious and Draconian.  They are based on only one measurement -- test scores -- which say more about socio-economic status than they do about teaching and learning.”
Here's an important point to consider: even at Howe, which has been lauded as a national example of turnaround success, test scores remain subpar, according to a recent feature in U.S. News & World Report. During the turnaround process at Howe, in the South Austin community, the number of African American teachers fell to 14 from 22. At the same time, the number of white teachers increased from 10 to 14, according to the complaint. With this evidence in hand, the Chi-Town Daily News reports, the ball's now in the EEOC's court to determine whether there's a case in the stats:
It may be several months before anything happens with the complaint, which must be reviewed by a federal investigator. The EEOC could decide to launch its own lawsuit or could give CORE permission to do that, [Jennifer Purcell, an attorney representing the teachers caucus] says.
“The more people who can call us or talk to us about who they are and how they were impacted by the turnaround, the more detail we can get,” Purcell says.
Both the Daily News and Mechanics' Ramsin Canon found that CPS isn't commenting on the allegations.

Renaissance 2010 Protest Demands Stop on School Closures, Turnarounds, and Privatizing

Close to a thousand teachers, students, parents, and community members march at the Chicago Board of Education building to demand that school closures, turnarounds, and privatization stop.

Renaissance 2010 - What is it - Why it matters?

Renaissance 2010 - What is it - A Chicago Public School teacher discusses the reality of the infamous Chicago School reform agenda from the trenches.

November 4, 2009

GEM mission

The Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) is committed to democratic principles in the governance, pedagogy, and culture of our public schools.
The GEM believes that every child has a constitutional civil and human right to a high quality, equitably funded, public education based on
  1. participatory democratic principles,
  2. community empowerment,
  3. a challenging comprehensive and enriched curriculum,
  4. respect for cultural diversity, and
  5. Universal Human Rights.
The GEM believes that education should prepare students to deeply understand the roots of inequality and be prepared to act to change the world.