"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, November 12, 2007

Renaiisance or Dark Ages in Chicago?

When I posted this at ARN on the Bloomberg corporate giveaway plans in NYC Public Schools, George Schmidt wrote back with this on the situation in Chicago:

The same kind of plan has been in place in Chicago for the past five years. It's called "Renaissance 2010 -- 100 new schools for Chicago" and is based on the same drives (privatize and charterize as much as possible).

Renaissance 2010, as we reported in Substance, was inaugurated in a speech by Mayor Richard Daley here in July 2004. It was scripted, though, in a report by a group called the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, which has been Chicago's local version of the Business Roundtable for the past 100 years or so.

The Civic Committee published a report entitled "Left Behind" in 2003 which claimed (based on twisting data sets) that all Chicago public schools had failed and should be replaced by charters.

That meant that by the time, one year later, Renaissance 2010 was announced by Mayor Daley people could say "Whew, they're only going to charterize 100 schools (out of 600) so most of us are safe."

The central committee of the ruling class at this point is sharing information about how to bring this stuff about. One of their main claims is that all they are doing is offering "choice" to poor and "underserved" communities. Of course, the ruling class has made those communities poor and underserved, but unless our side puts that loudly into the debate, it's ignored.

They have also raised a lot of private money (Gates; Walton; Ford; others) for direct assistance to charters. Additionally, they are continually getting additional funds from the federal government. Margaret Spellings came to Chicago (as we reported in February) for what I called a charter school infomercial three days after President Bush pushed charters in the State of the Union address.

With the amount of money they have, they are buying a lot of activists to shill for them, including many erstwhile "progressives." While they are starving the remaining public schools of capital and operational funds, there are millions of extra dollars provided you push charterization.

Finally, for now, there is a very strange religious side to this stuff. One Chicago charter schools (Chicago International Charter Schools) now has ten "campuses" and is the largest charter school in Illinois. Every one of its "campuses" is in what was once a Catholic Schools, and they have generally refused to remove the religious iconography from the building. Two weeks ago (as I'll be reporting in the November Substance this week) I was surrounded by security guys when I went out to the newest CICS charter school which was just opened in the old Immaculate Heart of Mary school building on Chicago's northwest side. I wanted to get my usual shots (a statue of the Blessed Virgin outside a "public schools", the crucifixes all over the place) and wasn't taking my photographs five minutes when first one, then two, then three private security people (for a school of 200!) rushed around trying to block my camera. They really wanted to protect that eight foot high statue of the virgin from my camera lens.

A reason I mention this is that it seems that the powerful Archdiosis of Chicago is very much in the middle of the charter school push, and that in some cases they are simply flipping Catholic schools, with the same kids and staffs, and calling them public charter schools.

On all levels, if you can challenge these programs every step of the way, you will be much better off.

Oh, and watch how they pick the people to run things. Here in Chicago, the "Office of New Schools Development" is staffed by people who've never worked in public schools, all paid more than teachers. Their current chief officer (at $135,000 per year) is a guy named Josh Edelman, a former charter school head from California. You might recognize the name of this young visionary. His mother is Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund.

George N. Schmidt

Editor, Substance

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