“(Reuters) – Chicago teachers…are taking on not just their combative mayor but a powerful education reform movement that is transforming public schools across the United States.”
Stephanie Simon and James Kelleher, of Reuters News Service, have written an excellent news piece about what is really behind the teacher’s strike in Chicago. It should be required reading for those reporting on the strike and for policymakers, who are being called upon to adopt “education reform” in other parts of the country.
As the reporters write, “The new vision, championed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who used to run Chicago’s schools, calls for a laser focus on standardized tests meant to gauge student skills in reading, writing and math. Teachers who fail to raise student scores may be fired. Schools that fail to boost scores may be shut down.”
The article begins by laying out the history of “education reform” in Chicago.
And it begins with Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s present $229,000, part-time, superintendent of schools. As we know here in Connecticut, “education reform” is a money-making industry. Despite his claim that he is devoting himself to the students of Bridgeport, Vallas’ private consulting company recently signed a $1 million dollar contract with the State of Illinois to “turnaround” a handful of schools there and an $18 million deal to oversee 15 schools in Indianapolis, Indiana.
According to the Reuters article, Chicago’s first CEO, Paul Vallas, “ushered in high-stakes testing: Thousands of students a year were held back a grade or denied entry into high school because they couldn’t pass standardized tests.
Vallas’ successor, Arne Duncan, took high-stakes testing a step further. Duncan closed scores of schools with poor test results. He remade others by firing the staff and hiring private turnaround specialists to run the schools. Duncan also encouraged the spread of charter schools.”
A comprehensive study by the University of Chicago determined that although graduation rates are up slightly among high schools students, “test scores have barely budged at the elementary and middle grades.”
Here in Connecticut, the call for “education reform” is based on closing Connecticut’s “largest in the nation achievement gap.”
The University of Chicago study found that after all the changes made by Vallas and Duncan, the reforms, “have done nothing to close the racial gaps in achievement levels. On the contrary, black students have fallen farther behind than ever…”
The dangerous trend of undermining public education has just begun in Connecticut, but in Chicago we can see the profound impact these “reforms” will have. While the best students are creamed off by charter schools, and public dollars are devoted to a limited number of magnet and “turnaround” schools, “regular neighborhood schools suffer with crumbling facilities and overcrowded classrooms.”
The Reuters ends with an interview with a parent who lives close to three respected magnet and charter schools.
If the “reform” effort is not stopped in Connecticut, it is the type of experience that many parents, in our state, will face in the years ahead.
While her daughter is only in preschool, this Chicago parent has been told that she only has a 10 percent chance of “landing a slot” in one of the magnets or charters.
Instead, her daughter will most likely be required to “attend the only neighborhood school left in the area, which is farther away, posts terrible test scores, and primarily serves a destitute public housing complex.”
This Chicago parent echo’s the warning that we’ve been giving here in Connecticut, the emphasis on “education reform” and charter schools creates a “two-tier system” of public education.
As the mother notes, “If everyone who can get out, does get out, there isn’t going to be much of a system of public education left, and that terrifies me.”
On one side of this epic battle are people like the Mayor of Chicago, the Governor of Connecticut and reformers such as Paul Vallas, Arne Duncan, Stefan Pryor and Michelle Rhee.
On the other side are Chicago’s striking teachers and the rest of us who are finally seeing what “education reform” is really about.
You can find the Reuters article here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/10/us-usa-chicago-schools-analysis-idUSBRE8890VS20120910