Malone: Privatization plague threatens Chicago Public Schools
By Becky Malone Guest Commentary October 26, 2012 6:40PM
Updated: November 29, 2012 6:27AM
There is a plague spreading through the Chicago Public Schools. It has left in its wake a score of school closures and school turnarounds, an unfunded longer school day lacking adequate resources to support high-quality education and the first teachers strike in a quarter century — a bitter fight to ensure fair compensation, basic learning materials and adequate staffing in our schools.
Parents and teachers have been promised remedies for overburdened or failing schools. But these promises are empty at best and counterproductive at worst. The increased staff promised for the longer day has amounted to no more than one position at most schools, with some simply restoring jobs cut in the past few years.
Much of this funding had to be dedicated to ancillary staff, non-teachers required to supervise students during mandated lunch and teacher planning time. A longer lunch and recess may be nice, but this has not created the “enriched and robust learning day” so often touted by our mayor.
Principals were promised more autonomy, yet they are bound by more rules, restrictions and policies than ever before. The much-heralded teacher evaluation system, based in large part on standardized test scores, has been promised to identify good teachers and weed out bad.
But respected and talented educators everywhere decry this push to “teach to the test,” and ample studies show that overtesting stifles creativity and effectiveness in teaching while also showing no causal link to improved academic performance.
So what is city hall and the Chicago Board of Education’s real solutions for our troubled school system? Back to the plague. It was deliberately manufactured at city hall and then administered by a hired hit man — Jean-Claude Brizard. Brizard was hired to be the scapegoat when the public and the educators did not immediately buy in to the mandates being forced on us by the mayor.
Brizard was pushed out of Rochester, N.Y., for, among other reasons, his complete lack of support for veteran teachers. He continued to display his disdain for members of the profession here in Chicago, contributing to the teachers strike. Brizard’s job here was to take the blame for the strike, allowing the mayor to stay above the fray and then claim victory for his longer school day.
The mayor cites a difference in managerial styles as the cause for Brizard’s departure, but Rahm Emanuel never had any intention of keeping Brizard once his purpose was served. He had someone else in mind to push through the next dose of deadly medicine — the dismantling and privatization of our public schools.
Barbara-Byrd Bennett comes to us from Detroit, where she was responsible for the charterization of the public schools and busting the Detroit Federation of Teachers. We have all heard about Emanuel’s plan to ask charter school networks to take over failing schools here, with the supposed intent of displacing fewer students from their neighborhood schools.
The problem with this plan is that charter networks, unlike true public schools serving all children, select their students — not based on test scores but on who fits in academically, socially and, let’s face it, politically. Charter schools enjoy ample public funding, but there’s a lack of accountability, and they are unencumbered by the rules and regulations to which public schools must adhere. And their spotty track record and dubious academic results face little scrutiny from the press or public.
This masquerade of “school choice” is really “school chance.” If a child doesn’t gain admission to a charter school through a lottery or does not meet charter criteria — perhaps because they have learning, physical or behavioral challenges or speak English as a second language — they are left to go, where? To the remaining public schools, which may or may not be anywhere near their homes.
So these students enroll, bringing their academic and behavioral problems with them, leading to more overcrowding, and overloading teachers, counselors and social workers already stretched too thin. Predictably, even our most well-performing schools begin to falter and test scores decline. The schools are then penalized by CPS for their stumbles and resources are cut.
This downward, deliberately planned spiral plays out: Perhaps these schools soon find themselves on the list of failing schools, facing closure, and another charter school sweeps in. The plague spreads. More and more schools fall victim. Corporate interests backing charters circle for the untapped potential for profit (supplying charter schools with books, computers, facilities, food services, etc., all on the public dollar) until public education has been completely privatized.
Certified teachers are passed over in favor of more cost-efficient (lower-paid) ones or for online learning programs requiring no teacher at all. Vulture capitalists and hedge fund managers profit, parents and students are disenfranchised and the better teachers go elsewhere because working conditions, salary and benefits are no longer competitive in CPS.
The revolving door of CEOs at Chicago Public Schools in recent years is a problem, and some may blame it for the lack of vision within CPS management. But I suggest, to the contrary, that the vision is crystal clear. The plague has been released to decimate our public schools. As parents, we plan to continue to be on the frontline, fighting this epidemic and stopping its spread.
Becky Malone, a resident of Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community, has two sons in the Chicago Public Schools.