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Julie Woestehoff

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Stop the Churn: Give Schools Back to the Community

Posted: 12/06/2011 11:30 am

"Churn rate (sometimes called attrition rate), in its broadest sense, is a measure of the number of individuals or items moving into or out of a collective over a specific period of time.... The phrase is based on the English verb "churn," meaning 'to agitate or produce violent motion.'" -- Wikipedia

It's great for butter but simply terrible for children, families, teachers, other school staff, communities, and the health of democratic public education. Who wants to go to school or work for a school system that is in constant upheaval, where people never know from one year to the next where they will be or what they will be doing? Where life-altering decisions appear to be based on ever-changing and murky rationales?

History of failure

Yes, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has just announced another set of interventions which will potentially affect dozens of schools and tens of thousands of children and adults.

Since former Mayor Daley took over the schools in 1995 and his hand-picked schools CEO, Paul Vallas, first put schools on probation, CPS has tried one intervention after another.

How has that been working out for Chicago? Take a look:

* Headline 11/30/11: Charter schools struggle too
* Headline 11/30/11: Charters post wildly uneven results
* Headline 11/14/11: CPS fails to close achievement gap
* Headline 11/8/11: New school reports show stark gaps in achievement
* Headline 4/25/11: New Schools for Chicago looks to turn around failing charters
* Headline 3/21/11: Community group accuses Orr (AUSL) of pushing out students
* Headline 11/10/10: Some Chicago charter schools lose 15, 20, 25% of students in one year
* Headline 1/17/10: Daley School Plan Fails to Make Grade
* Headline: 8/20/09: Transformation fails to spark improvement in Chicago high schools, say researchers
* Headline: 7/11/09: Still behind

You get the point. Corporate reform Chicago-style is stuck on the "agitate" cycle, while our children's education is going down the drain.

$$$

In addition to the human costs to children and adults, here's what CPS will be paying out in money they say they don't have:

* $5 million in the coming year to supplement services to schools affected by closures, phase outs, etc. including schools that receive students from closed schools.
* $20 million on the 10 turnarounds, including the six contracted to Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL), announced earlier in the week.
* Busing students from shuttered Price to National Teachers Academy will cost an estimated $90,000 per year.
* Watch for big capital improvement work to begin at the closing schools (if it hasn't already) to make them nice for the new charter and other privately-managed schools CPS clearly has in mind to move into the empty buildings.

Give schools back to the communities

This has got to stop. All CPS has to show for its bankrupting expenditure of school funds on Vallas's Folly, Renaissance 2010, and whatever Brizard calls what he's doing, is a handful of schools with test scores that look better than the average Chicago Public School. Much of this is accomplished by providing these schools with more than their fair share of resources (like the millions in extra foundation and government money AUSL receives, allowing it to pay for two teachers per classroom) and turning a blind eye when they refuse to teach (or at least test) some of the most challenging students.

If the mayor had not taken over the schools 20 years ago, where might we be now? 20 years ago we were on track to make improvements in just the way the Consortium on Chicago School Research has affirmed is the only effective way to improve struggling schools: by addressing all aspects of a school's functioning, and by involving the entire school community. There were representative, parent-majority elected local school councils with real power who planned for school improvement in an open, public way using the five essential supports for school improvement devised by local educators.

This chart from the 2005 Designs for Change report, "The Big Picture," starkly demonstrates how struggling schools that retained local control (top line) improved far more more than similar schools taken over by the administration (bottom line).

Now, what if those locally-run schools had been given the extra help and resources that CPS always gives schools AFTER closing or turning them around. Think where we would be now, and how a whole generation of children would have benefited.

Parents United for Responsible Education and many others have consistently supported local control as a successful strategy for school improvement. Recently, a coalition of local community Chicago groups offered a strong blueprint for community-based school improvement. Chicago school leaders seem to have ignored them.

Think what would happen if Chicago actually worked with school communities -- if they harnessed all the energy of the parents, students, teachers, staff, and community of every school, and gave those who care the most about the school's success the same tools and resources that they now give to outsiders and privatizers.

And if that doesn't happen, think where we'll be in another 20 years.

 

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