With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Charter vote another reason why we need an elected school board and a new mayor

A group of supporters for Communities United for Quality Education protest in opposition of new charter schools, outside the Chicago Public Schools headquarters on Wednesday. 
It wasn't as if anyone doubted how yesterday's vote on charter school expansion would go. Despite the claim by one board member that the decision was a "difficult one," Rahm's hand-picked CPS board rarely if ever has a dissenting vote and the vote is always predictable. This time, there was only a token no-vote from board member Carlos Azcoitia on a few of the charter proposals.

All the community hearings, the protests outside, the passionate speeches by parents, students and teachers --- none of that means anything once the Mayor instructs his board members how to vote (they rarely need any instruction). The Board doesn't represent the public and aren't accountable to the public. And therein lies the problem with mayoral control of the schools. Reason # 837 why we need an elected school board and a new mayor.

Ald. Sposato speaks out against charter expansion
It's true that the Board voted only to approve 7 out of 17 charter school applications. But this is typical Rahm, isn't it? He'll threaten to close 200 neighborhood schools, for example, and then pull back and "only" close 50 at one time, giving the appearance of reasonableness and compromise. Hearings and community meetings are just a tactic for the mayor. And they are always carefully controlled -- none more so than his hearings on charter expansion. which he placed under the control of the pro-charter group Stand For Children.

As the Reader's Ben Joravsky points out,
CPS officials told the members of these councils that discussions should be limited to the specifics of the new charter proposals. They were not—let me repeat, not—permitted to talk about the larger issue of whether we should create any charters at all.
In a union press release, CTU President Karen Lewis, sounding like a modern-day John Dewey, summed it up nicely.
“Freedom to choose is at the bedrock of our society. But choice should be based on fact and data. What is being presented is a false choice. Knowledge is the basis for real choice. What parents and the public are being presented with is a pre-determined path that leads to the undermining of our neighborhood schools and the privatization of public education.”
Chicago's rapidly expanding network of privately-run charter schools has little in common with the original charters that were teacher-led and community-based. They have instead become a centerpiece of urban gentrification, anti-teacher and anti-union to the core, and mired in corruption and patronage, or what Lewis describes as "the seamy underbelly of the charter movement."


Just what would you have to do to have your charter proposal rejected by this charter-lovin' board? Just ask the only group of teachers who proposed a "teacher-led, progressive" school called Be the Change. The proposal was created by teachers from the University of Chicago's Urban Teacher Education Program and offered an alternative to the traditional classroom with a curriculum focusing on the “academic, intellectual, artistic, social, emotional, and civic growth of each student.” The school would center on the concept of “interdisciplinary learning,” a concept allowing students to explore a theme through the lens of various subjects.

The school's design team hoped to open a K-8 school within the Bridgeport Art Center, a mixed-use, five-story former warehouse along the banks of Bubbly Creek — putting it squarely within a zone highlighted by CPS where more seats are needed to relieve overcrowding.

I can almost hear board members (except for Azcoitia) gagging as they read this one. The sad thing is that the teachers felt they had to become a charter in order to teach in a progressive, teacher-led school.


  1. Mike how popular is Rahm in Chicago, is there any chance he will be a one term mayor?

  2. Hi Mike,
    Many thanks for the fine comments about Be the Change, which was the only proposal truly in the spirit of what charters were supposed to be. I’ve watched this amazing group of teachers labor over the proposal and the community connections for more than 3 years now, but they had no political muscle, which was all the mattered in these decisions. And then Andrew Broy from INCS puts out this shit-eating press release praising the board for its judicious work on selecting the quality applicants for approval. Not a good word for a group like Be the Change.


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