It's Time For a Moratorium on Renaissance 2010 School Closings
December 30, 2008
BY JULIE WOESTEHOFF
A Dec. 18 Sun-Times article, "Charter schools Obama praised ripped at board meeting" quoted Donald Feinstein, director of Chicago's Academy for Urban School Leadership, dismissing teacher concerns about Renaissance 2010 in testimony to the Chicago Board of Education.
Feinstein said complaints came from teachers who could be displaced. He also said parents support the changes.
Feinstein is wrong about parents' wishes. Polls show that parents overwhelmingly want their neighborhood schools to be fixed rather than replaced.
More disturbing, though, is that the teachers who spoke at the board meeting are some of the best in the system. Feinstein's contempt for their concerns is emblematic of the way privatizers [groups hired to revamp Chicago schools under the Renaissance 2010 reform plan] treat experienced, dedicated, under-resourced classroom teachers in Chicago's neighborhood schools.
This level of arrogance has been a factor in the dangerous misrepresentations of the "success" of Renaissance 2010 schools, one more reason why my organization, Parents United for Responsible Education, is calling for a moratorium on Renaissance 2010.
On Feb. 28, 2008, the Sun-Times published an editorial that threw down the gauntlet on Renaissance 2010 and challenged the Chicago Public Schools to "prove its detractors wrong. . . . CPS must prove it can close schools humanely, with as little disruption as possible. It must also show that it can create successful schools out of failed ones, and that all this upheaval and heartache is worth it."
Well, it's been 10 months since then, and evidence has come in to suggest that CPS has lost the Sun-Times' challenge.
We know school closings continue to be unduly disruptive, particularly for less "wanted" students who are refused enrollment or pushed out of Renaissance 2010 schools. This comes from the stories of students who attended the small schools at Orr High School, but who received letters at the beginning of the 2008-09 school year stating they would not be able to enroll in the new Orr school run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership. [Editor's note: CPS officials deny this, saying Orr instituted contracts with students who were struggling or were behind in credits. "In some cases, those conversations resulted in the student and/or parent/guardian requesting a transfer to an alternative school or GED program," CPS said.]
More evidence comes from a look at the Sherman School of Excellence, also run by the academy since the 2006-07 school year, and considered by CPS to be their current "turnaround" model (there have been several). Although the hallmark of the Sherman model was supposed to be keeping all the students in place while changing the staff, enrollment at Sherman dropped 20 percent between October 2007 and October 2008 [Note: 80 more students enrolled after October]. And student mobility also has risen, from 44.2 percent in 2006 to 50.5 percent in 2008. [Note: CPS attributes some of the mobility to the presence of nearby homeless shelters and improved record keeping.]
So, is the upheaval and heartache worth it? Hardly.
A close look at Sherman shows less than exciting results, which also are compromised by a significant alteration in the student population as evidenced by the enrollment drop and the drop in the school's low-income rate, from 99 percent in 2006, the year before the takeover, to 84.2 percent in 2008.
Overall ISAT scores increased 5.8 percentage points from last year [Note: The districtwide increase was 1.3 points. Sherman's gains were fueled by large increases in reading and math].
But in science -- where there is less opportunity for teaching to the test -- scores dropped dramatically. The percentage of students meeting and exceeding state standards in science dropped from 32 percent in 2006 to 20 percent in 2008.
Keep in mind that Sherman has more resources than typical CPS schools. These perks are unlikely to be economically feasible on a larger scale, which is one more reason to question its usefulness as a model.
We urge Sun-Times editors and readers to take a look at the data and decide if CPS should continue the fast pace of school closings and replacements. Another round is due to be considered at the January 2009 board meeting.
As parents, we believe that the cost to our children of more risky experimentation and failure is far too high and we call for a moratorium on Renaissance 2010.
Julie Woestehoff runs Parents United for Responsible Education.