Thursday, May 13, 2021

15 years later, CPS reclaims Duncan's AUSL 'turnaround schools'.

Piccolo parents protest the takeover of their school by AUSL in 2012. (Katie Osgood pic) 

"Yet for all the public attention, AUSL's results have been mixed; many students have made considerable progress, but as a group they still lag well behind district averages ... with many ending up on par or even below comparable neighborhood schools."
-- Chicago Tribune, 2/6/2012

Yesterday, CPS announced that it was reclaiming the so-called "turnaround schools" which were handed over to the private management and teacher training company, the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) in 2006. 

All I can say about this break from Arne Duncan's privatization "reforms" carried out under the banner of Renaissance 2010 and then rebranded as Race to the Top during his term as Sec. of Education, is -- it's about time. 

Lacking any research base and built on the false premise that private companies, hedge funders, and power philanthropists could best operate public institutions, AUSL's school takeover turned out to be an expensive and dismal flop.

AUSL was founded and run by Chicago venture capitalist Martin Koldyke, who used his connections and big campaign donations to become a powerhouse in the school turnaround business. Koldyke, a golf buddy of then-Mayor Daley, decided he could save the public school system by running it like a business. Koldyke's company, Frontenac, had been a big investor in for-profit colleges like DeVry and Rasmussen College.

Despite AUSL schools ranking at or near the bottom of the system, the company benefited from backing from Daley, and then from Rahm Emanuel. Rahm even selected a former AUSL top executive to oversee CPS' finances and named AUSL's previous board chairman, David Vitale, as president of the CPS Board of Education. With virtual control of the board and the central office, Koldyke was assured of a stable funding pipeline to his then 19 turnaround schools, even in the midst of a budget crisis when neighborhood schools were being starved of operating cash.

But as I pointed out here in 2012, 

 Chicago's turnarounds failed to meet even their own criteria of success and they paled in comparison to a large group of neighborhood schools being run more democratically with popularly-elected Local School Councils. More than 60 elementary-level high-poverty schools that have made school-based democracy a reality, out-achieved the top Turnaround School.
I still remember Duncan speaking to Dodge Elementary parents who were angry over his handing their school over to AUSL, without any input from the community, and promising them that they would be thrilled with his new Renaissance alternatives. 

WBEZ's Becky Vevea wrote at the time:

In 2008, Dodge was where then president-elect Barack Obama announced Duncan as his pick for Secretary of Education.

“He’s shut down failing schools and replaced their entire staffs, even when it was unpopular,” Obama said at the time. “This school right here, Dodge Renaissance Academy, is a perfect example. Since this school was revamped and reopened in 2003, the number of students meeting state standards has more than tripled.”

But fast forward another five years, turnarounds Dodge and Williams were closing their doors after being labeled as low-performing schools. And by 2013, CPS  had closed many of the schools Duncan had created.

Four years after it was opened CPS pulled the plug on “turnaround” school, Bethune Elementary. The Bethune staff had all been fired when AUSL took over. Duncan claimed that a "clean slate" would lead to better schools. He would go on to push that same baseless claim at the D.O.E., withholding federal funds from school districts unless they closed schools and fired teachers in mass.

Good move, CPS and Mayor Lightfoot in bringing these 31 schools back home to CPS and in taking steps to put the public back in public schooling. There's still a long way to go on that one.

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