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The Mechanics
« What Is This Impeachment Talk Anyway? Victory for Parents Over CPS Shell Game »

Education Mon Dec 22 2008

Community Coalition Interrupts Duncan's Love Fest

On Wednesday, December 17, the Chicago Board of Education held its regular monthly meeting, one day after Barack Obama announced his nomination of Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan for Secretary of Education. The meeting began with a standing ovation for Duncan, local champion of school "turnarounds" and school choice. The board praised Duncan for his work in Chicago. Principals from various CPS schools were on hand, each giving their iteration of how Duncan was wonderful for Chicago and will be wonderful for the nation.

The public comments portion of the proceedings, the time when community members are given the chance to weigh in on their proposals and reactions to the CPS, sharply contrasted the preceding love fest. In this time, a coalition of teachers, parents, and students was there to voice its concerns over Duncan's model for urban education. The groups, including members of CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators), PURE (Parents United for Responsible Education), and the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization took to the mics during the public portion of the meeting to voice their concerns about the school closings, school turnarounds, and Mayor Daley's educational piece de resistance, Renaissance 2010.

Most on the list of forty-four speakers spoke critically of the policies under Arne Duncan. One notable exception was the principal of Namaste Charter School , who proposed a renewal of her school's charter, citing a decrease in the Body Mass Index of her students. Two foci of Namaste are continual assessment of students and yoga.

Teachers from Whittier Elementary, a CPS public school, described to the Board how the proliferation of charter schools will take away funds from their programs. Whittier is a training school for bilingual education teachers. This makes the school specialized, like a charter, but it is run using scarce public dollars. When students leave the school to go to charter schools, per-pupil dollars are taken away from its programs.

The charter and performance school model was described by Jesse Sharkey, teacher from Senn High School, as being like the reality show "Survivor," where the school can continually kick students off the "island." Sharkey was describing what is called "dis-enrollement." Last year, his school experienced the effects of dis-enrollment.

Within the last four weeks of the school year, Uplift High School, a "Renaissance" school in Uptown, asked 19 of its students to voluntarily leave the school following a school fight. The alternative would be expulsion, according to Wendy Boatman, guidance counselor at Senn. The students attempted to enroll at her school. This is not an option for neighborhood schools that are forced to compete under these "school choice" conditions, but the charters and performance schools can work as a one-way valve for students with behavior or academic problems. According to Boatman, the Renaissance school within Senn, Rickover Military Academy, also dropped 10-12 students to Senn, many for violating their parochial uniform requirements.

Jackson Potter, teacher from Little Village Lawndale School of Social Justice, spoke about how Urban Prep, the AUSL school that replaced Englewood High School, had been partially funded by a poker night, which is a non-sustainable practice. Duncan argued that the flexibility in funding of charter schools is a good thing.

One of the most telling moments of the day was a comment made by a student from Julian High School, who told Mr. Duncan that he needs to fix the problems in Chicago before he goes to D.C. to create more. Duncan had left the room for much of the public comments portion and was not in the room to hear this statement.

Representatives from Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KoCo) spoke against no-bid contracts that were given to contractors who allegedly did not do the work that they were paid to do in the schools.

Xian Barret, teacher at Julian High School, said that the day "reminded me of why I love teaching." Barret is also a member of CORE, the group hosting a community meeting on school closings. He, along with other members of the caucus, invited members of the Board of Education to the meeting, which will take place on January 10 at 10am at Malcolm X College.

 
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