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Education Tue Dec 23 2008

Victory for Parents Over CPS Shell Game

From the PURE (Parents United for Responsible Education) website:

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Sophia Hall denied a Chicago Board of Education motion for summary judgment which asked her to throw out the small and alternative schools Local School Council (LSC) lawsuit filed by a number of LSCs, LSC members, parents, and advocacy organizations.

LSC attorneys Elaine K. B. Siegel and Associates argued that the Chicago Public Schools' broad practice of closing schools and reopening them without elected LSCs violates the school reform law.

Judge Hall expressed frustration with CPS lawyers who were unable to produce evidence in support of their arguments that CPS had followed the law or even their own policies in disbanding a number of LSCs and replacing them with advisory bodies appointed by the Chicago Board of Education.

Local School Councils
were created in 1988 as site-based management and advisory boards for each Chicago Public School. They were created to allow parents, teachers, students, and community members greater access to the schools in their communities.

In 1995, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Amendatory Act, which gave the mayor of Chicago control of the Chicago Public Schools. There were many crucial provisions to the bill, one of which was the ability for the mayor to appoint the superintendent, now called the "CEO," and all the members of the Board of Education. Surrounding suburban districts elect people to these positions, and much of the time educational professionals are elected. In Chicago, members of the business community are handed these seats.

After these sweeping changes were made, LSCs were the last bastion of hope for taxpayers to get involved in the process of educating our youth. However, the mayor's educational overhaul, known as "Renaissance 2010," touted by our new Secretary of Education designate, Arne Duncan, effectively removed many of these bodies from the process.

"Rennaissance 2010" is a program that closes down neighborhood schools and reopens them with three small schools (don't be confused with small class sizes -- these are not one in the same). One school is a charter school (non-union, operated by a charter operator), one a "contract school" (a non-union school that has a contract with the CPS, but is not considered a charter to get around the cap on charter schools), and one a "performance school" (a CPS school with special initiatives).

The charter and contract schools do not have an LSC, and the performance schools may have a "traditional or alternative LSC." This means that there is no guarantee that the 100 new schools promised to be opened by 2010 will have any community input. Policies are established by the appointed Board of Education, which approves or denies charter, performance, and contract schools. These operators then determine the level of community input they will allow.

The case that PURE reported was filed by parents who were concerned with schools being shut down under Renaissance 2010 and reopened without full community representation in their new LSCs. PURE released a study where they found:

More than two-thirds of these Renaissance 2010 schools failed to respond to our [PURE's] FOIA requests. We [PURE] conclude that these schools have no governing bodies, which violates the law and CPS policy.

Within the smaller set of 18 responding schools/networks, we found more reason for concern:

  • Only 7 of the 152 board members of the responding charter schools are parents, or less than 5%. This indicates a major lack of legally-mandated parent involvement in school governance.
  • There are problems with student retention, enrollment, attrition, and "push-outs".
  • There is evidence of questionable accountability regarding testing, discipline, etc.
  • There are problems with teacher attrition.
  • The by-laws of most of the schools were in violations of the Open Meetings Act.

The case will now move into its discovery phase where evidence will be shared by both sides.

It will be interesting to see how many Chicago initiatives are going to be brought to Washington with Duncan. Policies like these would be considered unheard of in districts like New Trier, where parents have a reputation for being heavily involved, or in Kansas, where members of the community debate over which books to ban. Without the backing of a strong mayor like Daley, what will be Duncan's next steps?

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