What corporate education reform looks like in Chicago

Corporate education reform in Chicago looks like Barbara Byrd Bennett.

In addition to her role shepherding one of the largest public school systems in the country, Barbara Byrd Bennett is something called an Executive Coach in the Broad Foundation's Superintendent’s Academy. The Academy is the brainchild of Eli Broad, insurance magnate and billionaire philanthropist. It offers crash courses to prepare corporate leaders to take administrative positions--like superintendent of schools--in school districts all across the country. Broad's goal is simple: implement corporate education reform throughout the nation.

Barbara Byrd Bennett carried it out in Cleveland. The wreckage is pretty well known. She was chief academic officer under Robert Bobb when it was done in Detroit. In both cases the city's public schools have hemmorhaged money and lost thousands of children as a direct result of school closings.

And then Mayor Emanuel hired her to do it here. Up to now she's been following to the letter the playbook given by the Broad Foundation: Declare an underutilization crisis; Hold community hearings and make people feel heard; Close schools; Replace with charters.

Now, Barbara Byrd Bennett took a slight misstep with that last one. She didn't follow the rulebook. She promised under no circumstances would closing schools be turned into charters--perhaps throwing a bone to the CTU. Problem is, now she'll have 54 empty institutional buildings that aren't exactly well-suited for much besides being elementary schools. Oops. And she has the Tribune haranguing her about that.

Why doesn't Barbara Byrd Bennett see her involvement with the Broad Foundation as a conflict of interest?

Corporate education reform in Chicago looks like the Chicago Tribune.

Typically the Tribune editorial page is a partner in corporate education reform. I don't suspect that its editors really know that much about educating children--after all, they're in the newspaper business. That's never stopped them, though, from wringing their editorial hands about child-stifling public schools and lazy lazy teachers and the public trough the CTU wants to hog.

They fail to tell us the whole story, however, and they have for years. In the current crisis the Tribune editorial page has failed to cite the research of CReATE, the team of university researchers who have exhaustively examined data from past school closings and found troubling results. The Tribune has failed to ferrett out the unseemly connections between the Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, UNO, Byrd Bennett, and the Mayor.

The Tribune editorial page has failed to acknowledge the work of its own reporters about fishy "utilization" numbers as they examined data compiled by Jeanne Marie Olson of Apples 2 Apples. It has failed to examine what the "welcoming schools" will really look like after they have "received" hundreds of new students, many of them special needs kids with lesser facilities than they left behind, and many of them kids crossing gang lines and neighborhood cultures.

It has not heeded the work of Raise Your Hand, the parent advocate group which is paying attention to all these minor details. It has failed to examine wildly overstated claims of a "$1 billion budget shortfall," although it's easy to pull up CPS financial records and see that every year CPS comes nowhere near its budget shortfall predictions, by hundreds of millions. Many alternative news outlets have done just this.

So although it weighs in on how children can be best served by educational models it knows nothing about, it has failed in its purpose as a deliverer of demonstrable data and well-founded facts.

Why doesn't the Tribune tell the whole story?

Corporate education reform in Chicago looks a lot like Walmart.

The Walton Foundation, Walmart's charitable arm, actually paid for the dozens of "community hearings" that CPS held all over the city to give people a chance to be heard, to know their opinions counted with CPS. That's a lot of community involvement!

Funny thing about those hearings, though. Folks sure didn't feel heard. Yes, the "closing list" shrank from "330" to 54. But most of those in attendance knew there was a number right from the start that CPS would close, and that number happened to be "more than 50." The ritual Walmart paid for was little more than a PR stunt that left the attendees with a sense of despair, broken trust, and no fair hearing. At each hearing people came with data and real questions and received no answers. For months now folks have been asking questions and have received not one single answer from CPS, up to and including the discouraging community hearings involving the closed and receiving school communities just last week. It's getting to be time for answers, I think.

The Walton Foundation also paid for a series of ads in which Barbara Byrd Bennett gives the ostensible reasons for the closures. (I don't have to tell you that of course it's for the children).

The Foundation happens to be the largest funder of charters in the city--more than 22 million bucks worth since 1997. And why does the Walton Foundation spend hundreds of millions on charters not just in Chicago but across the nation?

What does the Walton Foundation want from Chicago? Why is it throwing so much money at charter schools in the city?

Corporate education reform in Chicago looks like Juan Rangel. And Bruce Rauner. And Penny Pritzger.

But we'll talk about them tomorrow. Until then, please call your alderman and voice your displeasure about the poorly thought out, ill-planned closures of 54 schools.

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