9 things the mayor doesn't want you to know about charter expansion in Chicago

9 things the mayor doesn't want you to know about charter expansion in Chicago

The CPS Board of Ed has a big vote on Wednesday. They're going to decide whether to approve of 20 new charter schools. These 20 could join the ten already approved for 2014, making 30 new charter schools opening in the next two years.

Hooray! More choice! More quality! More freedom from union bullying! In fact it's a punch to the gut of that pushy, bloated mother of all Chicago unions, the CTU!

What a victory for Chicago's children it would be if all those charters were approved!

Right?

That's what the mayor wants us to believe. That's what CPS wants us to believe. That's what the Tribune wants us to believe. Sometimes I think the mayor might have even talked himself into believing all that stuff.

But personally I think he's getting the teensiest bit nervous about this whole charter thing. The newspapers are starting to dig things up. Things he'd rather we not know. And it's old news that the granddaddy of all charter providers in Chicago, the mighty UNO, crashed and burned like a model rocket smashing to the ground, despite its entrenched favor ($98M worth) with both the state and the city.

What if we stopped believing what we're told about charters? What would happen if CPS parents stopped buying the status quo and started asking questions instead?

What if everybody knew the things that Rahm Emanuel doesn't really want you to know?

Well, now you do.

1. Charter schools do not have Local School Councils. Despite the fact that James Meeks wants to disband them, LSCs have been offering CPS parents a say in budget decisions and principal hiring and firing since 1988. Except in charter schools.

2. Two hours of art per week? Not likely in schools with no art teachers and no art curricula. These schools can't really deliver on what the mayor has promised--or rather, what the mayor has said is already in place in all CPS schools. Some high schools in the Noble Network have no visual arts at all. It's not clear that an "arts liaison" popped into these schools, as per the mayor's arts privatization plan, will be able to provide quite as much art as we've been told we have.

3. Charter scores are not better than neighborhood public schools, and in many cases they are worse. But don't take my word for it. Check out school report cards at the CPS website itself.

4. Charter schools serve a disproportionately lower number of special needs and homeless children than do neighborhood schools and they do not have the services in place to serve these populations with what they need.

These are sort of mundane things, I grant, small potatoes. Neighborhood level.

But is there, perhaps, more? Sort of larger-scale stuff? I mean, sort of weird and/or obviously shady stuff? Let's have a look.

5. Concept Charter Schools in Chicago are part of a large network of schools established by exiled Turkish former imam Fethullah Gulen (139 schools in 26 states). In all of these states, Gulen is very active in influencing state politicians to endorse his schools. To wit, in Illinois, Chicago Math and Science Academy, a Concept Charter currently not making adequate yearly progress and sporting scores of 50% proficiency in math, has a series of charming videos of elected public officials praising its wonders. CMSA video boosters include Susana Mendoza, Linda Chapa La Via, Michael Madigan, Dan Lipinski, Jesse White, and Kelly Cassidy. Most of these officials and many others have been whisked to Turkey by Gulen's Niagara Foundation, in some cases more than once--and in the case of Michael Madigan, four times, on trips to, uh, trips for the purpose of, um, trips to Turkey because, well, uh, just because. In fact, 32 of 43 foreign trips made by Illinois elected officials between 2008 and 2013 were to Turkey, nearly all with the Niagara Foundation.

Interestingly, even those state officials who haven't been on these Turkish junkets all seem to be speaking at the Niagara Foundation's many events. Even journalists, even newspaper editors can be found giving addresses at the Niagara Foundation. I'm not sure what this is all about but reader, know this: Gulen is very entangled here in Chicago and in Illinois, and this entanglement is duplicated all over the country. Sun-Times reporter Dan Mihalopoulos has only begun looking into this. As Mike Klonsky wrote in a recent blog post, Mihalopoulos "pull[ed] up a rock and [found] a charter school rat's nest."

6. The Illinois State Charter School Commission was created in 2011 by Michael Madigan seemingly for the sole purpose of advancing Concept Schools in the state. When CPS said no thank you to two more Concept Schools this year based on the poor performance of Chicago Math and Science Academy, The ISCSC said yes, thank you, on behalf of the grateful citizens of Chicago.

Ah, well, enough about international intrigue. Here's something a little closer to home.

7. Charter schools in Chicago pay $1/year to lease their buildings from CPS. 

8. But sometimes charters pay rent (well--actually, your tax dollars do, through CPS) of nearly a million bucks a year to landlords who are well-connected friends of the mayor. Two new school proposals, in Chatham and in Bridgeport, will enrich old friends and supporters of Rahm, Rev. Charles Jenkins and Paul Levy. One of these schools is a Concept charter.

9. And finally, now that we're talking about areas of the city being served by charter schools.... Notice those two mentioned above? They're in south side neighborhoods that were devastated by school closings last year. School closings on account of the--what was it?--devastating population losses suffered in south side neighborhoods. We had to close their schools because they were--what was it?--half empty. Of the 20 new proposed charters, 8 are slated for south and west side neighborhoods. Most of us have probably forgotten, but we were promised by the mayor's closer, Barbara Byrd Bennett, that no closed schools would be replaced by charters. (She probably didn't mean to promise that. Anyway, she wasn't supposed to. It's not in the playbook.)

The myth of charters being placed in areas with overcrowded schools and not in areas of population loss is disproved by CPS's own actions. One more myth for the trash can: charters with long waiting lists. Right now in Chicago, charters are under-enrolled by 11,000 students.

So what we see before us, reader, as the Board of Ed undertakes this vote on Wednesday, is that charters in Chicago at the very least have not lived up to their promise, are replacing schools closed months ago despite CPS assurances, and aren't needed for the seats; they are mired in political wheeling, dealing, and back-scratching that directly benefits the mayor's friends; and they are being used by international interests about which we know very little, actually.

If you think these things are unacceptable, please call your alderman, the mayor's office at 312/744-3300, Board president David Vitale at 773/553-1600, and the CEO's office at 773/553-1500. It's probably too late to change their plans. 

But at least we can tell them. We're figuring it out. We're learning. We know.

If you want a better Chicago Public Schools system please like my Facebook page and join me there for more discussion. You can also follow me on twitter @foolforcps.

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