Letters from Derrick

I almost missed them, but there are two letters from Derrick Harris posted in the comments sections of earlier posts -one a rebuttal of my column in the Sun Times about school closings, the other about Ben Jarovsky's piece in the Reader about the Edna's video. 

Click below to see them both, and thanks to Derrick for his input.  FYI -- I've asked Derrick to send me a copy of the videotape so that I can put it online for everyone to see. 

Here's the first one:

NORTH LAWNDALE ACCOUNTABILITY COMMISSION
RESPONSE TO Alexander Russo RUSSO ARTICLE
LETTER TO THE EDITOR:

Chicago Sun-Times
Attention: Michelle Stevens

There is no right way to close a Chicago public school                  

This letter is being written in response to the article written by Alexander Russo Russo, The right way to close a Chicago public school, dated Sunday, March 5, 2006.

There is no right way to close a Chicago public school: if the goal is to improve the academic achievement of students who are presently attending the school, then closing schools is not the best approach. A cost-benefit analysis clearly yields this conclusionthe cost of closing schools (i.e., safety & security problems, mobility, stressful academic & social adjustments, et al.)  is not justified by the resultant benefit to the children who attend those schools. 

On the other hand, if the goal of closing schools is to improve educational options in redlined communities---while promoting gentrification, then perhaps one could rationalize: the end justifies the means.

Mr. Russo, like CPS, makes a fundamental error in his analysis by implicitly justifying the Chicago Board of Educations policy decision of closing schools; without providing any evidence that closing schools improves student academic achievement. Admittedly, he makes some interesting observations; but draws the wrong conclusion(s).

1.    He fails to note that Renaissance 2010 in general, and school closings in particular is a bad policy with multiple harmful effects on (black) children. There is nothing in the research to suggest that closings schools improves student achievement. In fact, the opposite is true: school closings have adverse effects on children academically and socially. There are volumes of research to support this conclusion.

2.    The analysis is further confounded because it is presented as if it is an objective analysis. In objective terms, the schools to be closed seem to be beyond repair. Clearly, that depends on who you ask: students, parents and community residents? teachers and administrators?  CTU and political forces? or members of the Chicago Board of Education and the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago? Further, the tone of the article is disturbing because it seems like a veiled endorsement of school closings, under the guise of objective reporting.

3.    Renaissance 2010 is a social experiment initiated by Mayor Richard M. Daley, and the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.  In fact. Renaissance 2010 is to education, what the Tuskegee Experiment was to healthcare, in the black community.

4.    Everyone is not convinced that closing schools is the way to improve student academic achievement, nor community schools. Perhaps that is the reason CPS is one of the few districts in the nation that regularly closes low-performing schools. More importantly, and generally speaking, low-performing schools are in poor, black, and disenfranchised communitiesand, high-performing schools are in rich, white, and privileged communities. This is why many people believe that Renaissance 2010 is about gentrificationnot education! Therein lies the answer to one of Russo questions: Why do some parents, teachers, and residents so strongly oppose (these) school closings? I would go one step further and sayRenaissance 2010 will be Mayor Daleys snowstorm in 2007!

5.    Renaissance 2010 also disturbs many people because it primarily targets black children, causing irreparable heart and mind damage; with a reckless disregard for the harm caused to these children. This is not only reprehensible, but also unacceptable.

6.    The process of school closings is fundamentally flawed, because it is not consistent with the four common-sense pillars of No Child Left Behindespecially, an emphasis on doing what works based on scientific research.

7.    From its inception, Renaissance 2010 has not been an open, transparent process; there was no meaningful parental involvement nor local community control of the process; nor was there any accountability to students, parents, and the community.

8.    It seems that CPS does not understand that difference between an excuse, and a reason. The justification for Renaissance 2010 in general, and school closings in particular has evolved from underutilization to low-performance. And as Mr. Russo noted, The board has already made a number of changes to reduce the drama and frustration: 1) it announces school closings earlier in the year, 2) has clarified the criteria for closing schools, and, 3) gives kids the option of transferring to much better schools outside their immediate neighborhood. But the process remains way more disruptive and contentious than it has to be.

I agree with Russos proposition of creating a school-closing commission like those set up by Congress to determine which military bases should be closed. The North Lawndale Accountability Commission was created to address community concerns in regards to school closings, among other issues.  We conclude: there is no right way to close a schoolif the goal is to improve student academic achievement.

Sincerely, 

Derrick B. Harris, Commissioner of Education
North Lawndale Accountability Commission

Here's the second one:

RESPONSE TO BEN JORAVSKY ARTICLE (THE READER 031006)

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

March 14, 2006

Ms. Alison True, Editor
CHICAGO READER
11 East Illinois
Chicago, IL  60611
(312) 828-0350
(3120 828-9926 (fax)

This letter is being written in response to the article by Ben Joravsky, The West Sides Funniest Home Videos, dated March 10, 2006. The story was well written, and provided a humorous spin to a very serious topic: school closings, and Mayor Daleys Renaissance 2010 initiative.  However, the same thing that will make you laugh, will make you cry.

The purpose of sharing the story with Ben was to expose the hypocrisy of school closings as a means to improve student academic achievement; and, to show how black elected officials, and other political operatives, are selling the black community out for gentrification, under the guise of improving education. There is no right way to close a Chicago public school. Renaissance 2010 is a bad policy with multiple harmful effects on black children; including safety & security problems, mobility, stressful academic & social adjustments, et al.

The treatment of story did not convey the shame, disappointment, and frustration of the black community with our elected officials, who have become racial racketeers. The concept of a racial racketeer is not an original idea, the phrase was coined in 1933 by Carter G. Woodson in The Mis-Education of the Negro. According to Woodson, This racial racketeer might be a politician, minister, a teacher, director of a community center or head of a social uplift agency. As long as he did certain things and expressed the popular opinion on questions he lacked nothing, and those who followed him found their way apparently better paid as the years went by. His leadership then, was recognized and the ultimate undoing of the Negroes in the community was assured. Such leadership, too, has continued into our day and goes from bad to worse. The very service which this racial today renders hardens him to the extent that he loses his soul. He becomes equal to any task the oppressor may impose upon him, and at the same time he becomes artful enough to press his case convincingly before the thoughtless multitude. What is right is sacrificed because everything that is right is not expedient; and what is expedient soon becomes unnecessary.

The manner in which the article was written diminished how crucial the story was in terms of social justice in the black community. Renaissance 2010 is a social experiment initiated by Mayor Richard M. Daley, and the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. In fact, Renaissance 2010 is to education, what the Tuskegee Experiment was to healthcare, in the black community. Renaissance 2010 also disturbs many people because it primarily targets black children, causing irreparable heart and mind damage. This is not only reprehensible, but also unacceptable.

From the beginning, Renaissance 2010 has been met with widespread community opposition: because not everyone is not convinced that closing schools is the way to improve student academic achievement, nor community schools. Perhaps that explains why the Chicago Board of Education is one of the few districts in the nation that regularly closes low-performing schools. More importantly, and generally speaking, low-performing schools are in poor, black and disenfranchised communitiesand, high-performing schools are in rich, white, and privileged communities.

There is nothing in the research to suggest that closing schools improves student achievement. In fact, the opposite is true: school closings have adverse effects on children academically and socially. There are volumes of research to support this conclusion. Further, the process of school closings is fundamentally flawed, because it is not consistent with the four common-sense pillars of no Child Left Behindespecially, an emphasis on doing what works based on scientific research. Renaissance 2010 also violates ESEA Title IV (Safe and Drug Free School Act) because it demonstrates a reckless disregard for the safety and security of black child, by placing them in an unnecessarily dangerous situation.

There is no right way to close a Chicago public school: if the goal is to improve the academic achievement of students who are presently attending the school, then closing schools is not the best approach. A cost-benefit analysis clearly yields this conclusionthe cost of closing schools (i.e., safety & security problems, mobility, stressful academic & social adjustments, et al.) is not justified by the resultant benefit to the children who attend those schools. On the other hand, is the goal of closing schools is to improve educational options in redlined communitieswhile promoting gentrification, then perhaps one could rationalize: the end justifies the means.

From its inception, Renaissance 2010 has not been an open and transparent process. There was not meaningful parental involvement, no local community control of the process, nor was there any accountability to students, parents, and the community. The North Lawndale Accountability Commission concludes: there is no right way to close a schoolif the goal is to improve student academic achievement. We also believe that Renaissance 2010 will be Mayor Daleys snowstorm: in 2007!

Derrick B. Harris
Commissioner of Education

NORTH LAWNDALE ACCOUNTABILITY COMMISSION

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