MLK Weekend Open Discussion

Here's the place to talk about anything and everything -- stuff that got missed during the week, or has been ignored for too long, or is happening at your school but maybe nowhere else.  How the first week back went, that kind of stuff.  For a starter, here's Seth Lavin's recap of the week -- mostly items you've already seen but not all of them and some commentary you might agree or disagree with about Donoso and Bronzeville.


Hi everyone,

We’re finally back at full speed around here. It’s been a fascinating week with lots of really solid Chicago schools journalism.

Significantly, I think we’re starting to see a shift in the way mainstream Chicago press talks about Brizard and CPS. It’s subtle and I may end up wrong on this but I think reporters are moving away from accepting Rahm’ CPS as the organized/data-driven/efficient operation advertised. I see coverage including more doubt about the results expected of CPS’ reform plans and more skepticism of CPS’ ability to execute. I’m basing this on what’s being covered as well as really slight changes, like the Trib’s Noreen Ahmed-Ullah saying a school has been ‘subjected to turnaround’ rather than ‘turned around.’ Still I think it’s an important pivot to note. We’ll see what happens.


Last week I quoted James Warren, who said CPS’ Chief Education Officer Noemi Donoso is “going through clerical workers and chiefs of staff like tissue paper.” I asked you: “Anyone know what that refers to?

About 10 of you wrote back in the next 12 hours on this, which is a huge response by my usual standards. The sentiment was basically unanimous: Donoso is “impossible to work with.” Specifically you told me she’s already had 5 administrative assistants leave (some fired, some quitting) and that she’s on her 3rd chief of staff. Some folks from the community who’ve tried to schedule meetings with her or work with her staff say her office is “in chaos,” which makes it very challenging to accomplish anything that involves her.

This shocked me. I’ve praised Donoso here, particularly in her early days, for shifting ISAT performance focus from “meets expectations” to the more rigorous “exceeds expectations” among other things. But this stuff? This stuff is not good. This is the kind of CPS-leadership-as-shitshow stuff we found out about the Huberman administration when it was over (CPS in free fall, WBEZ, March 2010) after being subjected to months of stories on Huberman’s sharp, data-driven, business-style leadership. (Numbers Man, Chicago Magazine, August 2009). This situation gave me a lot to think about this week:

Does this impact the schools? Does this impact the community? Does this impact kids?

 The answer is yes. If community groups can’t meet with Donoso because she can’t keep a scheduler on staff then that directly impacts schools and kids. More broadly, anyone who’s read this regularly knows I think success or failure of school reform depends not on magic bullet reform (or dogmatic opposition to reform) but on sustained, dispassionate, competent execution of good ideas. Is it possible for this administration to lead that kind of change if its #2 leader jettisons staff every 6 weeks because of her unprofessionalism? Maybe—Steve Jobs got big stuff done despite being (seemingly) unprofessional and impossible to work with. But most people aren’t as good as Steve Jobs and I’m not betting Donoso’s one of those few. This raises every red flag I’ve got.

Who’s minding the shop?

 If this is Donoso’s deal.. why is she still here? Some of you aren’t going to like this but I think there’s a lot of competence at the top of the Emanuel administration. They have to know this is going on and they have to know this is a major problem. There haven’t really been any high-profile administration departures yet. One coming too early could crack the Rahm-as-technocrat image that’s served them well. My guess is they’ve concluded for the moment that having a dysfunctional CPS #2 is preferable to the embarrassment of your CPS #2 leaving so quickly. Admittedly this is conjecture. It’s also possible that these reports are overblown and Donoso’s problems aren’t as big as I’m making them out to be.

What’s going to happen?

 I predict she’s gone by the end of 2012. That’s not tipped to me. That’s not anyone else’s opinion that I know of. That’s just my prediction based on 10 emails, none of which addressed the question of whether she’ll eventually leave. Take it for what it is.

Does this belong here, Seth? Are you just being catty?

 I wrestled with this one a lot. Wonks is about wonkiness, not gossip. Is sharing the response I got to my Donoso question within the mission of this note? I think it is. My primary goal here is to make Chicago school reform better by bringing more truth, honesty and measured analysis into the conversation. The chaos of the #2 leader’s office fits in that mission, I believe.

I also don’t like “open secrets.” Open secrets are important things that insiders know and the public doesn’t. They shouldn’t exist. Donoso’s office problems are apparently an open secret. I think they matter and I think everyone should know about them.

I didn’t ask CPS about any of this. Maybe I should have so I will now. I hereby ask CPS: what’s the deal with staff turnover in Noemi Donoso’s office? Is it true that she’s had 5 administrative assistants and 3 chiefs of staff in the 8 months since the Emanuel inauguration? Is she difficult to work with? If so, is that a problem for CPS’ school reform plans?

I’ll include any formal response I get in next week’s note.


Bronzeville’s now the biggest front line in the conflict between CPS, parents and the teachers union over closings and turnarounds. The Trib’s Noreen Ahmed-Ullah has a great piece on the recent (pre-Rahm) history of Bronzeville school reform, noting that CPS has closed 15 Bronzeville schools in the past year and turned around a neighborhood high school. This year’s reorganization has 2 more Bronzeville schools closing and 2 new turnarounds.

As Ahmed-Ullah points out, this has all created a crazy situation by which some Bronzeville children are now experiencing the second school closing of their elementary school lives—as in their first school closed so they were sent to another, which also will close, so they’re now being sent to a third. Here’s Ahmed-Ullah’s story.

KOCO’s still unhappy. They’re the Bronzeville-area community org that’s been in the news for the past few weeks after sitting in at City Hall to get a meeting with the mayor. They didn’t get that but did get a meeting with the mayor’s staff. They’re still unsatisfied and Ahmed-Ullah reports they’re now shifting their activism away from Chicago officials and “looking for support among federal and state legislators.”

Bronzeville alderman Will Burns formally opposes the closings/turnarounds plan. Laurel to him for taking a stand one way or the other (so many aldermen don’t). Raspberry for starting his constituent letter with “A high quality system of public education is a necessary precondition for a democratic society.” Oy.

Disclosure: My wife’s taught in Bronzeville for the past few years, including at a traditional public school that closed and now a charter school.


Linda Lutton has the scoop on shenanigans at Guggenheim elementary, which is on the closure list. As Lutton reports it Guggenheim staff called and home-visited parents of “as many as a quarter of students” over winter break to encourage them to transfer out (or at least to provide transfer paperwork).

CPS acknowledges something went down. Lutton writes: “CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll says it was the parents who asked Guggenheim for transfer information, and the school provided it. She says the school’s goal was to get students into higher performing schools nearer to their homes.”

So what’s going on? The closure decision won’t be finalized for a few months. One theory is the principal wants some students to transfer out at break to avoid a “mass exodus” after the closure is finalized. That doesn’t really make sense to me. Maybe CPS is being truthful when they say they’re just trying to get students out of a really bad school—but then why not announce this plan rather than doing it on the sneak side? Frankly I have no idea what’s happening or why anyone would think this is a good idea. Hopefully Linda will figure it out. Full WBEZ piece:


School restarting this week meant the longer school day adopters switched to their new schedules for the first time. Lots of coverage:

Vevea hangs out at Melody elementary, where she finds teachers tired but upbeat.

Ahmed-Ullah covers CPS’ newly released guidelines for next year, when all schools will have to adopt the new 7.5 hour day. Click through for CPS’ minimum recommendations, including 120 minutes for literacy in elementary school and 60-80 minutes for math (which I think is good).

CPS also announced it’ll give out 30 grants of $100K to schools that create innovative plans for their extra 90 minutes next year. The $3M in funding comes from private sources. Applications from schools due Feb. 24. Should be really interesting to see what schools plan.


Urban Prep in Memphis? From Tim King’s (public) facebook profile:

“Taking off for Memphis (to explore possibilities for opening an Urban Prep there) and I look out the window and what do I see? Air Force One landing right there! Mr. President, stop delaying my flight!!!”

“I spent an awesome two days in Memphis with the Achievement School District and the Charter School Growth Fund to hear their pitch for why Tennessee needs Urban Prep. They made compelling arguments and it might just be time for Urban Prep Academies to go to the real SOUTH SIDE! Stay tuned.”

Monica Eng and Joel Hood dig into free/reduced price lunch fraud, which the IG report mentioned. They find >150 schools have suspicious enrollment in the federal program.

Ahmed-Ullah reminds us that the fast-approaching CTU/CPS negotiations for the next 4-year contract may become a mess. CTU’s formal demands come out Feb. 1

Catholic school enrollment in Chicago grew for the second year in a row—the first two-year gain since 1965.  Sun-Times says the 8% increase is 1,150 students, so that puts us at ~15K students total.

In Gapers Block Katie Osgood has a rallying cry calling on her fellow Chicago teachers to fight back against anti-teacher rhetoric. She uses a teacher’s suicide as her hook, arguing that the demands of the job and toxic public discourse make this a non-shocking occurrence. h/t Gordon.

Russo reports that CPS science teacher Aaron Reedy will speak at the national TED talk this year. Reedy’s on twitter and has a blog.

CPSObsessed writes up ChicagoQuest, the new game-based CICS charter school. She interviews a ChicagoQuest parent, asking questions like Does the school seem organized and like they know what they’re doing? and Are you glad you sent your child there? Resulting piece is much more thoughtful, informative and interesting than the palaver we’ve had from regular press, including this Rossi puff in the Sun-Times in September.

Stand for Children Illinois (Jonah Edelman, SB7) has started a Chicago-based campaign to promote school turnarounds. Catalyst’s Sarah Karp and Candeleria Rosales detail this and other elements of Stand’s Chicago plans.

Ben Meyerson of Chicago Journal has a play-by-play of the chaotic public meeting on Crane High School’s closure: (h/t Russo)

Rebecca Harris writes up the Crane meeting for Catalyst as well as the Dyett one. Includes claims from “both sides” that parent supporters were paid and bussed in.

Lutton has a cool story on CPS teachers using Japanese lesson study. It’s a professional development process where teachers observe each other en masse and provide detailed feedback and mutual coaching. Some Chicago friends are part of this and love it. It’s not too big here and there isn’t much money for it. Hopefully that changes.

Fox’s Robin Robinson has a sit-down interview with Brizard that got a lot of opposition folks excited. I don’t think it’s the hardest hitting thing in the world but she does ask more direct and challenging questions than you usually see people ask Brizard (turnarounds, failure to invest in neighborhood schools, Bronzeville closings). Brizard’s answers make him seem pretty salesman-y. Read or watch it here.

Karp reports on a state legislative task force that’s recommending a one-year moratorium on Chicago school closings and, significantly, accusing CPS leaders of “playing games.” The task force doesn’t really have any teeth but this is more public criticism of the Rahm administration than we usually see from Chicago electeds.

Here’s Teaching Channel video of Brizard talking about a teacher who changed his life.

No room for national edunews, except this! Jennifer Cohen finds that alternative certification programs (like TFA and AUSL) recruit and sign-up a higher percentage of male and minority teachers than do traditonal teacher prep programs (ed schools).


-Dan Weisman hosted the WBEZ Brizard show. Sarah Karp hosted the online chat. Should have made that clearer. (Thanks Gordon).

-CPS’ IG wrote that report on CPS misconduct. Not Chicago’s IG.

-The Chicago winter is not fake. Apologies for my hubris.


Every teacher back at school this week.

Everyone with blisters on their hands from shoveling.

Gene, for promoting thoughtful discussion

Nick, for undermining thoughtful discussion

Sarah, for the conversation, Spotted Cow and giving me (maybe) something to look forward to.

Mom, for maybe coming to Chicago next month. Come!

Gordon, for your excellent, interesting tweets and for making sure I gave Dan Weisman his deserved credit.

Dan Weisman, sorry! Thanks for the call-in show—it’s great!

Elisabeth, for reassuring me that I wasn’t creating a Moses ice cube

Celeste, for your highest college semester GPA ever.

And Carrie. There will be whole chapters on you someday in the Electronic Medical Recordbooks.

Thanks everyone. Happy Friday.


*****ABOUT THIS******


This is an experiment. My hope is to build a weekly tip sheet that keeps track of developments in the Chicago schools world. I'm not claiming to be especially qualified to do this; it's just that I've wanted it to exist for a long time and it keeps not existing. Guiding beliefs are 1) Chicago children deserve the world's best education and 2) currently they're not getting it. Other than that there's no orthodoxy. You're getting this because I thought you might want it. If you don't, write me and I'll unsubscribe. If you're reading this because someone sent it to you and you want it, write me your name and email address. If I'm getting something wrong (or right) or you want me to think about something, email me. []





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  • Interesting observations regarding Dr. Donoso by Mr. Levin. I agree that something is just not going well in that department, but my gut says it is more that Jennifer Cheatam, Chief Instructional Officer, is the one who is actually in charge. Like Mr. Levin, I have a feeling Donoso is not long for this district. By the way, does anyone know what the difference in duties are between the Chief Education Officer and the Chief Instructional Officer? Seems like high cost redundancy to me.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Cheatam and Fraynd are in the know-powerful and united. Donoso was a mistake hire and is really not needed--a waste of a salary really.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    But the setup serves "diversity."

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    I had heard a few months ago from someone in the administration that Donoso is impossible to work with and had been turning over staff like no one's business. They said that when you step onto the 5th floor you could often hear her screaming at someone. And despite what was said in Seth's post, many of us actively posted criticisms of Huberman on this blog that detailed his mismanagement and transgressions, so it shouldn't have been a surprise to find these things out after he left. Just because no one was listening doesn't mean we weren't shouting it from the rooftops (though admittedly we did it anonymously since we would have been summarily fired by Sarah Kremsner, who had her staff monitor the blog for such transgressions).

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Where are you now then? You had no problem posting the mismanagement under Huberman, but now you sit on the side lines when CPS is in worse shape?

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Well excuse me nasty person. I haven't been working at CPS in several months - it got to the point where I couldn't take it anymore and decided it was time to move on. If I still had decent knowledge of the internal goings-on, you could be certain I would be posting those here for your edification.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    There are a number of people in leadership who aren't long for the District. Some think that as many as four or five won't be around when school starts in the fall, Donoso being one of them.

    Lavin clearly doesn't know anything if he's saying that things under Huberman were 'better' than under Mazany or Brizard. Most who worked under Huberman all wish his team would come back, as at the very least, they weren't as dysfunctional and actually had an idea of where they wanted CPS to go.

  • I was just wondering the same thing. Chief Education Officer. Chief Instructional Officer. Sounds the same to me. Alexander, will you please publish their job descriptions so we can see what exactly the difference is?

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    cheatham is in charge of site-based racism
    Fraynd in charge of environmental racism
    Denoso in charge of racism and public school policy

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    I don't really follow education news that much, however
    it actually does appear like these three are charged with pushing somewhat racist and classist education policy - a blurring of de facto and de jure segregation - in one pocket we have these charter companies that seem to only open in black and/or hispanic neighborhoods…and they make it seem so legit… the Chicago News Cooperative writes, "The City Council pushed through a zoning change needed for a new U.N.O school in a Northwest Side neighborhood where the Hispanic population has grown markedly." sounds like segregation contracting to me……You don't see UNOs in North Lawndale, Lincoln Park or Sauganash.

    And it all seems pretty incestuous…ComEd donates to UNO, and UNO gives support for ComEd's electricity-rate hikes…Wal-Mart donates to UNO and UNO supports the "expansion of Wal-Mart stores in Chicago"

    Also, according to the News Cooperative, UNO is financially supported by Midwest Generation's Fisks coal burning childhood asthma and emphysema plant in Pilsen, that, according to the Tribune, does not have 'modern pollution controls required under the Clean Air Act." I would be more impressed with UNO if they were supported by the American Heart & Lung Association - I doubt that will happen any time soon…and it wouldn't surprise me if Phillip Morris had a few bucks in the UNO till.

    Interesting how Chicago has turned back the clock - in 1980 the consent decree agreement required the city to spend $100 mil a year on desegregation….between 2004 and 2006 the 'honorable' judge Charles P. Kocoras opened the floodgates for the city to spend $100 mil and plus ON segregation...

    In the other pocket we have people inside CPS central seemingly positioned to stigmatize or resource-deplete traditional public schools and thus guarantee and or/justify future turnarounds and charter contracts.

    Herzle Elementary school was making academic gains until Cheatham implemented her destroy-a-school formula and paved the way for the big AUSL contract…then she gets rewarded with a $175,000 deal…and then Jones College Prep from Donald Fraynd fame receives $96 million in capital construction and school improvement for cherry picked kids?


    Yet ANOTHER puff piece about this clown? I have lost all respect for the NYT.

  • Last Stand for Children First is back with a new television ad campaign pushing turnaround schools

  • In reply to Myron Miner:

    I love this satirical site! Best video: using Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" as background to the slideshow.

  • The trouble with Alex Russo. Interesting piece on our host.

  • In reply to viniciusdm:

    ...and the incendiary post that set off the (mistaken) outrage:

    Reform Opponents Are Winning Online (For Now)

  • In reply to viniciusdm:

    An excellent and in-depth critique of Russo, his writings, his corporate ties, and, ultimately, his beliefs about public education.

    Don't be fooled by the comment below about the "incendiary post that set off the (mistaken) outrage". The Schools Matter link goes WAY beyond that one inconsequential post.

  • In reply to viniciusdm:

    The article starts out by calling Russo a Beltway insider. He lives in Brooklyn? It's downhill from there.

  • fb_avatar

    Yes, and he calls Babe Ruth "an outstanding baseball player" and he's dead, so he must not have been a baseball player at all.

    If one can't still be an insider or expert if they don't live there (your point, not mine), why does he write about Chicago?

  • In reply to Xian Barrett:

    He writes about Chicago since he used to live here, although perhaps he should turn over the blog to a local.

    It would be fine to call him an insider, although I suspect that's a laugher for Russo himself. But a "Beltway insider" is someone who lives in the area by my definition.

  • In reply to WestLooper:

    I do not care where Russo lives-he provides a valuable service for CPS employees and parents. I learn more from the blog than CPS....their philosophy is to keep the employees in the dark...we do not matter. He appears objective and people do trust him to keep one's confidentiality. After all, we in Area 11/Midway Cluster, owe him big time, for breaking the story on Janie Ortega.

  • In reply to WestLooper:

    A Beltway insider is a Washington insider. Russo was a Hill staffer. The Beltway is a highway circling D.C.

  • What was most interesting in the Schools Matter post about Alexander was the reference to Karl Marx’s “German Ideology.” Marx in that long essay attempts to show how what appears to be arguments that are outside the mainstream are actually supportive of the primary ideology of a society. The article I think attempts to deconstruct Russo as a servant of the test prep privatization industrial complex.

    I guess we all serve a master to a degree in order to feed ourselves, unless we have very, very deep pockets. Here is an example of what I mean. Teachers often anonymously complain about administrative decisions that adversely limit services that students with disabilities should receive, but rarely if ever will the testify to that in a court of law when put on a witness stand by a parent’s attorney. What we get at best are equivocal answers, but more often we get coached testimony from school district lawyers. I don’t hold that against teachers, but parents who are in litigation over their child’s interests often do even though I tell them not to expect much from teachers who privately talk a good game.

    The same type of things apply to reporters who work for newspapers and have to often reflect their editors perspectives in what appears to be factual news articles. It happens even with me, for example the not for profit I work for receives funding from some corporate entities I avoid issues relating to those entities or work around them in anything I comment on for rather obvious reasons. Fortunately for the most part these evasions I believe do not force me to be dishonest, others might disagree with me on that however and that is their right.

    We live in a complex world and very few of us are ideologically pure. Education is a topic that evokes enormous passion, because our children are after all probably the most important things in the world to all of us. We are also in a time of great transformation, a time when the power elites of our nation are attempting to transform, yet again public education. As always that transformation reflects perspectives on costs and benefits to the US economic structure.

    It is more than obvious that part of that perspective is an attempt to lower the cost for public sector teachers and in theory also increase technical competence of high school graduates. Charter schools, vouchers, school closures, and many other things are part of that process. To see that does not require that there is a vast conspiracy inclusive of supposed subterranean agents like Russo, it just requires some knowledge of the history of public education and transformational change that has happened in the past.

    Rod Estvan

  • I'm not at all certain that Marx is the German the author was alluding to.

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