Neoliberalism: Chicago's Disposable Youth

Neoliberalism: Chicago's Disposable Youth




Imagine giving voice to those teachers, parents, principals, aldermen, state lawmakers and the larger public interest in their reports on school closures.  The audacity of well-respected former judges going beyond the narrow determination of whether CPS has complied with state law.

Now, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and CPS Officials have another public relations problem brewing in front of their continuing push to shut 53 city elementary schools.

According to a CPS issued statement, these judges "acted outside their authority" in criticizing what will become the largest restructuring of a major urban school district ever.

The Catalyst Chicago--which independently reports on urban education--reported CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll saying that "it was not up to the hearing officers to comment on the quality or feasibility of the plan."  In other words, just give us what we want.

The CPS board is set to vote on proposals to close 54 schools and co-locate another 11 at their May 22 meeting.

Even respected former judges scolding and criticizing CPS in their reports doesn't seem likely to deter Emanuel who has relied upon counsel from wealthy and influential advocates seeking an increased number of charter schools in the city.

The Mayor's position has been that school closures are necessary to address a $1 billion budget deficit and more wisely distribute resources by consolidating under-utilized and under-performing schools.  So, it's full steam ahead at city hall on $200 million in school renovation plans despite the fact that the school board has yet to even vote on and approve any closures.

The issues being raised about academics, the safety of 14,400 children and the lack of specificity in the CPS transition plan doesn't seem to be a matter of concern for this Mayor--at least this year.   But those issues might get weighed differently--at least in terms of lip service--as Mayoral elections near.

The mayor has maintained a battle with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and public school teachers since his election.  Emanuel even pushed state lawmakers to make it tougher for teachers to strike by requiring 75 percent of union members to support a walk out.  The mayor's confrontational approach galvanized the backing of 89.7 percent of the union resulting in a seven-day strike.

Critics justifiably wince at the promise that children will end up in high-achieving schools.  According to a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research most students displaced in previous closings over five years ended up at schools that were only marginally better academically.  Roughly 100 schools have already been closed since 2001.  Eighty-eight percent of the students affected in those closings were black, even though black students comprise just over 40% of the city's student body as a whole.

Unfortunately, the past often predicts the future and while the district has promised that none of the closed buildings will end up housing charter schools, CPS plans to open more charter schools in coming years.  The fact is that 40 percent of previously shuttered schools now house charter or contract schools.Chicago from Lake

Chicagoan's need to step back and grasp the larger picture here to see that public schools have been under attack for a decade, not because they're deemed ineffective, but because they are "public."   Said differently, the agenda here is to transform schools and the imperatives of the marketplace from a public investment to a private good--not the demands and values of a democratic society.

Intentionally underfunded public schools fail so that they can eventually be privatized and students, in turn, have been reduced to disposable customers in the marketplace rather than engaged critical learners.

Testing has become a ploy to de-skill teachers by reducing them to mere technicians.  The emphasis on standardized testing is little more than a corporate strategy to attack teacher unions and govern schools with top-down curricular mandates to impose modes of pedagogy that stress rote learning and memorization.

Chicagoan's have only to look to Barack Obama's secretary of education Arne Duncan-- the former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools--to see the embodiment of the punitive, anti-intellectual, corporatized test-driven model of schooling.

Duncan's neoliberal ideology is on full display in the various connections he established with Chicago's  ruling political and business elite.  Until his 2008 appointment, Duncan presided over the implementation and expansion of an agenda that militarized and corporatized the Chicago school system--third largest in the nation.

At the heart of Duncan's plan--Renaissance 2010 presented to the Commercial Club of Chicago--which laid the foundation for the current school closing battle is a privatization scheme for creating a "market' in public education by urging public schools to compete against each other for scarce resources and by introducing "choice" initiatives so that parents and students will think of themselves as private consumers for educational services.

Transparently, Duncan's plan was a scheme to bust the teachers union and dismantle democratically elected local school councils while facilitating gentrification and privatization of public housing projects.   Will Emanuel's campaign supporters make a fortune from these projects just as Obama and Blogojevich supporter, Tony Rezko?

Admittedly, "we're trying to blur the lines between the public and the private" Duncan told a 2010 Commercial Club symposium.

Tragically, Duncan's blueprint for education reform--a vision apparently shared and in the process of implementation by Rahm Emanuel and Barbara Byrd-Bennett --is the end of schooling as a public good and a continuation of a worn and discredited neoliberal model of reform.

Worse, despite the corporate rhetoric of accountability, efficiency and excellence there is, to date, no evidence that the radical reforms under Duncan's tenure as the "CEO" of Chicago Public Schools have created any significant improvement.

Chicago's students are not at risk because of the absence of market incentives in the schools.  Chicago's students are under siege by the absence of funding and equal opportunity.  Said differently, what would it mean for a viable educational policy to provide reasonable support services for all students and viable alternatives for the troubled ones?

Disappointingly, society increasingly refuses to invest in its disposable youth as part of a broader commitment to a fully realized democracy.  Not surprisingly, the role of the state as the guardian of public interest is being lost to the neoliberal agenda of Rahm Emanuel, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Arne Duncan and Barack Obama.


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