Dear Chicago Tribune, I'm not sure Barbara Byrd Bennett is listening. Will you?

Then again, you’re part of the problem. A big part.

You’re so ridiculously anti-teacher and anti-CPS school, you sound like you’re on Rahm’s payroll. I know you don’t care about this, but you’ve lost many, many subscribers who are teachers. They can’t stand to read your misleading coverage of all things CPS.

Like this line from a Tribune editorial the other day. It was an editorial about UNO corruption and how devastating it is for the cause of charter schools, “the future of education in this city.”

This is a vulnerable time for charter schools. They face enormous political opposition from people who want to preserve the failed status quo in Chicago public schools. They face skepticism because private operators receive public money to educate children.  (editorial, 2/22/13, italics added)

Preserve a failed status quo? Who is it that wants to preserve a failed status quo? Who wants that?

Are you talking about parents? The parents who are sick of being lied to and manipulated by CPS leaders? The parents who know their schools aren’t underutilized, can’t figure out why there are class sizes of 41, and cannot understand why CPS is making bald-faced lies about the number of empty seats in CPS schools? The parents who wonder why their teachers are bound by CPS strictures as if with ropes to a curriculum that is informed by and culminates in standardized test after standardized test? Those parents?

Or maybe it is teachers? The teachers who use their own money to buy classroom supplies, who have classrooms packed to the rafters because of the CPS formula to determine how many teachers each school gets? The teachers who hear from CPS that it doesn’t matter that their schools don’t have adequate heating or that their students are homeless or that they have a high special needs population–if the test scores aren’t rising every year, you are terrible lazy teachers and your terrible school will be on probation? The teachers who work tirelessly to educate our children, and we know it, and who are the very best thing about CPS? Those teachers? Are they the ones who want to preserve the failed status quo?

Actually, maybe you’re talking about the CPS bosses themselves—they certainly preserve that status quo. They created the status quo in the first place.  They do seem to want to undercut in every way the public schools which it is their charge to manage—which they have in actual fact been managing for decades, with this failed status quo result that they constantly highlight. What kind of corporation does that?

What CEO would keep his job if he set up his own systems to fail, undermined and trash-talked his own products and services, and pinned his failures on the workers?

We do know there is failure here. We do know CPS is failing.

Not, maybe, for the reasons you think it is failing. We know it’s failing because we’ve seen 5 CPS CEOs in 5 years. We know it is failing because CPS has a $1 billion budget shortfall. We know it is failing because now CPS wants to close 20% of its own schools.

Chicago Public Schools administration is failing, has failed, has broken the trust of its schools, its teachers, its parents. It is not the teachers which are failing, it is not the schools which are failing–despite the endless chant blaming them that we hear from the Tribune. It is the bureaucratic, revolving-door, bloated, out-of-touch, mayor-controlled leadership of the Chicago Public Schools system.

That is what is failing.

We know it’s failing because in the face of highly charged, desperate community forums happening all over the city in which parents shout their anger at the one or two CPS midlevel managers who show up, the best that CPS spokesmen can come up with in response is that they “welcome parental input” and are “excited for passionate participation in this process.” Jesse Ruiz, Rahm-appointed VP of the Chicago Board of Ed, appeared on Chicago Tonight recently and he could not have seemed more totally out of touch with this process. He’s happy about the community forums because they are a way “to restore trust.” Has he bothered to attend one of these sessions? Does he know that these meetings have nothing whatsoever to do with trust, that in fact they are a massive display of deep communal distrust? For a remark like that he has to be on crack, that’s all there is to say.

I was at the forum that took place the same evening as Mr. Ruiz’s appearance on Chicago Tonight, February 19th.

Just like the prior forum, this Burnham Park Network gathering was in St. Anselm Catholic Church. Unlike last time, the church was packed, jammed, sardines-in-a-can standing room only.

Like some freakish offspring of Miss America, Survivor, and American Idol, the event showcased the top 24 contenders. The 24 schools who had made the cut now were allowed three people and a few more minutes to make their case.

The case, you know, not to have their schools shuttered.

Folks really stepped up to the plate. It was like watching 24 home runs out of the park, 24 right in a row.

Kids were bold at the microphone. Kids said powerful things, worried things, challenging things. How will I walk my little sister to school when I am in high school if they close her neighborhood grade school? How will you protect us as we walk or take the bus to our new school? What is your plan for our schools? I am wondering if now, in 2013, things are going backwards, or forwards?

Parents spoke. Parents brought data. One man had a letter, a few years old now, from Josh Edelman saying, your school will be protected from closings if you let us take away your 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. Now, of course, lacking 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, this school is “too small,” “underutilized.”  Parents spoke in graphic terms, invoking images of amputation, cutting, slaughtering, as in, this is what you are doing to our communities. Another: CPS has afflicted the communities of Woodlawn for years.

Pastors took the microphone and implored the midlevel managers to let justice prevail. Aldermen reminded them of their previously assured commitments to these neighborhoods. Teachers stepped forward to give a clear picture of who they were: I was educated at Stanford and I’m a Nationally Board Certified teacher; I chose to come here and to stay here. Or, I taught on the north side for twenty years before I came here; this school is better run and is a stronger community than any I worked at before.

One woman grabbed the microphone and shouted: Why do you keep pushing us around? What do you want from us? I am here to tell you, Enough! Enough! Enough!

It rings in my ears. Enough.

I can’t imagine what CPS wants. They bind their schools to preposterous rules and yet set up charter schools that are not bound by these rules. They chop schools into bits, offering false assurances for the future that are not honored. They close, “turnaround,” move, send and receive students and schools; they short schools the right amount of teachers; they short schools the necessary funds. Then they say the schools are terrible and rant and rave about charter schools being the “future of education in this city.” Honestly, in any business this would be grounds for firing the entire leadership of a company, every last executive, every last manager.

Jesse Ruiz says CPS is “rightsizing,” “all hands are on deck,” and they are doing it all “for the children.”

As far as I can tell, it is only “for the children” in the sense that Redflex cameras are “for the children.” Really, Chicago Tribune, I know you have it in you to honestly examine this situation, to begin broadcasting something closer to the truth than mayoral soundbites. Why don’t you?



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