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CPS wants to close first Renaissance schools OR Chicago leads the way to ed reform gutter once again

Ohanian Comment: As usual, Chicago leads the way in the obscenity of school reform. The leaders know no shame. None. In 2008, Dodge Elementary was where the newly-elected President Obama announced that the innovative Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan was his choice for US Secretary of Education. Here's how The Guardian reported it:

"When faced with tough decisions, Arne doesn't blink. He's not beholden to any one ideology, and he doesn't hesitate for one minute to do what needs to be done ... he's shut down failing schools and replaced their entire staffs ... even when it was unpopular."

WBEZ reminds us that Obama also said this:

"This school right here, Dodge Renaissance Academy, is a perfect example. Since this school was revamped and reopened in 2003, the number of students meeting state standards has more than tripled."

Dodge is, indeed a perfect example--an example of the duplicity, dishonesty, and genuflecting to corporate goals of school reform.

Here's the transcript of Obama's introduction of the new education secretary--Biden's flattery, and Duncan's reply:

Transcript courtesy Federal News Service......


11:38 A.M. EST, TUESDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2008

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Over the past few weeks, Vice President- elect Biden and I have announced key members of our economic team. And they are working, as we speak, to craft a recovery program that will save and create millions of new jobs and grow our struggling economy. But we know that in the long run, the path to jobs and growth begins right here, in America's schools, in America's classrooms.

So today, we're pleased to announce the leader of our education team, whose work will be critical to these efforts, our nominee for secretary of Education and my friend, Arne Duncan.

In the next few years, the decisions we make, about how to educate our children, will shape our future for generations to come. They will determine not just whether our children have the chance to fulfill their God-given potential or whether or workers have the chance to build a better life for their families but whether we as a nation will remain, in the 21st century, the kind of global economic leader that we were in the 20th.

Because at a time when companies can plant jobs wherever there's an Internet connection, and two-thirds of all new jobs require a higher education or advanced training, if we want to outcompete the world tomorrow, then we're going to have to outeducate the world today.

Unfortunately when our high school dropout rate is one of the highest, in the industrialized world, when a third of all 4th graders can't do basic math, when more and more Americans are getting priced out of attending college, we're falling far short of that goal.

For years, we've talked our education problems to death in Washington. But we've failed to act, stuck in the same tired debates that have stymied our progress and left schools and parents to fend for themselves -- Democrat versus Republican, vouchers versus the status quo, more money versus more reform -- all along failing to acknowledge that both sides have good ideas and good intentions.

We can't continue like this. It's morally unacceptable for our children and economically untenable for America.

We need a new vision for the 21st century education system, one where we aren't just supporting existing schools but spurring innovation; where we're not just investing more money but demanding more reform; where parents take responsibility for their children's success; where we're recruiting, retaining and rewarding an army of new teachers; where we hold our schools, teachers and government accountable for results; and where we expect all our children not only to graduate high school, but to graduate from college and to get a good paying job.

These are precisely the goals to which Arne Duncan has devoted his life, from his days back in college, tutoring children here in Chicago, to his work at the helm of a non-profit remaking schools on the South Side to his time working for the Chicago Public Schools, where he became chief executive officer of this city's school system.

When it comes to school reform, Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners. For Arne, school reform isn't just a theory in a book; it's the cause of his life. And the results aren't just about test scores or statistics, but about whether our children are developing the skills they need to compete with any worker in the world for any job.

When faced with tough decisions, Arne doesn't blink. He's not beholden to any one ideology, and he doesn't hesitate for one minute to do what needs to be done. He's worked tirelessly to improve teacher quality, increasing the number of master teachers who've completed a rigorous national certification process from just 11 to just shy of 1,200, rewarding school leaders and teachers for gains in student achievement.

He's championed good charter schools, even when it was controversial. He's shut down failing schools and replaced their entire staffs, even when it was unpopular. This school right here, Dodge Renaissance Academy, is a perfect example. Since this school was revamped and reopened in 2003, the number of students meeting state standards has more than tripled.

In just seven years, Arne's boosted elementary test scores here in Chicago from 38 percent of students meeting the standards to 67 percent. The dropout rate has gone down every year he's been in charge. And on the ACT, the gains of Chicago students have been twice as big as those for students in the rest of the state.

So when Arne speaks to -- to educators across America, it won't be from up in some ivory tower, but from the lessons he's learned during his years changing our schools from the bottom up. I remember a conversation we had about one of those lessons a while back. We were talking about how he'd managed to increase the number of kids taking and passing AP courses in Chicago over the last few years. And he told me that in the end, the kids weren't any smarter than they were three years ago; our expectations for them were just higher.

Well, I think it's time that we raised expectations for our kids all across this country and built schools that meet and exceed those expectations.

As the husband and brother of educators, the vice president-elect and I know this won't be easy. We've seen how hard Jill and Maya work every day.

And we know it's going to take all of us, working together, because in the end, responsibility for our children's success doesn't start in Washington, it starts in our homes and our families.

No education policy can replace a parent who makes sure a child gets to school on time, or helps with homework and attends those parent-teacher conferences. No government program can turn off the TV or put away the video games and read to a child at night.

We all need to be part of the solution. We all have a stake in the future of our children.

I'll never forget my first visit to this very school several years ago, when one of the teachers here told me about what she called "These Kids Syndrome" -- our willingness to find a million excuses for why "these kids" can't learn, how "these kids" come from tough neighborhoods, or "these kids" have fallen too far behind. "When I hear that term, it drives me nuts," the teacher told me. "They're not `these' kids, they're our kids."

I can't think of a better way to sum up Arne's approach to education reform. With his leadership, I'm confident that together, we will bring our education system and our economy into the 21st century and give all our kids the chance to succeed.

I'm going to ask Joe to say something briefly, and then we'll have Arne come up.

PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Thank you, Mr. President-elect.

Congratulations, Arne.

My mom has an expression -- and you-all are tired of hearing me say this all through the last couple years -- that children tend to become that which you expect of them. Children tend to become that which you expect of them. These kids, Mr. President (sic), are the kite strings that lift our national ambitions aloft. These kids are, as you said, our kids.

And Arne Duncan, as the secretary of Education, is going to expect a great deal of our children and, I expect, Arne, maybe of our parents, as well. And that's a really very, very good thing because if our children are going to succeed, if our economy is going to thrive, we have to have an education system that's second to none in the world. That's the only way our children and our nation are going to be able to compete in today's global economy.

Any nation, as -- to paraphrase what the vice -- the president- elect just said -- any nation that outcompetes us -- out-educates us will out-compete us. It's that basic. And that means a stronger commitment to our high schools, our elementary schools, but also our community colleges, and it means college degrees must be within the reach of all -- all -- of our children, for nothing less is good enough.

But education is not just about competing, as any teacher within the walls of this school fully understands. It's about changing lives. As was referenced by the president-elect, his sister and my wife, who are educators, they understand that -- that they need also -- the very good teachers are inspirations to their children. Education systems are inspiration to children.

From -- from what I've learned from my wife, when you educate a child, you do a lot more than teach them math, grammar, historical facts. You shine a light. You open doors. You make it possible for dreams to come true. You give a child hope and then nothing is ever the same again for that child.

And that's what Arne Duncan has done, from the time he got out of school to this very moment. He's shined a light for an awful lot of these kids. He's raised standards. He's helped kids in school. He's expected more. He's changed lives. And I can't think of anything more important for America's next secretary of Education to do than what Arne has been doing all along. I think this is a truly great pick, and I look forward to working with Arne. And congratulations. (Applause.)

ARNE DUNCAN (nominee for secretary of Education): Thank you so much, Vice President-elect and President-elect Obama. I am deeply, deeply honored to be asked to serve in your administration. Like so many Americans, I was inspired by your campaign. I'm even more inspired by the team of people you are building to help bring much needed change to our country.

While many issues will demand your attention, I am convinced that no issue -- no issue is more pressing than education. Whether it's fighting poverty, strengthening our economy, or promoting opportunity, education is the common thread. It is the civil rights issue of our generation, and it is the one sure path to a more equal, fair and just society.

Education has been my life's work, starting on the South Side of Chicago, where I grew up, along with my sister and brother, as a part of my mother's inner-city after-school tutoring program.

Her remarkable courage and dedication has been a constant source of inspiration to me. It continued throughout high school, college and much of my professional life, including Australia, where I worked with underprivileged young people when I wasn't playing basketball.

I am grateful that you have recognized all the hard work our team here in Chicago has done, to turn around struggling schools and create new learning options and opportunities across this city.

I absolutely did not do this alone. And I am confident that the progress will continue. We are on a winning streak here and improving at twice the rate of the state, on elementary test scores, and at twice the rate of the state on the ACT test. Those trends must continue.

I am also eager to apply some of the lessons we have learned here in Chicago to help school districts all across our country. We have worked with a tremendous sense of urgency because we can't wait.

Our children have just one chance to get a quality education. And they need and deserve the absolute best. While there are no simple answers, I know from experience that when you focus on basics, like reading and math, and when you embrace innovative new approaches and when you create a professional climate, to attract great teachers, you can create great schools.

We are producing more National Board certified teachers than any other big-city school system in the country. And in this work, talent matters tremendously. We must continue to attract and support the best and brightest teachers, who are committed to making a difference in the lives of our children.

I just want to take a moment to thank a few people, who made it possible for me to be here today, starting with Mayor Daley. He had the confidence in my seven years ago, when he asked me to take my current job. And he has always supported me when we made tough decisions, like the one to close and reopen this school right here.

I want to thank our mutual friend John Rogers, who has been a mentor and friend to me since I was 10 years old. He gave my sister and I the opportunity to start a great school on the South Side of Chicago, and that has become a model for success in urban education.

I want to thank my children, Claire and Ryan, and my wife, Karen, for all the tremendous support she's provided me during this job. And I want to thank her in advance for what I expect will be an even more demanding job in the years ahead.

And finally, I want to thank all the people of Chicago who have helped make us a national model for reform, starting with my partner, Barbara Eason-Watkins and our board president, Rufus Williams.

I know how important teamwork is, and it takes a lot of teamwork to succeed in education. I am deeply, deeply grateful to be a part of the Obama team. And together, we have a chance to do something extraordinary for our nation's children. Thank you. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Okay. I just want to dispel one rumor before I take questions. I did not select Arne because he's one of the best basketball players I know. (Laughter.) Although I will say that I think we are putting together the best basketball-playing Cabinet -- (laughter) -- in American history. And I think that is -- that is worth noting.

For a complete history of the Dodge debacle--and tragedy for children--put 'Dodge Elementary' into a search at SubstanceNews.

NOTE: Take a look at the donors to Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). Teachers get terminated and kids get dumped from their neighborhood schools, but for AUSL, it's business as usual.

By Becky Vevea

Chicago has been opening and closing public schools every year for the past decade.

It's a controversial strategy that former Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan believed was an answer to improving public education.

But in the most recent round of proposed school closings, CPS is shutting down the very schools Duncan created.

Eleven years ago, on April 10, 2002, Duncan announced he would shut down three elementary schools--Williams, Dodge and Terrellâfor chronic low performance. The idea was to start over from scratch in order to create something better.

Five years later--it seemed to have worked.

In 2008, Dodge was where then president-elect Barack Obama announced Duncan as his pick for U.S. Secretary of Education.

"He's shut down failing schools and replaced their entire staffs, even when it was unpopular," Obama said at the time. "This school right here, Dodge Renaissance Academy, is a perfect example. Since this school was revamped and reopened in 2003, the number of students meeting state standards has more than tripled."

But fast forward another five years, Dodge is closing its doors.

In fact, all three of the schools that would eventually help to launch Duncan's signature Renaissance 2010 initiative are getting shaken up by the current CPS administration.

Williams Elementary and Middle School will close. (Drake Elementary will take over the building.) The Dodge building will close. (Dodge will technically continue to operate but will move 1.3 miles west to share a building with Morton Elementary.) The school that now operates in the old Terrell building, ACE Tech Charter School, was placed on an academic warning list in February, and district officials have warned if it doesn't improve they will close it down.

And for the first time, CPS is pulling the plug on a "turnaround" school, Bethune Elementary. Just four years ago, all Bethune staff was fired and the privately run, nonprofit Academy for Urban School Leadership took over--another example of the school reform strategy that says a clean slate can lead to better schools. AUSL also operates Dodge and Morton.

CPS spokeswoman Molly Poppe said no one was available to speak with WBEZ on the record about the proposals to close Williams and the Dodge building. She said CPS is "focusing on the challenges of todayâ and that the decisions this year are primarily about under-enrollment.

"No school is guaranteed to succeed and no school should have a perpetual license to operate if it's failing⦠and you can't pretend that a school is full if it's mostly empty," says Greg Richmond, who led the Office of New Schools at CPS under Duncan until 2005. Richmond now heads up the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and the Illinois State Charter School Commission.

All these changes raise a much bigger question. Does the idea that closing down bad schools and opening new ones actually work? Does it lead to better schools?

"I think we have to keep trying until we find some things that work and these are very difficult circumstances and even the most talented people or some of the most talented schools may not work for some reason," says Richmond. "Does that mean we were wrong to try it? I don't think it means we were wrong. It was a very promising program and we tried it. But it didn't work. Then you recognize it and then you move on. I would rather see that attitude than an attitude that keeps trying something that's failing year after year."

Richmond says there are all kinds of things--like buying new technology, changing curriculum and replacing leadership-- that districts keep trying over and over again in low performing schools even when they donât work. Comparatively, closures are still pretty rare and seen as a last resort, he says.

And Dodge is still seen as a success story by Richmond and others. CPS rates it with a "Level 2" performance rating (on a scale of three). But it didn't get enough students to "vote with their feet" and enroll, which is why the Dodge building is now being closed.

âThe spirit of Dodge will remain,â says Jarvis Sanford, the principal who re-opened Dodge Renaissance Academy in 2003. Sanford says he's come to terms with the school's teachers and program moving to another location. âWe have to be careful not to think of the school as the sheer brick and mortar. But to think of it as the students, the teachers and the vibrancy of what it holds.â

But parents from Dodge who spoke at the latest round of public hearings are still upset with what they see as their school closing. They say the district didn't even give kids a chance to get from kindergarten to eighth grade without closing it again.

âWe want Dodge to stay at Dodge, on Washington (Blvd),â one parent shouted.

âThis is a model for CPS!â said another. âIt should be a school that you look at and say, âMan, you know what? The idea that we had about taking this school, shutting it down, rebranding it, breathing new life into it, giving it a new model--we hit a sweet spot! We hit a gold mine! Two thumbs up!â And then now to say, âOh well, weâre not going to finish it through.â Weâre one year away from watching a full generation come through. To say, âAw, oh yeah, well forget it.ââ

Itâs unclear what will happen to the Dodge building. The school district has not put Dodge on the list of buildings it is decommissioning. And Dodge may find it hard to attract students in its new home too. In addition to being located in the same building with another school, Dodge will be right around the corner from a new LEARN charter school the district is opening.

Many families at Dodge, Williams and Bethune say the schools are much better places today than when they were initially closed or turned around. All three schools increased the number of students meeting state standards in the last decade, according to CPS data.

Lillian Allen lives about twenty blocks south of Williams, but heard about the school from a friend whose children went there.

âWhen I walked in that school it was like it screamed HOME for my kids,â Allen said. âIt was like the Bahamas commercial, come on in, welcome home, no problem man.â

She enrolled her two kids and then met Kim Ambrose and Alex Hall, who both attended Williams when they were little. As members of the Transition Advisory Council for the school, they helped reinvent and reopen Williams in 2003.

âWhen we first opened, I just want to list all of the programs we had,â Ambrose said, before rattling off a lengthy list of mentoring programs, classes for parents and extracurricular activities for students.

Like it has done for lots of new schools, CPS initially poured money and resources into Williams. But over time, parents say the programs and money started to fade away.

Richmond and others say on average, it costs a half million dollars upfront to start a new school. If you do the math, that means CPS has spent at least $50 million dollars, just in start-up costs.

Richmond says if a new school is an improvement, then that is money well spent. "Any new program costs money. So starting a new school costs money, but so does buying an iPad for everybody and so does expanding early childhood. Every new idea that comes out of CPS costs money."

For Lillian Allen, all those new ideas coming out of CPS make her feel like sheâs part of one big experiment.

"Sometimes I think that we are all pieces in the game that they're playing," Allen said. âAnd the game doesn't affect their lives. It affects our lives. It affects our childrenâs lives and the outcomes of their lives."

Becky Vevea is an education reporter at WBEZ. Follow her @WBEZeducation.

— Becky Vevea





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