Tuesday, January 27, 2009

CEO For CPS, Part I

It was a lovely morning in Streeterville today. Some might think otherwise, but the view from the 14th floor was tremendous. The lake was totally frozen over and the snow from last night left a fresh, unsullied blanket of white on the surface of the lake all the way to the Eastern horizon. It was not a bad day at all, 20 degrees at the Mini. Still no word on the wind chill factor.

I had a pretty successful day, teaching adolescents at the outpost in the Back of the Yards. For the record, kids always remember the names of famous Italian Renaissance artists because they have the same names as Ninja Turtles. At any rate, good days in education give pause for reflection. What I have been reflecting on today is the change in CEO (Chief Executive Officer) at CPS (Chicago Public Schools). You may have heard that the newly minted Secretary of Education in the Obama administration is a gentleman by the name of Arne Duncan. Mr. Duncan is the former CEO of CPS. He has been held up as a shining example of the right person to bring change to public schools in America, after his stint at CPS.

It is my considered opinion that the results are mixed at best. At any rate, he didn't really screw things up. He did create some amazing magnet schools that are the equal of anything in the nation, or probably the world. Of course, these are restricted enrollment schools that only accept students in the 90th percentile and above. Yes they have been incredibly successful and the neighborhood schools that have been left with the students who didn't get into restricted enrollment schools have been less successful. They are the students from the lowest economic echelons in the city. They include students who read on the 5th grade level while in 9th and 10th grade. As I said, mixed results.

What really concerns me is that Mr. Duncan, and the newly chosen CEO are both business manager types who have no background in education before they came to the Chicaog Public Schools. The new CEO, who has been chosen to replace Mr. Duncan is the former head of the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority). No experience or education in education. A business manager and government professional. I'm not so sure he did a stellar job at the CTA, and I am concerned about where the CPS will go under his guidance.

I understand that the schools are an expensive proposition and resources are limited. I will grant that it is possible that CPS needs financial guidance and it is possible that with departments that deal specifically with the business of education, curriculum, and such things could hum along magnificently. The problem is that with the head of the entire system being a business type, the bottom line becomes the finances and how to contain them.

Under Arne Duncan, an initiative called Renaissance 2010 came about. Some research shows that smaller schools where staff know all the students and take a personal interest in them create better results. The idea then was to break up some of these huge 2000 and 3000 student schools where 5% of the student population was meeting standards and create several small schools to replace them. Some of these schools were to be what is referred to as Performance Schools (Small CPS schools). Some were to be Charter Schools (Privately operated and partially financed by private funding and partially financed by public funding), and contract schools. By far, the largest number of the new small schools created have been charter schools.

There has been much press nationwide about charter schools and their innovative methods and results. The data, at this point, shows however that charter schools with a restrictive enrollment (Only students with a history of achievement and lack of discipline issues) show amazing results and charter schools that let any student in do not show results any better than ordinary public schools. So what is the benefit to the public schools?

The benefit to the public schools is the amount of cash that the public has to fund. Charter schools get part of their funding from private sources. OK, so far that's not so bad. How else do they save us money, though. The sticking point here is that, being charter schools they do not fall under rules requiring them to allow unions within their walls, and they do not have to pay according to established pay scales. They generally pay teachers less and expect longer hours. They also do not have to pay administrators according to the guidelines established by the Administrator's Association with the Chicago Public Schools. They too are paid less money. To top it off, they save money by not being required to offer the pension plan that CPS employees have.

As more schools are closed, for not meeting the standards set by CPS, and more Charter schools crop up, more education professionals, teachers and administrators, are being forced to look for work for lower pay, longer hours, and with no guarantee of a secure retirement after spending a lifetime in service to the community. This, my friends is union busting plain and simple and is designed to save the community money by keeping educators in the lower end of the economic spectrum. It has nothing to do with improving schools. This ends Part I of this diatribe. I will continue further tomorrow with some detail on what a public school system is for and why it is so important. Hope you have a wonderful day.

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