Wednesday, April 16, 2014

John Laesch on Proposed Charter School Legislation

John Laesch on Proposed Charter School Legislation

Breaking (4/17/14):  This just in from Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice.
"Our efforts and those of State Senator Linda Chapa LaVia  have  helped to slow the reckless proliferation of charter schools in Illinois.  Your phone calls, emails, and witness slips helped enormously.

The bill to dissolve the charter commission  ( HB 3754 & SB 2627 ) not only made it out of committee, but it passed the full House.  And the  Charter School  Accountability  Act (HB 6005) passed safely out of committee and is still alive in both houses. ( Please note:  it has a new bill number (SB 588 )in the Senate.)  

Please call your State Representative and your State Senator today and ask them to support  both those bills. There may be some negotiation about each of them.  Be sure to tell your State Senator to stand firm for local control in charter school decisions.  Tell all your lawmakers that any entity that gets public funds must be accountable to the public.  Click on this  link  to find contact information for  these lawmakers."   


Note: Representative Linda Chapa LaVia and other legislators have drafted more than one bill seeking changes in the operations of charter schools and the Illinois Charter School Commission.  John Laesch, activist for Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, has outlined his own position below regarding these efforts.  John would urge all of us to take an active part by calling our legislators to validate these bills and others.

Mr. Laesch’s letter:

After the UNO Charter School scandal and most recently, pay-to-play schemes connected to Rahm Emanuel and two Concept charter schools, I am blown away that the Chicago Tribune is still editorializing in favor of publicly funded private charter schools that overpay their CEO’s and underperform academically. 
The charter school commission is far from “independent.”  In fact, the law that created the charter school commission stipulates that all nine members of the commission will be charter school advocates.  Secondly, the commission that has been around for less than two years is sucking 2.75% in fees out of charter school classrooms as a means of maintaining their staff, and they have found their way into an early conflict of interest (I’m being polite and not calling it a scandal yet).  
This “independent” commission has voted on three charter school appeals and approved two of those three.  It should come as no surprise that the two Concept schools that were approved by the commission were connected to one of the “independent” commissioners, Glen Barton.  Barton was one of the nine commissioners who voted to approve Concept’s appeal, and he is also the board president for the Peoria Concept Charter School.  Since this conflict of interest was discovered by a Chicago Sun Times investigative reporter, Glen Barton has since resigned from the commission – shocking, I know. 
And even if there was no conflict of interest/scandal, voters should still be asking Springfield lawmakers why there should be a super-power “independent” commission that can override the will of their elected school board.  Why do we need that?  When did it become OK to do away with democracy and simply appoint supreme, “independent” commissions over them?  The entire idea of the charter commission was created by the Illinois Commission Chairman, Greg Richmond, who states clearly in his point paper to ALEC that the purpose of the commission is to override the decisions of local school boards.  He calls elected school boards “road blocks.”  Imagine that: elected school board members protecting the taxpayers from school privatizers like Richmond, Andrew Broy and Ron Packard. 
Moving beyond the commission, I think it is important to talk about some of the regulatory reforms being discussed in Springfield that address some of the “secret sauce” issues surrounding these taxpayer funded, privately run charter schools.   
The data continues to show, and credible news agencies continue to report that charter schools are underperforming or performing at the same level as their neighborhood public school counterparts.  The only school that seems to perform any better is Noble Street, a privately run charter school that administers excessive fines and bullies kids who don’t seem to be cutting the mustard (that is, the underperforming students).  It is a selective retention process used by Noble Street to make a student’s life a living hell if he fails a test or two.  Eventually the kid is begging his parents to get him out of the charter, or Noble eventually expels the kid.  Either way, Noble keeps the kids who pass tests, and the rest end up back in the public school.  One important law being discussed in Springfield requires the receiving public school to document why the child left the private charter school.  Another proposed law requires the taxpayers’ money to “follow the child” when the child returns to the public school. 
While the Tribune and most of the charter school privatizers continue to advocate for “innovation,” they never really expand beyond that one word.  I have learned that charter school advocates are not talking about innovative teaching techniques.; rather, they are talking about innovative management strategies like selective retention or salary structures that allow the CEO of each charter to make $250,000 per year (common in Chicago) or $5 million per year like Ron Packard (K12 Inc.).  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do the math and figure out that this money is being siphoned from the classroom.  Rupert Murdoch recently described the education “emerging market” by saying, “when it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone.”  For this one line sentence alone, I strongly support another law being pushed in Springfield that seeks to curb the profiteering and CEO extortion by making sure that at least 80% of the taxpayers’ money is spent in the classroom.
Furthermore, research of Illinois charter schools shows that charters are excluding children with disabilities (IEP’s) and English language learners (ELL).  This is another form of selective retention or “innovation” that is designed to reduce charter business costs and academic challenges like language barriers.  Another proposed law in Springfield aims to correct this inequality by requiring charter schools to accept equal numbers of IEP and ELL students.
And yes, to go back to the issue of democracy, another very important bill seeks to get rid of the super-power charter commission that exists to override elected school boards, invites scandal, and answers to nobody.  
Finally, let me make my final point with a question. Why are Springfield lawmakers and editorial papers like the Chicago Tribune not advocating for an elected school board in Chicago?  Quit trying to stick the rest of the state with this undemocratic garbage that doesn’t seem to be working very well in your own city.

John Laesch
Aurora, Illinois

Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice



Saturday, April 12, 2014

Charter Schools Pull Back on Fines as Cosmetic Reaction to Press

Regardless,  Rahm and Duncan have promoted Noble...
Today, April 12, 2014, CEO Michael Milkie of Noble Street Charter Schools decided he would grace his students with a rescinding of the $5.00 fee for each infraction requiring detention.  While that appears a moment of humanistic largesse, it is more likely that the heat of exposure, General Assembly concerns, and bad press has caused Mr. Milkie to adopt this costume of kindness and caring.

Below, you will find a piece written nearly three years ago warning our readers in the “blogosphere” what was really going on in Charter-World, especially when it comes to pulling in profits for a CEO like Milkie.

"If you don’t like it – you can leave.”  - (a description of CEO Milkie’s and Mayor Emanuel’s response to questions regarding discipline policies at Noble Street Network School) – Jasmine Sarmiento, Voices of Youth in Chicago Education.

“Noble is forcing low-income parents to choose between paying the rent and keeping their child in school. This is a tax on Chicago’s Black and Latino families, and it’s wrong..”  -  Donna Moore, parent of a student in Noble Network Schools.


…because they were out of money to pay the fines...
Charter School Discipline (…or...How to take out the trash, and look real good)

Back in the day, I mean way back in the day, students actually got to determine their own form of discipline – a long piece of green hickory branch usually cut by the very student about to be switched.  This was considered a vast improvement in exchange for the cane used during the 17th and 18th centuries.  Ah, progress. 

After the mid-nineteenth century, continued disciplinary progress for public students included the paddle, in my own case, hung in plain sight above the principal’s office desk as a reminder of his overt ability to dispense justice in the form of extreme pain.  But I was just one of many south side kids being “taught” and civilized in a continuing grand experiment on a national level.

Before all of us, even unto the mid 1850’s, education in America was provided primarily to the wealthy, and the overriding sentiment was that the poor were both uneducable and unworthy any attempts at education.  It wasn’t until 1852 that Horace Mann, then Secretary of State for Massachusetts, urged all states to provide education to all students, creating what he hoped would be the great equalizer and the ultimate disappearance of poverty.    

5 lashes or $5?
Later, the efforts of modernists like Phillipp Emanuel von Fellenberg and Francis Parker (1850’s) promoted concepts that remain current: “modern behavioral modification methods should attempt to address the underlying reasons or motivations for student misbehavior and tailor consequences to fit the (particular) transgression.  School administrators should seek to encourage a positive association with school along with socially acceptable behavior” (www.pbs.org/kcet/publicschool/evolving_classroom/discipline.html). In essence, these movements suggested that learning was best accomplished with support, encouragement and kindness.  This was quite the opposite of discipline for being incorrect in answer or deportment.  Remember that word, deportment.

In the early 1900’s, as schooling became mandatory for all American youngsters, teachers found themselves stepping further and further into the roles of parents (in loco parentis), and “one value attached to this development asserted that while adults should be punished for their crimes, children should be rehabilitated for theirs, thus formalizing a beginning to the separation between juvenile misconduct and suffering as its remedy” (www.public.findlaw.com/education/school_discipline_history.html) .  I’m often sorry my own principal had not harkened to these findings…but I digress. 

Augmenting these modifications of the kinds of discipline painfully dished out in the working houses and boarding schools of the past, the 20th century educator awakened to the concept that education was more than simply transfer; instead, with the assistance of forward thinkers like Rosenblatt, Berne, Spock, etc., psycho-social arguments promoted the student’s own involvement in a transactional paradigm of learning.   In short, teachers and educators moved way from the traditional belief that students learn best by rote and by sitting demurely in linear rows at rigid attention; quite the opposite, best practice now held to a more personalized and interactive learning/teaching construct.

Introducing NOBLE STREET.

The Noble Network of Charter Schools, which runs 10 city high schools and yearns for more after recent school closings, has found an entirely new, novel method of exacting discipline for student “misbehavior.”  This is the same network of schools that Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised for having the “secret sauce” for improving students’ scores, behavior, and success rates.  It would appear that the secret sauce of which the Mayor and Superintendent Brizard crow is in great part actually a monetary disciplinary fee that has raised nearly $400,000 this year for Noble Street, left parents foundering to scrape together fines that are imposed upon them for their own student’s deportment, and has caused the flight of nearly 13% of students from the Noble Street charter schools back into the public system from whence they came – seeking opportunity and assistance to improve their own lots in life and finding failure for disciplinarily high expectations – monetarily?

Milkie gives them a true sense of worth...
In fact, according to the Chicago Tribune (Ahmed-Ullah, Noreen.  Protests targets charter discipline fees. Chicago Tribune.  14 Feb. 2012), the loss of students from the Noble Network schools to other public districts has increased from 211 students in 2010 to 473 students in 2011.  At the same time, CEO Michael Milkie will point glowingly at the Noble Networks improved graduation rates, not surprisingly – from 78.8% in 2010 to 86.2% in 2011.  And CEO Mr. Milkie, who earns an annual salary over $200,000, should be proud of his enterprise’s increased revenue stream.  Noble Street has received almost $400,000 in disciplinary fees since the 2008-2009 school year (Ahmed-Ullah).  George M. Schmidt of Substance News reports “the charter company is profiting to the tune of some $200,000 per year from a disciplinary code that can only be called predatory” (www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=3055).  

Following the kind of schema found in the factory/transference models of business and schools of the early 1900’s, Noble Street has implemented the “SMART” disciplinary code.  Here is what SMART’s acronym entails:

S = Sit up straight and be ready to learn.
M= Make eye contact when addressed.
A= Articulate in standard English and speak in proper volume.
R= Respond appropriately.
T= Track the speaker.


Each of these misdemeanors comes with a fine of $5 or more.  In fact, infractions include an unbelievably long list of potential infractions not necessarily spelled out – chewing gum, carrying “chips,” forgetting your belt, tardiness, carrying a marking pen, having an energy drink, making a noise with a pen, etc.  Each infraction (and others) will cost a student $5.00 or more (Rossi, Rosalind.  School’s discipline: you act up you pay up. Chicago Sun Times.  14 Feb. 2012). 

By the way, if a student is having a bad day – or time of it – 12 detentions/infractions or more will result in a $140 fine (they call it a fee) to attend an obligatory class on “behavior.”  Additional detentions will result in an additional discipline class for an additional $140.  Any student (more likely their family) who cannot pay will be held back from moving on to the next class – regardless of his or her grades.  Please keep in mind that even though Noble Street schools are funded by wealthy benefactors like Penny Pritzker, nearly 90% of the families are low-income (Schmidt, George), and cannot afford the mounting fees for students who are having difficulty adapting to the “SMART” model. 

Unlike the public system, Noble is allowed tougher disciplinary policies than the CPU because it is a charter – remember our earlier changing characterizations of public vs. private when it came to our model Chicago Math and Science Academy (see Vocabulary – Feb 19 & 26).  Meanwhile, CEO Mr. Milkie affirms that SMART and the other “disciplinary policies at NOBLE promote basic, common sense citizenship things, which you know teenagers need” (Golab, Art.  www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=3055)


On the national level, school chief Arne Duncan also touts Milkie’s Noble Street agenda and, along with Pritzkers and other wealthy benefactors, endorses the programs used there:  “’ We’re dramatically changing the opportunity structure,’ Duncan told Chicago a few weeks before leaving his CPS post to become the U.S. secretary of education. ‘We have tried to make this [city] a mecca for people who want to make change in public education ‘” (Rodkin, Dennis. Charting a new course. Chicago Magazine.com.  29 Feb. 2012).