As 'market' models fail in public education, too, Aspira appears desperate for students... Aspira hucksters blanket community with phony promises

In the bizarre world of Mayor Richard Daley’s "Renaissance 2010" plan that is unleashing “market forces” that force schools to compete against each other for students, one charter school appears so desperate that they are offering "free" laptop computers and other goodies to poor and working class families as a lure to send their children to the controversial charter school.

By February 2006, when the above photographs was taken, Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer (at the time) Arne Duncan had already forced local political leaders to accept the fact that the new, $24 million, "Haugan Middle School" (above) was going to be given away by the public schools to house a charter school operated by the controversial but politically powerful Aspira organization. By the time the school opened its doors, there were already problems inside, and the problems grew as the months progressed. Despite the fact that the Aspira administration helped organize a mob of "parents" to criticize a teacher for alleged "racism" during the schools first year, teachers and parents continued to complain about the school's lack of discipline, failure to provide for special needs students, and administrative corruption. By the second year the school was in operation, parents and former parents were using a blog to discuss the school's failures and problems. By the school's third year, a major lawsuit had been filed. Nevertheless, in November 2009, CPS CEO Ron Huberman recommended that Aspira be given a lease renewal on the expensive building — at $1 per year!. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The Aspira Haugan Charter Middle School, located at 3729 W. Leland Ave. in Chicago's Albany Park community (the 39th Ward), has been flyering the north side of Chicago with promises of a free mini-Laptop, five free uniform polo shirts, and $100 worth of free school supplies, plus “Waived School Fees.”

“They are trying to steal my students,” said an elementary school principal on the northside who called Substance to complain, but asked to remain anonymous because top officials at CPS (including CEO Ron Huberman) are in support of both privatization through charter schools and the controversial Aspira schools.

Aspira is the controversial charter school organization that is currently facing a lawsuit for strip searching three female students. The group's charter schools have also been criticized for illegally changing grades and attendance data. The Office of New Schools, which implements the Renaissance 2010 plan, even agreed that Aspira was doing such an awful job of educating students that they demanded certain changes before recommending to renew their charter. At the November 23, 2009, Chicago Board of Education meeting, CPS renewed the lease on the Aspira Haugan Middle School building for $1 per year.

By Arne Duncan's fifth year as CEO of Chicago's public schools, the Chicago Board of Education's November meeting was an orgy of charter school marketing and adulation. On November 15, 2006, Mary Rawlins, above at microphone, told Duncan and the Board about all the wonderful things Aspira would be doing with the new $24 million building CPS had given to the politically powerful group for a charter middle school. But even as Rawlins spoke, the chaos in the school was proving too much for many parents, who began a blog to discuss their grievances. The parents, who were denied the right to form a local school council at Aspira Haugan, were generally ignored by Aspira's clout-heavy Chief Executive Officer Jose Rodriguez (above, second from left). Rodriguez could regularly contact Mayor Daley and Daley's staff to further Aspira's privatization work, but rarely had the time to meet with the parents of students in Aspira's charter schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The brand new building, which opened four years ago, cost between $19 million (official CPS figures at the time) and $24 million (sources at CPS and the Chicago Park District figures) to build. Although it was promised to relieve overcrowding at the nearby Haugan building (4540 N. Hamlin), the community was double crossed, according to several officials and community residents, when Arne Duncan ordered the building turned over to Aspira. Despite the ongoing controversies regarding Aspira and numerous complaints from parents, teachers, former parents, and former teachers, Aspira continues to receive support from the Chicago Board of Education, most recently with the Board Report, signed by Ron Huberman, to give Aspira the building for $1 per year.

There have been reports that other charter operators have promised jobs to those who could sign up enough new students, but have reneged on their promises.

Aspira — whose political connections run thick and deep through the Daley Machine — is no stranger to hitting the streets to sign up future students.

In the Albany Park neighborhood, this reporter has seen a team of business-suit-attired administrators canvassing door-to-door to enlist more students.

Aspira is not the only charter school to employe controversial tactics and outright deception to get its way. In the Little Village and Pilsen communities, UNO Charter Schools has been placing on residents’ doors a bright colorful flyer with promises of an excellent education. While UNO has claimed it is "relieving overcrowding," the fact is they were allowed to sign a one-year lease in the old De La Cruz school that was closed because of “under-enrollment.” Public schools in the communities targeted by UNO charge that UNO is selectively raiding the public schools, while at the same time discriminating against the most difficult students. UNO proponents routinely proclaim that the public schools are dangerous and that the UNO charter schools off a safe school, comparing themselves to Catholic schools. Left out is the fact that they either exclude or kick out students who prove to be disciplinary or academic problems.

In the top right-hand corner of the Aspira advertisement seen in some store front windows on North Pulaski Avenue, Team # 1 is marked, apparently representing a marketing team, much like a political precinct captain in charge of a certain area to get out the vote.

Surrounded by reporters, attorney Jim Fennerty (above, center) sits between the mothers of two Aspira Haugan charter middle school students who were strip searched illegally at the school in December 2007. On behalf of the families and the children, Fennerty filed a federal lawsuit against Aspira in January 2009. It took the school more than nine months to deal with the problem. Meanwhile, the Chicago Board of Education allowed Aspira to fire a teacher, Meg Sullivan, who blew the whistle on the strip search and other illegal activities (including grade changing and tampering with attendance records) at the August 2008 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. The strip search case is till pending. Substance photo by Daniel C. Schmidt.“Some employees were forced to work overtime to solicit new students and were not paid, but they won’t complain because they will get fired,” said a former Aspira teacher, who asked to remain anonymous. “Yes, they gave laptops and certificates — money vouchers. (But) the Haugan building never met the required amount of students.”

One employee in an alderman’s office on the southwest side, who attended Chicago public schools, said he would have been thrilled to have been offered a laptop. Other observers noted that the offer, which Aspira has been claiming it makes for years, usually has been only partially fulfilled, or came with strings.

Is Aspira true to its word? According to parent Linda Moran, who was so upset with the problems at Aspira’s Middle School that she started a blog a few years ago, Aspira gave cheap Dell desktop computers. Moran added that the computers came with a stipulation of a $100 "maintenance fee." Aspira handed out laptops to a small group of children in front of Mayor Daley when he came to the official opening of the Aspira Haugan Middle School, she added.

“I spoke to a parent I knew,” Moran said. “She was relieved that her son could stay away from Aspira for another year and also thinks that Haugan will be working towards getting a 7th and 8th grade soon too.”

It appears the majority of Hispanic residents targeted by Aspira are well aware of the Buyer Beware slogan – if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. The Aspira Haugan Middle School building is still underutilized.

In addition, the “free market forces” that are forcing regular public schools to close and charters to open, has taken an interesting turn in the Aspira situation. While Aspira appears desperate for more students to fill its 6th, 7th and 8th grades, the K-5 Haugan Elementary School just added a 6th grade to further compete for those elusive middle school students. The Haugan Middle School on the corner of Leland and Lawndale was built to relieve the overcrowding of the K-8 Haugan Elementary School. But rather than make the new Haugan Middle School a regular public school which the community desired, Aspira and its phalanx of political cohorts suddenly swooped in and claimed the building. According to one of Haugan’s elementary school teachers, their school added the 6th grade so that students could finish at Haugan elementary and then move on to the 7-8 Grade Thurgood Marshall Middle School, rather than have to transfer to Aspira for one year before moving on to Marshall.

But why would the Chicago Board of Education – which has been giving public school buildings away to connected charter operators like Aspira – in this case allow a public school to expand and compete with this controversial charter school that the Board has defended time and again despite growing concerns? According to a Chicago Teachers Union official, the mother of a Haugan elementary teacher was working out in the same gym as the mother of Pat Rocks, the head of the CPS law department. They agreed that Haugan Elementary should add another grade, and apparently CPS did too.

A number of public elementary schools in the city have added more upper grades to increase their attendance numbers and avoid CPS's ominous low enrollment list. By February 2006, when the above photograph was taken, the Chicago Board of Education, on orders from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, had turned the new $24 million Haugan Middle School building over to the controversial but politically powerful Aspira organization. As the names on the prominent "Renaissance 2010" signs that dot Chicago reminded people then — and need to remind people today — during his years (2001 - 2006; 2009) as President of the Chicago Board of Education, Michael Scott, was a loyal servant to his master, Richard M. Daley. Scott developed a reputation among the city's corporate leaders as "Mr. Privatization" both at the Chicago Park District and at the Chicago Board of Education as he worked to sabotage public schools and privatize as many public assets as possible. One of Scott's most scandalous decisions was to force the Albany Park community to accept the Aspira charter school (above) after the community had demanded relief to the overcrowding at nearby Haugan Elementary School. Similar betrayals of the community took place by Scott during the seven total years he was at the school board. Scott's method was to locate a handful of individuals to briefly represent the mayor's point of view, often arranging that one or two of them get city or schools jobs for a brief period of time while they appeared in the public spotlight in support of "Renaissance 2010." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Charter schools are also adding grades as well; however, even though there is a long list of charter schools underutilized as well, none have been closed. When a group of elementary school principals in the Pilsen area approached then Chicago Public School chief Arne Duncan a few years ago to complain about adding a charter school in their area when they were already losing students, many due to gentrification in which higher rents have forced out low-income students, Duncan allegedly told them he believes in competition.

However, according to Christopher Lubienski, a professor of education at the University of Illinois College of Education and the author of a study published on this issue in the American Journal of Education, a market-based approach to increasing school choice actually leads to fewer educational opportunities, particularly for disadvantaged students in urban areas.

“Market-based educational policies, despite being implemented to alleviate social injustices in education, are actually helping to exacerbate inequality and erect further barriers for poorer students,” Lubienski told the Psychology and Sociology journal. “Some schools consciously avoid riskier students because they see themselves as up-market, and therefore serve a more up-market clientele. That leaves riskier students marginalized and excluded from the better schools.”

In addition to laptops, the professor said schools are giving away iPods as well. He said he expects to see more school money go into advertising.

In the case of Aspira, it remains to be seen if they will fall to these so-called market forces and go the way of the other public schools that were closed due to under-enrollment.

“It’s easier to put out advertisements and make it appear as if your school is one thing, rather than change what’s actually happening in the school, which history has shown us is a very difficult thing to do,” Lubienski said. Officials at the very top of the Chicago Public Schools routinely help the city's charter schools.

One example of the kinds of deceptions to the public is the current CPS schools "Calendar and School Directory." Instead of making it clear that the Leland Avenue building is a charter school (and operated by Aspira), the official CPS calendar simply lists: "Haugan Middle, 3729 W. Leland Ave., Chicago, IL 60625." Most of the other city charter schools, including the UNO charter schools, indicate that they are charter schools operated by one of the charter operators. Chicago International Charter Schools, for example, lists all of its ten elementary and thee high school "campuses" under CICS.

During his more than seven years as "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools, Arne Duncan was a ruthless privatizer who turned as much public property over to unproven charter schools as any public school official in the USA. Two years before the November 2008 election of Barack Obama as President of the United States of America, Duncan laughed as a procession of charter school supporters took the microphone at the November 15, 2006, meeting of the Chicago Board of Education to announce their promised miracles if the Board approved their proposals. Duncan routinely rubber stamped all of them, then allowed his staff — especially in the "Office of New Schools" — to cover up when problems arose. Two years after the above photograph was taken at the November 15, 2006 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, President Obama appointed Duncan to be U.S. Secretary of Education. Now, under "Race to the Top", Duncan is trying to force public schools across the USA to replicate the charter school privatization experiment that failed in Chicago. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Similarly, the UNO and University of Chicago charter schools, both of which operate multiple campuses, also indicate that. Aspira's charter middle school, by contrast, is listed as if it were a regular public school, which they are not. Aspira's two charter high schools are listed as Aspira schools. The Mira Ramirez "campus" (at 1711 N. California) and the "Aspira Early College" "campus" (at 3986 W. Barry) at both listed under "Aspira." CPS gives no explanation for the apparent deception for the Aspira Haugan Middle School in its official directory. 

Final edited version of this article posted at November 28, 2009, 11:00 p.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms — or you can take out a subscription to Substance (see red button to the right) and make a donation. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.


July 23, 2010 at 1:29 AM

By: alejandra morales



September 14, 2010 at 5:02 PM

By: alexandria galbin

the school

I want 2 know if dat skool iz an all hispanic skool or a mixture of different pple so ya

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