MEDIA WATCH: New York Times gets one-fourteenth of the story one-tenth right... Marshall High School turnaround story on February 12, 2010 is just more corporate school reform propaganda

The New York Times warned the USA on February 12, 2010 that it was going to continue publishing corporate propaganda as "news" when it ran in its news columns a lengthy piece from an outfit called the "Chicago News Cooperative" on the proposed turnaround of Chicago's Marshall High School.

Chicago Public Schools 'Chief Turnaround Officer' Donald Fraynd (above, during the February 1, 2010 hearing on the proposal to turnaround Marshall High School) was promoted to the turnaround job when it became clear that the local school council at Jones College Prep High School was preparing to non-renew his contract as principal of Jones. Fraynd was the main CPS official responsible for the purging of the entire staff at Fenger High School, which left the school in chaos when it opened in September 2009. A few weeks into the school year, the chaos continued to spill into the streets around Fenger, and on September 24, 2009, Fenger junior Derrion Albert was murdered on the main bus route that takes Fenger students who live a great distance from the school home each day. The international media outcry after the Derrion Albert murder resulted in a massive coverup of the incompetence of turnaround at Fenger. Nevertheless, on February 1, 2010, less than five months after the murder, Fraynd claimed that conditions at Fenger are "better than in previous years" while explaining why the same thing should now be done to Marshall High School. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Before taking a look at Martin Koldyke and some of the other millionaires behind the so-called "Chicago News Cooperative," let's put that journalistic effort in perspective.

Between January 28 and February 10, 2010, Chicago held hearings on the 2010 Hit List that will close, phase out, consolidate or "turnaround" 14 city schools. That Hit List comes after years of annual attacks on the city's public schools, and following the gruesome failure of the so-called "turnaround" of Chicago's Fenger High School last year. In the context, the massive effort at "turnaround" in Chicago is certainly news.

The massive effort is also news because since he announced it in June 2009 in Chicago, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has promised to make the closing of so-called "failing" public schools (and the usual privatization that has followed, at least in Chicago) the centerpiece of U.S. federal education policy.

So the 2010 Chicago Hit List story is not a local story, and it's certainly as important as the stories about financial misdeeds that the Times has finally been running in its Business section since the corporate policies and executives once cheered on by the Times undermined the world economy.

But first, here is what the Times reported on February 12, 2010 in full:

The February 12, 2010, New York Times article on the proposed "turnaround" of Chicago's Marshall High School ignored almost all of the controversy surrounding the 2010 Chicago Public Schools Hit List (including five proposed "turnarounds", one of which is Marshall High School) and the vast outpouring (more than 3,000 people at hearings between January 28, 2010 and February 10, 2010) to focus narrowly on Marshall's students' test scores as if those independent of all other factors proved that "turnaround" was a good idea. In addition to leaving out the context of both Marshall and "turnaround," the Times neglects to mention that one of the owners of the source of its "news" is multi-millionaire venture capitalist Martin Koldyke, who has been promoting "turnaround" in Chicago even after the failure of reconstitution has been documented across the nation over a period of more than ten years. Substance graphic from The New York Times Midwest Edition for February 12, 2010.

Marshall High School Moves Closer to a Sweeping Overhaul, February 12, 2010, CHICAGO NEWS COOPERATIVE, Article was published both on line at the New York Times Web site and in the pages of the Midwest Edition of The New York Times


On an April morning last year, more than 200 juniors took their seats at Marshall High School for the Prairie State Achievement Examination, a measure of whether their school had prepared them to meet basic state learning standards.

When the results came in for Marshall, only three students had met the standards for the math part of the test. Eighteen had passed the reading part. No students had exceeded state standards in reading or math.

The test results were but one indication of a high school in trouble. For years, many Marshall students have been ill prepared to enter college or the job market, and the school’s long history is also marked by frustration and failures that often have little to do with math or reading.

The dismal statistics have made Marshall a target for turnaround in the next school year, along with Phillips High School and three elementary schools. Turnaround is an intervention promoted by the Obama administration that involves firing a school’s current staff, committing resources in the form of building upgrades and new curriculums, and training new teachers.

The plan, if approved by the Chicago Board of Education, seeks to clean the slate for students, giving them a new school experience when they return in September.

The doors cannot open next school year without some change — on that much administrators, local residents, parents, students and teachers agree. No one defends a school in which only 4 percent of the students pass the state exam and only 41 percent graduate. Marshall has been on the district’s probation list for as long as some freshmen have been alive, and it is also plagued by poor attendance.

Those parties, though, disagree on the level of intervention needed. School officials say any plan must give students a fresh start, and they support the turnaround solution. A public hearing was held Feb. 1 to gather community reaction, which will be passed on to Ron Huberman, the public schools’ chief executive. Mr. Huberman will then recommend to the school board whether to begin a turnaround. A decision from the board could come as soon as the end of February.

But some parents and education advocates — scarred from previous false starts and harboring feelings that Marshall has long been denied adequate financing and staffing — bristle at the turnaround concept. They see it as “downtown” taking over a West Side school that, with its maroon-and-gold hallway of basketball trophies, still has strong neighborhood ties. Despite Marshall’s state, parents say they value the relationships students have established with some staff members — in some cases the only adults the teenagers trust.

“If Marshall had been getting the persistent help it should have been getting, Marshall would not be on probation,” said Felicia Smith, a parent.

On most days, staff members struggle to get students into classrooms. Daily attendance last year averaged 54 percent, according to data from the State Board of Education.

At a recent hearing on the proposed turnaround, Pamela Olguin, attendance coordinator, said absenteeism was rooted in larger challenges: Homeless students, female students with babies who are on waiting lists for day care, guardians with disconnected phone numbers or incorrect addresses, incarcerated students still on the school’s rolls and worries about gang violence.

The attendance rate is a good barometer of students’ mental state, said Barbara Radner, director of the Center for Urban Education at DePaul University. “Attendance tells you about despair and depression,” Ms. Radner said. “Kids are saying there’s no point in being there.”

Donald Fraynd, the public schools’ turnaround officer, said previous reform efforts had attacked only parts of the problem, like the curriculum. He said the district’s turnaround model offered a systemic approach for struggling high schools.

“We’ve made mistakes as a district, as every district has,” he said. “This is the full package.”

Mr. Fraynd said the district, which would oversee a Marshall turnaround, would try to deal with outside obstacles that keep students from the classroom.

“We can solve that by going to the home and having programs that figure out what it would take to get you back to school,” he said.

If Marshall is approved for turnaround, the district would signal the change to students by making building improvements. The school would get new textbooks, technology and supplies. In some cases, the curriculum would be replaced. Any student reading below a sixth-grade level would be placed in an intensive reading program. Community organizations would be invited to help with mentoring, counseling and other needs.

Current teachers could reapply for their jobs, a mechanism for removing ineffective teachers. At other turnarounds, 15 percent to 20 percent of staff members return, Mr. Fraynd said. All staff members would undergo training, including three weeks of instruction on a new discipline program designed to help students understand how they have misbehaved rather than being purely punitive.

Donald Baumgartner, a math teacher, said current staff members could improve the school themselves if given the resources the district was proposing.

“If they want to give mentors, tutors, counselors, give it to us,” Mr. Baumgartner said. “Don’t give us a second chance: Give us a fair chance. If we had all that stuff, we’d be different.”

Discipline problems take far too much time away from instruction, said Carol Williams, a teacher. “We have a group of students in serious need of intervention,” she said. “They need a lot of social and emotional support. They don’t get it, so they’re disruptive in the classroom.”

The district said it had given extra support to Marshall and provided oversight on budgets and leadership. In 1996 and 2006, principals were removed because of their inability to make improvements. During the 2007-8 and 2008-9 school years, the central office brought in an experienced administrator to serve as a coach to Juan Gardner, the principal.

Mr. Gardner was replaced this school year with Sean Clayton, whose absence at the board’s hearing on the turnaround proposal was noted a few times by a hearing officer. Mr. Clayton did not return calls requesting a comment.

The state has put Marshall on probation because of problems with its delivery of special-education services.

In Classroom 216, which was sweltering on an early February day, Jim Dorrell, a literature teacher and co-coach of the debate team, has tried to build expectations. College posters hang at the front of the room, and Mr. Dorrell works with students after school on debate skills for a team that ranks seventh in the city. Privately, students said they turned to him as they would to a relative, and worried about losing that connection next year.

With the school in its third year of a new curriculum provided through the public schools’ high school transformation plan, Mr. Dorrell and other teachers hoped those changes would lead to improvements in this year’s test scores. But changes could be coming and no one will have had a chance to notice, he said.

“We’re not seeing the results of this plan before a new one is starting,” Mr. Dorrell said.

Derrick Harris, president of the North Lawndale Local School Council Federation, said that he worried about the loss of institutional memory at Marshall and that the district would not involve the community in the turnaround. “There are people in that building who know the social land mines of the student population,” Mr. Harris said.

Sue Sporte, associate director for evaluation and data resources at the Consortium on Chicago School Research, said something must change, given Marshall’s alarming graduation rate.

“Each year you wait,” she said, “a different cohort of kids are being lost.” 

How many hearings did The New York Times cover?

There were fourteen hearings at Chicago Board of Education headquarters at 125 S. Clark St. beginning on January 28, 2010, and ending on February 10, 2010. Additionally, there were at least four scheduled hearings in the "community" on the original schedule distributed by Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman to the press on January 19, 2010, and more scheduled since. At least 18 hearings had been held as of February 12, 2010, when the Times reported on the "turnaround" story.

The New York Times reporter who wrote the story that appeared in the Times apparently missed all of the hearings, both at Clark St. and in the "community." Not only did the Times ignore the hearings, but the Times also ignored the fact that in every case, the data presented in ritual fashion by officials of the Chicago Public Schools were refuted, often within an hour, by people from the schools on the list. There was not one case during any of those 14 central office hearings where the record would reflect that the public and local school officials accepted the CPS administration's version of facts and events.

Additionally, at most of the hearings people from the local schools noted on the record that prior to this year, there had been a series of central actions which can only be described as "sabotage" of the local school. During every year prior to 2010, Marshall High School was systematically deprived of both resources and leadership while the school was also being deprived of students who would routinely score "above" the test score cut offs that lead the Time article. By the last three years of the first decade of the 21st Century, Marshall High School had been slowly sucked dry of almost all of the highest scoring students in the community by the ongoing proliferation of selective charter schools, on the one hand, and selective enrollment (usually magnet) schools on the other.

As the President of the Chicago Teachers Union pointed out during many of the hearings, all of which the union presented at, Marshall High School had become a "default" school. Marshall High School was the school that had to accept the most at risk students, face the most serious problems of urban violence (drug gangs), and the perils of poverty that beset a large number of the children and teenagers in the community around Marshall. That context is completely ignored by the Times in its drive to promote "turnaround" (or some other form of drastic action against Marshall High School).



February 17, 2010 at 10:04 PM

By: Karen Lewis


Marshall High School has been sabotaged from the very beginning when CPS sent "uber-principal" Keith Foley from Lane Tech, a selective enrollment high school with the most diverse student body in the city to Marshall. Foley's bonafides in neighborhood high school came during the forced integration of faculties in the 1970's when he did some time at Phillips, the other high school on the Board's chopping block. Foley told the faculty at Marshall that they need not bother with test scores, but that the students there needed character education.

Mr. Fraynd, head of the Office of Turnaround, whose only foray into on the ground experience was as the principal of the selective enrollment South Loop School, Jones came never taught a moment in a Chicago public school. So the idea that new school leaders don't need real experience is laughable and yet the students and staff of the schools they "mentor" are devastated.

Did the Board learn nothing from Fenger? High Schools are the last places turnarounds need to occur. How can high schools provide remediation for students who enter with serious deficits? Failed policies repeated are living, deadly proof of Einstein's theory of insanity. Making the same mistakes over and over while expecting different outcomes...

Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

1 + 3 =