HISTORY LESSON: April 2002 Substance article shows how Duncan, Scott and Eason-Watkins scapegoated teachers, kids at dawn of 'Renaissance'

In case anybody reading Substance was planning to pay tribute to Barbara Eason-Watkins at the May 26, 2010, meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, we hope that the following story serves as a reminder of one of the most opportunistic careers in the history of American public education. For most of the 21st Century, Barbara Eason-Watkins was a necessary cog in the grinding wheel of Chicago's corporate "school reform" and the destruction of public schools. The following article "Duncan scapegoats city’s poorest children, most dedicated teachers" was originally published in April 2002 in the pages of the print edition of Substance, then posted on line in the Substance on line edition (old web site at the following month. We are reprinting this article in May 2010 to remind some of our readers that the repeated failure of corporate school reform plans was no barrier to the continuation of the teacher bashing that they include. In April 2002, however, the leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union vigorously opposed the scapegoating of teachers, organizing nearly 1,000 teachers to attend a Board of Education meeting at which the scapegoating of Terrell, Dodge and Williams elementary schools was on the agenda. The April 2002 Board meeting was the last time the Board met in public, retreating after that to the secured bunker at 125 S. Clark St.

"Duncan scapegoats city’s poorest children, most dedicated teachers"

By George N. Schmidt

Despite the overwhelming evidence that test scores don’t measure the performance of schools in the inner city, the Chicago Board of Education moved in April and early May 2002 to close three inner city elementary schools for “failure” and disperse their 1,400 students to nearby schools that are in general no better than the ones being closed. The school board launched a highly publicized propaganda campaign on behalf of what it calls its ‘Renaissance’ program at an April 10 press conference which was immediately hailed by some of Chicago’s wealthiest individuals and organizations. The program was also praised in an April 10 press release by the U.S. Education Dept. Teachers, parents and children at the Dodge, Terrell and Williams elementary schools learned of their alleged failure from the evening news.

Ignoring the failure of the 1996 “Redesign” of Chicago’s high schools (that undermined the city’s high schools), the 1997 “Reconstiutution” of seven high schools, the constant reinvention and redeployment of resources throughout the 1990s, and the 1999 “reengineering” of several high schools (which resulted in the failure of “Intervention” at five highs chools), the Chicago Board of Education returned in April 2002 to what teachers now refer to as the mystical land of “Re.” On April 10, 2002, Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan, Board President Michael Scott, and Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason Watkins hosted a major media event to announce, amidst great media fanfare (and praise from every consultant ever paid from the public schools’ payroll), that they were going to create a “Renaissance” at three inner city elementary schools located in the heart of one of America’s most segregated poor Black ghettos.

Once again blaming the victims and ignoring the facts, the school board of America’s third largest city proclaimed that it would save the schools by closing them, stigmatizing their teachers and children. No sooner had the announcement been made that the Board was praising itself for its courage and touting its new leaders, whose latest public distinction comes from bullying the poorest and most vulnerable children in America’s third largest city.

Chicago’s major newspapers and the U.S. Department of Education joined the chorus of praise for the latest round of public school miracles in the nation’s most segregated and murderous large city.

No sooner had the media events ended on April 10 than the media spin was deployed from Chicago to Washington, D.C.

But a close look at the last two times the Board of Education reorganized schools based on the same criteria shows that such programs are always bound to fail, even by the abnormal statistical measures used in Chicago.

Twice in the past Chicago has reorganized ‘failing’ schools amidst great media fanfare. Both times, school officials promised that their teacher bashing attacks would improve the schools.

Chicago’s media and those who provide reporters with routine sound bites then ignored the failures that followed.

At the May 6 hearing on Terrell school, hearing officer Fred Bates was demanding that those speaking in favor of Terrell school and against the “Renaissance” closing respond to the statements and analysis made earlier in the hearing by Chief Accountability Officer Phil Hansen. In doing so, Bates ignored the fact that Hansen’s evidence had been presented in Power Point overheads, which the board’s communications officials refused to provide to the press. There was no way anyone could analyze the complex assertions and data presented by Mr. Hansen, since those data were provided at the hearing in Power Point format and only available on the screens of the overhead monitors in the Board of Education chambers. None of the charts Mr. Hansen referred to was on the screen for more than one minute, and the information on those charts was not made available to the public on May 6.

Even before Bates began telling the teachers, parents, and community representatives from the Terrell School that they should respond to the claims made by CPS Chief Accountability Officer Phil Hansen, I had requested the information Mr. Hansen was providing to the hearing from both Joi Mecks and Eve Hyatt of the Board’s Communications Department. Both refused to give it to me, and both know that I regularly cover the news of the Chicago Board of Education for Substance, the newspaper which I edit.

It is impossible for anyone to critically analyze Mr. Hansen’s allegations if that information is floating in cyberspace — or limited to Power Point presentations which are quickly flashed on the board’s closed circuit television and then never to be seen again.

Ms. Mecks and Ms. Hyatt not only refused to provide that information in writing yesterday. Instead, they were providing the press and public with copies of the original press materials which were handed out on April 10, 2001, at the press conference which announced the “Renaissance.” These contain no information which came out at the May 6 hearings.

Phil Hansen, Jorge Oclander, and Creg Williams, seemed to be the main presenters of the Board’s case. There was no provision for the public to question these gentlemen in the present hearing structure. Bates chose not to ask questions of them even about the most ludicrous claims, a few examples of which are:

Bates permitted the “testimony” of Phil Hansen (Chief Accountability Officer) without allowing anyone to examine either Mr. Hansen’s qualifications or the credibility of his assertions. Mr. Hansen’s assertions about the data on the ITBS “Reading Comprehension” were meaningless, misleading, or simply wrong.

Virtually all credible academic research on test scores as they apply to entire school populations currently condemns the presentation that Mr. Hansen has made before you. Mr. Hansen’s assertions about ITBS trends ignored the math data completely. Mr. Hansen presented what information he chose to provide to the hearing in a manner is in violation of the warnings of the test publishers themselves (which was pointed out in the testimony of Ms. Lynch of the Chicago Teachers Union). Additionally, he compiled and discussed the data in a way which is in violation of the canons of ethics of the major professional associations which monitor the teaching and research professions. These associations and organizations include the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the American Psychological Association (APA), the National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME), and the professional associations representing content area teachers (NCTE, NCTM, etc). Like Mr. Oclander, Mr. Hansen presented your hearing with no professional credentials upon which he based his statements, analysis and conclusions. All he did in order to assert his qualifications was to inform you that he is, by virtue of appointment, presently head of the Office of Accountability of the Chicago Public Schools. This does not qualify him to comment on complex psychometric analysis, let alone draw such important public policy conclusions based on his supposed analysis.

Bates permitted the “testimony” of Jorge Oclander (identified as the executive director of the “Academic Accountability Council”) without allowing anyone to examine either Mr. Oclander’s qualifications or the credibility of his assertions. Mr. Oclander’s statements regarding Terrell school were inflammatory, biased, and based on no known method of utilizing educational test data in a coherent and professional manner.

Oclander’s statement implied that students at Terrell became more stupid as a result of their year in the school. This statement was both inflammatory and ridiculous, yet you allowed it to go unchallenged despite the fact that later in the hearings Bates challenged several of the speakers in most un-neutral manner. Oclander at least needs to be subjected to cross examination.

Oclander presented the hearing with no professional credentials upon which he based his statements. All he did in order to asset his qualifications was to assert that he was, by virtue of appointment, presently head of the Academic Accountability Council and that he had previously served in other capacities at the Board of Education.

Bates also permitted the “testimony” of Creg Williams (identified as the director of the Chicago Board of Education’s “School to Work” program) without allowing anyone to examine either Mr. Williams’s qualifications, the credibility of his assertions, or how he came to be a part of this process (since his main job seems to involve students at the end of high school).

Williams’s report on the supposed procedures to be followed with staff and students from the three schools was lacking in content and filled with overly broad generalizations. Most importantly, he presented the hearing with no way in which the Board of Education is planning to monitor the future acitivities of the more than 1,400 children whose lives are being disrupted by the school closings and whose future is supposedly being helped by this program.

Ironically, Bates is uniquely qualified to see that the ‘Renaissance’ is the third example of a failed policy of scapegoating the schools and teachers for the systemic failures of the city’s economic and political structures. Bates had served as hearing officer in 1997 and 2000 at similar events. In June 1997 and July 2000 Bates participated in the “Reconstitution” hearings (against Harper, etc. high schools) and the “Intervention” hearings (against Bowen, Collins, DuSable, Orr, and South Shore high schools).

The Failure of Reconstitution — 1997 -2001

The “Reconstitution” of the high schools in 1997 was the first of the highly publicized reorganizations of school staffs that was supposed to “turn around” what had been dubbed “failing” schools. By August 1997, 188 teachers had been removed from the schools and placed in the “reserves” while an additional 24 had been forced into early retirement or had chosen to resign.

On June 25, 1997, the Chicago Board of Education approved Board Report 97-0625-AR3. That report stated as follows: “The Attorney reports the following decision: Retention of the law firm of Albert, Bates, Whitehead & McGaugh; specifically, one of its principals, to serve as an independent hearing officer at hearings convened pursuant to the Chief Executive Officer’s recommendations for reconstitution of various schools.

“ Pursuant to Section 34-8.3 of the Illinois School Code, based on a determination that educational deficiencies continue at a school previously placed on probation, the CEO, after a hearing, may recommend to the Board of Trustees that the school be reconstituted. On June 11, 1997, the CEO announced his recommendation that seven high schools be resonstituted. Hearings for the seven schools have been scheduled for June 18 and 19. An attorney from the firm of Albert, Bates, Whitehead & MaGaugh has been selected by the Attorney to serve as an independent hearing officer for several of these proceedings. Fees for the firm’s services are estimated not to exceed $15,000…”

The hearings were held, some under Bates’s direction as hearing officer. All seven of those high schools (DuSable, Englewood, Harper, King, Orr, Phillips, and Robeson) were in fact reconstituted.

At each of those schools, faculty were removed. The following is a list of the total number of teachers who were forced out of those schools during the summer of 1999. Most became reserve teachers, although in each school a number retired. The total number of teachers lost to those schools that summer was 212, of whom 188 became what were known as “reserve” teachers, as follows:

• DuSable (23 teachers)

• Englewood (38 teachers)

• Harper (26 teachers)

• King (25 teachers)

• Orr (37 teachers) • Phillips (37 teachers)

• Robeson (26 teachers)

In addition to the teachers, most of the principals of those schools were forced out. They were either made to take retirement or transferred to other positions in the school system. The public was led believe, via the media campaign that accompanied “Reconstitution”, that this would improve those seven high schools.

It has been almost five years since “Reconstitution.” An entire “generation” of high school students has passed through DuSable, Englewood, Harper, King (not exactly, see below), Orr, Phillips, and Robeson since the summer of 1997. The results are in. If “Reconstitution” was to have worked, then those seven schools should have improved dramatically under the reorganization carried out that summer. In each school, the a large number of teachers were replaced and the principals were gone.

The only measurable result in each of those schools was that the student population decreased dramatically after the school was scapegoated: School 1996-1997 2001-2002

DuSable 1432 757

Englewood 1298 974

Harper 1543 1365

King** 797 96

Orr 1315 1243

Phillips 1185 717

Robeson 1332 1006

Totals 8902 6158

* Data taken from the “Racial Ethnic Survey: Students” as of September 30 of each school year.

** King High School has been turned into an “Academic Magnet High School” and now refuses admittance to students with “low” test scores.

Thus, the decrease in student membership at the seven high schools reconstituted in 1997 has been 31 percent. By contrast, the number of students in the city’s high schools during the same period decreased only by 2.4 percent (from 101,877 in 1996-1997 to 99,423 in 2001-2002).

Perhaps, however, there might be some other justification for the failed policy of “Reconstitution” that was implemented to the detriment of the students of these seven high schools five years ago. According to the official reasoning, test scores would improve at these schools. Did they? Not really. When adjusted for statistical margin of error (and the fact that the Board of Education has been using the same form of tests since the latest version of “School Reform” began in 1995), the scores are flat. School 1997 "Reading”* 2001 “Reading” *

DuSable 4.9 9.5

Englewood 6.1 14.9

Harper 4.8 10.5

King** 6.6 Not Reported

Orr 3.7 10.7

Phillips 8.3 15.0

Robeson 4.7 11.8

* “Reading” in this case means the score on the TAP (Tests of Achievement and Proficiency) Reading Comprehension test taken in May of each year. From 1990 through 1999, the combined score was rendered as “Grades 9 and 11 combined”. For 2000 and 2001, for reasons which the Office of Accountability has refused to explain to the public, the number was rendered as “grades 9 and 10”. In each instance above, the “reading” score is the Board of Education’s statistically absurd “percent at/above national norms” rendering of the data.

While it may have been true in 1997 that “Reconstitution” deserved a chance — since the situation at the supposedly “failing” schools was so supposedly “bad” — evidence from other parts of the country (specifically, San Francisco) was already available and showed that reconstitution did not improve schools. Nevertheless, in 1997 the Board of Education (then called the Board of Trustees) did reconstitution with a vengeance, both as a media event and as policy.

The final act of reconstitution came in January 1999, when the Board of Education defended itself against a lawsuit (Shegog et al v. Board) in federal court, challenging the termination of 137 tenured teachers. Most of those teachers (but not all) had been those placed in the “reserves” in the summer of 1997. They were rejected repeatedly by principals to whom they applied for subsequent jobs after their highly publicized “failure” at the seven reconstituted” high schools. A blacklist existed, and the teachers from DuSable, Englewood, Harper, King, Orr, Phillips, and Robeson were its primary victims.

The Board of Education won the Shegog case, both at the district court level and after an appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. But was it a dubious victory? Once it was clear that teachers and principals would be removed from “failing” schools based solely on standardized test scores, fewer and fewer teachers were willing to make the commitment to work in those general high schools where students scores were by definition “low.”

The Failure of Intervention — 1999 -2002

The “Reconstitution” of the high schools in 1997 was the first of the highly publicized reorganizations of school staffs that was supposed to “turn around” what had been dubbed “failing” schools.

A second and equally melodramatic one, also involving Bates’s services as hearing officer, took place in June, July and August 2000. In 1997, it was called “Reconstitution.” In 2000 it was called “Intervention.” Again the public was treated to highly publicized show trials. Again, teachers and principals were forced out of their positions (although no teacher was immediately removed from the classroom, as was the case in 1997).

One of the things he ignored most steadfastedly during his role in the hearings of 2000 was the fact that he was participating in déjà vu all over again. Two of the high schools (DuSable and Orr) being placed in “Intervention” in 2000 were those he had seen before him in 1997 as in need of “Reconstitution.” The record showed that he indicated no skepticism towards Mr. Hansen and his colleagues during their testimony against Bowen, Collins, DuSable, Orr, and South Shore high schools in the summer of 2000.

Bates’s remuneration for services as hearing officer improved, however. On three occasions during the year 2000, the Board of Education approved board reports to pay him for his hearing officer services. The total amount for the year 2000 was in excess of $25,000.

On July 13, 2000 Bates served as hearing officer in the intervention hearing regarding DuSable and South Shore high schools. On July 15, 2000, he served as hearing officer for Collins High School. After those hearings, which had many of the same flaws evidenced in the current hearings, Bates issued lengthy reports, accompanied by all the paraphernalia and legalisms necessary to impress the unwary. His report on DuSable was 33 pages long; on South Shore, 39 pages long; and on Collins, 36 pages long. For reasons not explained in the reports, he even had each notarized.

Like the current hearings (and like the 1997 reconstitution hearings) at the hearings Bates allowed Board of Education officials to make unsubstantiated allegations, to mix fact and opinion, to take detail out of context, and, most centrally, to violate the guidelines for the use of test data mentioned above.

The July 2000 Intervention hearings were the second time in three years that Bates presided over what teachers considered a “kangaroo court.” In that “court”, the defendant was unable to question accusers; the rules of evidence were constantly violated; data were used in ways that clearly violated all standards of statistical analysis (and the canons of ethics of professional associations); and at times even the rules of common decency were not in play (except, as the record shows, when Bates asserted the authority of the hearing officer to suppress any disagreement with your often arbitrary rulings). Bates insisted that the hearing be conducted in a manner respecting the “dignity” of a court, while conducting the hearings in a way that violated even the most rudimentary canons of fairness, let alone the actual doctrines of American or common law jurisprudence.

At its regular meeting of July 26, 2000, the Chicago Board of Education duly approved Board reports AR 10 (Orr), AR 11 (DuSable), AR 12 (Collins), AR 13 (South Shore), and AR 14 (Bowen) placing all five schools on “intervention.” The headlines continued, and the Board of Education’s communications officers deployed fact after fact to the media against the teachers and other staffs of the schools targeted for intervention.

There were a few differences between Intervention (2000) and Reconstitution (1997).

Faculty were not removed immediately, although there was great faculty attrition. At each of the five schools, those who could took retirement or found themselves other positions. Politics ruled. In one case at Bowen, in violation of a board policy that said teachers could not transfer from intervention schools, a teacher was transferred to the Office of Accountability under a career service number so the violation of the policy would be covered on a technicality.

The scapegoating of teachers lowered morale even before the school year began. Members of the central administrative staff berated and threatened the incumbent teachers. The assumption was that the alleged “failure” of each school was the fault of the principals and teachers.

Once the intervention “teams” arrived, morale got even lower. The teachers realized that the entire intervention process was an expansive, sometimes brutal, and often ridiculous media hype. At most of the schools, for example, the citywide intervention chief required that the schools display a banner declaring that they were going to raise their TAP reading and math scores to a level where more than 70 percent of their students scored “at or above national norms.” This was a statistical impossibility, but no bar to the silliness that intervention brought.

In addition to the teachers who were forced into early retirement, the principals of those schools were also forced out. Intervention principals, in at least two cases without high school experience, were placed in charge. Not only did morale plummet among the remaining staff, but in at least two of the schools, security became a major concern when staff authority was undermined as a result of the accusations promulgated by your findings and the board’s actions.

It has now been two years since “Intervention.” Half a “generation” of high school students has passed through Bowen, Collins, DuSable, Orr, and South Shore high schools since the summer of 2000, when you last presided over the Board of Education’s show trials.

The impact of Intervention of student membership is still being played out. At three of the schools (Bowen, Collins, and DuSable), the student membership is dropping. At two (Orr and South Shore), it is increasing.

School 1999-2000 Membership* 2001-2002 Membership*

Bowen 1070 1012

Collins 845 781

DuSable 960 757

Orr 1052 1243

South Shore 995 1232

* Data taken from the “Racial Ethnic Survey: Students” as of September 30 of each school year.

What is the impact of Intervention on student academic “achievement” (and I use italics here because academic achievement as measured by something as narrow as the TAP “reading comprehension” score deserves very close scrutiny)?

The schools gained nothing like the promised enormous gains that were hyped to the mass media by the school system’s intervention czarina during the fall of 2000. Instead, the scores remain “flat.” Looking at the data for the years when comparisons are slightly possible (May 1999 through May 2001), the following picture is painted: School 1999 TAP *“Reading” 2001 TAP *“Reading”

Bowen 20.4 10.4

Collins 27.6 4.9

DuSable 9.1 9.5

Orr 9.5 10.7

South Shore 17.5 14.5

* “Reading” in this case means the score on the TAP (Tests of Achievement and Proficiency) Reading Comprehension test taken in May of each year. The data are for “grades 9 and 10 combined” and are taken from the Board of Education’s May 21, 2001 report (Office of Accountability, Department of Research, Assessment and Quality Review).

Despite their later claims that more than Iowa test “reading” scores formed the basis of the decision to close Dodge, Terrell, and Williams elementary schools, Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan and school board president Micahel Scott offered nothing but reading score data — rendered in Chicago’s own perverted way — to the press at their April 10 press conference announcing the ‘Renaissance.’. At least 30 other schools qualified as ‘failures’ using some or all of the school board’s criteria, and no mention was made of the fact that board policy allows magnet and specialty schools to recruit students with above average test scores, leaving the community schools with those whose scores are less impressive. By taking the schools out of their geographical and historical contexts, Chicago school officials were able to spin a propaganda case against the supposedly ‘failing’ schools.

The ranking and sorting of students and schools that flow from the illegitimate use of the Iowa and TAP test data by the Board of Education’s accountability spokesmen does nothing to improve the schools because, as every scholar who has studied the question has said, the usefulness of these tests is destroyed when they are used for high-stakes, either against students or against entire schools.

The Chicago Board of Education’s ability to continue this illititimate numbers game in 2002 is more a function of the venality of Chicago’s daily newspapers than of the legitimacy of the school board’s claims. Even a cursory examination of the qualifications of the three men being trotted in front of the television cameras as the expert witnesses against Dodge, Terrell and Williams schools reveals the absurdity of the process. Phil Hanse, Jorge Oclander, and Creg Williams would fail the most basic examination on statistics, tests, and measurement. None of them can even define psychometrics, let alone utilize the complexity of the sciences that underly testing. Only in the media of Chicago are they cited as experts and allowed to prosecute teachers who are far better than they. Frederick Bates is the appropriate hearing officer for the show trials Chicago specializes in.


May 16, 2010 at 2:19 PM

By: Vinicius De Mello


If you go to , which I am surprised it is still up and running, it gives testament as to what was NOT done by Duncan and team. The instructional day as being too short was noted. The big failure was not trying to build professional capacity at each school system wide. CPS HAD THE RESEARCH, but chose to go with Ren 2010 instead of rolling up their sleeves and working with schools and their teacher to build strong professional communities in each school.

We either stand up and be counted or let the vendors and their politician friends win.

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