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HISTORY REVIEW: Substance articles show that Duncan, Scott, and Daley were afraid to announce school closings while CTU was in contract negotiations

Although it is still impossible to get back issues of the Chicago Union Teacher — the union's official newspaper — on the website of the Chicago Teachers Union, some of the history of CTU activities during the early years of the 21st Century is available at the "old" Substance website (www.substancenews.com) and will be updated for substancenews.net. One of the most important things that a close look at the history shows is that the Chicago Board of Education and then "Chief Executive Officer" Arne Duncan were afraid to try more schools closings following the massive protests against the closings of Dodge, Terrell and Williams elementary schools, organized by the Chicago Teachers Union, in April and May 2002. At the time of the closings of the three schools, the Board used the term "renaissance" for the first time. But the official announcement of "Renaissance 2010" by Mayor Richard M. Daley was not made until much later — in June and early July 2004, following the defeat of Deborah Lynch in the hotly contested election of 2004. It is a fact of history that Mayor Daley waited until Marilyn Stewart had been elected CTU president before announcing "Renaissance 2010."

The following is one of the many stories published in Substance about the machinations that were leading up to the implementation of "Renaissance 2010" in Chicago — and how the union was blocking it until Deborah Lynch was no longer in power.

Full disclosure, during the years 2001 through 2004, I worked for the Chicago Teachers Union, first as a researcher and then as Director of School Security and Safety.

ACADEMIC ACCOUNTABILITY COUNCIL story from the March - April 2003 issue of Substance (back issues of Substance available at www.substancenews.com, the "old" Substance Web site).

General News | March-April 2003 Issue ‘Academic Accountability Council’ planning more lies to justify school closings?

Secret meetings decides schools’ fates

By George Schmidt

By the end of March 2003, officials of the Chicago Public Schools were denying that they would close schools this Spring as part of the “Renaissance” that resulted in the closing of three elementary schools (amid great protests) last April. Officers of the Chicago Teachers Union said that they had an agreement from CEO Arne Duncan not to repeat the attack on elementary schools that had disrupted the system a year earlier.

But while the promises have been made, the same factors are again in place to close schools this year that were in place one year ago.

On Thursday, February 27, 2003, the Chicago Board of Education violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act in an attempt to continue the work of a body called the ‘Academic Accountability Council’ without public input or public scrutiny of that body’s personnel or activities. Informed sources were saying that the reason was that in April, the Board wanted the Academic Accountability Council to present it with another report demonstrating that ‘failing’ Chicago schools should be closed.

I arrived at the offices of the headquarters building at 125 S. Clark St. at about 10:00 a.m. on February 27. The day before, I had received a tip from a reliable source that the ‘Academic Accountability Council’ was holding a meeting that morning. Substance usually receives notices of meetings of the Board of Education and its important committees by fax from the Board’s Office of Communications. No fax had arrived at our offices by the end of work on February 26 regarding the ‘Academic Accountability Council’, the day before the supposed meeting.

Before I left the Substance office at 8:00 a.m. on February 27 for a breakfast appointment, I checked the fax machine one last time. There was still no fax announcing the meeting of the Academic Accountability Council.

The Academic Accountability Council is established by Illinois statute. I had been trying to cover the meetings and activities of this Council because it has played a major (if generally behind-the-scenes) role in the controversial school closings associated with Chicago’s version of “accountability” during the last seven years.

A check of our fax records showed that this was not the first meeting the council had held this year which was not open to the public. According to the Agenda which was distributed at the meeting, there had been a meeting on January 16, 2003 as well.

For nearly a year, the Board of Education had refused to provide the records of the Council’s activities since it was established in 1995. But the Council has blazed a highly public trail through the recent years of Chicago “school reform.” It is the Academic Accountability Council which provided the legal pretext for the Board of Education to order the closing or radical reorganization of schools for supposed academic “failure.” Although the Council tries to meet in secret, its decisions are among the most important made at the school board. Along with a handful of academic analysts (most of whom are either on the Board’s payroll or serve as consultants to the Board at very high costs), the public basis for school closing, the most radical solution to the supposed ‘failure’ of public schools, comes from the Academic Accountability Council.

During the past four years, the Council’s work has caused enormous disruption in some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, as the Council declared that the failure of the schools in those neighborhoods was caused by the failure of the principals, teachers, and other staff who worked in those schools.

• June - July 2000: Intervention in five high schools. In June 2000, a report from the ‘Academic Accountability Council’ (which was never distributed to the public and which I was never given by the members of the Council whom I asked for it) formed part of the basis for the expensive failure (in excess of $2 million) called ‘Intervention’ in five Chicago high schools which were supposedly ‘failing.’ As a result of a report from the Academic Accountability Council and remarks to the Board of Education by the Council’s chairman at the time (Leon Jackson), the Board voted to place Bowen, Collins, DuSable, Orr, and South Shore high schools on “Intervention.”

Shortly after members of the Substance staff began inquiring into the composition of the Council and asking for an interview with its then-chairman, Leon Jackson (a south side businessman with no academic credentials), the composition of the Council was changed (including the resignation of Jackson). Nevertheless, the ‘Intervention’ program continued at great cost to the taxpayers and to the five schools. Today, three years later, those five schools are at roughly the same place by all measures as they were three years ago, when the Academic Accountability Council, at meetings which were never reported to the public, began discussing which schools should be subject to ‘Intervention.’

Requests at the time for information about the Council and its work under the Freedom of Information Act were processed in a timely manner by the Board’s Office of Communications, but the Council never responded to them.

• April - June 2001: The ‘Renaissance’ closing of Dodge, Terrell, and Williams elementary schools. In May 2001, the Board of Education held public hearings in May 2001 on the proposed closings of three elementary schools (Dodge, Terrell, and Williams) because of what was characterized as ‘poor academic performance.’ During the hearings, great weight was given to the alleged verdict of the ‘Academic Accountability Council’ regarding the three schools. According to remarks by Jorge Oclander (presently executive director of the Academic Accountability Council) the Academic Accountability Council had supposedly met and decided in February, March, or April 2001 to target the three schools for closing.

Mr. Oclander asserted during the public hearings on Dodge, Terrell and Williams elementary schools that the Council had evidence of the ‘failure’ of the three schools. The Council and Mr. Oclander refused to respond to a Freedom of Information request submitted by Substance on May 28, 2001 asking for information regarding the history, composition and work of the Council. This information would have included the proceedings (or minutes) of the meetings held prior to the April 2001 announcement of the school closings, which the Board of Education’s public relations people dubbed “The Renaissance.”

The information, had it been provided, would enable the public today to hold the Accountability Council accountable. But Oclander blocked any answer to the questions, then lied on February 26 when I asked him about the May 28 FOIA. On February 26, he stated that he had forwarded the information I requested to the Board’s Office of Communications. Officials in the Office of Communications immediately responded that Oclander had never forwarded the material to them in compliance with the law. The file is delinquent, as are many FOIA requests at the Board.

Had Oclander answered the questions, which all involve matters of public record, the information would provide the public with the qualifications, budget, and other information about the Council. The would include Oclander’s own academic credentials, which were not requested by hearing officer Frederick Bates during the three days of show trials against Dodge, Terrell and Williams schools last May. Bates allowed Oclander to testify in lurid detail as to why the Academic Accountability Council had found that Dodge, Terrell and Williams elementary schools were ‘failing.’ Oclander even claimed at each hearing that students in the three schools became “dumber” as they moved through school.

Oclander also told reporters at the time that the members of the Council, most of whom are the same today as they were one year ago, had reviewed all of the information and approved the recommendation to close the schools. None of the members of the Council has commented publicly on that question, but sources at the school board say that only Martin Koldyke, the main representative of corporate Chicago on the Council, and Tami Doig, a political appointee of Mayor Daley, actually approved of the closing plan. According to Board of Education sources, the other members of the Council avoided the issue altogether, since it is based on spurious academic “research” or none at all.

Sources at the Board of Education has told Substance and others that Board President Michael Scott and CEO Arne Duncan intend to announce another round of school closings in April. In order to do that, however, they have to get a recommendation from the Academic Accountability Council.

At the February 27 Council meeting, Oclander told the members of the Council that he had briefed the Board of Education at its Tuesday (February 25) meeting in executive session. He did not explain why such an important public policy was being discussed behind closed doors by the school board. At the February 27 Council meeting, Oclander commented that a number of Board members, including Board vice president Avis LaVelle, had remarked favorably on the work of the Council.

When the Board of Education came out of executive session at approximately 4:00 p.m. on February 25, LaVelle chaired the meeting, which lasted less than 15 minutes. There was no discussion of the Academic Accountability Council and no mention of the planned school closings that Oclander is preparing the Board members to implement. LaVelle moved the public agenda, which was approved without any discussion by unanimous votes of the Board. None of the Board members present at the time mentioned that there had been secret discussion of the major public policy they are planning to unveil in less than two months. This reporter and others from Substance covered the February 25 Board meeting, and this reporter covered the February 27 Academic Accountability Council.

February 27, 10:00 a.m.

Although neither of the two security guards on duty in the lobby security desk knew where the Academic Accountability Council meeting was being held. I signed in as usual as a member of the press in the press sign-in book, noting that no other press were covering the meeting. At the time, I thought that only Substance had been excluded from the public announcements of the meeting. I assumed that the major daily newspapers, at least, had received the usual fax announcing the meeting.

When I arrived at the Board offices on the sixth floor, I asked a member of the Board’s secretary’s staff whether they had been asked to make a public announcement of the Council meeting. She said “No.” The Secretary of the Board of Education is required by law to announce all meeting of the Board at least 48 hours prior to those meetings and always does so.

The announcements are also published on the Board’s Website. The Board’s Office of Communications, which handles public relations for the Board, usually sends out the summary agenda of the meeting by fax two days before the meeting. The summary agenda is usually between six and ten pages long. Members of the public who wish the complete agenda (usually an inch or more in thickness, and running to 100 pages or more) can pick them up at the Board offices two days before the meetings.

No preliminary agenda was on the Web or available at the receptionist’s desk at the Board offices. In fact, anyone looking for a public meeting that morning would have had to know precisely where to go, since even the security guards in the lobby were not told there was an important public meeting taking place on the sixth floor upstairs. Since meetings are taking place at various places in the building during any day, this is important to note.

After I specifically asked where the Academic Accountability Council was meeting, I went around through the offices of the Board of Education’s staff the large conference room at the rear of those offices. When I arrived at approximately 10 minutes after 10:00, the meeting had already begun and, if the agenda is accurate, they were already on the fifth item on the agenda: “Report by the Chair.”

The chair was occupied by Martin Koldyke, a millionaire buisnessman who had been responsible for bringing much of the so-called “School Reform” agenda of one faction of the “Business Community” to the public schools for the past decade. Koldyke had been serving as a member of the Council, and he was discussing how he did not want the minutes of the meetings to be too detailed because the press would misinterpret what was said...

At Substance deadline, we learned that our FOIA on the Academic Accountability Council had been answered in part. This report will continue next month.



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