Testimony by Julie Woestehoff of PURE on December 16, 2010 to the Illinois House School Reform Committee

After being excluded from the section of the agenda supposedly for groups promoting "school reform," PURE and others were forced to testify before the Illinois House Committee on School Reform under 'Miscellaneous.' Below are the prepared remarks that were given to the committee by Julie Woestehoff. When asked by Substance why he had excluded Julie Woestehoff and PURE from the "reform" part of the agenda, committee co-chair Roger Eddy said that he had never heard of PURE. During the testimony he didn't ask PURE to describe its credentials, and members of the committee were visibly hostile to the criticisms of the committee's work offered in the name of PURE.

Julie Woestehoff testifying as part of the "miscellaneous" witnesses during the December 16, 2010, hearing on the latest "school reform" legislation. Woestehoff, who has 23 years working in Chicago on school improvement through PURE (which also has a very active website) was told when she asked that she was not going to be allowed to testify as part of a school reform group, because the members of the committee had decided that only Stand for Children (which did not even have an Illinois phone number ten days before the event) and Advance Illinois were the chosen reform groups for purposes of the testimony. When asked by Substance about the exclusion of PURE (and other Chicago groups with much greater grass roots legitimacy than Advance Illinois or Stand for Children), State Rep. Roger Eddy said that he had never seen PURE in Springfield. Apparently, no one from the offices of any of the eight state reps on the "school reform" special committee thought to Google PURE and read the voluminous material on the PURE website. By contrast, Stand for Children Illinois is a blank (which began its Illinois existence by giving $650,000 to candidates — Democrat and Republican — during the five weeks prior to the November 2, 2010 election). Because it is a "501c4 group", Stand for Children does not have to reveal where its dollars come from. Advance Illinoisis, funded exclusively by corporate philanthropy; is a 501c3 group and has to report that its funding comes exclusively from the wealthiest people. Although both groups claim to represent some "grass roots" reality, they are in fact what critics now call "astroturf" organization (phony grass roots), the likes of which are growing across the USA because of massive infusions of dollars from billionaires opposed to public education and unions. During the testimony of both Advance Illinois and Stand for Children, the facts cited by the various speakers simply repeated corporate talking points as so-called "research." Not one member of the committee asked a critical question about the dubious and sometimes slanderous claims made by the witnesses, while the hostility of members of the committee to Julie Woestehoff, the people from the unions, Chicago's Jitu Brown, and others was evident. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Testimony to the Illinois House Education Reform Committee December 16, 2010

by Julie Woestehoff Executive Director Parents United for Responsible Education

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Julie Woestehoff. I am the executive director for Parents United for Responsible Education, or PURE. We are a 23-year-old education reform group based in Chicago.

Over the 23 years we have been working in Chicago, PURE has won many awards including a 2004 Ford Foundation leadership award. We are very proud of our long track record in education reform, and as strong advocates for parents in Chicago and across the nation.

I emphasize the words education reform because that is the name of your committee, and, strangely enough, also the name of one of the panels that you are hearing from today. When I signed up to speak today, I wanted to be placed on the Education Reform panel, since education reform has been PURE's work for 23 years. I was told that the Education Reform Panel was already formed and they were coordinating their testimony.

I was disturbed by that. It suggests that this committee is aligned with one particular side in the discussion of these complex issues, issues that affect parents, teachers, students and the community deeply. It suggests that only one side represents what you consider education reform.

In fact, I have been concerned for a while that some relative newcomers to education reform, those groups funded by Bill Gates, the Broad Foundation, the Walton family, the Steans Foundation, etc., are using their deep pockets to fund what seems more and more like ideological warfare on our public schools and on school communities. In this war, only those that agree with Bill Gates and other corporate so-called reformers are supposed to be pro-child. In this war, all others, even the children's own parents, are characterized as only caring about adults and wanting to maintain the status quo.

In fact, the newspapers have just covered the results of a poll commissioned by Bill Gates that found that adults blame parents the most for what's wrong with the public schools. What they didn't report is that nearly the same percentage also blame state officials, so I guess we're the bad guys together.

I wanted to take a bit of time to say all this in order to challenge you today to have an open mind, not to be pressured by the people with the most money and the slickest propaganda, not to join their war on public education, but to be the responsible people that I know you are, to listen to everyone, to take a close look at the facts, and to make this critical process, these critical decisions, worthy of our precious democratic public education system, and the children who desperately need all of the adults, not just some of them, to work together to improve their education and their chance for future success.

One of the things that I believe PURE does pretty well is digest critical facts about education and create user-friendly materials that can help parents and the general public to understand better some of the key issues facing our schools. I think even legislators might benefit from this kind of information, and I try to send it out to you from time to time. So, I'm going to try in the next three or four minutes to lay out what we believe are some of the key facts about the topics we are here today to discuss.

1. In general, too many education reform strategies that are currently being promoted by corporate reformers are not supported by research, and are ineffective and in some cases even harmful. This includes proliferation of charter schools, school closings and turnarounds, student retention, and high - stakes testing.

We have ample proof here in Chicago as detailed in the attached PURE Fact Sheet and review of literature by Professor Pauline Lipman regarding local Chicago research. (Handouts 1 and 2). However, this is not just true of Chicago programs – it is true nationwide, as detailed in the report by the National Education Policy Center. (Summary in Handout 3)

The point is that fixing schools is an extremely complicated business, and affects our most vulnerable people, our children. Corporate reformers from Arne Duncan on down are urging you and other policy makers to hurry, hurry hurry to make dramatic changes, to grab onto any buzz-word flavor-of-the- month innovation and force it on the schools. Secretary Duncan even dangled billions of dollars in front of you to get you to do it. But that doesn't make it the responsible choice. Parents are really tired of having our children experimented on. Yes, we need change and improvement, but it's no improvement to swap one failed set of programs for another even if you do it quickly.

2. More specifically, the idea of linking teacher performance evaluation and jobs to student test scores has no research basis. In fact, the research on these practices is overwhelmingly negative. (Handout 4)

I'm no expert on assessment, but as a parent who has become very concerned about the overuse and misuse of tests in the Chicago Public Schools, I have learned some important facts about standardized tests. (Handouts 5, 6)

Another thing I have learned is that our current state test is not valid for any use besides school accountability. PURE was told this by an ISBE official last year. A January 27, 2009 e-mail from Judith Steinhauser at ISBE stated, “the purpose of ISAT, its reliability and validity authenticated by a staff of psychometricians, is to calculate school accountability which is reported to the federal government as Adequate Yearly Progress. It is not the intention of the state to use the test for anything else.”

We already know that the SAT-10 section of the ISAT has been used for something else – it's being used to retain Chicago Public School students. That inappropriate use is one reason why we just filed a discrimination complaint against the CPS promotion policy with the federal Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. I've attached our complaint which includes more detail about CPS testing problems (Handout 7).

In addition to the problems with valid test use, there's the question of fairness. The teacher evaluation system has not been created yet, but you seem to be fast tracking legislation on teacher evaluation before the details are ironed out. The quality of the assessment system (including the new state tests that are also currently under development) will have a huge impact on the quality of the evaluation process. It seem unfair to tell teachers to get ready to jump when no one knows what the bar looks like.

Frankly, I have little faith that our state is going to create a high-quality assessment system using true multiple measures and not just a handful of one-shot tests. I hope I'm wrong but I've been down this road before. In fact, several years ago, when the state was developing its annual tests to comply with NCLB, PURE and the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law prepared a legislative proposal for a balanced assessment system for Illinois (Handout 8).

We suggested, among other things, that the assessment system use a weighted system of multiple measures, with state standardized tests making up only one part of the overall assessment. This is, in fact, how test makers suggest their products be used.

I believe it is only fair and reasonable to create the assessments first, in an open and collaborative way – including parents – and then, in an open and collaborative way, create the teacher evaluation system once we know what our tools will be.

Finally, I urge you to read the two attached reports from the National Education Policy Center. The first one (Handout 9) summarizes the problems in the report of research used to support the federal education initiatives around teacher evaluation. It concludes that “there are serious flaws in the research summary” and “the report lacks sufficient analytical depth, does not present its evidence in a logical manner, makes sweeping claims, and draws conclusions based on weak data.” This does not sound like a good beginning for a “reform” that is supposed to make dramatic improvements in schools.

The second report was written just for you. It's from the same group and is called “Getting Teacher Assessment Right: What Policymakers Can Learn From Research” (Handout 10). I think the title speaks for itself. It includes strong, research based recommendations for a high-quality teacher evaluation system. I urge you to study this report, take it in, listen to teachers, parents and the community, not just big-money so-called reform groups, and then make your decisions responsibly and in the best interests of our children.

Thank you.


December 22, 2010 at 11:32 AM

By: Susan Ohanian


If it weren't for Substance, we wouldn't know about this outrageous treatment of PURE. Thank you, George. And thank you to Julie for putting "reform" back in this committee's face. Julie hits the nail on the head when she calls out the johnny-come-latelys to school reform for ideological warfare on our public schools.

December 22, 2010 at 5:53 PM

By: Kathy Jacobs

Couldn't Be Bothered

Well done, Julie.

Anyone who’s been around Chicago Public Schools for any time has heard of PURE. Interesting that Roger Eddy never heard of it. Sure he’s been the Superintendent at Hutsonville CUSD #1 for the past 14 years and would have no interest in Chicago education, but now he’s the co-chair of the Illinois House Committee on School Reform! He needs to take an interest in all the Illinois school districts. Legislative committees usually have an abundance of lackeys hanging around who are capable of Googling an organization. Do they not have a procedure for verifying the credentials of anyone who wants to be placed on the agenda? I wonder how much more evidence we need that our Federal, state, and local legislators do no homework, read no bills, govern by personal opinion or emotion, and disdain the voters who are not in lockstep?

December 24, 2010 at 9:35 AM

By: Is Roger Eddy CUSD school district

making AYP?

Time for some school choice and charters in Hutsonville. Where are the teachers of this district? They should let him know that they support ALL teachers in Illinois. What happens to CTU, will eventually happen to them.

December 25, 2010 at 8:50 AM

By: Margaret Wilson

Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it. I hope the New Year is a joyous and prosperous one for all!!!!!!!!!

December 25, 2010 at 11:33 AM

By: Billionaires Target Teachers—

and Take the Gloves Off in Illinois

By Howard Ryan

Created Dec 21 2010 - 3:34

House Speaker Mike Madigan has created a Special Committee on Education Reform, two of whose members received contributions from SFC this fall ($50,000 for Keith Farnham of Elgin; $100,000 for Jehan Gordon of Peoria). The committee is considering draft legislation which SFC describes as a “historic opportunity to help Illinois students.” The Performance Counts Act, which is also pushed by another corporate-backed education policy group, Advance Illinois, would “help” students by attacking teachers and their unions:

* Teachers’ performance evaluations would be closely linked to standardized test scores, an historically poor measure of learning.

* With a single unsatisfactory evaluation, a tenured teacher could be returned to probationary status or dismissed. A teacher with three unsatisfactory evaluations within a 10-year period would be dismissed and could never teach again in Illinois schools.

* Unions would be prohibited from bargaining over a broad scope of issues affecting student and teacher welfare—contracting out; layoffs, reductions in force, school closures; class size and class staffing; length of the school day or work day; pilot and experimental school programs; use of technology. Unions could not even bargain over the effects of these policies on members or their students.

* Teachers’ right to strike would be virtually nonexistent, and an unlawful strike could mean the union’s decertification.

An Irony

Stand for Children claims to offer hope, particularly to poor students and children of color who are widely denied access to quality and equitable education. Ironically, it is the children of poverty who stand most to lose because of SFC and its wealthy backers.

Their agenda defunds public schools, and, as education historian Diane Ravitch points out [3], the charter school alternatives have a lower commitment than public schools do to serving the neediest students—academic poor performers, students with learning disabilities, or English language learners.

Finally, the billionaires seek to weaken, if not destroy, the organizations that are best equipped to fight for quality public schools. Case in point: CTU is Chicago’s lead organizer against school closures, mass firings of teachers, and slashed school budgets.

Teachers and supporters of public education, beware: the fight in Illinois against the billionaire gang’s initiatives may well be yours in the year to come.

December 25, 2010 at 1:45 PM

By: Margaret Wilson

Thanks Howard

Your explanation was very concise. It helped me to clarify what the new bill means so that it will be easier to talk about it with others. I've retired from teaching but I still care deeply about the school system and the survival of a viable public school program as well as the needs of teachers and students. Please keep us informed of proposed protests.

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:

5 + 4 =