MEDIA WATCH: The Orr High School stories... Turning around the turned around which had already been overturned after being turned around, interventioned, reengineered, reconstituted and probationed (among other things)
Only in a city that has a municipal and media version of dementia could the latest Orr High School story be a form of "news" with most of the context left out. During Spring Cleaning week, WBEZ listeners were treated to the most recent sage of Orr, which in its latest iteration is a "Turnaround" run by President Barack Obama's favorite corporate turnaround specialists, the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). Again.
"Turnaround school gets turned around again" by WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell. Following the traditional corporate school reform narrative for Chicago (one that dates back to the original school reform fraud exposed by Substance in 1984, the Marva Collins Hoax, which made it as far as CBS "60 Minutes" before the facts came out), the young white reporter wanders around the all-black school on a tour hosted by the energetic black reformer. The reporter then narratives the story from the point of view of the dog-and-pony show prepared carefully for him prior to his arrival, and the story becomes "news" for the benefit of the latest corporate version of fixing things in the schools while ignoring the impact of contemporary capitalism and its vicious inequities on the children from the homes near the school who are attending the school.The latest contribution to Chicago's municipal amnesia is
The URL, for those who can't access a hotlink, is http://www.wbez.org/story/turnaround-school-gets-turned-around-again-85474?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+cprmetro+%28WBEZ+-+Metro+Desk+%29
But if the story about the current mess at Orr is accurate, why the rage?
It used to be, when reporters were trained, that they had to "quote source and context." Now it's just the eternal present (or the recent couple of years, at most). No history is too important that it can't be ignored if it gets in the way of a clean story line (usually, as in this case, told by one of the infinite supply of AUSL's fast talking talkers).
The story of the 16 years since Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley got complete control of Chicago's public schools can't be told by corporate media, not in Chicago and not from anywhere else (that's why, dear and gentle reader, the same guy who's spinning the Orr nonsense this year is also on the Board of that privatized thingy the New York Times pushes off on its readers as Chicago news â€” the Chicago News Cooperative; corporate propaganda, overseen by Martin Koldyke, who also founded AUSL).
So Chicago is going to remain in a kind of school reform Ground Hog Day. That's because corporate school reform is a failure in everything except cheap marketing tricks and very very expensive philanthropic injections of dollars. Anyone who wants to know the problems that Orr High School will face needs only drive around the four-block area adjacent to the school four times in any 24 hour period. Say, every six hours beginning at six a.m. before the kids get to the school and ending at midnight. Better than driving, which is what most corporate types and reporters will do, walk the same walk the kids who end up at Orr walk.
But that won't happen. Why? Because Orr to corporate reformers, including the denizens of AUSL, the Education Department types that back AUSL, and the corporate reformers who spread the "turnaround" gospel (which includes teacher bashing, union busting, and charter pushing) is a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet. something so simple that any intern from Eli Broad's programs for saving urban schools can know, just by looking around the data, what's going on at Orr. You never have to stand at Chicago and Pulaski at 11:00 at night waiting for a bus. After all, for corporate reformers, it's all in the data.
And so, thanks to public radio Chicago, we get the latest iteration of the lies that have been coming out of Chicago since the day in 1996 when Paul Vallas (Chicago's first Great White Hope Chief Executive Officer) declared Orr on "probation". Or from the next year, when it got "reconstituted." Until a couple of years later, when it was ready to be "reengineered." Before the dawn of the 21st Century, when Orr was going to be subjected to "Intervention."
Then there were the "small schools" (which is apparently as far back as the WBEZ corporate memory goes, see below). Everybody knew that "small schools" were just the thing for the Orrs (as they became for a few years). Until one of the smalls was moved out (to save it; it was the military small school, Phoenix, which was released from Orr and moved to the Grant School building so that Orr could be destroyed â€” and its teachers and administrators humiliated and fired â€” by another twist of corporate reform...). So that's left out, too. Phoenix was once a part of the small schools "Orr Campus." Until Mayor Daley and his corporate reform guys decided to destroy that version of reform and put in AUSL, the current flavor of the month.
But AUSL is more than an expensive dose of hypocrisy at Orr. Thanks to Arne Duncan and Barack Obama, AUSL is supposed to do this to the rest of the USA. After failing in Chicago at everything but marketing and public relations.
Anyway, here's the update from WBEZ Chicago. Better a little than nothing, I guess. But far from the whole story of the 16 years of failure and fraud that are the legacy of school reform, Daley style, under Mayor Richard M. Daley (and soon to be Mayor Rahm Emanuel) and Chief Executive Officers Paul Vallas, Arne Duncan, Ron Huberman, Terry Mazany, and, soon, Jean Claude Brizard.
Only in Chicago could such a long running fraud be treated with a straight face.
WBEZ UPDATE ON THE ORR SPIN AND FRAUD President Obama and congressional leaders may be trying to cut the federal budget, but theyâ€™ve agreed to pour more than a half-billion dollars of new funds into Race to the Top, the presidentâ€™s signature education program. It aims to turn around low-performing schools by taking steps like bringing in an outside group to replace the staff and run the school. Education Secretary Arne Duncan helped pioneer that model as Chicago schools chief. The city now has 12 turnaround schools. But their record is mixed and Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel has not said where he stands on them yet. A school near Chicagoâ€™s Garfield Park shows that the turnaround strategy is anything but a panacea.
MITCHELL: When classes change at Orr Academy High School, Tyese Sims drops everything and joins a dozen security guards patrolling the halls. Sheâ€™s the new principal. And she keeps an eye on all three floors.
SIMS: I run up these stairs every day, all day.
MITCHELL: I bet youâ€™re in pretty good shape.
SIMS: I guess!
SIMS (to students): Excuse me. What are we doing? Keep it moving.
MITCHELL: Almost every student in sight is wearing a school-issued polo shirt, either black or gold.
SIMS: Come on. Hurry up. 30 seconds.
MITCHELL: By the time the tardy bell rings, the halls are empty again.
SIMS: You donâ€™t hear loud noises coming out of the rooms. Itâ€™s quiet. Itâ€™s calm.
MITCHELL: Orr Academy is undergoing its second turnaround in three years. In 2008, Chicago officials consolidated three small high schools that had occupied the building. To run the new Orr, the district contracted a nonprofit group called AUSL. Thatâ€™s short for Academy for Urban School Leadership. AUSL brought in new teachers and staffers and a new principal. But student test scores after the first turnaround remained dismal. And Sims says there were other problems.
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SIMS: When I came before â€” profane language, being disrespectful to peers, being disrespectful to other adults â€” I did see it. It was just something I wanted to change.
MITCHELL: Now AUSL has changed Orrâ€™s principal again. The group brought in Sims in the middle of the semester. During her first month, the school gave students 310 out-of-school suspensions. A handful resulted from behavior the district calls â€œvery seriousâ€ â€” things like assault, alcohol use and vandalism. Most suspensions concerned infractions like tardiness, disobedience and disruption. Sims says she also dropped almost three dozen students for poor attendance.
SIMS: If weâ€™re really preparing them for the real world, thereâ€™s no way we can keep a job and, with missing this number of days and being tardy, theyâ€™ll think, â€˜Wow, my high school didnâ€™t prepare me. This was acceptable there, but now Iâ€™m in the real world and itâ€™s not like that.â€™
LANG: When youâ€™re first starting something new and youâ€™re changing, people have to take it seriously.
MITCHELL: AUSLâ€™s Debbra Lang oversees Orr and two other high schools the group runs for the Chicago district. Lang says AUSL is applying whatâ€™s called the broken-windows theory. Itâ€™s a way some police try to keep the peace by focusing on low-level offenses like vandalism. Lang says the approach works for schools, too.
LANG: The precursor to fighting is often a slew of curse words. And so we would much rather intervene â€” deal with the cursing â€” rather than having it lead to fighting. What weâ€™re really encouraging is an environment where learning can take place.
MITCHELL: Not everyone is happy about that encouragement. 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett got so many calls about Orr Academyâ€™s latest turnaround that he held a community forum with Principal Sims. She got mixed reactions there from parents...
MOTHER: Two-day suspension for â€˜damnâ€™ â€” for the words â€” I think that thatâ€™s a little harsh.
GRANDMOTHER: I like your approach to what youâ€™re doing at the school with the children. They need to have some respect.
FATHER: My son comes home suspended two days. Where was that phone call to the parents?
MITCHELL: ...and from teachers and counselors.
TEACHER: The history at Orr has been inconsistency. You take your kids to Whitney Young, they know on Day 1, â€˜I canâ€™t curse in class.â€™ This year, weâ€™re getting that message half-way into the third semester. Thatâ€™s where youâ€™re going to get push-back from students.
COUNSELOR: Iâ€™ve never seen Orr any better than it is now. You can walk in that school â€” I would ask anybody to walk in that school and just walk around.
MITCHELL: The aldermanâ€™s forum also turned out young people. An Orr Academy senior stood up and said sheâ€™d like a turnaround of some school staff attitudes.
STUDENT: Students curse out adults. Adults curse out students. The students are the only group of people being addressed for that.
MITCHELL: A community organizer spoke up for students who end up on the street.
ORGANIZER: This is not the first time where we had phone calls from parents, saying, â€˜I feel like my kid is getting pushed out.â€™
MITCHELL: But Alderman Burnett urged everyone to give the schoolâ€™s new leaders a chance.
BURNETT: We just lost a principal at Orr because they didnâ€™t think he was doing well enough. So these principals, just like everyone else, have a duty to do things in order to keep their jobs too.
JENNINGS: This is a daunting task.
MITCHELL: Jack Jennings of the Washington-based Center on Education Policy says thereâ€™s not much evidence yet that the turnaround model works.
JENNINGS: These schools serve very poor students who bring the problems of poverty into the school â€” namely one-parent homes, sometimes parents being on drugs. These schools generally are in dangerous neighborhoods. Sometimes thereâ€™s a lack of security in the building itself. These schools have teachers that are frequently discouraged because theyâ€™ve tried to improve for years and theyâ€™re not being given adequate help. And a number schools do everything right and they still donâ€™t succeed in turning around. And some schools that have become better, if they donâ€™t receive assistance over a couple more years, will slide back and wind up in the same type of trouble [that they were in] before.
MITCHELL: Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuelâ€™s team didnâ€™t respond when we asked whether heâ€™d try to turn around more schools. This week he did announce that two AUSL officials would fill top city education posts. The turnaround approach isnâ€™t the only vision for improving the nationâ€™s worst schools. In Chicago, the teachers union suggests more social services for students and decent jobs for parents. Those remedies could be expensive, though. At Orr Academy, Principal Sims insists that simpler steps can go a long way.
SIMS: Itâ€™s just structures in place so we can have a safe, orderly environment for our students so learning can take place.
MITCHELL: Simpler steps like getting kids to class on time.
SIMS: Letâ€™s go baby. Come on, letâ€™s hustle.