2012 Hit List to be released December 1 thanks to Facilities Law... Chicago Teachers Union, major community groups to host teach-in against the 2012 Hit List of school closings at King High School December 3, 2011

If Rahm Emanuel and his corporate one percent sponsors have their way, by the time Emanuel’s four-year term as Mayor of Chicago is over in 2015, the Chicago public schools will be a memory. Emanuel wants to close at least 140 real public schools, replacing them with charter schools and corporate “turnaround,” all designed to further the corporate privatization and union busting agenda. A city and school system that barely survived Arne Duncan and former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s “Renaissance 2010” attack on public schools is now confronted with Renaissance 2010 on steroids, Rahm Emanuel’s drive to privatize and de-unionize everything to do with public education in Chicago.

But in 2011 and 2012, more than ever before in recent history, a massive movement is organizing to greet — and thwart — the corporate agenda to privatize and destroy public education in America’s cities. The plan pushed by Rahm Emanuel is the latest iteration of the program of the people now known, thanks to the “Occupy” movements and years of quiet organizing by thousands of people in Chicago and elsewhere, as the “one percent.” It has been Class War for the past decade or more against urban public schools and teachers. But today the fight back is stronger than ever.

Joined by a growing coalition of community organizations, the 30,000-member Chicago Teachers Union will host a "Teach In" against the proposed closings of more real Chicago public schools two days after the Board of Education announces its 2012 "Hit List" of schools slated for termination. The Hit List will be published on December 1, 2011, if the Board follows the new state facilities law (which was SB 630 when it passed the Illinois Senate last April and was signed into law).

The CTU Teach-In will be held on December 3, 2011, the Saturday after the Hit List becomes public. The Teach-In will be held at Martin Luther King Jr. High School, 4444 S. Drexel Blvd. in Chicago, beginning at 10:00 a.m. The union and the groups are demanding that no additional schools be closed and privatized in Chicago.

Massive protests against school closings have jammed the meetings of the Board of Education since the first closings were announced in April 2002 and the schools on Arne Duncan's pre-"Renaissance" renaissance Hit List were Williams, Dodge and Terrell elementary schools. In February 2008, the Board of Education met on February 27, 2008, and lined up dozens of police officers in the main lobby of the CPS headquarters to block more than 500 people who had gathered to protest against the closings scheduled to be voted on that day. Most were prevented by police from entering the Board headquarters for the public meeting that decided the fate of their schools. In the photograph above, protesters from Andersen Elementary, Fulton Elementary, and Whittier Elementary can be seen, while Jitu Brown of KOCO (center, gesturing) continued the fight. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The demand that no schools be closed (or otherwise reorganized) in 2012 is likely to result in a major confrontation between the teachers and the community, on the one hand, and Mayor Rahm Emanual and his hand-picked corporate Board of Education and the school system’s top administrators, on the other. For nearly a year, Emenual has repeated every lie about Chicago’s public schools, from the “Waiting for Superman” talking points to a number of absurd claims, including a statement that the “best high schools” in Chicago were all charter schools.

But corporate Chicago and its mayor have already indicated that they plan to go further than even before. Emanuel has told colleagues privately that he intends to close 140 more schools during his four-year term, and has been bragging that he can utilize the city's corporate media against the teachers and their allies at any time. Emanuel's appointed school administration, under the controversial "Chief Executive Officer" Jean-Claude Brizard (whom Emanuel refers to as "J.C." despite growing criticism) has been trying to assemble its own cadre of supporters for the closings, working through millions of dollars in new appointed bureaucrats to turn out support for the mayor at various events (in a program Substance has dubbed "Rent A Protest").

On November 23, 2011, the day before Thanksgiving, the Chicago Teachers Union issued the following press release:

Chicago Teachers Union’s Community Board to host Teach-In on School Closings Set on Saturday, December 3rd... Organizers prepare to save under-resourced neighborhood schools

CHICAGO – Labor leaders, educators and activists will conduct a free, teach-in on Chicago Public School (CPS) closings and work to train parents and community groups on how to save endangered neighborhood schools from closure or privatization. A Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Teach-In, to be held at King College Prep High School, 4445 S. Drexel, on Saturday, December 3rd at 10 a.m., will also present a history of CPS school closings, consolidations and turnarounds and illustrate its impact on impoverished communities.

One of the tactics used by Arne Duncan during his years as school closer in chief was to hold a press conference during the time protests were being staged against his proposals. Above, Duncan (at podium) spoke to the press on February 27, 2008, prior to the Board of Education meeting at which he recommended the destruction of more than a dozen schools, including Orr and Harper high schools and Andersen, Fulton, Copernicus and Edison elementary schools. Behind Duncan, in addition to CPS bureaucrats, are two of the "Rent A Protest" parents of that year, from Sherman Elementary School. Beginning with Williams Elementary in 2002, the Duncan administration would hire, for a brief time, a couple of parents who would take the stage to sing the praises of the policy Duncan was proposing. In most cases the parents were eliminated within a year after they had been featured at a Duncan media event. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The workshop is co-sponsored by Teachers For Social Justice, Action Now, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), Grassroots Collaborative and Albany Park Neighborhood Council, members of CTU’s Community Board.

The teach-in will provide training in various areas including non-violent direct action; developing community models for school improvement; creating action plans to protect neighborhood schools; utilizing Board of Education action research and power analysis; and, strengthening and creating community-based school governance in under-resourced schools. Hundreds of people are expected to attend.

CPS must announce its list of “school actions” by December 1st, having earlier said that 42 percent of its schools are on academic probation. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen GJ Lewis said that fact sets the stage for an unprecedented number of school actions. CTU has criticized the Board’s School Action Guidelines for school closings and consolidations finding that the new policy does not help improve student achievement and will not help the District reach its goal of providing “quality” schools in every community. Lewis said it will only widen the achievement gap among poor students of color.

Despite nearly 20 years of autonomous mayoral control, little has been done to improve the structural inequality in Chicago schools, which disproportionately harm children of color and the poor. CTU and its Community Board proposes a better, District-wide reform model that makes all schools function more, not less, like the best schools in our nation and world.

Since 2004 and with no basis in research, CPS has closed nearly 100 schools, most of them in African American and Latino communities. The destruction of so many neighborhood schools was a result of Renaissance 2010, a plan that sought to close public schools with elected local school councils and unionized staff and replace them with 100 new schools, two-thirds of which are non-union and without independent, community governance. A partial CTU analysis of the problems with the closings as policies is available at the following URL:

AS the attacks on public education and the Chicago Teachers Union from City Hall and the corporate elite in Chicago have escalated since Emanuel’s inauguration in May 2011, the unions have been coming together more and more. Following a claim by Emanuel that he was “working well” with the unions, the following letter went to the Chicago Sun-Times:

Emanuel picks fights with unions, Letters to the Editor, November 23, 2011

Unfortunately, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s claim in the Nov. 20 Sun-Times that he is “working well with Chicago’s unions” is not supported by facts. To the contrary, Emanuel has needlessly picked fights with city unions, refusing to negotiate in good faith or respond to offers of cooperation.

Rather than valuing the contributions that teachers, firefighters, nurses, librarians, police officers, bus drivers and other public servants make to keep Chicago working, he has consistently sought to scapegoat these men and women for the city’s problems. Sun-Times editorials have rightly criticized Emanuel and his administration for “trying to bully” and “blame workers” with “spin and mockery.”

More to the point, Emanuel’s record doesn’t support his assertion that he sides with “hardworking middle-class families who pay the tax bills” — not with his 2012 budget plan that cuts jobs and public services while reducing corporate taxes and imposing regressive fees on working people. He will shorten library hours, close police stations and neighborhood health clinics, potentially lengthen emergency response times and eliminate hundreds of jobs amid historic unemployment.

At the same time, Emanuel’s budget will give big corporations a $20 million-a-year break by eliminating the “head tax.” It makes no effort to reform TIF districts that sap revenue from schools, public safety and other services. And it comes as Emanuel says his top priorities for state legislation are cutting taxes for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and cutting modest pensions for public servants.

It’s ironic that Emanuel’s statements came on a day he campaigned for President Barack Obama. The president’s record is one of fighting to save safety net programs and protect public jobs while pushing rich people and big corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. Mayor Emanuel’s priorities look a lot more like those of the president’s anti-union, budget-slashing, protect-the-wealthy political opponents.

Michael Shields, president, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 Chicago

Karen Lewis, president, Chicago Teachers Union

Henry Bayer, executive director, AFSCME Council 31

Jorge Ramirez, president, Chicago Federation of Labor

One of the most dramatic of the (soon-to-be) Rent A Protesters at the February 27, 2008, meeting of the Chicago Board of Education was the fiery Rev. Charlie Walker (above at podium). Walker opposed the closing and "turnaround" of Orr High School in February 2008 (above) and demanded that Chicago get an elected schools board. But by September 2008, Walker had a job; he was working at the new (AUSL "Turnaround") Orr High School and publicly singing the praises of the work of the Duncan administration, the Academy for Urban School Leadership, Arne Duncan, and Renaissance 2010. Interestingly in the photo above, taken during the February 27, 2008 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, Beth Swanson can be seen (far left, hands folded). Swanson at the time was serving CPS as budget director (despite the fact that her college studies were in English). When Duncan left Chicago, Swanson left CPS to work for the Pritzker Traubet Family Foundation (run by Penny Pritzker and her husband). Swanson is now Mayor Rahm Emanuel's education liaison, in charge, among other things, of overseeing the implementation of the latest Hit List. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.NEWS RELEASE. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Stephanie Gadlin, 312/329-6250,

For more information, please visit Chicago Teachers Union website at

Under the new leadership of Karen Lewis and CORE, the Chicago Teachers Union has been much more actively mobilizing against the closings, even before the Hit List is announced. A Thanksgiving (November 24, 2011) notice on the CTU website ( announced some of the work that had been done in November 2011:

CTU mobilizes members, parents and community to fight school closings

We have much to be thankful for this holiday season even though November has been a challenging month for CTU members, officers, and staff as we organize to fix — not close — neighborhood schools. We fanned out to meetings on the new school closings criteria, community events on improving struggling schools, and charter school hearings.

On November 8th, over 50 CTU members living in the 36th ward flooded a meeting for a proposed UNO charter in the ward. Our presence forced UNO CEO Juan Rangel to go on the defensive. UNO bused in supporters from outside the community to defend its organization, which has ties to the mayor’s office and has been called the new version of the clout-heavy Hispanic Democratic Organization. UNO charters have spread like wildfire through the City’s southwest side where they have a reputation for terrible working conditions for their teachers and exaggerating claims of school success.

Last week our members and parent allies showed up in force at two hearings about the new CPS school action policy that is designed to close, turnaround and consolidate over 130 schools over the next two years. Read CTU’s analysis of the policy here. We spoke truth to power and showed how students, parents, and educators know more about the conditions of our schools than CPS bureaucrats like “Portfolio Manager” Oliver Sicat who knew very little about how the district has neglected its neighborhood schools. [The URL for the CTU analysis is:

We are also working with community partners on ways to fix our schools. On November 16, 2011 the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) hosted en event at Dyett High School were they, along with Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, and Action Now presented a holistic, community-based approach to school improvement as opposed to simply closing schools.

The closing list will become public December 1st. Hearings will commence and CPS will be trying to work its annual end-run around the community to close schools. If you have a stake in the health of our public schools, please plan to attend CTU’s Teach-In on School Closings December 3rd at King College Prep High School — 4445 S. Drexel Blvd.

Taking back our schools and our communities is hard work, but we can do it if we work together: students, parents, and educators.

The community groups have also been organizing to present alternative proposals to the Board of Education, all of which are being ignored. On November 22, 2011, a number of groups met on the South Side to announce their proposals. The meeting was largely ignored in Chicago's corporate media, with the New York Times (through the corporate "Chicago News Coop") deciding instead to promote Oliver Sicat, the new CPS "Chief Portfolio Officer", reprising his resume and talking points without blushing in a November 26 article.


Community groups band together against school closings, By: Sarah Karp / November 22, 2011

With a week left before Chicago Public Schools leaders announce school closings, nine community groups came together Tuesday to try to alter the conversation from shuttering neighborhood schools to investing in them.

The organizations representing groups from the far North Side of the city to the far South Side issued what they called “A Neighborhood Agenda for Schools.” They want CPS to work more closely with organizations to make all neighborhood schools community schools, an effort supported by former CEO Arne Duncan to bring services from after school programs to GED classes onto campuses.

They also want CPS to officially embrace Grow Your Own Teachers, which encourages people from low-income communities to go into teaching, and VOYCE, an initiative that empowers teenagers to come up with solutions to problems in schools.

“If they would listen to us, they would see the results they want to see,” said Julio Contreras, a Gage Park High School student who is involved with VOYCE.

Janette Taylor-Smith, a parent leader at the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, noted that studies have found that it takes six months for students of closed schools to adjust to a new school, and that during that time their academic performance declines.

“Why is it always our children that have to go through this?” asked Taylor-Smith, who serves on the local school council for Mollison Elementary, which was on a closings list two years ago but spared after community protest. “Why is it always black and brown children?”

Another study released on Tuesday confirms some of Taylor-Smith’s concerns. To realize any academic benefits, students from closed schools need to go to substantially higher-performing schools, according to the study by the Rand Corporation, Vanderbilt University and Mathematica Policy Research.

CPS officials have said that they won’t close a school unless there’s another higher-performing school to send them to. However, they have yet to quantify how much higher performing a school needs to be in order to receive students from a closed school.

Community organization leaders say they have met with CPS and city leaders to present their plan and, while the officials were polite, they made no promises and had no specific reactions.

In response to the neighborhood agenda’s release, CPS issued the following statement: “We are excited and encouraged that community organizations are engaging with CPS to demand quality schools in their communities and we are joined with them in working towards creating higher quality school options to help boost the academic achievement of our students.”

But the statement reiterated a sentiment Chief Portfolio Officer Oliver Sicat has been saying as he goes out to community hearings on school closings: “We may not always agree on the actions we need to take in getting there, but we all agree that the academic success of our children must always come first,” according to the statement.

Not a new debate

The press conference on Tuesday, in which about 40 people jammed into the lobby of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s headquarters, was another attempt by long-time community organizations to interject their opinions into the debate on school closings. Some of them have also been involved in Community Action Councils—developed by former CPS officials to come up with plans for their neighborhoods.

At the time the councils were formed last year, some school leaders hoped they would identify schools to close, taking the burden off of them. Instead, most of the councils came up with plans to attract more neighborhood students to their underutilized schools. For example, Humboldt Park’s plan was “the community as a campus,” with local schools adopting a specialty so that families would consider them rather than magnet or charter schools outside the neighborhood.

Jitu Brown, an education organizer with the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, said his group came up with the idea of taking five underutilized schools, including Dyett High School, and aligning their curriculum around the idea of global leadership.

But Brown had little hope that CPS leadership is open to the idea. The Bronzeville/Grand Boulevard neighborhood has more schools that meet the criteria for closing than any other neighborhood. He said the new CPS administration has done a good job of connecting with community organizations, but has not opened up a dialogue.

And they appear to be embracing the same strategy of former administrations, Brown said: Closing schools, firing entire staffs of schools and opening charters in their wake.


Chicago plans to close or consolidate 20 percent of schools, teachers union predicts, BY MAGDALENA SŁAPIK

NOV 22, 2011

Chicago Public Schools will close, merge, or phase out up to 20 percent of all district schools in the next two years, Norine Gutekanst, organizing director of the Chicago Teachers Union, predicts.

If the union prediction is accurate, 135 of the district’s 675 schools could be affected. Currently there are 395 traditional elementary schools and 122 general or technical high schools in the system. The rest of the 675 fall into a variety of categories, including charter, magnet, performance, gifted, special education or other types.

“We think the board is gearing up to have a full-fledged assault on the schools,” Gutekanst said at a recent meeting organized by the education activist group Teachers for Social Justice. “So our response this year is going to be important.”

School officials would neither confirm nor deny the union prediction. The district said it is still determining the schools that will be considered for school actions, which will be announced Dec. 1.

School actions include anything from shutting down a school, to consolidating the students and staff at two buildings, to turning over a school to a charter school chain, to replacing all staff at a school and starting from scratch with new curriculum.

The district compiles its list of school actions based on which schools are underused or academically failing. According to the district, 283 schools are on probation for low academic performance, 72 of them for five consecutive years, and 16 of those for 15 consecutive years.

“Last year, only 7.9 percent of our 11th graders tested college ready and our graduation rate hovered at 57 percent,” said Ana Vargas, schools spokeswoman, explaining why the district takes school actions each year.

The battle over community schools is waged every year. On one side, neighborhood-school supporters argue the district is privatizing education and hurting neighborhoods by closing schools. On the other side, CPS and charter school supporters argue that closing chronically low-performing schools will provide parents and students with more quality school options in the district.

“Every child deserves a quality school option in their area and our goal is to provide our students with the best possible education today, because our students simply cannot wait another year for a quality education,” Vargas said.

The union and community groups have already begun holding town-hall meetings and workshops opposing the school actions. Teachers for Social Justice suggested that neighborhoods fighting school closings should stage lock-ins at targeted schools and use the Occupy Wall St. movement as an opportunity to popularize the term “Occupy the schools.”

“The history of neighborhood public schools in the country is that they’ve been anchors in the community,” said Eric Gutstein, founding member of Teachers for Social Justice and a professor of mathematics education at University of Illinois at Chicago.

“When you have culturally and spiritually strong communities that have been economically battered, the viable institutions in the community mean something in terms of the community’s continuity and life-blood and we have to honor and appreciate that,” Gutstein said.

Some parents and teachers have successfully stopped proposed school actions in the past. Last year, activists kept four schools from closing.

Citizens can get more information on school actions or provide feedback to school officials at schools. The next community meeting about school actions is planned for 10 a.m. Dec. 3 at King College Prep High School, 4445 S. Drexel Blvd.


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:

2 + 3 =