MEDIA WATCH: Courtesans of corporate 'school reform' do it again... Catalyst sources its Task Force story from CPS, while Sun-Times 'Screamers' editorial leaves out the fact that the Sun-Times missed more than 80 hearings over the past nine years

While most Substance readers have been too busy with teaching to notice, and Substance reporters have been too busy reporting to care, it's worth noting as the huge protests against corporate school reform loom in Chicago that Chicago's corporate media are lining up and already spinning the story the way Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS officials want it spun. Within the past couple of days, just about every variation on the chorus of cheerleaders and cheerleading for the corporate version of reality have weighed in, using CPS as a source and trying to trash the growing opposition to this year's Hit List.

Let's begin with Catalyst, the corporate-subsidized Web entity that once called itself the "Voice of Chicago School Reform" and of late has been billing itself as "Independent Reporting" on the schools. Readers can judge for themselves whether the December 2, 2011 Catalyst story (reprinted below) has anything to say except as apologetics for the corporate party line. After "covering" the Education Facilities Task Force meeting on December 1 at the Bilandic building, Catalyst apparently learned that the real story was to source CPS spokesperson Becky Carroll, someone named "Farr" who is some kind of CPS bureaucrat, and ignore almost everyone on the Task Force and in the schools on the Hit List.

We guess Catalyst will continue to play chatelaine to the corporate money guys who pay for their reportorial exertions. It's been that way for more than two decades, so why change in mid- or late-life. (A sideshow in the Catalyst story was the appearance of Linda Lenz on Chicago Tonight, where she seemed miffed that she was unable to pontificate as much as she is wont because the Chicago Teachers Union's Jackson Potter had the facts, and Lenz has specialized in recent years in stuffing shows like "Chicago Tonight" and "Chicago Week in Review" with the latest mendacious generalizations from CPS officials, usually those who provide Catalyst with its insider information and self-important nods.

By the way, just as a matter of fact, is Catalyst sure that the Education Facilities legislation has that number?

Oh, and when Englewood High School was most recently raped and pillaged (to make way for Urban Prep)... Was that really in 2004? Nothing like creating a record of facts that aren't facts to support opinions that always ape those of your corporate masters.

The Catalyst apologetic for the latest HIt List, however, was nothing compared with the Screamer of an editorial in the Sun-Times two days later. That one was even more cheeky than the Catalyst non-coverage of the Task Force. According to the Sun-Times, many of those who protest the school closings are "Screamers." So...???

The Sun-Times has missed, by our count, more than 90 precent of the hearings on the school closings (probably 95 percent), never bothered to get and read the transcripts and voluminous binders of documents presented by the schools on previous years' hit lists, and never really tried to cover the years of Hit List tragedies that have been unfolding by actually reporting the stories. We were there for most of those hearings, acquired virtually all of the transcripts (and read them) and also acquired most of the binders (some of which continued for more than one volume, including student poetry, art work, etc., etc., etc.).

Which is why we feel it's fair to characterize the pontificators at the Sun-Times, and most notably those who pontificate on education (from Rosalind Rossi and Kate Grossman to Mary Mitchell and those arrogant white guys who seem to infest editorial board briefings) as hypocrites and professional ....

Well, we leave that term for our readers to come up with.

So, the question arises when you read the "Screamers" trashing of our protests (below, second place) in the December 4, 2011 Chicago Sun-Times:

How the hell would anyone at the Sun-Times know what people were saying all those years in opposition to the closings (etc., including the "turnarounds") when the Sun-Times didn't ever bother to (a) cover the hearings during which the people from those Hit Listed schools testified or (b) went out to most of the schools and talked to those people, from children and teachers to the adults, including in many cases grandparents.

Oh, we forgot.

In this age of austerity the Sun-Times gets its "news" from around Chicago via the infamous "editorial board briefing," during which pompous Sun-Timesers, mostly pundits and bureaucrats, pontificate on things they don't know and won't bother to try and get some reporting on.


CPS facilities task force questions closings, turnarounds. By: Sarah Karp, Catalyst, December 01, 2011

A state task force created to monitor decisions on school facilities in CPS passed a resolution Thursday asking Board of Education President David Vitale and CEO Jean-Claude Brizard to an open meeting to explain how they chose the 20 schools proposed for turnaround, closure or other action. Members of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force said they were particularly alarmed that CPS did not publish clear guidelines on how they decided on the proposed turnarounds and did not heed community input into school closing guidelines.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said "our guidelines are perhaps the most clear and transparent that CPS has presented to date."

She also said that the "more than 40 community meetings and two public hearings" influenced the process and some schools were subjected to school actions because of it.

HB 363, a new law driven by the task force, requires CPS to publish preliminary guidelines and hold hearings on them before issuing final ones. Those guidelines were used to make decisions on school closings and other actions and, by law, they had to be announced by Dec. 1.

At one point at Thursday’s meeting, members grilled Laura Farr, manager of state legislative affairs at CPS, on whether any part of the guidelines were changed between the time the draft version was announced in late October and the time they were finalized on November 29. At least 60 people showed up to each of the two November hearings on the guidelines.

“My understanding is that they were not,” Farr said. She said that leaders have “internally” talked about incorporating some of the feedback from community members in future guidelines. But for the current set, the time frame was too quick, she said.

Vague guidelines?

One of the concerns voiced by community members and task force members is that the guidelines were too vague. Some 140 schools met the criteria of the draft guidelines. Given that number, it is still impossible for community members to know why one school was chosen over the others, said task force members.

The law needs to be revised to require more specificity, said Don Moore, a member of the task force who is the executive director of Designs for Change, an advocacy organization.

“If it is not more detailed, then the process becomes meaningless,” Moore said.

Especially unclear is how schools were chosen for turnaround. Task force members said that CPS officials didn’t want to have to follow the same procedure and timeline for turnarounds as that for closures, and were able to get turnarounds excluded from some parts of the new law. However, the law calls for decisions to “be implemented according to clear system-wide criteria and with the significant involvement of local school councils, parents, educators, and the community in decision-making,” noted Rene Heybach, a member and director of the law project for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Though all but one of the proposed turnarounds met the criteria for closure, community reaction to some of the turnarounds has been one of puzzlement. In particular, the reaction has been intense regarding Casals, which posted a composite score of 61.4 percent on state tests. More than 120 schools had lower composite ISAT scores.

Casals was rated at Performance Level 3, the lowest level, and met criteria to be closed but, as some pointed out, the performance level scale can be confusing since it is based on test scores, value-added scores and attendance.

Carmen Palmer, who is the founding president of the Educational Village Keepers, asked task force members if CPS considered other things besides the performance levels. At Chicago Vocational and Career Academy, which is slated to be turned around, there’s a new principal who has made positive changes, she said.

Bill Gerstein, who works in CPS’ community engagement department, told her that he believes the Chicago Vocational principal will stay on board. Gerstein, who is a member of the task force, didn’t vote on the resolution inviting Brizard to a meeting.

But then Palmer asked, why change the faculty? “They are encouraged and he is making inroads.”

Safety concerns

Other members of the taskforce were concerned about the safety problems that could be created by the school closings. State Rep. Cynthia Soto, who chairs the task force, asked everyone in attendance if they were concerned about the safety of students in schools targeted for closure or phase out. Most everyone answered yes or raised their hand.

The law calls for transitions plans that clearly lay out how the safety of students will be secured when they have to travel to new schools.

Moore said that thus far, CPS officials have only said that they “consulted” the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Transit Authority, as well as other agencies.

“They have basically blown it off,” Moore said.

Of particular concern, task force members said, are the plans to send freshmen who would have been assigned to Crane to Wells High School instead, and to send incoming Dyett freshmen to Phillips. In the past, when high schools were phased out and students sent elsewhere, violence has been a problem.

In fact, one community member told the task force members that Dyett struggled ever since it got an influx of students from Englewood High School, which was closed in 2004.

Carroll said school officials have spent a lot of time working with the Office of School Safety and police to make sure that Dyett and Crane students are safe.


Editorial: Note to CPS: Sometimes screamers have a point, December 3, 2011 8:40PM

Updated: December 4, 2011 9:15AM

It’s going to be a long three months for top Chicago school leaders.

Between Thursday’s announcement of proposed school shakeups by Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and a Feb. 22 vote on those 10 school turnarounds and four school closures, we can expect a lot of shouting, name-calling and teeth-gnashing by upset parents, union leaders and activists.

Much of that screaming won’t be justified. We support school closures and turnarounds — a relatively new but promising concept where the kids stay at a school but most of the adults and the curriculum change — as painful but necessary. It is wrong to keep a failing school open and hope a few cosmetic changes will make the difference. Radical change and a major investment are required.

That said, some of the screaming may be justified, putting CPS’ new leadership to the test. Brizard and his team say parents and communities should be true partners in improving schools and so far they have made efforts to listen and adjusted some plans. But over the next few months the public will see if Brizard’s deeds really match his rhetoric.

Will CPS top brass listen and respond when confronted with legitimate complaints about proposed school actions? And will they embrace valid community-generated ideas for school improvement?

That last point is crucial because CPS cannot close and turn around every troubled school in Chicago. It must work with teachers, parents and communities today to improve the schools that remain open. Brizard hopes over time to create a “portfolio” of quality schools in every neighborhood — an idea we strongly support — but CPS can’t do it alone.

Key vehicles for input are seven “community action councils” set up by CPS last year to represent different parts of the city, each made up of community leaders and public officials. They presented plans for their neighborhood schools to CPS in October, many promoting the same portfolio idea Brizard embraces. After Thursday’s announced school actions, several CAC leaders said they feared their plans had fallen on deaf ears.

“The verdict is still out on whether they are serious about not just talking to or hearing from us but actually respecting the opinion of the CACs,” said Pastor Chris Harris, head of the CAC in Bronzeville, where two closures and two turnarounds are proposed. Another group, the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, says CPS is ignoring its own role in destabilizing two neighborhood schools proposed for closure. Dyett High School, for example, suffered when it had to absorb students from another closing school, and Price elementary has lost many kids to nearby charters, leaving them with some of the more troubled students.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll tells us that CPS supports many of the Bronzeville CAC’s proposals and says conversations with all the CACs are ongoing: “We want to keep talking, to keep the conversation going but you can’t just put a plan on the table and say ‘give us an answer.’”

Fair enough. But if CPS has any hope of truly creating quality schools in every neighborhood, it needs parents and communities on board, or at the very least, not at their throats.


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