Anti-union, privatization groups pushed the fifth annual 'New Schools Expo' January 28 at Soldier Field

After months of Robo calls and public service announcements and a week of preliminary “news” reports announcing the event, Chicago Public Schools finally held its “New Schools Expo” at Soldier Field’s United Airlines room on January 28, 2012 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Officials of the Expo had not provided the press with a precise number of people in attendance by early afternoon on the day of the event, but observations over several house made it clear that there were more than 1,000 people who went to the event.

Almost all of those were African Americans and Latino.

Phyllis Lockett, President and CEO of "New Schools for Chicago" at the "New Schools Expo" on January 28, 2012. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.The event featured a handful of real public schools (most of them AUSL “Turnaround” schools, which apparently are recruiting students on the basis of their newness, despite the fact that some are now five and six years old), but the majority of schools at the event were charter schools. The charter schools, 103 of which were listed in a brochure provided by “New Schools for Chicago,” were all presented through their slick public relations and marketing materials. Most of these materials (which real CPS public schools are not budgeted to produce, or allowed to distribute at events such as the "New Schools Expo") repeated, over and over, the main theme of the “Expo” — that “schools of choice” were good for Chicago children. These claims were presented without the need for any further proof of quality or integrity.

Given the fact that the majority of the more than 100 CPS charter schools are either marginally successful, or "failures", by the same measures CPS applies to its real public schools, the ability of the "New School Expo" to simply present the city's charter schools as a legitimate "choice" for many poor and working class families was another signal aspect of the event. Not one of the charter school booths visited by Substance would provide a copy of their financial statements or comparative test scores, something that all of the city's real public schools must do as a matter of course. CPS has long maintained that the city's ever-expanding charter schools are free from the burdensome regulations that supposedly keep the city's real public schools from being successful. What's missing in the charter schools is the so-called "transparency" that is supposed to be one of the hallmarks of the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has already weighed in on the side of expanding the city's charters, both himself and through his appointed Board of Education and CPS administration.

The January 28, 2012 event might have been called “Chicago Charter Schools Expo.”

The vast majority of the charter schools in Chicago are anti-union schools, although a handful of the “new schools” at the “New Schools Expo”, including a couple of the charters, were union schools. A close look at the political philosophy of the directors of the "New Schools" group that ran the event shows that they are generally anti-union millionaires (and a couple of billionaires) who routinely fund anti-union activities. [See below for the directors of the group].

The Expo, the fifth in five years, consisted of booths providing information on the various schools, a series of events (including a discussion with Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard) and six hours of charter schools promotionals. Marketing materials for the charter schools range from relatively modest one-page brochures to expensive magazines. Many of the charter schools also provide the public with dramatic videos, at their websites, touting their claims. A week before the New Schools Expo, Fox News provided the public with a half-hour show featuring Mayor Rahm Emanuel promoting the Noble Street Network of Charters Schools and relentlessly and inaccurately attacking the Chicago Teachers Union.

One of the ongoing activities of the Expo was the interviewing of parents and children who participated. An outside (non-CPS) public relations firm was conducting the interviews during the event. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Every school had a table with sign, offered literature, freebies such as pens,candy, water bottles, key chains, and note pads, and applications to be completed on the spot.

Some students and teachers testified about their schools. One teacher, who asked that his name not be used, told Substance he liked the “flexibility” that West Belden, part of the Chicago International Charter School chain, offered him. The teacher, who has a master’s degree and five years with the school, told Substance that he is paid $45,000 per year.

One of the claims on behalf of the charter schools that began when Arne Duncan was Chief Executive Officer of CPS is that the existence of a so-called "waiting list" is proof that there is a market-based "demand" for the charters. For several years, Substance reporters demanded of Duncan, and then of his predecessors, that the "waiting list" be made public. Duncan's answer was always the same when the request was made that a public press conference: "I'll get back to you on that." He never did.

The number of children on the "waiting list" since Duncan first reported it (in early 2006) has remained stable at roughly 19,000, the number that was being claimed on January 28, 2012.

CPS has continued to refuse to allow the city’s magnet and specialty schools to maintain “waiting lists” of prospective students (the current rumor is that a waiting list for Payton College Prep or Whitney Young Magnet High School would exceed 5,000 for each school). Chicago's charter schools group claim that this “waiting list” proves that Chicago charter schools should continue to be expanded, because there is a marketplace for the charters.

A public relations press release included in the press packet for the New Schools Expo stated:

“Record number of Chicago families seek charter schools… As waiting lists for charter schools swell to more than 19,000 applicants, thousands of parents and students attend the 5th annual New Schools Expo…”

The public relations materials, which were prepared prior to the event by the PR firm, Res Publica Group, quoted Phyllis Lockett, who has chaired “New Schools for Chicago” since it stopped being called the “Renaissance Schools Fund” in 2010.

“There has been a remarkable growth in both support and demand for charter schools in Chicago because these schools have a proven track record of getting kids into college,” Lockett was quoted as saying.

Most of the words from Lockett and others supporting the “New Schools” version of reality were an attack on existing neighborhood public schools.

“While we are encouraged that so many people joined us today [Lockett was quoted as saying, in a press release prepared before the event opened], we must remember that their presence proves that too many communities still lack quality options…”

In official Chicago, a “quality option” is never a real public school, but only a privatized charter school.

No actual data were provided as to the claim that Chicago’s charter schools do better in getting their students into college, and critical studies of Chicago’s ever expanding charter schools were completely ignored throughout the “New Schools Expo.”

DIRECTORS OF NEW SCHOOLS FOR CHICAGO (from their website, January 29, 2012)

One of the things that drew many parents and children to the New Schools Expo was the fact the Chicago Bears star Israel Idonije (above) was recruited by CPS to make thousands of robo calls to all CPS parents prior to the event. Idonije has engaged in a great deal of charitable work, but it was not clear that his participation in the "New Schools Expo" was based on the fact that he was, in effect, supporting a union-busting enterprise. Idonije and the NFL Players Association, a union, had just been through a bitter lockout during their contract negotiations with the NFL owners, which wanted to take away many of the contractual rights of the players. When contacted by Substance about the Idonije robo calls, the Chicago Bears said that Idonije's activities were personal and not officially Bears activities. Board of Directors

Chairman. John W. Rowe, Chairman and CEO, Exelon Corporation

President and CEO, Phyllis Lockett

Michelle L. Collins, President, Cambium LLC

Tyrone C. Fahner, President, Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago

Michael W. Ferro, Jr. Chairman and CEO, Merrick Ventures, LLC

Lula M. Ford, Commissioner, Illinois Commerce Commission

Sandra P. Guthman, President and CEO, Polk Brothers Foundation

Mark S. Hoplamzaian, President and CEO, Hyatt Hotels Corporation

J. Thomas Hurvis, Chairman, Old World Industries, LLC

Donald G. Lubin, Partner, SNR Denton

John W. Madigan, Retired Chairman and CEO, Tribune Co.

R. Eden Martin, Of Counsel, Sidley Austin, LLP

Terry Mazany, President and CEO, Chicago Community Trust

Andrew J. McKenna, Chairman, McDonald’s Corporation and Schwartz Supply Source

Leo Melamed, Chairman Emeritus, CME Group

William A. Osborn, Retired Chairman and CEO, Northern Trust Corporation

Deborah Quazzo, Co-Founder, NeXtAdvisors, LLC

Bruce V. Rauner, Chairman, Golder Rauner, LLC

John F. Sandner, Retired Chairman, CME Group

Timothy R. Schwertfeger, Chairman, Nuveen Investment

Nancy S. Searle

Alejandro Silva, Chairman, Evans Food Group, Ltd.

Harrison Steans, Chairman of the Executive Committee, Financial Investments Corporation


January 29, 2012 at 7:29 PM

By: M Collins

New Schools Expo

I find it ironic that CPS is promoting Charter Schools. I thought the idea behind charters, originally (circa 1993) was that the charters and public schools would compete with each other and may the best one survive. It seems that in addition to this competition, public schools are being undermined by their own Boards of Education and other elected officials.

Once public ed is destroyed and charters are shown to be no better and in some cases drastically worse — I guess we'll hear how expensive it will be to resume full control of all schools. Too bad the politicians answer to the problems in education is to not address it, but to outsource it.

January 30, 2012 at 6:08 PM

By: Frank Thompson

Concerning this picture...Really?!?!

If you want to be considered a legitimate news source and not a blog or opinion rag, you might want to reconsider your choice of photos. This makes you look more foolish than the subject you are reporting on.

January 31, 2012 at 1:15 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

The uglies always show... Hypocrites, scabs, and union busters are always ugly...

Hypocrites (like those who promote the sabotage of public schools so they can be privatized, then prattle about "choice" for the poor while catering to the wealthy), scabs (like anyone who promotes busting unions), and those who "worship at the altar of greed" (to quote the Mic Check from the December meeting of the Chicago Board of Education) are always ugly in the flesh, no matter how much money is spent on the cover up or the hypocritical PR that sustains them.

For nearly 20 years, these people have been bashing Chicago teachers and sabotaging Chicago's real public schools. With the creation of Arne Duncan and "Race To The Top" at the national level, their massive attacks on democracy and decency have gone national like a virus.

Not one of their programs has been proposed for the public schools serving the families of the wealthy. That's because they know if they went up to Wilmette (where CPS "Administratiion" chieftan Tim Cawley is allowed to live, while the CPS Inspector General chased down more than 300 "illegal" teachers and others living outside the city last year) they'd be laughed out of town proposing the same kind of "choice" they cynically foist on the poor and the desperate.

The day these one percenters announce they'll be spending the next fifteen years promoting charters and union busting from Northbrook and Wilmette to Lake Forest and Lincolnshire, we'll take a second look at what we publish and how we report on these hypocrites and their hypocrisies. Until we see them heading up to Stevenson High School or Lake Forest High School and asking about the inequities in the privileges of the wealthiest families in Illinois — and promoting charters and so-called "choice" out there — we'll report the news for the 99 percent our way.

Those of us who taught and studied literature remember Oscar Wilde's wonderful "Picture of Dorian Gray." There are dozens of Chicago privatization touts for whom that frame fits perfectly. We'll continue posting stories about them and telling the truth about their programs in the coming years, just as we have in years past. Those who attack real public schools and denigrate the teachers and others who have served our children for decades are beneath contempt and deserve the truth be told about them, day after day, now and forever.

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