Raise Your Hand clarifies its position on 'choice' and charters

The Raise Your Hand coalition recently got into a rather droll exchange with "Democrats for Education Reform" (DFER) over at Catalyst on, among other things, parental "choice" in Chicago. As usual, DFER's Rebecca Nieves Huffman quickly turned the questions on their heads, distorted every issue being discussed, slandered the elementary schools of the Morgan Park-Beverly community, and launched a delightful series of comments across the Catalyst website.

With the strike over and other things humming along, I joyfully joined the Catalyst discussion — mainly as a real CPS parent (as opposed to the DFER lady, who presently has no kids in any real or imagined CPS school). Commenting often takes time, but can be worth it, as a lot of interest in Chicago's schools is coming out across the blogs and commentaries. I have stayed away from "" since Alexander Russo went over from Catalyst to the scab Tribune three or four years ago, and decamped to Brooklyn. But I have continued to comment from time to time to Catalyst, always in my own name. All of that is available at Catalyst ( in the threads that follow the comments by Wendy Katten of Raise Your Hand and Rebecca Nieves-Huffman of whatever hat she's wearing this week — DFER, Education Reform NOW!, Parent Revolution, etc., etc., etc.

My only disappointment there with the comments is that most are up anonymously. Everyone knows the position of Substance and me on that.

The nicest thing about the exchanges about, among other things, "parents" and choice has been that it has been clarifying much about the current situation at CPS.

"Choice," like so much in the current Orwellian world of Chicago during the Reign of Rahm and the Mind Bending Billionaires (most famously, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, now headed on its "education" side by the infamous Bruce Rauner), is a slippery term.

But most CPS parents and almost all union teachers and PSRPs are now tuned in to who is trying to come up with the facts and the truth and who the liars and the touts are. During the coming years, Chicago, which birthed so much of the creepiest stuff in corporate "school reform," will be the site of some of the best analysis and activism anywhere.

And here was have another example.

The following, published October 12, 2012 by Raise Your Hand, is very helpful to everyone who wants to have an honest discussion of this heated subject.

RYH: On School Choice

There seems to be some confusion about our position on school choice. Last week we had an opinion piece in Catalyst about the role of DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) in Chicago education reform and Catalyst then invited the Director of DFER to respond to our piece. She responded that “my hope is that Ms. Katten wouldn’t discount non-neighborhood school parents and claim that they aren’t real.”This response reflects an unawareness about RYH and its membership.

RYH is made up of parents who send their kids to all kinds of CPS schools. It would be impossible to have a large advocacy group of parents in CPS who did not utilize school choice. We understand school choice and see the decisions parents make on where to send their child as personal and not subject to judgment. RYH also believes it is possible to respect individual choices while questioning how the system is working as a whole.

RYH believes that one of the choices parents should have is a strong, well-resourced neighborhood school. We have seen that for some neighborhoods, “choice” is a misnomer. There are disparities in what choice means around the city. There is a heavy concentration of magnets on the north/central side and very few on the west side. We have met many parents on the south and west sides who do not have choice –they have charters or turnarounds that have been put in to replace neighborhood schools. One mom said recently the closest neighborhood elementary is 22 blocks away and she has chosen to home school. Even in parts of the city with a higher proportion of magnets and other options, can we say that CPS is offering choice to parents, or is the more accurate term “chance”? What percentage of children get into the school of their choice? Is the answer to create more choices or to properly fund all schools, including neighborhood schools, which have been receiving less funds than magnet/gifted/SE counterparts for years? We think these are good questions to ask and discuss.

Regarding charters, we are not against them as a whole. We are against a massive expansion of charter schools for political reasons when they are not based on sound educational policy. The charter school network that has expanded the fastest recently is the one that is operated by someone who was the Mayor’s campaign director for his election, a network with very mixed results in student outcomes.

We are against closing neighborhood schools and opening charters without parent and community input. We are against the way decisions are made in a vacuum in this district and here are a couple examples of this approach. When two schools, Casals and Piccolo, were slated to close last year, parents voted in overwhelming numbers to keep the schools open. These votes fell upon deaf ears at CPS. As a last resort, Casals parents even tried to occupy the school. At the end of the year their ISAT scores were released and the schools' scores had increased by 9%. Despite these gains, when the school year started, they were handed over to AUSL, a turnaround vendor. We believe in community engagement around these decisions and a system that collaborates with all its stakeholders.

We are also concerned about the lack of transparency afforded to charters. Charter funding was increased at CPS this year by $76 million. We believe charters should have to report on things such as their retention rates, fines imposed upon students and the number of IEPs served. When we looked at IEPs served on the ISBE website, we found that only two charter elementary schools (Namaste and Hope) have IEP rates at the CPS average. The majority are in the single digits. All students deserve choice.

As these discussions unfold, RYH will continue working on pro-active campaigns for positive change. This year, we are working on the elected school board campaign and embarking on a two-year funding campaign to get a graduated income tax on the ballot state-wide in 2014. We don’t think we have enough revenue in IL to give every child the education they deserve. We will host town-hall forums on "The Culture of Standardized Testing at CPS," with the first one being in late November. We will also continue to bring attention to issues such as the need for reduced class size and other quality improvements to the school day.

We have a lot of work to do. We hope you’ll join us this year.

Email us if you want to get involved:

Follow us on twitter: @ilraiseyourhand


October 13, 2012 at 4:38 PM

By: Valerie F.Leonard

RYH Clarifies Its Position on 'Choice' and Charters

Thanks for posting Wendy's letter, George. Thank you, Wendy, for championing these issues on behalf of parents and students in communities all around the City. You could easily stay in the comfort of your own neighborhood and turn your back on the North Lawndales, Austins and Kenwood-Oaklands of this world--but you didn't.

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