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MEDIA WATCH: Crain's Chicago Business getting the story about Chicago charters straight (slowly)

While the editorial writers at the Chicago Sun-Times remain starry eyed every time they are fed fatuous talking points by Andrew Broy, there are some unusual outposts of reporting springing up in Chicago, even in this era of continued corporate downsizing (er, to use the CPS buzzword, "right sizing") of reporters' jobs and newsrooms. Since the release of the detailed research report by the CTU a week ago, the charter school apologists have been doing verbal cartwheels to distract from the main point: the Chicago charters have "failed" based on their original claims. Charters were supposed to provide "innovation" and be better than the city's real public schools. First, the CREDO study (Stanford University) showed that was not true across the USA. So Chicago claimed the usual Chicago exceptionalism. But now the CTU report has demonstrated that Chicago's charters are failures on both counts. The majority of elementary charters in Chicago are teacher churning test prep factories, and their "innovations" turn out to be very similar to those that were hailed on Wall Street in the first half of the first decade of the 21st Century — frauds as blatant as a Credit Default Swap.

One of those trying to figure out the facts is Crain's Chicago Business. One of the ironies of the 21st Century is that the business press has been doing as much serious reporting (and muckraking) as the supposed regular press. Substance was surprised as long as a decade ago when The Wall Street Journal decided to learn what was going on with the hysterical Chicago attack on us (the million dollar lawsuit and the firing of me) as a result of our publication of the noisome CASE tests. The May 25, 2001 Wall Street Journal front page article on our work here was as accurate as we could expect. Since then, we've noticed that some of the best exposés are being done by Bloomberg Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, and certain reporters at The New York Times.

Is Crain's weighing in on the side of facts? Consider:

Charters rip teachers union report, but CTU holds firm, Crain's Chicago Business on line, December 04, 2012

Charter school leaders continue to unload on the report last week that accused Chicago Public Schools of engaging in "educational apartheid" by closing public schools and moving students to charters. But the group that issued the report, the Chicago Teachers Union, isn't backing off.

In a press release and a statement responding to the CTU report, the Noble network of charter schools said the report has "glaring" factual errors and "mischaracterizes" the network's record in serving 7,700 "overwhelmingly low-income students of color" in its schools.

For one thing, Noble's teacher retention rate is 80 percent, not the reported 65 percent, said Rhonda Kochlefl, Noble's chief external affairs officer. Also inaccurate, she said, is a statement that 88 percent of students who have been suspended are African-American. While that figure was drawn from U.S. Department of Education data, the data are wrong and efforts have been under way for six months to fix it, she said.

Beyond that, Ms. Kochlefl adds, "The notion that a public nonprofit high school is somehow receiving a 'large financial windfall that can flow toward investors' is a bit ridiculous. We are a public high school serving public school students and are fortunate to have some very generous civic leaders support our program. No one, at any point, is 'profiting' from their involvement with Noble."

The CTU had no immediate response to the attacks on its report, "The Black and White of Education in Chicago." And it's showing no signs of backing off on the larger school-closure issue.

The union has scheduled an "education justice" workshop for Saturday at Marshall High School to "provide training to school leaders on how they can engage the broader community against increasing charter school initiatives and pending (public) school closings."

The union said workshop subjects will include electing members of the Board of Education, "sustainable school transformation" and the "myth vs. reality" of charters.

CPS is scheduled to announce by March 31 whether it will close 100 or more schools — facilities it says are grossly underused and that it no longer can afford to operate. The union says there wouldn't be any reason for closures if charters weren't pulling away public-school students.

The truth of the mater lies somewhere in the middle.

There are roughly 100,000 vacancies in CPS, and the charters collectively have about 50,000 students. CPS says the city has 123,000 fewer school-age students than a decade ago, but the union says many charters are clustered near closed public schools.

CPS also says that many of the closed schools not only were half-empty but severely underperforming. CTU counters that the schools could be turned around if the system would invest resources in them, rather than in new charters.

Look for this issue to get hotter when the list of closures comes out.

Update, 3:15 p.m. — The union says its numbers are right. For example, while 80 percent of teachers may have remained with Noble after any given year, only 65 percent remained with the same school when classes began last year, it says.

Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregHinz.



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