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MEDIA WATCH: Lu Palmer they're not!... Catalyst and Sun-Times pundit -- as usual -- repeat CPS talking points (from out of town mercenaries) to bring the corporate reform propaganda straight to readers as 'news' and profundity in punditry

The way in which the propaganda of Chicago Public Schools becomes "news" will be the subject of many examples in the next few days. Now that CPS has announced the 2013 Hit List, the kind of insipid reporting that believes there are two "sides" to every "story" will run amuck. The first really priceless example in the hours after the release of the closing list came in the electronic pages of "Catalyst," which has paraded as an "independent" voice of "school reform" for more than two decades. The first report from Catalyst was a prime example of giving corporate propaganda (and corporate propagandists) the front row to bring the story to the public.

Sun-Times pundit Mary Mitchell has been a cheerleader for every scam pushed as corporate "school reform" since she began applauding the racist attacks on inner city schools by Paul Vallas in the 1990s. She continued with her support of the closing of "failing" (later "underperforming") African American schools (and their replacement in many cases by unaccountable charter schools) under Arne Duncan in the early 2000s. With her column on March 22, 2013 cheering Barbara Byrd Bennett, Mitchell reaches the fifth schools CEO she has found to be wonderful as the racist attacks on Chicago school continue. Had Mitchell or some other African American columnist been routinely critical of the propaganda about "school reform" that has poured out of City Hall and CPS for more than 15 years, the course of history might have been different. The 1990s, however, were far from the 1960s and 1970s -- and the pioneers who made Mitchell's career possible. But instead of winning a Lu Palmer award for reporting the facts and analyzing them carefully, Mitchell has made a lucrative career in the service of wealth and power.A quick look at the "He said/she said" version of reporting quickly shows how ridiculous this becomes in the face of the largest attack on public schools in US history (or at least since the racist schools of the South challenged desegregation by the 1950s).

Take the following: "Initially, these moves will cost CPS money but over 10 years, the district will save about $1 billion, said Chief Transformation Officer Todd Babbitz. The savings are a combination of $560 million in capital costs and $430 million in operating costs." Catalyst constantly quotes guys like Todd Babbitz as if they know something about Chicago, other than how to narrate Power Points that are provided to them to make major propaganda points at Board of Education meetings. Babbitz has been with CPS less than ten months, having been hired, from corporate Chicago, to the newly created position of "Chief Transformation Officer" last summer.

CATALYST REPORT MARCH 21, 2013 ON THE 2013 HIT LIST:

71 school actions in massive district shakeup

By: Sarah Karp and Rebecca Harris / March 21, 2013

In announcing the largest shakeup ever attempted in one year by a major urban school district, CPS officials laid out a complicated plan for a total of 71 actions — closings, co-locations and turnarounds — that will affect more than 30,000 students. (Full list below.)

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett will recommend that 54 school programs be shut down. Nearly 90 percent of the students in the closing schools are black, though African Americans make up only about 40 percent of the district’s entire student population.

The impact of school actions on black communities has been a major factor driving opposition among activists as well as the Chicago Teachers Union, which held a press conference attacking the actions.

Under this proposal, the communities that would have the most closings are: West Town, Auburn Gresham, Austin, West Englewood and West Pullman.

In addition to the 54 shut-downs, 11 schools will co-locate with another school, eight of them with charter schools. Two severely underutilized high schools—Bowen and Corliss—will share their buildings next year with new Noble Street charter high schools. CPS officials said this will give people in the area two “good, strong” options in one building, but some community members and others are likely to worry that the charters will drain away more students from the neighborhood schools.

Finally, the non-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership will get six more schools to “turn around,” a process that entails replacing virtually an entire staff. AUSL is a politically-connected teacher training program that has won national recognition from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. One AUSL school, Bethune Elementary in East Garfield Park, will be closed. Also, Dodge and Morton, two AUSL school, will co-exist in the Morton building.

The board is set to vote on this proposal at its May 22 meeting. Before then, CPS will hold three hearings on each recommendation, two in the affected communities and one with an independent hearing officer at its downtown headquarters.

Cost savings, teacher layoffs

Initially, these moves will cost CPS money but over 10 years, the district will save about $1 billion, said Chief Transformation Officer Todd Babbitz. The savings are a combination of $560 million in capital costs and $430 million in operating costs.

Critics will likely argue that less than $1 billion in savings over 10 years is not a lot of money, considering CPS has a $5 billion yearly budget.

But Babbitz and other officials said the school district is not only closing schools to save money, but also to make the remaining schools better. At the welcoming schools, CPS plans to make $155 million in capital investments and spend $78 million in “up front” operating costs. The initial investment is high as CPS officials have spent the last week announcing the various things they plan to provide for welcoming schools. Each will get air conditioning, a library, a science lab and computer lab, as well as a social worker and other social supports for students. In addition, safe passage workers will watch over students as they make their way to their new school. Students at a handful of schools will get bus transportation.

CPS leaders earlier today announced that 19 schools will get specialty programs, such as International Baccalaureate or fine arts programs. These will be magnet cluster programs, which maintain an attendance boundary, but can take students if they have space. Officials could not say on Thursday how many extra staff these schools will get for these programs.

Spokeswoman Becky Carroll argued that the district is prioritizing these welcoming schools, many of which will become the neighborhood schools. “These are communities that have been under-resourced and underserved for years,” she said. “We want to give them all the things that they need that they do not have now.”

At the Chicago Teachers Union press conference, President Karen Lewis lambasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who reportedly is on vacation with his family. “This is not going to save money, it is going to cost money and it is going to leave abandoned buildings,” she said.

CPS officials could not immediately say how many teachers will be laid off as part of the upheaval. As part of the new teacher’s contract, those teachers from closed schools get to follow their students to a new school, if they are tenured and highly-rated.

But at the press conference, little was said about the fate of teachers. Lewis, parents and teachers said they worried most about the students.

Kohn lunchroom attendant Takeeva Thompson said that at her school, a 7-year-old was killed and other students have been shot. She said the school is a haven for students. “We are either giving them a gun or a book,” she said.

Nina Gibbs, a parent of a student at Mahalia Jackson, said the plan calls for her daughter to go to Fort Dearborn Elementary. “That is on the other side of the tracks,” she said. “What kind of safety and security are they going to have? You have already got a lot of children here been shot, beat up, kidnapped. What about the parents who will no longer be [in] walking distance from the school?”

Safety a top concern for parents

Adam Anderson, the district's officer of portfolio, planning and strategy, said that officials took into account the concerns about safety that parents and residents expressed at the 28 community hearing held this winter. Among the things that CPS officials heard were that people want a school in their area and they don’t want children to have to cross barriers, such as railroad tracks, to get to school. Anderson said it also was important to him and other school leaders that children were sent to better facilities and better schools. But all these criteria created quite a puzzle for CPS leaders and this is evident by the plan they laid out. In several situations a school program closes, meaning the administration is displaced, but the children stay in the building. The principal and staff from a better-performing school take over that closed school program, leaving their building empty.

For the first time perhaps ever, CPS will try to combine three schools into one building and, in at least one case, the district will split children from one closed school up between two schools.

These unusual combinations left some people in the community with their head spinning. Dwayne Truss, an activist in Austin, said he was trying to get his head around all the proposals for his community. “Some of this is just crazy,” he said.

ACTION LIST

Closing School

Welcoming

Wentworth Wentworth @ Atgeld

Armstrong May into Leland

Attucks Beethoven

Banneker Mays @ Banneker

Bethune Gregory

Bontemps Nicholson

Calhoun Cather

Canter Harte, Ray

DePrey De Diego

Von Humboldt De Diego

Melody Melody @ Delano

Wadsworth Wadsworth @ Dumas

Emmett Ellington and DePriest

Ericson Sumner

Fermi South Shore Fine Arts

Garfield Park Faraday

Garvey Mount Vernon

Goldblatt Hefferan

Earle Goodlow

Henson C. Hughes

Herbert Dett @ Herbert

M. Jackson Fort Dearborn

Key Ellington King Jenen

Kohn Cullen, Lavizzo, L.Hughes

Lafayette Chopin

Lawrence Burnham @ Lawrence

Manierre Jenner

Marconi Tilton

Mayo Wells @ Mayo

Morgan Ryder

Overton Mollison

Owens Gompers

Paderewski Cardenas, Castellanos

Parkman Sherwood

Peabody Otis

Pershing West Pershing East @ Pershing West

Pope Johnson

Ross Dulles

Ryerson Ward @ Ryerson

Sexton Fiske @ Sexton

Songhai Curtis

Stewart Brennemann

Stockton Courtenay @ Stockton

Trumbull Chappell, McPherson and McCuteheon

West Pullman Haley

Williams Drake @ Williams; co-locate with Urban Prep

Woods Bass

Yale Harvard

Near North Montefiore

Buckingham Montefiore

Mason closes high school

Co-Locations

Crane with Chicago Talent Development H.S.

Noble-Comer with Revere

New Noble HS with Bowen

Montessori of Englewood with O'Toole

Kwama Nkrumah Charter Gresham

New KIPP with Hope HS

Disney II expanision with Marshall Middle

Belmont Cragin with Northwest Middle

Noble HS with Corliss

Dodge with Morton

Drake with Urban Prep for Young Men--Bronzeville

Turnarounds

Barton

Chalmers

Dewey

O'Keefe

Carter

Lewis



Comments:

March 22, 2013 at 6:50 AM

By: Rod Estvan

Baffled by critique of Catalyst article

I found Sarah Karp's and Rebecca Harris' use of comments from Chief Transformation Officer Todd Babbitz to be very enlightening. First by admitting closing these schools will not generate any cost savings in the near term Mr Babbitz undercuts one of the core arguments for school closings.

Second, on Tuesday myself and other advocates for students with disabilities met with CPS about the closings that were announced yesterday. During that discussion after CPS laid out its plans and supports for students with IEPs I said if all these things were carried out how would CPS save money by these closings. No one from CPS at that meeting could really answer that question. Babbitz has now answered that question, CPS will not save money for years. But I also suspect CPS will not be able to honor all of its commitments for these students because they may not have the money. But only time and the final number of closed school will resolve that concern.

Because of increase pension payments, potential cuts in state funding, and some cuts to federal funding CPS will be required in the near term to resort to short term borrowing to make salaries. CPS will completely gut the central administration, but that will save little money. Eventually, CPS will likely have to cut tuition payments to charters and per pupil funding to traditional schools. CPS even may be forced to allow schools to increase class sizes. If ISBE changes it special education class size rules as it is trying to do these too will be increased.

In closing I would argue the Catalyst reporters provided a very valuable interview for its readers. Just for a point of disclosure I am a member of the Catalyst editorial advisory board.

Rod Estvan

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