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'The real hurdle to education reform is poverty' ??? Sun-Times gets it in end-of-2012 editorial?

For nearly two decades, the debate about "education reform" in the USA has been between those who claim that schools alone could do the job and those who know (including those of us at Substance) that the overwhelming problems faced by a growing number of children in the USA is poverty and the grim realities that surround it. Neoliberal corporate reformers, including Chicago's media elite, have long preached a gospel that claimed the schools could do it alone. These lies, repeated over and over, stated that the schools could do it alone.

Now, on the final day of 2012, the Chicago Sun-Times surprises us with an editorial that starts to get it. We don't know what 2013 will bring as the Chicago Teachers Union continues to organize around the truth facing the USA -- that children condemned to poverty need more than just the perfect lesson plan to survive, then thrive, in the nation that once promised -- and still pledges -- liberty and justice for all.

For our readers who missed it, below is the Sun-Times editorial published in its print editions on December 31, 2012.

Editorial: Real hurdle to education reform is poverty. Chicago Sun-Times Editorials December 31, 2012 9:54AM

There is nothing easy about trying to boost academic outcomes for poor kids.

That is why we’ve supported a range of aggressive interventions for the Chicago Public Schools over the years, including school closures, charter openings, turnarounds, improved teacher evaluations, a longer school day and changes to teaching tenure, hiring and firing rules.

We remain convinced those interventions can make the difference at individual schools, for individual kids and, across all schools, can move the needle slightly.

But until society and our schools figures out a way to deal, in a comprehensive and systemic way, with child poverty — a parent’s income and educational level is the biggest predictor of school success — the odds of major improvement are low.

The Chicago Teachers Union has been pressing this point with greater urgency in recent days — and we applaud it. It released a report this month laying out the undeniable link between a parent’s wage and school achievement.

Data from the Nation’s Report Card, a rigorous national exam, show that more than 40 percent of the variation in average reading scores across the states is associated with variation in child poverty rates. The vast majority, some 87 percent, of all Chicago public school students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

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In its report, the CTU called on CPS to support efforts to lift wages for low-income workers to a $15-per-hour living wage, arguing that moving families out of poverty will improve academic outcomes. The report was commissioned by Stand Up Chicago, a labor and community group, and produced in partisanship with the CTU.

The teachers union is right to broaden the school reform lens and, we hope, help parents and policy makers see (or remember) what really drives the crisis in the Chicago schools.

We disagree with the CTU, though, that other efforts. including charters and turnarounds, should be abandoned. The CTU fails to note that deeply embedded in many of those strategies are efforts to counteract the effects of child poverty. Countless children across Chicago are benefitting from those efforts right now, today.

Still, we support the CTU’s effort to push back against a national chorus, started in the era of President George W. Bush, that accuses anyone of mentioning poverty as giving up on poor kids. Nationally, a similar effort is being led by New York University education professor Diane Ravitch, who is pushing for a direct and honest conversation about poverty as the only starting point for lasting improvement.

Ravitch and CTU President Karen Lewis aren’t caving to what Bush called “soft bigotry of low expectations.” They’re about setting high expectations but giving poor kids the support to reach them.

Lewis said it best herself when she spoke to the City Club of Chicago last month:

“We cannot fix what’s wrong with our schools until we are prepared to have honest conversations about poverty and race,” Lewis said. “Until we do, we will be mired in the no-excuses mentality [that] poverty doesn’t matter. Poverty matters a lot when you are teaching children who are distracted by their lives. Poverty matters a lot when you are teaching children who have seen trauma like none of us in this room can imagine.”

There is nothing easy about trying to boost academic outcomes for poor kids.

But there is little else that is more important.



Comments:

January 1, 2013 at 1:38 PM

By: Paulette Lane

The Real Scapegoat to CPS Fiscal Crisis is Poverty Communities

Yes, Poverty does matter and from the perspective of a parent, I feel like CPS wants to tackle it's fiscal crisis by further destabilizing African American Communities.

RE: Concern about Comments made by CPS Administration Tim Cawley at the 11/26/12 Utilization

Hearing

Tim Cawley: “Barack Obama said providing help and choice is the right thing to do. We want to provide the possibility for these students with limited resources.”

It was stated in the hearing that Barbara Byrd Bennett indicated that there was a $1 billion dollar budget deficit and Tim Cawley shared the following comments;

“We have “Declining Revenue and Rising Expenses, the Outlook is “Enormous Deficits”,

We’ve used up reserves” and expenses will skyrocket due to Pension Costs, In “2013 Budget and beyond there is a discontinuity in Revenue & Expenses, we used 100% of the Fund Balance to cover $432 million in deficits, leaving a zero Fund Balance, Our Revenue is not affected by the expansion of Charters. Some of the Administration Expense is covered with Discretionary State Aid. “

Tim Cawley also mentioned the following about slides 4-6 in his presentation;

In 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, only one time fixes help with the budget deficits along with the help that Springfield provides. Also for the 2014 Budget they expect the huge decline that occurred in Fiscal 2012 to continue to stay that way.

Tim Cawley also went on to say that Charter and Alternative Schools make up 9% of the total budget with 12% of the students attending those schools. He said “We think those schools are funded fairly because there are other expenses that also apply. CPS will not have less money because we are funded the same way. We would just be moving expense money from one area; District Run Schools, to another area; Running Charter Schools and our Revenue would be the same.”

“Special Education Costs and Pensions are an enormous in expense.”

“ In old schools boilers fail and roofs are failing and Bond Holders make payments thru Debt Service to cover repairs.”

Concern: Charters Schools actually receive less funding, not equitable funding. In a Chicago Catalyst

article called “Charter School Succeeding on Almost Every Measure”

by Andrew Broy on August 17, 2010, it stated the following;

“As you acknowledge in your article, however, charter schools have never been equitably funded in our city. A 2010 national study showed that charter schools in Chicago receive $2,020 less per pupil from public sources than comparable public schools. This means that the average charter school class of 30 students is funded at $60,600 less than a similar public school. Even when foundation and philanthropic revenue is included, the per pupil gap remains $1,309, or $39,270 per class. The remedy should be for the district to fund charter schools equitably and to make charter school facilities access a priority. In an era where Chicago is planning to cut charter school reimbursement 6 percent while funding a 4 percent increase in teacher salaries on top of step increases.”

In a Chicago Catalyst article called “A Catalyst Analysis finds that Many Charters Operate with

Deficits and Depend Heavily on Private money to Stay Afloat” by Sarah Karp August, 2010,

It shared the following information;

“Catalyst’s analysis found that half of charters have run deficits in recent years. Two-thirds of charters could not cover core expenses without private money. A third of charters look to foundations, corporations and rich individuals to fill more than 20 percent of their budgets.

Yet CPS officials and national experts say that to be considered financially sound, charter schools should be able to cover general operating costs solely with public money. If they raise private cash, it should be just for extras.

Both charter advocates and opponents agree that the situation is troublesome and raises questions about the long-term viability of these schools.

Advocates say inequitable funding is the root of the problem. Charter schools are forced to rely on private funding because they receive less public money than traditional schools, says Larry Maloney of Aspire Consulting Company in Washington D.C., one of the authors of the Ball State study.

“The question is, are we intentionally setting up charter schools to fail?” Maloney asks. Chicago’s charters face potential cuts in public money this year because of the district’s budget shortfall.

“I think the charter school system was always built on a house of cards, and once the economy took a dive, it would crumble,” says Jackson Potter, a staunch opponent and co-chair of CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators), a faction of the Chicago Teachers Union whose leader, Karen Lewis, is the new union president.

Charters “have to be held accountable,” Potter says. “Parents need to know if their child’s school is about to implode.”

Concern: CPS expansion of Charters are forcing minority families into a more unstable school situations.

First CPS built brand new schools thru the “Modern schools Across Chicago Program” to build the majority of brand new schools in white communities. This is an unfair advantage since white families only make up about 9% of the student population. Most of the highly selective schools which require a huge investment in resources are also unequally stacked in predominantly white communities to make sure that the majority of these students receive a stellar education. Their teachers receive the highest salaries because they can recruit the top students across the City of Chicago thru selective enrollment and our families dream of attending their schools because our tax dollars are drained from our communities to give them more than their fair share of resources.

Fact: It is a fact that Charters were designed for the weakest students in CPS and Alternative Schools

were designed for the children who are not just special education students but one’s who are also

dropouts that may also be in and out of the criminal justice system.

Fact: CPS has decided to tackle the Budget problem by not subtracting from the communities that have

been given the most resources; that is newly constructed buildings like the $125,000,000 Jones

College Prep., that was built using TIF from other communities. It has decided to shutter

communities that have been starving the entire time that CPS was issuing out resources.

Fact: CPS has allowed Charters to start-up in buildings that had environmental hazards like asbestos

that causes a form of cancer that is incurable (mesothelioma). Therefore CPS has most likely been

auctioning off CPS building to not be liable for the health of these students who are at risk of

illnesses due to environmental hazards.

Recently Bill Gates cut off some of his Charter funding. Does a traditional public school have to worry about funding cut at the drop of a hat? Minority children are already at an unfair disadvantage and CPS wants to compromise them further. CPS wants to shed the majority of minority children from traditional CPS schools to accommodate teacher pensions by shedding special education students and minority students into the Charter Schools. This seems to be the plan to strengthen traditional schools academically and fiscally but on the necks of African American students and it does not seem to matter if you have an accelerated or gifted and talented child.

What CPS is really doing is shedding their problem into the Charter School System and using the academic shortfall of the Charter School students to justify giving Charters less financial resources. CPS plans to thrust our community children into a deprived school system in Charters; Great for traditional CPS teacher salaries, future pensions and stronger future CPS Budgets for traditional schools, but more of a fiscal crisis and the shuttering of African American families that will be in predominantly Charter Schools by force. Seems to me that a separate and unequal school system is being formulated and let’s not forget that many Charters also do not have libraries, playgrounds along with the ever present danger of environmental hazards from old school buildings.

Again, these are just my feeling as I am not an educator, just a parent.

January 1, 2013 at 5:19 PM

By: Paulette Lane

Right Size the Schools to Where the students actually live

BBB says she wants to "right size" the school district. If she is serious then she can start with Dunbar High School. The majority of the students come from the far southside of Chicago, not where the school is located. Why are poor struggling families traveling across town. Maybe they have plenty of absences because they can't afford the bus fare. Practically nobody in Douglas attends Dunbar High School, so why is it at this location. The current location of Dunbar is not the historic location, even though folks call it historic. Shouldn't the programs at Dunbar be offered where the demand is coming from, students who live on the the far southside?? Let's right size Dunbar into the correct community so the students will not have to travel so far!! I also disagree with giving folks bus passes to attend school across towm. "Right Sizing" should first be to offer the programs where the students actually live, right??? Then we would really know what school buildings to really close. The only folks that should be traveling are people who are accepted into selective enrollment schools. This is just my opinion. And if Dunbar is closed, another Charter is not needed. The community around Dunbar (Douglas) only has about 750 high school students, many of which attend school outside the community. However about 6,000 high school students travel to this community, most of them from the far southside.

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