MEDIA WATCH: Urban Prep! Urban Prep! Another mendacious Chicago 'miracle' that corporate media want to make sure you see in the 'right' way

In their usual way, both Chicago daily newspapers assured their readers on March 7 that they had discovered another one of those Chicago-style education miracles that the world needed to know about.

The Chicago Tribune ran the story on page one.

Claiming that a story is "news" may or may not qualify the story as pure propaganda as well, but the March 6 news story that appeared on Page 6 of the Chicago Sun-Times was baseless hype. Urban Prep follows what Substance long ago identified as the "West Side Hustle." Any school can get "all" of its graduates into "college" by requiring that all of the seniors apply to college, including colleges (such as the Chicago City Colleges) that accept all applicants. The ploy has been used since the 1980s by Providence St. Mel's, and has now been adopted by some Chicago charter schools as if the claim represented some evidence of the superiority of the charter schools. Between 2007 (when it opened amid great hype) and 2010, Urban Prep has been the topic of more "news" stories in Chicago than all of the top students at the city's nine academic magnet high schools combined. Substance graphic from the March 6, 2010 Chicago Sun-Times.The Sun-Times ran its full-page story on Page Six, a little more to the back. Both stories basically told the same dishonest fairy tale version of Chicago's Urban Prep charter high school. The official version that supposedly represented some kind of miracle: All of Urban Prep's (small number of) graduating seniors had been accepted to college. To read the hagiographic stories — miracles and lives of saints are a mainstay in Chicago education reporting — you'd think there was something unusual about this. There isn't, but Chicago's major newspapers and their reporters are committed to promoting charter schools and repeating the charter schools' official versions as completely as they are dedicated to denigrating the city's public schools. The March 6 stories were just the most recent examples.

In fact, the March 2010 "news" stories in Chicago's daily newspapers constitutes about the 30th annual review of what we might call the "West Side Shuffle..." The West Side Shuffle (named in part in honor of one of its most famous practitioners, Marva Collins of "West Side Prep") is performed when private schools (always those that are part of bashing the public schools) proclaim their greatness by using unverified claims that, upon review, turn out to be at best unverified and at worst downright lies.

Usually, the reporters who discover this part of the Chicago Miracle are white, and the hustlers are Black. The reporters are usually too nice to ask any serious questions of those who are performing the shuffle, and the result is a never ending parade of miracle stories, going all the way back to the founding of Providence St. Mel's, continuing through West Side Prep, and now embodied in "Urban Prep."

The story in the March 6, 2010 Chicago Tribune ran on Page One. Substance graphic. On Saturday, March 6, 2010, anyone reading Chicago's newspapers was treated to a bit of heavy breathing in the news pages of both the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune about a miracle at Chicago's Urban Prep charter high schools. Ignoring most of the facts about the school and accepting the claims of the school's founder, Tim King, both major daily newspapers treated their readers to some charter school propaganda in the form of supposed news. Is it a good thing that every "graduate" of a high school gets into college? Sure. But so what?

But what does it mean — especially three months before graduation? Actually, not a lot, as anyone familiar with high school could have told Chicago's two daily newspapers. Like a lot of parlor magic tricks, this one dissolves when you look closely at the trick, the set up, and the trickster — and not simply in the eyes of the magician (in this case, Urban Prep's Tim King).

First fact: Any high school can get all of its seniors into college. All you have to do is make every senior apply to a college as a condition of graduation. Then, you just make sure that the seniors, even the ones who have told you they are going to trade school or into the military, apply to the colleges that are the least selective. Bingo! The Miracle is born.

This particular trick has been the stock and trade of Paul Adams, another miracle worker from Chicago's black community, for more than a quarter of a century. Paul Adams and his Providence St. Mel's high school have been around for the ruling class to tout for a long time, and some of the bases for touting have been perfected for a long time. Like other conjurers, Tim King is simply dusting off some old trick he learned in the Miracle and Magic Shoppe.

Nobody asked, in the original reporting (as "news") on the supposed Urban Prep miracle some other key questions. Like, even, what kinds of reading and math scores (since the Tribune worships test scores) the Urban Prep kids have gotten.

We were told, in both "news" stories, that Urban Prep kids entered the school without very good reading skills. Source? Urban Prep.

We were told that now they are doing much much much better. Source: Urban Prep. We were not told how much better. Why? Urban Prep keeps that detail secret (although it's reported in Illinois state data).

Apparently, the reporters didn't ask any questions or check out any supposed facts, violating one of the first rules of reporting.

Before Urban Prep had graduated its first class, but after it had taken part in the destruction of the public Englewood High School (and taken over the Englewood building), then Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan (above center) helped spotlight Urban Prep in an April 7, 2008 media event at the school (above). The media event, which featured a lot of talk about the greatness of Urban Prep (then in its second year) was organized to announce "Requests for Proposals" for additional Chicago charter schools and other "new schools". Behind Duncan in the photo above are Urban Prep's Tim King (on Duncan's right) and Phyllis Lockett of the $50 million "Renaissance Schools Fund". Tim King is head of Urban Prep. Lockett administers the $50 million "Renaissance Schools Fund" that gives money to charter schools, but not to real public schools. During its first three years, thanks to support from conservative foundations and millionaires, Urban Prep had twice the money, from public and private sources, as nearby Paul Robeson High School, the nearest public high school Robeson is also the public schools that had to take the 50 students Urban Prep "counseled out" as it was thinning the Class of 2010 for the recent media splash that was featured on Page One of the March 6, 2010 Chicago Tribune and in a full-page inside story in the Chicago Sun-Times. The official charter school story, presented as "news" in Chicago, is an uncritical repetition of the version of reality given to reporters by the charters schools' promoters. None of the reporters who covered the latest iteration of that story (which began more than 25 years ago with the Sun-Times promotion of the Marva Collins Hoax (as Substance exposed it) is that non-public schools are always a miracle alternative to the gritty reality of public schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Nor did the reporters gushing in their Urban Prep stories on March 6 ask about whether it makes sense to force every senior to apply to college, when some won't go there. Or to track, rigorously, how many of those kids actually are able to afford college (it's one thing nowadays to get in, another to afford it, as any working class or middle class parent or student can tell you).

Finally, a relevant statistic will come five years from now, when, if the Tribune has bothered. it comes time to find our how many of those guys have actually graduated from college. But since this is a rush job "miracle," Chicago-style, none of these cautionary warnings were raised by either the Sun-Times or Tribune in their rush to promote charter schools and, as usual, bash the public ones... 