Sun-Times breaks the mold with a New Year's Eve editorial that poverty -- not 'bad teachers' -- is cause of children's school failure...

It was New Year's Eve, not exactly the time when most people are reading the editorials in Chicago's newspapers, but even before many people began drinking they had to read the editorial in the December 31, 2012 Sun-Times twice: One of the mainstays of propaganda for corporate "school reform" was admitting what Chicago teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union have been saying: poverty is the main cause for the "failure" of the children in public schools like those of Chicago's inner city.

It's possible that the disconnect between the obvious in the schools and what comes across as downtown reality via the "news" will begin to narrow, even in Chicago. If that be true, then 2013 will be a New Year in many senses. Perhaps, for example, the Sun-Times will begin to note that the charter schools whose propaganda it has published uncritically for years are, for the most part, frauds who use various trickeries to tout their "data" and toot their horns. If that be true in the next, say, six months, then those months that Sun-Times editorial write Kate Grossman spent seeing the reality of the University of Chicago charter schools five years ago might still be worth a second and third look.

Our first recommendation, before any of our colleagues in the press repeats another charter school talking point, would be to follow the "data" from the Noble Network of Charter Schools this month. For years, as we've reported in Substance, Michael Milkie, the head of Noble Street, has dumped his lowest scoring kids back into the city's real public schools every January. This provides "Noble" with a double whammy of goodness (as long as the fraud isn't investigated). On the one hand, "Noble" is already collecting for the year for those kids, since CPS has paid the per capita on each. On the other hand, Noble can show another "gain' in its test scores because the lowest scoring kids, after contributing to "before," are gone by the time the school gets to "after."

On the third hand, since most of the kids pushed out by Noble are "counseled out" and "volunteer" to leave, they are not counted as dropouts against the "noble" data sets that Noble then packages for its corporate fans. Not that we would expect the Pritzkers, Rauners, Rowes and other corporate elitists to bother checking for fraud when they do their naming of schools, but it the same kind of accounting fraud were taking place in their own corporations, we have a hunch they would pay closer attention. Since the Noble Street accounting is feeding into the ideological prejudices of the Rauners, Pritzkers, Comers, Clarks and Reinsdorfs, however, they can be expected to avert their eyes.

But that doesn't mean that the Sun-Times and Tribune should continue to promote the fraud that has been Noble Street from the day Michael Milkie left Wells High School (where he was only willing to teach the "top" kids, leaving the average kids -- the majority at Wells -- for his colleagues) and began his career as a very well paid edupreneur.

The New Year's Eve foray into accuracy in the Sun-Times may be a first step towards some serious revisionism. Or it may be the result of one night when everyone had too much celebration. Whatever. It's a positive sign as the New Year dawns. so let's read it again, one more time.

The Chicago Sun-Times faced reality on New Year's Eve 2012. Better late than never?The complete editorial follows:

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.

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.


January 3, 2013 at 1:43 PM

By: Bob Busch

Flower Petals?

Being cynical by nature I have to wonder why the Sun Times editorial page has changed from the day in 2010 when they wanted all of to run a victory lap when SB7 was passed.

Could it be they have gotten religion? Have they come around to the obvious? Personally I think it was the sight of 30,000 red flower petals moving in unison down loop streets that caught their attention. How's that for a victory lap.

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