BOARDWATCH: Does the ghost of Michael Scott still rattle through the halls of Clark St?... Corporate reform's official parents use Board meeting to trash real public schools following well worn scripts praising AUSL, turnaround

If the ghost of deceased Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott continues to walk the halls of the Chicago Public Schools headquarters at 125 S. Clark St., as some believe, then the Board's February 27 2013 meeting might have caused echoing laughter as a well worn script was dusted off and brought back to life by the latest version of Chicago Public Schools. Scott's gone, but the games he helped pioneer are still in play.

AUSL's Donald Feinstein, Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott, and Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan at a December 3, 2006 press conference talking about how the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) had the secret for "turning around" failing urban schools like the Sherman Elementary School, which that year became "Sherman School of Excellence." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Two of them in evidence during the February 27 meeting were the "Salvation" narrative that was in rehearsals back in Scott's days, on behalf of the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) and its so-called "turnarounds" (all dubbed "School of Excellence" once their teachers, principals and staffs have been fired) and the "Good Parent/Bad Parent" game. Both were groomed to a kind of thespian perfection during the two terms Scott served former Mayor Richard M. Daley as Board President, and now they are being continued, with a new cast, under the school board appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

First, the "Salvation" narrative. According to that script, a school that has been subjected to so-called "turnaround" by AUSL was so BAAAADDDD before the AUSL missionaries arrived that it was, almost unbelievable. During Scott's day, in the early days of the AUSL turnarounds, the school where that script was pioneered as Sherman, which continues seven years after AUSL first took it over as the "Sherman School of Excellence." Before AUSL had even been in charge of Sherman for a full year, Scott and the Board's publicity people rolled out the Salvation narrative and two narrators. The narrators, both parents, held press conference and spoke at Board of Educations about the dramatic wonders of "turnaround" for their children, while Board members, led by Scott, cooed in agreement.

The script, which has been roughly the same since, reads like the lines out of "Guys and Dolls..."

"I used to smoke. I used to drink! I used to lie in the gutter with loose women!!..."

And then I found (fill in the blanks here with the name of the Mission that did the soul saving).

The first of the 2013 parents to repeat the script was Candace Harris, who trashed the old Herzl Elementary School and praised the new AUSL version (Herzl was put into "turnaround" last year after dramatic protests with most of the staff dumped and replaced) of Herzl reality. According to Scott, Herzl was dysfunctional, but now it's working just fine.

Jennifer Scott used her two minutes at the Board of Education meeting of February 27, 2013 to trash the former teachers and staff of Bradwell Elementary School and read from a statement praising the miraculous "turnaround" of the school under AUSL. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Almost immediately after Harris's trashing of the old Herzl, Jennifer Scott took the podium and reiterated the trashing of Bradwell Elementary School, which had begun a month earlier out of the voice of another parent. According to Scott, Bradwell was unsafe and terrible, without focus, until AUSL took over and got rid of the old teachers and staff and brought in the new.

A little while later, the same story was repeated, only this time is consisted of the trashing of the former staff of Dulles Elementary School, with Salvation, courtesy of AUSL, now evident, according to parent and staff member Ronald Alexander.

Finally, it was Piccolo Elementary School's turn. According to parent Eric Winslow, Piccolo has been "transformed" from a bad school to a good one with improvements in "climate, safety and community" as a result of AUSL.

When the AUSL salvation narrative was first in tryouts, after Sherman Elementary became "Sherman School of Excellence," CPS officials actually held press conferences to feature the parents who were repeating the same version of reality (often reading from pre-prepared speeches that some had trouble with). CPS doesn't hold press conferences any more, preferring to avoid any chance that someone would ask a pointed or even critical question. But the narrative continues, and some observers noted that the overflow of the AUSL salvation stories in February 2013 might indicate that when she is done trashing the schools on the "underutilization" hit list this year, CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett may move directly to more "turnaround."

The AUSL salvation narrative usually peters out after a year or two, when the data begin coming in over a longer period of time and the wonders of "turnaround" that were proclaimed during the opening years end. By five years into the wonderments, AUSL schools generally stack up roughly the same as the other schools serving the same populations. That has been the ongoing reality for Sherman, one of the earliest AUSL "Schools of Excellence." (The first, Dodge Renaissance Academy School of Excellence, doesn't count for special demographic reasons).

The February 27 Board meeting was also treated to a different kind of trashing from another group of trained parents, usually identifying themselves as being from Stand for Children or Education Reform Now. This group (which led off public participation) reads from a slightly different script. In the face of the protests of more than 20,000 parents, teachers, children and political leaders against the claims of "underutilization" and the need for a massive number of closings, the Stand For Children/Education Reform Now parents support the Board's agenda.

Sherman "School of Excellence" parent Ricky Fields (at podium) joked with Alderman JoAnn Thompson (behind Fields) and then Mayor Richard M. Daley on January 31, 2008 at a major staged media event at Sherman. The event was the occasion of the announcement by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that they would no longer fund "small schools" as the key to urban school reform and begin putting their millions into "turnaround." Fields regularly stood before the Board of Education and the media recounting the salvation narrative from Sherman, but Sherman remained the same kind of school it had been long after "turnaround" supposedly saved it. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The scripts read by Harris, Scott and the other parents who praised the ASUL turnaround miracle could have been read seven years earlier by another AUSL parent, Ricky Fields of Sherman. Fields was one of the first parents to show up at Board meetings and in front of the city's corporate media to tout the miracles of AUSL. His narrative work began in 2007 and continued into 2011, regularly praising AUSL and its works.

There were many other interesting features at the February 27 meeting, but the re-runs of the AUSL miracle show was one feature that had to be reported on in a special story, especially since it was pioneered by the late Michael Scott (along with then CEO Arne Duncan) and hasn't really changed that much since.


March 1, 2013 at 12:04 AM

By: Maria Guerrero

Casals facts... AUSL propaganda versus reality

It will be interesting to find out how the new 2012 AUSL schools are doing at the end of 2013 in terms of enrollment, scores, etc. My former school Pablo Casals has already had a major drop in enrollment ( when we left, it was 500 - I believe now it is under 400), and we gave them a Level 2 school with 68% of its students at/above grade level. Although they removed it from the closure list ( no doubt in part for the 5 million dollars they put into the school), I wonder how long they can keep it open if the numbers continue to decrease.

March 2, 2013 at 8:18 AM

By: Jean R Schwab

Casals curiosity

Maria- I think about Casals often wondering what is going on over there?

May 8, 2013 at 10:47 AM

By: Ted Ferguson


Dodge Renaissance Academy was over 85% meets or exceeds, pushing the 90-90-90 mark as of last year. I am curious to know what \"special demographic reasons\" make Dodge an exception to your notion that AUSL schools typically fail after a few years? The student population at Dodge is over 90% low income and over 90% minority.

May 12, 2014 at 8:42 AM

By: Jay Bergstine

AUSL's garbage

AUSL formula is simple. flood the schools with money and the scores will go up. It s a non-sustainable formula and as soon as the money stops, results will return to their lows at has been proven. All AUSL does is prove that adequate =founding is needed to achieve high scores. What I don't agree with, is AUSL B.S. roderick and massive campaign propaganda. They host carnivals at the end of the year in an economically deprived neighborhood and hand out t shirts for every event. Parents who cant afford these luxuries, find AUSL to be a fountain of shirts and money. My question is, what about the other schools who are doing just fine in the same demographic and socioeconomic situations as the schools that get turned around. Shouldn't we be funding them the same way as these AUSL schools? AUSL has bad news written all over it. However, they city is broke and they have "private money"something the Mayor can't resist. Wipe your hands clean and hand the issue at hand to someone else. Great Job Rahm!!

May 12, 2014 at 10:07 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

AUSL's propaganda scripts now a decade old

Ten years ago, I covered the closing of Dodge Elementary School on the West Side, the first of the three schools to be given over to AUSL for the "turnaround miracle." They also slandered and destroyed Williams Elementary that year. Terrell, the third school on the initial Arne Duncan Hit List was already doomed; when the projects in the "Hole" were demolished, like the scene from "The Wire", the kids were no longer there. But Duncan had to libel and slander Terrell as if context didn't exist at all. "Reform, Lamar. Reform..." as Brother Muson says in "The Wire." The scene could have been set at 54th and State in Chicago. But at least in The Wire they didn't hypocritically slander a bunch of teachers and a principal in the process...

Then, a couple of years later, the newly elected President of the United States and his newly appointed Secretary of Education came back to Chicago to sit at Dodge and give an additional attaboy to that particular crime of corporate "school reform."

At that time, Arne Duncan was doing "turnaround" with a year's planning time, so Dodge was actually closed for a year while all the planning was done. Part of the planning, then and now, involved not only the spending of extra hundreds of thousands of dollars on the "new" school, but also bribing (then usually dumping) a couple of parents to read from the "salvation narrative" script that AUSL has had its parents repeat year after year after (now) decade, literally always saying the same sad stuff: My child was not safe at the "old" (bad, public) school, but he (she) is now "safe" at the "new" AUSL school.

For years, nobody demanded to know why CPS security and police protection were lacking when the school(s) -- Sherman, Harvard, Dodge, Johnson, etc., etc., etc. -- were true public schools, but that suddenly safety was provided when the school became a propaganda tool for corporate school reform. Praised by an ever-changing cast of "parents," many of whom are hired for a year or two to sing the praises of the 'New" AULS miracle school -- and then fired when the road show moves on to another miracle.

The earliest parents were featured in CPS press conferences ten years ago. Sherman was one example. Barack Obama came to the Dodge Miracle Show right after he was elected President in 2008 to tout AUSL, and the U.S. Government has been pushing AUSL's fraudulent brand of "turnaound" (a corporate thingy that failed most of the time in corporate America, except as propaganda in places like Forbes; see the strange story of Al Dunlap and Sunbeam for an example) since.

And so, in the fullness of time, a new generation of "parents" got up to praise AUSL at the April 23 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, and a new generation of CPS bureaucrats took the floor at the Show Trial hearings against Dvorak, McNair, and Gresham in 2014.

You can see the AUSL "parents" because CPS now published the video of their Board meetings (heavily censored to eliminate many critics and those who are dragged away by CPS security). The amazing thing to me is that the AUSL miracle show goes on and on and on, first locally here and now nationally, without there ever being a serious attempt at critique in the corporate media that dominates most American "news."

We at Substance don't have the resources to track down Ricky Fields and the other poor parents who were originally duped by AUSL's miracle, and then put in front of the cameras to read the salvation narrative from the scripts AUSL provides.

Nor do we have the resources to track down all the teachers and principals who were screwed -- many after decades of service to communities -- slandered and dumped going back all the way to Arne Duncan's first AUSL forgeries in the early years of this century. I can still remember the passionate testimony we reported by teachers and parents who rose to oppose Arne Duncan's AUSLization of Williams and Dodge elementary schools -- a decade ago. The tears. The kids promising to "do better" (they always believe they can raise their test scores so their teachers won't get fired...).

And the cynical bureaucrats, from Bob Runcie and his generation to John Barker today, who along with the lawyers and the "Network Chiefs" (or REOs, of AIOs... etc) who read from their scripts libeling, slandering, and executing another couple of hundred of their colleagues.

At least, thanks to our reporting (and a few others), the people who committed those crimes against us will not be forgotten -- or forgiven -- either in 2014 when they are called "Network" chieftains of various kinds, or through the years, when they were called "Area Officers," or "Area Instruction Officers," or "Region Education Officers..." David Vitale became angry about the fact that parents and teachers were passionate in their opposition to the latest "turnaround" nonsense from the latest "Chicago Board of Education." Like the Network bureaucrats who spoke at the Show Trials and the current "Chief Executive Officer," he is one of the criminals whose crimes against public education -- and the Truth -- will one day be brought to justice.

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