Chicago Teachers Union releases major report on destruction during previous school closings

A major press conference at the headquarters of the Chicago Teachers Union was held on April 15, 2013 bringing to the public a report on how the Chicago Public Schools destroyed Guggenheim Elementary School after a closing. The report (published below) was the most extensive done about a closing. For the ten years since Arne Duncan began closing schools, CPS has said regularly that it was going to take care of the children from each of the schools, but never did.

The CTU Press Release is below here:

Karen Lewis speaking at the press conference at the Chicago Teachers Union on April 15, 2013. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.New Report Cites Past Disinvestment By CPS in. Schools Targeted for Closure. A history of trauma and neglect exposed in “A Tale of Two Schools: The Human Story Behind Destructive School Actions in Chicago”

CHICAGO—The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) issued report examining the upheaval at two elementary schools slated for closure in recent years by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The study, titled A Tale of Two Schools: The Human Story Behind Destructive School Actions in Chicago, uses testimony from parents, staff, administrators and community leaders to address district neglect, barriers to improvement, low student morale and other concerns at Simon Guggenheim Elementary and Jacob Beidler Elementary schools, and examine the overall causes and effects of school actions.

“This report presents an autopsy of a school community undermined and destroyed by this school district,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “CPS starved Guggenheim for years, demonized the teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians and demoralized the administration and students so it could place this school under arrest, read it its last rites and slate it for execution. Now they are targeting Beidler and 53 other existing school communities in the same manner.”

Located in West Englewood, Guggenheim, 7141 S. Morgan, successfully fought a closing attempt in 2010 before a new CPS-appointed administration presented a number of systemic obstacles to school improvement, epitomized by the mishandling of the school’s homeless student population and a 42-student third-grade class at the start of the 2011-2012 school year. After throwing the school into utter chaos CPS then used the poor test scores and the hostile school climate that it created through years of disinvestment and destabilization to justify the school’s closure in 2012. “They broke the family bond,” said former Guggenheim teacher Kimberly Walls.

CPS announced its intentions to close Jacob Beidler Elementary School, 3151 W. Walnut, in 2011 and turn the school’s building over to a charter school. Appalled by CPS’s decision, the East Garfield Park community rallied, marched and organized against the closing and CPS withdrew the proposal. Two years and three CEOs later, CPS once again placed Beidler on a hit list of schools targeted for closure in 2013.

“I think that kids need a stable environment, and this is one of the few stable environments that many of these kids have, where they have familiar faces and people who care about them,” said a Beidler staff member. “It’s going to be a traumatic situation for them to lose many of the people who have been their support system, in addition to their home.”

Anger and fear returned to the Beidler community, which once again had to fight for its school’s survival. Another successful campaign spared Beidler—one of only two East Garfield Park elementary schools to avoid direct impact from 2013 proposed actions.

“What the communities at Guggenheim and Beidler experienced is an example of why there is zero trust in the mayor’s plan to see this plan through honestly and effectively,” Lewis said about CPS’s proposal to close 54 schools, the largest mass school closing in U.S. history.

A Tale of Two Schools presents first-person testimony of CPS’s policy-driven causes and harmful effects of school actions at Guggenheim and the culture of fear created by closure threats at Beidler. Through case studies, the report identifies the obstacles that schools threatened with closure face, and examines how CPS addresses these difficulties. The report also investigates the support available at schools fearing closure and lists the additional resources that could help them succeed. The case studies also address the effectiveness of CPS transition plans and the value of community input at school actions hearings. Each element of these case studies is based on testimony from multiple sources.

Many of the improvements at Beidler mirror the 5 Essential Supports (5 Essentials). Based on more than 20 years of research, the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research found that the 5 Essentials consistently correlate with school improvement and provide a more comprehensive approach to school evaluation than simply using scores on standardized tests or “value-added” measures. They are:

· Effective Leaders

· Collaborative Teachers

· Ambitious Instruction

· Supportive Environment

· Involved Families

While Beidler excels or is making significant progress on these 5 Essentials, Guggenheim was denied the opportunity to develop these supports. After a thorough investigation of Guggenheim, A Tale of Two Schools concludes that CPS did not provide teachers and staff with the necessary assistance to improve the school. The district, in fact, imposed policies that weakened all five of the Essential Supports. After defeating the 2010 closing attempt, CPS restricted Guggenheim even more, creating serious barriers to the school’s proposed action plan. Then, two years later, CPS came back to Guggenheim and completed the systematic destruction of the school, shuttering its doors for good.

“People feel a disinvestment in the school, the principal changes mid-year, how good is that?” said Rene Heybach of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. At the end of 2011, 91 Guggenheim students qualified as homeless, according to the school’s homeless liaison, paraprofessional Sherri Parker.

“All this conflict starts happening, it makes you feel like your school is disintegrating, and guess what, it is disintegrating,” Heybach said. Research for A Tale of Two Schools was supported by a grant from Communitas Charitable Trust, a family foundation funding education and community groups that are committed to empowering people in their schools and communities to establish institutions with the capacity to execute collaborative and democratic practices.

“We fear that this massive school closings plan by CPS will destabilize and destroy communities, thus we chose to help CTU develop this project because CTU has demonstrated its ability and commitment to supporting teachers, parents and community develop strong cooperative actions within their schools and their communities,” Communitas said in a written statement. CPS is creating a vicious cycle of disinvestment and population suppression that severely limits the ability of African-American communities on the South and West sides to reemerge as thriving neighborhoods. Eighty-eight percent of the students affected by school actions from 2001 to 2012 were African-American. Out of the 54 schools proposed for closure in 2013, 88 percent are African-American and only 125 of the 16,119 total students—0.78 percent—are white.

By closing neighborhood schools, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS are declaring these communities dead zones that are unworthy of targeted investment. But at each school proposed for closing, consolidation, co-location or turnaround, there is a story, a story that involves real students, teachers, staff and administrators who are inextricably linked to their school. Schools are not just a building for students and staff; they are a second home. It is easy to lose the human element when applying complex data, but we cannot let these stories be forgotten when considering destabilizing school actions.

Instead of closing neighborhood schools, CPS must target resources to strengthen existing programs, add support, remove inequities, provide schools with stable leadership and ensure that teachers have what they need to educate and nurture their students. Schools cannot be saved by closing them, and communities cannot prosper without high-quality schools. CPS is contributing to a vicious cycle of disinvestment and population flight that severely hinders the possible revival of established African-American and integrated communities.


April 16, 2013 at 4:11 PM

By: Rod Estvan

CTU election strategy

I am fascinated by the coverage of the CTU's April 15th press conference. Based on the stories appearing in the Tribune, Sun Times, Crain's, Progress Illinois, and WBEZ radio at this same press conference the CTU announced or at least the President of the CTU announced it will also be hosting political education boot camps to vet people interested in public service and eventually 'change the face of City Hall and the Illinois General Assembly.'

The boot camps will be called 'Who wants to run for mayor? Who wants to be an alderman? Who wants to run for statewide office?' Apparently, there was also a discussion about increasing the size of the PAC. There was also a discussion about CTU going on a voter registration campaign to oust Mayor Emanuel.

Clearly this was important, especially for teachers and who read parents who read Substance. I have great reservations about this which I expressed on the D-299 blog. Below are my comments.

Rod Estvan

cross posted comments from D-299

Where in the world is the Chicago Teachers Union going? Is there an illusion that some sort of Harold Washington progressive Democrat phoenix will rise from the ruble of Chicago's corrupt political scene to oust Mayor Emanuel?

Moreover, what about the proposed larger CTU political action committee that was discussed, how will it be different than in the past when it repeatedly pumped money into the pockets of numerous Democrats that ultimately jammed SB7 down the CTU's throat.

Here is what I think, the CTU is going off on an adventure here without having first won a consensus even in the Chicago Federation of Labor for the creation of anything close to a labor party platform that consistently supports the interests of what is left of the unionized workforce in Chicago. Moreover, running a series of candidates that support public education in Chicago and possibly a broader education agenda in the Illinois General Assembly avoids the question of support for human services, infrastructure, anti-poverty programs within the context of existing municipal and state revenues.

No doubt eliminating TIFs will fix all of that — answer no it won't. Increasing taxes on the 1% will fix all of that — well that depends on how much they are taxed doesn't it? Then you also have the danger of capital flight as the 1% head for the border, it's not simple.

Inside the CTU and CORE there are extremely intelligent teachers who understand fully that today's progressive Democrat is tomorrow's Alderman Joe Moore. Let's recall when Alderman Moore was the darling of Chicago's labor movement when he supported the 2006 Chicago Big Box Ordinance, which required companies such as Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot to pay workers a living wage, raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour. But this is also the same Joe Moore who Mayor Rahm Emanuel teamed up with block a citywide advisory referendum for an elected school board (see Ben Joravsky 8/1/12 the Reader).

This is also the same Joe Moore who formally split so called progressive democrats by creating the so called "Paul Douglas Alliance" designed to support Mayor Emanuel more progressive initiatives. While I appreciate Senator Douglas' heroic service in the US Marine Corp his support for the Vietnam War for political reasons (he was an LBJ guy) was completely disgusting and led to his defeat by anti-Vietnam War Republican candidate Percy.

Until the CTU leadership along with the majority of the labor movement in Chicago is prepared to make a break with their progressive democrats and actually begin to try to elect people who are not beholden to that party this idea of registering people and getting good people to run for office will not amount to much at all. To break from the progressive democrats is a really scary thought for the labor movement and it's a dangerous one too because you risk alienating the few friends you think you might have left. But if the CTU and the labor movement doesn't go in that direction all you are doing is creating more Joe Moore's and Paul Douglas do-gooders who cave when things get really tough and right now things are tough.

April 16, 2013 at 4:38 PM

By: Jon Lubar

Progessive Democrats ?????

Rahm a progressive democrat? The aldermen???? There are a scant handful of actual progressive democrats in Chicago, and they have stood against Rahm and the rest on school issues and others. What we need are leaders who follow the facts and represent their constituents. I'm not holding my breath since so many citizens are apathetic or plain averse to politics these days. And, running actual, pro education candidates does not avoid those other issues. They are likely the only ones who understand them in context.

April 17, 2013 at 10:10 AM

By: Kimberly Bowsky

Voter registration and public schools

It is obvious that the political establishment does not encourage voting. Why, the General Assembly is wishy-washy about ensuring that monies and statutes get written with a clear, unwavering mandate for the instruction of social studies as we do for math and reading. Who better than the CTU to enlist registered voters, participate in forums, and encourage debate that is rooted in how politics serves the ends of social justice? Teachers and PARAs!

April 19, 2013 at 7:20 PM

By: Stephen Edwards

CTU election strategy

I would agree with brother Estvan that it's not clear from the CTU press conference whether the teacher's union intends to go outside of the Democratic Party for its candidates, which in this one-party city is a very serious omission. Where I can't agree with Rod is in his pessimistic insistence that we have to stay "within the context of existing municipal and state revenues" and that nothing much at all can be done "without having first won a consensus... in the Chicago Federation of Labor".

The Chicago Fed has already made its position clear, both by joining Rahm's Infrastructure Trust and by staying away from the March 23rd rally against school closures - where the most prominent supporter of the CTU was the leading non-AFL-CIO union. Chicago can't wait for a business-union consensus to be built, any more than we can wait for an elected school board before we fight school closures.

Last year in Seattle, openly Socialist candidate Kshama Sawant won 29% of the vote running against the Speaker of the House, with some union endorsements but unfortunately, no union money or union-supplied volunteers. She could have won that race if she had had solid support from even one decent-sized union local. If the CTU were to concentrate its forces on taking out key Democrats with independent candidates who refuse corporate money and stand on a platform of no school closures and using TIF money to expand education, affordable housing, infrastructure, human services and public transit, it would transform our political landscape.

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