Bullying the 'narrative' to edict that innovation must mean privatization, union busting and teacher bashing... Instead of 'innovation' grants to utilize buildings, Rahm Emanuel's school board pushed the austerity lies and the destruction of public schools

Anyone who reads Education Week, the national voice of corporate education reform, could not have missed the fact that the U.S. Department of Education was awarding hundreds of millions of dollars in awards of late for "innovation" ideas and projects. Not one of those awards was given to an urban school district that had dozens of schools coming up with innovative ways to use the classrooms and other spaces inside school buildings that because of demographic shifts finally had the space to breathe, the room to truly "innovate."

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett delivering her infamous "Martin Luther King said that I'm right and you're wrong..." speech justifying the greatest number of school closings in USA history at the May 22, 2013 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Instead, there were at least two narratives in the USA in early 2013 and both were sanctioned by the White House, the President of the United States, and corporate power.

The main narrative in Chicago, Philadelphia and a dozen other cities claimed that there was a "utilization crisis" and that the only solution was to close inner city schools in order, supposedly, to "save money" and provide the extra resources for those that were left. Even after these claims were debunked school after school after school in Chicago, where the former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is mayor, the banging of the austerity drum against the city's real public schools continued until the infamous May 22, 2013 vote to close 49 of Chicago's real public schools and subject others to such insulting actions as "turnaround" and "co-location."

The speeches by the six members of the Chicago Board of Education before their infamous vote on May 22 all repeated variations on the same theme. Austerity demands it. The summary speech by the current "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools, Barbara Byrd Bennett, could serve as a template for the genre. True? Of course not! Powerful? Indeed. By the time the day ended on May 22, 2013, the school board members and CEO of the third largest school system in the USA, all appointed by Rahm Emanuel, had voted to close and destroy the largest number of public schools in the nation's history. (Except, as some noted, when the segregationist die-hards in the South closed down the public schools of entire states in the years immediately after Brown v. Board of Education).

What is the relationship between the touted "Innovation" grants and Chicago's gruesome closings (being done to 50,000 kids and families as well as thousands of teachers and other staff as this is being written)?

Innovation should have begun with public and democratic discussion of how to make the maximum use of all these public buildings for their true purpose: the education of children -- most of them in some of the most scandalously impoverished communities in the USA.

On June 10, 2013, Barbara Byrd Bennett issued an email to all CPS staff, adding to the things she had earlier said. It is reprinted below in full (one version). Don't miss the "growing up in public housing in Harlam..." part... Also note: The typos and other problems in the text below come from the document that went out to hundreds of thousands on June 10, 2013.

From: "Communications, Internal" Date: Mon, 10 Jun 2013 14:15:22 -0500

Subject: An Important Message from CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett

To: ________________________

Dear Parents, Friends, Colleagues,

The most important thing we can do as a city is make sure we offer a bright future for the next generation.

All of Chicago’s children deserve a quality education that will prepare them for success in college, career, and life. For our District’s children, high school graduation can no longer be the goal. It is only the starting point. Chicago Public Schools must graduate students with the skills to excel in today’s 21st century world.

Yet, too many of our young people who collect their diplomas are underprepared for their next steps. While Chicago is on track to reach a record high graduation rate of 63 percent, most of our graduates do not proceed to earn a college degree, and many others languish in low-wage jobs

or fail to find employment. I simply find this unacceptable.

A narrow focus on basic skills will not ensure success. Today’s employers are seeking those who can problem-solve, communicate effectively and collaborate with others. We need not only rigorous instruction in core subjects but a well-rounded curriculum that sparks students’ initiative, creativity and social skills, caters to their emotional and physical health, and extends beyond lessons in a standard classroom setting.

My five-year action plan – The Next Generation: Chicago’s Children – [hyperlink to action plan] lays out a roadmap for achieving our vision of a challenging, high-quality, well-rounded education for every child in every neighborhood in the District based around five pillars:

-- *High standards, rigorous curriculum and powerful instruction *- CPS is raising standards and improving curriculum through a combination of transitioning to Common Core State Standards, setting more rigorous expectations, and putting in place new academic requirements and supports that will provide children with a well-rounded education. **

-- *Systems of supports that meet all students’ needs - *CPS recognizes that every student is unique and high expectations must be coupled with an approach that systematically supports the individual needs of every student. Through the action plan, a greater emphasis will be placed on

assisting all schools, especially struggling schools, in providing a safe learning environment, expanding social and emotional learning, using data to inform decision-making, and ensuring every student not only graduates high school but graduates ready with a postsecondary plan.

-- *Engaged and empowered families and communities - *CPS must engage and empower families and communities as partners in our work because a bright future is possible for all of our children when we all take responsibility and take action. CPS will provide easily accessible, transparent information about the District’s performance, programs, and opportunities to partner with us to empower parents and communities.

-- CCommitted and Effective Teachers, Mentors and Staff – Through imommitted and effective teachers, leaders and staff - *CPS will seek to promote high-performers while recruiting national candidates. For the professionals already serving in our District, performance will be evaluated more thoughtfully through improved evaluations, professional development will be tailored more specifically to meet students’ needs, and success will be recognized and rewarded.

-- *Sound fiscal, operational and accountability systems – *CPS’s action

plan will be guided by sound fiscal, operational and accountability

systems. Every position, program and expenditure will be an investment that

is deemed essential to fulfilling the action plan and making progress on

our vision of providing every child in every neighborhood with a

high-quality education.

Achieving our vision demands that we set common standards for quality

across all schools – whether neighborhood, charter, or contract schools.

And it requires that we hold everyone accountable for meeting these

standards, including the CEO and our Central Office. A new District

Scorecard will track progress toward key performance indicators such as

evaluations of school climate, the percentage of high-performing employees

retained by the District, student attendance, academic growth, graduation

rates and college enrollment, and evaluate feedback from parents, school

staff, and students through the My Voice, My School surveys.

Achieving this vision is also a responsibility of all adults and

institutions in our school communities–principals, teachers and parents,

faith-based and community leaders, non-profits and elected officials,

universities, foundations and businesses and all of our community partners.

CPS cannot do this work alone. Everyone has a role to play.

Growing up in public housing in Harlem, I faced many of the same challenges

that young people in many parts of Chicago face today. I know that our

children have the strength and fortitude to triumph over obstacles that

some of us cannot even imagine. But, I have learned that our children

triumph only if the adults in their lives do not give up on them. As a

district and as a city, our mission is to support our children to ensure

they achieve their dreams. I thank you for your partnership and commitment

as we work together to develop the next generation of Chicago’s leaders.

With parents as active partners and with an engaged community, there is no

limit to what our children can achieve.

Sincerely, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CEO, Chicago Public Schools


Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

3 + 5 =