Caught in the CPS 'Matrix', schools facing threat of turnaround can't figure out what the rules are

For more than a decade, Chicago mayors and school officials have proudly proclaimed that their strategy of "turnaround" for so-called "failing" schools was just what was needed to promote true education reform for the nation's third largest school district. But with more than 90 percent of America's real public schools now "failing" according to the statistical criteria assembled for the No Child Left Behind law of the Bush administration (and left firmly in place by the Obama administration), it becomes more and more clear that schools don't have a clue as to why they are labeled "failing" -- or how they might be able to "pass."

During the past ten years, a Substance survey shows, Chicago's schools have implemented "turnaround" according to six different sets of criteria under four separate "Chief Executive Officers" at a cost of more than $50 million -- and the disruption of the lives of thousands of children, teachers and other school workers.

Once again in April and May 2014, CPS officials, this time led by the latest CEO, Barbara Byrd Bennett, will repeat talking points about how they have to fire all the staff at a school and turn the school over to the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). They have been using corporate jargon -- "turnaround" -- since the beginning of the 21st Century, and for the most part they have gotten away with it, rarely challenged as to whether a corporate viewpoint and corporate methodologies are appropriate to schools.

Another unusual thing about "turnaround" in Chicago. When the Board of Education votes to subject a school to so-called "turnaround", that's not what it is voting to do. Since "turnaround" was first used in Chicago to describe the process whereby a school has "failed" to such a degree that the only solution to the failure is to fire the entire staff -- including the lunchroom and custodial workers -- and start with nothing but a completely new bunch of workers, top to bottom.

When the Board votes to turnaround schools at its April 23, 2014 meeting, however, the actual vote will be to subject the school to a process called "reconstitution." That's because there is no such thing as "turnaround" in Illinois school law, and for good reason. The process of dumping a school's staff as a part of an attempt to improve a school has been called "reconstitution" for two decades -- and all of the research has showed that it's been a complete failure. Schools are not improved by firing the principal, the teachers, the clerks and office aides, the custodial workers, and the people who work in the lunchroom. So, then: Why "turnaround"?

School officials, from the CEO on down, will ignore unpleasant facts, like that AUSL schools are among the lowest scoring in the city. They will also ignore the big fact, that every year or two they change the rules to the point where school principals and teachers have no idea how they got to be "failing" when accordng to the data they have available, they are surpassing many many other schools.


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