Testimony against 'Turnaround' of Dvorak

[Editor's Note: The following is the complete testimony prepared and presented to the hearing on the proposed "Turnaround" of Chicago's Dvorak elementary school. Additional material pertaining to the failures of AUSL's so-called "turnaround" work is available with more in preparation. One of the funniest examples of AUSL's work comes in the routine salvation stories provided in testimony in support of AUSL by "parents" who have recently had their schools turnarounded to AUSL. Since the "turnaround" of Sherman Elementary School a decade ago, the testimony from one year to the next has always been the same, as Substance has been reporting].

Part of the crowd at the April 9, 2014 hearings on the turnaround of Dvorak. Substance photo by Jean Schwab.Public Comments to CPS Regarding Dvorak Math Science Technology Academy. April 9, 2014.

My name is Valerie Leonard, the Co-Founder of the Lawndale Alliance. We are a group of residents who have come together to address issues of concern to the community, including education, TIF reform and mortgage foreclosure. We are also members of the Committee to Save North Lawndale Schools. We are here today to provide testimony against the proposed turnaround of Dvorak Math Science Technology Academy by AUSL.

CPS has provided four primary reasons for the proposed turnaround of Dvorak:

1) "Over the last 6 years, Dvorak Specialty Elementary School (Dvorak) has been on probation and has not made the progress necessary to take it off probation.

2) "...the need to provide higher quality educational options for students in the community";

3) AUSL "brings highly-skilled teachers who have experience working in low-performing schools, and their results within CPS schools have been remarkable";

4) this decision made "in an effort to create a culture of success that will give all students at Dvorak Tech Academy the high-quality education they deserve".

With respect to point 1), regarding the fact that the school has been on probation and has not made sufficient progress, we ask that you consider the fact that education is a developmental process, and that the current principal, Mrs. Cheryl White, has been at the school less than 2 years. Nearly half of her staff consists of new teachers. Many of the veteran teachers are teaching in new positions.

A study by the Carnegie foundation examined the relationships between teacher tenure and experience and student performance and found that "the sheer number of novices in public school teaching has serious financial, structural, and educational consequences for public education� straining budgets, disrupting school cultures and, most significantly, depressing student achievement."

Another study by the National Commission on Teaching and America�s Future (NCTAF) found that "staff churn affects every school district in the country, but it is concentrated and has always had its greatest impact on teaching effectiveness in chronically underperforming schools serving low-income children. These schools rarely close the student achievement gap because they never close the teaching quality gap � they are constantly rebuilding their staff. Their students struggle year after year with a passing parade of inexperienced beginners, while students in high performing schools enjoy the support of teams of accomplished veterans who sustain a culture of success in their schools decade after decade."

An Education Week article on student mobility has indicated that the potential impact of mobility on students' education is significant. Students who move often between schools may experience a range of problems such as: lower achievement levels due to discontinuity of curriculum between schools, behavioral problems, difficulty developing peer relationships, and a greater risk for dropping out.

Although little research has been conducted on the impact of student mobility on non-mobile students, schools with significant incidences of student mobility also report an impact on their non-mobile students, teachers, and overall school climate.

For example, a policy brief published in 1999 by Policy Analysis for California Education, found that California schools with high mobility rates (30 percent or higher), reported that test scores for non-mobile students were considerably lower than those of students in schools with lower mobility rates. The findings support claims that continual student turnover is disruptive and keeps non-mobile students from moving ahead as teachers spend extra time helping newer students catch up. Some schools have attempted to alleviate this by keeping highly mobile students (i.e. children of migrant workers) segregated from other classes, so that the continual arrival and departure of mobile students does not disrupt the education of other non-mobile students (Hartman, 2002).(Education Week 2004)

Dvorak is in an area of Lawndale with an increasingly significantly transient population, due to a number of factors, including family issues, a shortage of affordable housing and the mortgage foreclosure crisis. A number of students live in homeless shelters.

Approximately 30% of the student population is homeless or living in temporary living situations. The student mobility rate has increased from 16% in 2000 to 33.7% in 2013. This represents a 111% increase in mobility for Dvorak The average mobility rate for all Chicago Public Schools was 26.6% in 2000 and 19% in 2013. This represents a 29% reduction in mobility for CPS students across the district..

With respect to point 2) "...the need to provide higher quality educational options for students in the community", and 3) regarding the remarkable results of the AUSL turnarounds, we cannot say that AUSL provides better option at this time. While it is true that AUSL schools have made significant gains relative to district averages, the AUSL North Lawndale co-hort has not outperformed district averages or North Lawndale averages in reading or math. (See Charts 1 and 2).

Chart 1. ISAT Reading Scores: North Lawndale Schools and AUSL Schools

Chart 2. ISAT Math Scores: North Lawndale Schools and AUSL Schools

Finally, we wish to express our deep concern regarding the privatization of schools in North Lawndale. Last year, every school closure and turnaround action in North Lawndale, with the exception of Paderewski School, centered around consolidating schools into the AUSL portfolio.

Henson school, which was a very well-resourced level 3 school, closed.

Publicly, CPS said that the receiving school is Hughes, which was a level 2 school. A closer inspection of the new attendance boundaries reveal that only 30% of the old Henson attendance boundary was included in the new Hughes attendance boundary. About 20% of the old Henson boundary was folded into the Webster boundaries, while a whopping 50% of the Henson attendance boundary was consolidated into the Herzl boundary. Henson had more community resources to support students, children and families than any other school in North Lawndale. Those resources were not replaced when the school cloese.

When we look at the area around Douglas Park, we see that Bethune, which was located on Arthington, closed, and folded into Gregory School (level 1). Parents cited safety concerns regarding gang territories, and publicly stated that they would not send their children to Gregory.

After the dust settled, the Bethune building was given to Kellman Corporate School.

Closing Bethune freed capacity for AUSL to take over Chalmers, and effectively replace Bethune with Chalmers, performed at a higher level than Bethune. Chalmers was very well managed and located across the street from the northeast corner of Douglas Park.

Pope School, located across the street from the southwest corner of Douglas Park, merged into Johnson, an AUSL-managed school that is located across the street from Douglas Park on 14th and Albany. As a result of the closure and consolidation of schools, AUSL now control all the public schools in and around Douglas Park, including Johnson, Dvorak and Collins High School. (Note: One of the North Lawndale College Preparatory Charter High School sites shares the building with Collins).

North Lawndale has 24 publicly funded schools. Of this number, only 8 are publicly funded and publicly controlled. The remaining schools are charters, turnarounds and alternative schools. School choice for families interested in traditional public schools is being diminished by privatization.

Residents also question the independence of the decisions being made, given the fact that CPS Board President David Vitale is the former AUSL board chairman, and Tim Cawley, Chief Administrative Officer at CPS, is a former AUSL executive.

In closing, we respectfully request once more, that Dvorak be allowed to continue its own turnaround without being taken over. One option is to use the "transformation model� in which the school district implements a rigorous staff evaluation and development system, institutes comprehensive instructional reform, increases learning time and applies community-oriented school strategies, and provides greater operational flexibility and support for the school.

Valerie F. Leonard Co-Founder, Lawndale Alliance