Old Becomes ‘New’ in Venture Capitalist Effort to Disrupt Public Education
Submitted by Illinoisnoki1 on Fri, 06/22/2012 - 15:11
Chicago Teachers Union Critique of “ELP Ventures: Supporting Innovation in Public Education for Chicago’s Global Future”
CHICAGO—The new proposal from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs to solve Chicago’s education “crisis” does not offer anything new, despite the fact that the document repeatedly refers to combatting the “status quo.”
The group that put this plan together, members of the Council’s Emerging Leaders initiative, claim to have access to business and education leaders who will be able, for the first time ever, to launch radical education projects that will have measurable outcomes.
This thought is incredibly arrogant and shows that none of the members have read anything about Chicago Public Schools (CPS) except for a few sound bites from the corporate reformers who are still manipulating the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores and distorting the truth about American students’ ability to take a test.
When the PISA scores came last fall and everyone was excited about Finland, several psychometricians analyzed the scores in relation to many of the demographic and socio-economic variables that PISA publishes along with the test scores. When poverty is held constant, Americans score very well – top in the world. Similarly, studies have linked the correlation between access to libraries and student achievement. Finally, lots of research links the effects of trauma and academic achievement, including this recent article in Catalyst: http://www.catalyst-chicago.org/news/2012/06/18/20187/tragedys-aftermath
Research has established a link between the experience of trauma and school misbehavior and academic failure. Hard data on the number of traumatized children is sketchy, but surveys show that as many as a quarter of children in rough Chicago neighborhoods have witnessed a shooting. Helping these children is proving to be difficult.
According to the Council, the CPS education system is in “crisis” because our students are not globally competitive. The document never explains what that means, but the solution is more STEM programs and more social studies projects. CPS is launching a corporate partnership initiative this fall where five high schools will become STEM schools: Michelle Clark—Cisco, George Corliss—Verizon Wireless, CVCA—Motorola Solutions, Lake View—Microsoft, South West High School—IBM. This is also in addition to the new STEM magnet elementary school. Altogether, about 4,400 students have access to STEM curriculum, and it’s being funded by Chicago’s top businesses.
These new STEM schools are in addition to the many IB programs offered throughout the district and the magnet schools that score top in the state.
The “crisis” in education goes back at least to 1958 when the National Defense Education Act was created to fund math and science in US schools in response to the Soviets’ launch of Sputnik—becoming globally competitive in these subjects was regarded as national defense. The “accountability” movement took off in the 1970’s and “A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform” was published in 1983.
So while the idea of a “crisis” is not new, interestingly this report actually presents this as a new crisis because it claims that “Forty years ago U.S. high school graduation rates led the world, and less than twenty years ago U.S. college graduation rates were tied for first place.”
But these historical facts are very misleading for two reasons: this country is still producing people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, and there is an enormously growing income gap coupled with skyrocketing college tuition rates. That last point is not the reality of the U.S.’s biggest “competitors”, which the report cites as Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Korea, and Switzerland.
Furthermore, the report does not describe the basic supports that CPS schools in struggling communities are missing: social workers, guidance counselors that are available for guidance and not testing, libraries, recess, nutritional food, art, music—the ideas promoted in CTU’s “The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve.” Instead, the report claims that “top leadership has invested billions of dollars in new approaches often considered groundbreaking by other districts around the country.”
Really? What approaches are those? High School Transformation/IDS, Chicago Reading Initiative, AVID, AMPS, the SES program that was never managed well? The report also claims that principals have never been properly trained or supported but this new venture philanthropy will solve that. Go through the CPS board reports and the contracts and procurement website and you will see an endless list of contracts for professional development and support for principals.
So why are 150 principals retiring en masse this summer? Because of the pension crisis and the new merit pay. CPS is the reason why CPS doesn’t work.
Every new administration wastes so much time and energy changing everything around—sometimes this happens twice within a year. CPS does not contract with proven initiatives and does not give initiatives enough time to work before it jumps on the bandwagon to spend millions of dollars on the next gimmick. And that is all this new ELP Ventures project is—the next gimmick.
“The new philanthropy is at the forefront of a right-wing movement to corporatize education at multiple levels,” says DePaul University Professor Kenneth J. Saltman. “That is, venture philanthropy contributes to both the privatization of public schooling as well as the transformation of public schooling that is based on the model of corporate culture—from voucher schemes to charter schools to the remaking of teacher education, educational leadership, and classrooms.”
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs report claims to care about the inequities in education between students of color and white students, and between middle class and low-income students but it never attempts to explain why the inequities exist—it only talks about the resultant achievement gaps.
In Chicago, schools in struggling communities have been inundated with district mandates that have prohibited innovative ideas. It’s the district that has stifled the schools, not the lack of good teachers or strong leaders.
Talk to any teacher that was subjected to the wrath and draconian policies dictated by Area 11 CAO Janie Ortega. Ms. Ortega was recruited by CPS for her one-year stint at ruining neighborhood schools (Marquette, the largest, is now a turnaround) after doing the same in Austin and Boston. Unfortunately for Chicago’s students, there are many examples of people like Ms. Ortega.
This report proposes that in addition to STEM, CPS needs to push for “global competence” in its schools. What happened to social studies and civics? ELP Ventures is claiming innovative credit and promises to solve our education “crisis” by doing what Rethinking Schools and other progressive educators have been promoting all along! Teachers throughout CPS have been working very hard to incorporate current events and global issues into their curriculum, despite the fact that federal mandates on testing have pushed these subjects to the side in favor or reading and math.
CPS’ selective enrollment schools and IB programs are already preparing students for what ELP Ventures is proposing, and the schools that aren’t—the disinvested neighborhood schools that have been turned around and inside out -- lost all of their programs to become test prep factories. Julian high school used to have four years of Japanese, and now it only has two. This is an example of a very common phenomenon across the district.
“ELP Ventures will identify and fund transformational programs and leadership that will advance the cognitive abilities, language skills, interpersonal sensibilities, and cultural awareness of students whose lives and careers will unfold at the intersection of local and transnational challenges.” (p. 30)
They propose to do this by:
- civics, social studies, and debate team
- best practices (early childhood, no standardized testing, society that respects teachers as professionals, schools that support collaborative teaching??? This is what CTU is proposing!)
- “invest in innovations that enhance global competence”
→ and also:
- something like IB programs
- more TFA programs (even though they also criticize teacher turnover – which is the hallmark of TFA’s two-year commitment)
- PD for principals and teachers
There is no reason why a privately run initiative that is staffed primarily by business people needs to bring these ideas to CPS—we already have these programs and we just need to bring them to scale. It won’t take venture philanthropy to do that, it only requires the will of the district to allow our schools on the west side and south side to have the same programs as our schools on the north side.
Leadership is another major barrier to global competitiveness, according to this report. However, the report does not acknowledge the reality that CPS principals face:
- too much admin work
- LSC’s are untrained and unsupported
- area officers are tyrants
- each new CPS administration changes everything and creates chaos
- new principals will have merit pay
The ELP Ventures project does not really explain how it will be different from the Chicago Public Education Fund (CPEF). Additionally, with all the talk about “measurable outcomes”, the CPEF website doesn’t explain at all how it works and how the money makes direct impact—instead, it talks generally about things like CTU’s Nurturing Teacher Leaders (NTL) program and how many teachers are nationally board certified. This is quite ironic, since the ELP Ventures report claims that the district lacks an assessment and implementation of best practices in teaching—something that NTL does on a continual basis.
NTL is a highly regarded program, funded by many of the foundations that the ELP Ventures will rely on, thatgraduates among the nation’s highest number of Nationally Board Certified teachers every year.
Finally, there will be a minimum donor participation of $50,000 and this is tax deductible. This is money that the local and federal government will not be getting to fund public education. The corporate school reform movement has been pushing this more and more over the years and as a result public education has dwindling resources.
“Venture philanthropy is a slow road to privatization,” said CTU President Karen GJ Lewis. “Right now, CPS is a revolving door of people peddling expensive, disruptive and ineffective privatization and so called reform. If we are going to improve our schools it should be with educators, parents and the CTU not venture capitalists and people who are only out to make a profit.”