Academic journal article JCT (Online)

Ride or Get Rode On: Battling for the Soul of Public Education

Academic journal article JCT (Online)

Ride or Get Rode On: Battling for the Soul of Public Education

Article excerpt

In 1995 the governing arrangements of the Chicago Public Schools centralized authority to the top of the system and shifted power into the hands of the mayor (Wong & Sunderman, 2001). The Chicago School Reform Amendatory Act gave the mayor control over the school board and instituted a corporate management model in CPS. This centralized authority gave the mayor the power to appoint a five-member school board and choose a chief executive officer (CEO), to oversee all of the decisions for Chicago's children. This reform focused on academic achievement and accountability and gave the CEO, the board, and school principals the authority to enforce higher academic standards by any means necessary while allowing those in power to operate without accountability and transparency. Arne Duncan, secretary of Education under the Obama administration, served an eight-year term as CEO from 2001-2009 and leftthe greatest impact on Chicago's schools by expanding education markets and injecting market principles into the public school system.

Following Chicago's 1995 reform policies that established and normalized labeling, sorting, and classifying schools, Renaissance 2010 was proposed in 2003 as a part of Chicago Metropolis 2020, sponsored by the Commercial Club of Chicago to enhance Chicago's productivity as a global city. Under Renaissance 2010, Arne Duncan argued four strategies to 'turnaround' the nation's lowest performing 5 percent of schools. Chicago was the laboratory for the following strategies:

* Turnaround school- under a new principal who can recruit at least half of the teachers from the outside;

* Transformation school that strengthens professional support, teacher evaluation and capacity building;

* Restart school that reopens as either a charter school or under management by organizations outside of the district; and

* School closure that results in moving all the students to other higher-performing schools.

The goal of Renaissance 2010 was to close down failing schools and reconstruct new schools but it serves as a better example of what David Harvey would call "the creative destruction and reinvestment" in Chicago (2005). In theory, the turnaround initiatives aimed at providing better educational opportunities, yet school closings have displaced children all over the city and transitioned them into schools that did not necessarily perform better (Lipman & Haines, 2007).

For instance, studies show that charter schools are more segregated by race and poverty than public schools (Frankenberg, Siegel-Hawley, & Wang, 2010 cited in Lipman, 2011) and in the aggregate, only 17% of charter schools perform better than public schools while 37% perform significantly worse and 46% show no significant difference (Center for Research on Education Outcomes [CREDO], 2009 cited in Lipman, 2011). Neoliberal initiatives like Ren2010 were damaging because they created a false idea of opportunity yet continued to perpetuate social inequality and injustice against people of color (Lipman & Haines, 2007).

African American students compose the majority of Chicago Public Schools enrollment and historically have had lowest test scores, were more likely than any other racial/ethnic group to be retained under CPS accountability policies, and of the 147 elementary schools put on probation from 1996 to 2001, 75% were African American (Lipman & Haines, 2007). Lowincome African American sections of Chicago are intertwined with the lack of jobs, lack of decent affordable housing, decayed physical infrastructure, and a history of racial segregation and disinvestment in communities of color (Anyon, 2005). Standardized test results make the argument for closing neighborhood schools and at the same time, a racialized discourse of failure, probation, and lack of effort constructs African American and Latino schools and communities as deficient (Lipman & Haines, 2007).

The Chicago Board of Education's most recent decision to close 49 public schools was not based on academic standing. …

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