Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Corruption in Chicago Schools?

It certainly shouldn't surprise any Chicagoan that the admissions process for our city's selective admission schools might be tainted.

For one thing, Marj Halperin, a long-time resident, former journalist (and much more), and parent of two who attended schools in the CPS system, broke this story about, oh...20 years ago? Her investigative report, published in Chicago Magazine (download scan here), detailed the ruses—from creating fake older siblings so the actual children could qualify for the sibling lottery and "principal choice" categories, to giving sizable donations to their school of choice—of many of her (and my) acquaintances, friends and neighbors. Some of Chicago's so-called "best" magnet schools were implicated—Hawthorne comes to mind—and the parents involved were everyday folks, a slice of the city, albeit well-resourced.

For another, this is Chicago, in Illinois, where our politicians from the highest levels on down, set the tone and model the behavior. Where there's a trough, they are grubbing. Is it surprising when we follow their lead? And isn't the toxic combination of access and entitlement ("I know how to get want I want, therefore I deserve to!"), salted with a dash of desperation ("Where will my children go to school?"), likely to foster sorry behavior?

If we care about each other we will push to make the circumstances—too few wonderful schools for all our children—and the kind of debates I hope these parents had with themselves before they made the choice to step over others and around the democratic process of the lottery system, obsolete.

Monday, July 20, 2009

CHiaRtS is On the Scene

For all those who have been asking, CHiaRts (not sure what the upper-and-lower variations signify) is scheduled to open this fall, 2009, with an incoming class of 150.

The school's website is lush and slick, loads 'o visuals. Its newly hired department heads, Lisa Johnson-Willingham (LinkedIn, Facebook, and curiously, the school left her hyphen off its hiring announcement), Betsy Ko, Rob Chambers (Facebook, LinkedIn...), and Diana Stezalski, all seem like accomplished artists but none are certified teachers, though Ko is studying education at DePaul. In fact, on its FAQ page, in answer to the probably often-posed question, "Who will teach at CHiaRts?" the school glides past the question of education and credentials and describes a faculty of "full-time academic educators and artist-teachers" (huh?) and "part-time artists-teachers" (sounds like...saving money?).

Too bad. There is actually quite a lot to learn about education, through education. Places that value what education offers hire the most highly educated people they can. I wish the school would acknowledge that, as a model for its students and as a nod to and appreciation of the work of teachers who study pedagogy as well as poetry, performance and painting. My students have fully engaged themselves in both; who's hiring out there?

Also oddly, the CHiaRts website notes an anti-discrimination policy that is out-dated—“handicap” anyone?—and incomplete—where is sexual orientation? I guess this is what happens when folk who aren’t actually all that concerned about the details of education set up schools. Yet, language matters, policy matters, laws and history matters—get it right; it’s important.