Monday, August 21, 2017

Tweaking Charter Marketing

The recent poll showing a jump-off-a-cliff drop in public support for charter schools, which comes on top of wrestling with the splits in the community, has prompted a bit of soul-searching in the charter/choice community. Unfortunately, some of that soul-searching has focused on the question of how to better market their product.

Nobody reframes a sales pitch like Peter Cunningham. Cunningham has a BA in Philosophy from Duke and Masters of Journalism from Columbia. He worked in and around Chicago, including a stint as Mayor Richard M. Daley's head speechwriter. His Chicago connections took him to Arne Duncan's Department of Education, where as Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach, he was "responsible for communications strategy and message development for the U.S. Department of Education." He's a PR guy, and he's good at what he does, so when Eli Broad and some other Very Wealthy Friends (including, behind that curtain over there, Laurene Jobs) were looking for someone to run a war-room style messaging operation for education reform, they tapped Cunningham to run Education Post (and perhaps another side project or two).

I've had many online conversations with Cunningham and met him face to face when he attended the Network for Public Education conference last year. Like most reformsters, he has neither horns nor a pointy red tail. Seems like a nice enough guy. But he's well-paid to do a particular job, and he works hard to do it well. And that's what he seems to be doing in his latest spin-heavy piece at Education Post (I don't often link to EdPost, but if I'm going to write about the piece, it's only fair that there be a link to check my work. [Correction: Cunningham's piece is at the74, the Campbell Brown pro-reform website. Absolutely my error there]

The news that support for public charter schools has
dropped from 51 percent to 39 percent is a wake-up call for the school choice movement. We can continue to play defense and lose, or we can reframe the conversation around the issues that matter most: the rights of parents and the best interests of children.

There are choices beyond the two that Cunningham offers, like, for instance "ask ourselves what aspects of charters are unappealing to the public" or even "question whether or not we're backing the right horse." But Cunningham sticks with A) play defense and lose or B) improve our marketing focus.

School choice is a response to a bureaucratic and ineffective education system that is not evolving to meet the needs of America’s racially and economically diverse student population.

Even some of Cunningham's fellow reformsters don't agree with him. For DeVosian choicers, school choice is a response to a government monopoly of the education marketplace. Meeting the needs of racially and economically diverse populations is not really their intent, and the fact that they're becoming more open about it is precisely the split that is stressing the reformster world. 

Cunningham's framing here is also very adept because it sidesteps everyone else's responsibility for public school failures. He does not, for instance, talk about responding to government's unwillingness to properly fund education. He knows that's an issue, but the solution to that issue is not school choice-- the solution is to properly fund those schools.

Next it's time for the traditional Litany of Kids These Days Failures:

Troublingly, 1 in 6 students don’t graduate from high school. Only about 1 in 3 who do graduate are ready for college. Few of the remaining students have marketable work skills upon graduation, while employers are hungry for workers who can think, communicate, analyze, and show up on time.

The 1 in 6 figure comes from I'm-not-sure-where, but is in line with what many authorities say--though that figure usually is based on students entering ninth grade and graduating four years later, and if we're basing graduation rates on what percentage of a ninth grade cohort graduates from the school four years later, then charters look terrible by comparison to public schools.

The 1 in 3 figure is oft-repeated baloney. It means that 1 in 3 students hit a cut score on a single Big Standardized Test. Is there anything to suggest that the cut score and the test correspond to college readiness? Of course not, because "college readiness" is an undefined (and probably undefinable) term. The worker "shortage" is a discussion too large for this space, but if there really is a concern about people willing and able to do certain jobs, there are two clear responses. You can respond as some states have to teachers shortages by lowering standards, or you could follow the wisdom of the free market and offer better work conditions and pay. If nobody will sell you a Porsche for $1.98, that does not mean there's an automobile shortage. I won't argue that employers don't want workers with all those qualities, but I will question how school choice would create more people who have them.

And it's worse for poor kids:

Less than 1 in 10 low-income kids earn a four-year college degree. About 30 percent don’t even finish high school, and those who do have few career choices. It’s no wonder low-income parents are desperate for better options. 

A bicycle, because a vest has no sleeves. What do the problems of poverty have to do with school choice? Why would we not instead conclude that schools in these communities need more money, support, and attention, instead of the opposite-- to drain money and resources away from these schools in the hopes that a charter might have the ability to save just a few of them.

The choice movement has grown steadily over the past 25 years by offering new and innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

Really? Name two. What the few "successful" charters have offered is a carefully selected student body, strong financial support, and plenty of resources. None of these are new or innovative.

Cunningham follows this with unsupported praise of charters, with more college students, increased teacher diversity, eliminating achievement gaps, and "using technology in new and better ways to personalize learning and empower teachers to meet students where they are and enable them to learn at their own pace." Yes, let's pitch "personalized" computer-based in there, too. Let's just say that there's a lot of room for debate about all of these claims and move on to the problems of the embattled choicers. Oh, and the choice system "is significantly better than the system it is replacing." So I guess we're done talking about blending the systems together-- close up public education and replace it with the privatized version.

Not surprisingly, the system has struck back by shifting the conversation away from student outcomes and parent rights. Instead, officials focus on money, governance, selectivity, testing, segregation, discipline, management, jobs, and any other topic they can use to change the subject.

 Has it? Because there's been plenty of discussion of student achievement among choice critics with voucher studies showing definite weakness. And the rest of the list-- is Cunningham suggesting these topics are irrelevant and immaterial, that choice as a tool of segregation, for instance, is unimportant? Or is he simply arguing that these points are marketing losers, and folks trying to sell choice should move on to better marketing tactics? Because I don't see anything on his list that doesn't have a strong and influential impact on students and their learning.

The poll results suggest that more and more people are starting to question the motives and merits of school choice. And, in truth, the choice movement has allowed enough bad actors into the space to validate their concerns.

Well, yes. I appreciate his willingness to admit it. Over the past decade, nobody has made choice look worse than charter operators themselves. And the bad news for choicers is that Empress DeVos (her brother wants to be a Viceroy of War, so why can't she be the Empress of Education) has made it clear that she sees no need for any oversight beyond parental choice, so the Bad Actors problem is not going to get better any time soon. Cunningham says cleaning house is a regular, daily chore, but DeVos has already sold her dustpan and broom because, hey, the parents that pass through will probably keep everything clean on their own. In other words, this hasn't been working so far, but let's do it more.

Cunningham says voucher opposition is softening. Urban parents are jealous of those cool Catholic schools. And there's more:

Black and Hispanic parents see high teacher turnover in their public schools and wonder why so few teachers are people of color.

Well, yes. But what does that have to do with charter schools, which also skew white in their staffing and often have considerable staff churn and burn, by design. Not to mention the many charters that just close completely, sometimes in the middle of the year. So, yes-- real problem. But what reason is there to think that charters and choice are a solution?

They see increasingly militant teachers unions threatening strikes and anti-tax politicians unwilling to fund schools adequately, and they want to remove these uncertainties from their lives.  

Increasingly militant? I'd like to see a basis for that assessment. Over the past few decades, states have taken many steps to make teacher strikes untenable. It's true that in Chicago, the teachers union kicks ass and takes names-- but more than in the past? And compared to unions across the country? And yes-- buried in here is the admission that underfunding schools is a political problem, but how will choice help that? Will anti-tax politicians suddenly be willing to raise taxes if the money is going to charters? 

But here comes his Big Point.

No one can dispute the right of parents to choose their child’s school. Every day, privileged parents are making that choice by moving into a community with good schools, by choosing private schools, or by jockeying within the existing system to find the best fit for their kid. Poor parents deserve the same opportunity to choose.

Okay. First, choice is not as important as quality. I've made this argument before-- poor parents don't want choices. What they want is their child in a good school. And we could do that. But it would cost money, and while nobody in this country would dispute a parents' right to have a good education for their child, what folks are disputing-- as with health care and food and decent housing-- is having taxpayers pay for it. There is only one thing standing between building a school in a poor neighborhood that is every bit as good as the school in a wealthy neighborhood, and that is money. People want great educations for their own kids. Those Other People? Don't care so much. And if I have to listen to one more "Why should I pay school taxes when I don't have kids" argument, I raise my blood pressure so high that I'll blow the remaining hair off the top of my head. 

So we want good education, but we don't want to pay for it. We particularly don't want to pay for it for Other Peoples' Children. This is a real problem-- one of the root problems of the entire education system. AND CHARTERS AND CHOICE DO NOT SOLVE THIS PROBLEM. What do you think the "but I don't have kids" taxpayer crowd will have to say about paying taxes because families are now "entitled" to send their kids to private school at public expense. PLUS charters and choice, by virtue of duplicate services and excess capacity, must be an even more expensive system.

Now the marketing advice:

Parents should be the face of the school choice movement. We spend a lot of time glorifying the innovative educators creating charter schools, but we should spend more time honoring the parents with the courage to buck the system.

Fundamentally, school choice is about freedom — one of America’s core values. No one should be trapped in a system that isn’t working for their kids.

Fundamentally, school choice is about opening markets to vendors so they can get their hands on that sweet, sweet tax money. As with any other market, the customers will have the "freedom" to choose whatever options the corporations offer to them. And with government pushed aside, those parents will have nobody to advocate for them and their rights. And taxpayers will have no voice at all.

With a new school year upon us, and a political climate that rewards bluster and blame over truth and common understanding, we need to bring the education conversation back to core principles. It begins with parent rights and it ends with student outcomes, and most of the other topics are secondary or irrelevant. 

 Education does not begin with parent rights, nor are they a core principle of education. It serves the narrative of privatizers to talk about education as if it were a commodity sold to parents, like diapers or Aeropestale hoodies, but it is not, and it never has been. Education is a public trust, a system that serves, yes, parents but also future employers, neighbors, fellow voters, and most of all, the students themselves. A school system serves many interests and a broad web of stakeholders, which makes it really hard to get into the market. But if we could cut all of those other stakeholders out of the equation, and let ed-flavored businesses pitch just to parents (just like we pitch Diet Coke and new cars), the market would be so much more permeable.

Making the parents central to the whole edu-business makes it easier for companies to sell tehir product. It's a useful step in privatization, not so useful for getting underserved populations the kind of education they deserve. "Parent choice" is a red herring, a distraction. Unrestricted, companies will offer poor parents lousy choices-- but hey, you got a choice, so it's awesome, right?

As is the case with many reformsters, I actually agree with Cunningham when it comes to many of the problems facing education. I just don't see choice, vouchers, or charters providing real solutions to any of them.


  1. Charters and vouchers are racist.

  2. Peter (Greene, not Cunningham), if you were a little more observant, you would have noticed that Cunningham's pointy tail was tucked down one of his trouser legs.

    Seriously, check out his behavior during the Fall 2015 hunger strike by parents who were desperately trying to save a traditional public school that his buddy Rahm Emanuel was trying to shut down.

    The parents staged a brutal hunger strike because with these parents, their "choice" was to save their neighborhood high school, and not send their kids far away to a corporate, privately-managed charter school.

    Well, Cunningham only respects parents' choice when they "choose" a corporate, privately-managed charter school --- which is the only choice they have in large sections of Chicago, Newark, and the entirety of New Orleans.

    However, observe how Cunningham treats parents who "choose" a traditional public school --- a desire so intense that it went to the point of risking their lives in a hunger strike.

    Despite Cunningham both desiring and predicting defeat for those parents, the parents won!

    In the light of the Dyett victory for traditional public schools, it’s instructive to read a two year-old Education Post article — written by Education Post founder and Lead Editor Peter Cunningham — where Cunningham egregiously insults and condescends to the Dyett activists and hunger strikers, whose goal he claimed at the time was both hopeless and misguided.

    However, those activists’ heroic efforts, in defiance of Cunningham’s prediction, finally bore fruit about a year ago (a year after the strike) through the re-opening of Dyett as an open-enrollment traditional public school.

    In this vile September 2015 article, Cunningham derided the Dyett activists as …

    “ … dangerous … destructive … counter-productive … anti-democratic … (exercising a) “colossal misjudgment” (by engaging in a) “a death-defying tactic like a hunger strike.” All of this behavior, Cunningham argued, should lead to “disqualification” of the Dyett activists’ proposal.

    First, to get a little context, go read Cunningham’s Twitter or past writings, and his go-to response to critics an proponents of public schools — be it regarding Nashville, or Los Angeles, or Massachusetts or wherever — is almost always:

    “Listen to the parents, and give them what they want…The parents want charters, the parent want charters, the parents want charters … ”

    Really Peter? Parents want their schools to be under the control of unaccountable private, corporate control, where those same parents no longer have any real decision-making power or input in the governance of their kids’ schools?

    No, actually they don’t, unless those in charge (like Arne and you and others) starve the traditional schools of funding, jack the class size sky high, fire/push out students’ favorite teachers, let the buildings themselves fall into disrepair, close class after class, and then tell them that it’s inevitable that the school is closing, anyway. Therefore, the best thing to do is leave for … this charter school over here.

    Those are are the tactics that Cunningham and Arne — and his successors — engaged in while running Chicago schools. Those are also the tactics employed in countless states, cities, and school districts.



    However, when it comes to parents who express views opposed to that of Cunningham’s corporate master, parents who want their children to attend a fully-funded traditional public school, Cunningham sings a different tune: (not exact quote �� )

    “Don’t listen to THOSE parents! They’re anti-democratic IDIOTS who engage in dangerous stunts like dangerous, hopeless hunger strikes! They’re dupes of the failed status quo!”

    Here’s EXACTLY what Cunningham said two years ago.

    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
    PETER CUNNINGHAM: “A hunger strike in Chicago led by a community group vying to open a new school in the shuttered Dyett High School on the South Side has entered a dangerous stage with at least one participant hospitalized and others at increasing physical risk. The safety of the hunger strikers is paramount and overshadows the underlying issues.

    “ … ”

    “As a publicity tactic, the hunger strike is wildly successful and is trending madly on social media. As a strategy to win approval for its proposal, however, it’s entirely counterproductive and could even cost KOCO the prize.
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    (Boy, you sure got that one wrong, Peter.

    This prognostication is similar to school privatizer and stock expert Whitney Tilson’s brilliant 2004 prediction (on the Motley Fool program) that Google stock would be worthless in years to come… when, to date, the Google stock has gone on to give its investors a return of over 1050%.)

    Here’s more from Cunningham:)

    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
    PETER CUNNINGHAM: “First of all, it’s a colossal misjudgment of the new leadership at CPS, Forrest Claypool, a seasoned public servant who doesn’t blink in the face of public pressure. Two decades ago, he faced down furious aldermen all across the city when he reformed the Chicago Park District from a bloated, top-heavy patronage haven to a lean and lively community asset. They’re still mad at him.

    “Mayor Emanuel tapped Claypool to help stabilize a school system facing its worst financial crisis in history. Claypool does not take kindly to anyone putting a gun to his head, especially when he is simultaneously trying to save teacher pensions while sparing school children punishing budget cuts.”
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    (Wrong again, Mr. Cunningham. After much public outcry and pressure on Mayor Emanuel, Claypool eventually folded like a cheap umbrella.)

    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
    PETER CUNNINGHAM: “Second, it defies the most generous interpretation of fair play for one applicant in a competitive RFP process to simply demand the award through a death-defying tactic like a hunger strike. KOCO even went so far as to ask Little Black Pearl to withdraw its application, which probably justifies disqualification on its face.”
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x



    (Prior to the strike, these folks DID try “fair play”. They did everything by the rules, they followed the procedures exactly as instructed, and in spite of overwhelming community the privatization folks running CPS still shut them down. The hunger strike was their last resort, not their first. Would you have said the same thing to Cesar Chavez when he led his historic hunger strike?)

    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
    PETER CUNNINGHAM: “Third, it is altogether reasonable for the new leadership at CPS to delay its decision for a month. The new Dyett High School will not open until the fall of 2016 under any circumstances. A one-month delay makes no meaningful difference.”
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    (Mr. Cunningham, you know now, and you knew full well twwp years ago, that once the hunger strike was ended, and the spotlight was off, Emanuel and Claypool would have NEVER chosen for Dyett to be re-opened as a traditional public school, so your call to end the strike during this proposed delay for a decision was and is disingenuous, and an attempt to sabotage the activists’ chances. That would have killed any chance of Dyett re-opening, and you know that.

    Finally, you throw a bone to Jitu, but in the context of the rest of the article, this can only be viewed as a back-handed gesture of condescension.)

    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    “KOCO’s leader, Jitu Brown, is a respected leader in the Washington Park community. His proposal deserves full and fair consideration. It’s a strong proposal and Brown has certainly been a forceful advocate for the school for years.

    “KOCO’s tactics, however, are both destructive and anti-democratic. Before anyone gets seriously hurt, KOCO and its union allies should honor the public process and call off the hunger strike. If they don’t, and CPS awards the school to another applicant, they will have only themselves to blame.”

    (Again and thankfully, Mr. Cunningham, your prediction was WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.)


    If you want to hear Cunningham on radio — from August 31, 2015 — trashing the Dyett hunger striking parents and activists, go here:

    (Suggestion: open a new tab on your browser, put in the link above, position new window so that the timeline and play button isjust below this browser/window you’re reading from, then play it while you read along … that’s how I transcribed stuff so fast.)


    It’s a riveting show, as the other two guests are:

    1) One of the hunger strikers, Reverend Robert Jones of Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, who gives the latest on the hunger strike, and their demands;


    2) Eve Ewing, a Harvard University grad student who’s writing her doctoral dissertation on school closings (and a former Chicago Public School teacher); She’s one of the most knowledgeable and articulate anti-school-choice folks you’ll ever get to listen to. Cunningham had no idea how sharp she was.

    Read on.

    At one point, Cunningham points out that re-opening Dyett isn’t even necessary, as there are a dozen privately-managed schools — most of them privately-managed charter schools — within three miles of the Dyett campus and its Bronzeville neighborhood. 11 of them are below capacity (with open seats). 5 of them are below 50% capacity:
    ( 5:54 – 6:18 )
    CUNNINGHAM: “It’s important to point out that there are 12 high schools within three miles of Dyett and 11 of them are below capacity. Five of them are 50% below capacity, so there’s plenty of capacity for high school students. Several of them are open-enrollment neighborhood schools, and the question is, what will … what kind of high school will attract students in that community where you have so much excess capacity (open seats)?”



    Three points in response to the Cunningham quote above:

    1) First, I thought there were hordes of parents on waiting lists dying to get into these charters. You know, the whole "thousands on the wait list" canard, with thais “demand” as the rationale that had been given for opening all these charters.

    Why are there all these charters now “below capacity, some of them 50% below capacity”?

    2) Furthermore, if there never was such a demand for these charters — as it appears to be the case — then why were these privately-managed charter schools freakin’ authorized, funded, and opened in the freakin’ first place?

    3) also, having to commute three miles in urban Chicago, crossing gang boundaries, is not as convenient as the Ivory-tower-dwelling Cunningham thinks. Indeed it, can get you killed. (and that has happened… with Duncan’s and Cunningham’s culpability … Google: "Derrion Albert" Fenger High School)

    In the next bit — which I didn’t transcribe — the hunger-striking reverend calmly states that there IS much student/parent demand for a traditional public school re-opening at Dyett, and gives the reasons and background for choosing the hunger striker’s proposal for the school.

    The moderator then turns to Cunningham, and confronts Cunningham with the accusation that the recently-closed Dyett High School was, in fact, sabotaged by his old boss Arne Duncan and then-mayor (still mayor, Rahm Emanuel. They sabotaged it into failure and closure by CPS. This process, which is euphemistically referred to as "phasing out" is actually deliberate starvation of funding by school officials — up to and including the Mayor and his appointed (un-elected) board. CPS officials also pressured and encouraged parents not to have their children attend Dyett.

    "Phasing out" also includes closing freshman year --- not accepting any --- one year, and then sophomore year the next ... until there's just one senior class, and then it's closed. The reason there were only 13 seniors WAS THAT THEY HAD CLOSED ALL THE OTHER GRADES AND WEREN'T ACCEPTING ANYONE IN THOSE GRADES!!!
    ( 6:52 – : )
    MODERATOR: “You know, one of the things that you had mentioned, Mr. Cunningham, in your piece, was about how Dyett re-opened … it re-opened as a high school, it was originally a middle school … that it re-opened in the wrong place at the wrong time. That there was low enrollment. I believe last year, there were what? There were just 13 seniors just recently that graduated from Dyett.

    “But the argument from others is that well, these things happened because once the city, (and) the school district CPS (the un-elected board and Mayor Emanuel) had decided it was going to phase out Dyett, that it starved the school of resources, and that was one of the reasons that it sort of it saw declining enrollment.”

    (Cunningham, deliberately or not, confuses the concepts of “open enrollment” and “school choice”, which thankfully, Eve Ewing straightens out later when it’s her turn… and boy does she straighten Cunningham out!)

    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
    CUNNINGHAM: “Well. I don’t think that’s fully accurate. I mean the community, in fact, was consistently choosing other schools. By the time they city made the decision to close Dyett, 70% of the high school students in the community were choosing schools outside their community, because we live in… we have an open-enrollment system (he should have said “choice system”) for high schools in Chicago today . Every kid decides where he wants to go, applies, and … (garbled) either they get in or they don’t get in and they go somewhere else (stops garbling) … but the point is that everyone chooses high schools and they (Bronzeville high school students) were choosing schools other than Dyett.”
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x



    When you listen to the end above quote, notice how Cunningham quickly and under his breath quickly glosses over how, in practice, how ruthlessly selective these supposedly “public” schools in Chicago that students are allowed to apply for — the dirty secret the corporate reformers don’t want discussed:

    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
    (quickly, garbled)
    ” … either they get in or they don’t get in and they go somewhere else …”
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    Yeah, no kidding, Peter! What good is a "choice" if you don't get your first choice, or your second, or your third or your ... ? In this case, it's the charter schools doing the actual "choosing", screening out the most expensive, difficult, and troublesome to educate. Those kids end up and the low end charters.

    As Eve Ewing will soon make crystal clear.

    The moderator quotes the Cunningham piece that says that in the 2012-2013 school year, the senior class only had 13 students.

    This leaves an opening for Eve to flatten Peter.

    First, she has to correct his confusing the terms “open enrollment” with a “choice system.”

    Eventually she gets around to lambasting the whole concept of a choice system.

    Thankfully, Ewing sets the record straight. Both a former Chicago public school teacher and a Harvard researcher, Ewing has the experience and the data to make her points:



    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
    ( 8:01 – )
    MODERATOR: “I want to bring in Eve Ewing into the conversation. Eve Ewing is writing her dissertation at Harvard University on school closings.

    “Hi, Eve Ewing. Welcome to the program.”

    EVE EWING: “Good morning. How are you?”

    MODERATOR: “Pretty good. You recently wrote in a post about Dyett, and your story, your argument is that … look, it’s more… this has to do than with more than just one school closing. And Peter Cunningham mentioned something that has been going on in Chicago for what? Almost a decade. It happens now in New York City, and in New Orleans, that you pointed out.

    “That is this whole concept of ‘open enrollment’ (wrong, it’s “choice district”), letting kids… you know, more or less doing away with boundaries .. it seems like … what you say in your piece is … that’s part of the root of this problem.”

    EVE EWING: “Umm… sort of … I want to correct a couple of things. When you say ‘open enrollment’, I think what Mr. Cunningham is describing is actually a ‘choice district’ (system).

    “So ‘open enrollment’ actually means that every child who wants to attend a neighborhood boundary of a school is able to attend (what the Dyett protestors want for the Dyett school building)

    “Whereas what you-all (Cunningham & the Moderator) have been describing is actually the idea of ‘school choice.’ Which is that students can choose anywhere they like around the city. They don’t have to attend a neighborhood high school, as was the case in Chicago twenty or thirty years ago. (the Dyette parent protestors want a neighborhood schools)

    “And (here is) what we’ve gotten from there.

    “A second ago, Peter said, everybody is ‘choosing’ (their) high schools.

    “Well that is NOT exactly the case, and the numbers that have been cited about all the other charter schools (schools available for Dyett neighborhood students to transfer to) that are surrounding Dyett’s really misleading because several of those schools are not actually accessible to the students who live in the (Dyett / Bronzeville) community.

    “So for example, Mayor Emanuel mentioned King College Prep in his comments to the news media the other day. (i.e. that Dyett is not needed, in part because kids can go to King)

    “And King College Prep is a selective enrollment school. That means that, in order to quality, students have to meet a certain grade cut-off in their seventh grade scores on their standardized testing, as well as their classroom grades, and that serves a very small proportion of students who come from ALL OVER the city,

    “So (for Cunningham or Emanuel) to say that a school like that (King) is accessible to students in Bronzeville is really deliberately misleading in a way that I find disingenuous and disappointing, as well as the number that was just cited (by Cunningham) about the 13 students remaining at Dyett as seniors (just before closure).

    “The reason that the school had only 13 students at graduation was because the incoming classes were phased out year after year, after the school announced that the school would be closing in the 2012-2013 school year.

    MODERATOR: “Right, toward the end it was like … just 11 and 12, or just 12th Grade, actually.”

    EVE EWING: “Exactly!”



    MODERATOR: “So there were no students feeding into the higher grades, because they were not accepted.”

    EVE EWING: “THEY (Dyett administrators) WERE NOT ALLOWED (by CPS officials up to and including Mayor Emanuel) TO ENROLL NEW STUDENTS. Additionally, you know, the students that were present (who remained) were really encouraged to leave, and transfer to other schools.

    “And I’d like everybody to imagine if this were YOUR child, or if this were YOUR senior year in high school, or YOUR high school, what it would be like for you to be told by the district:

    ” ‘We don’t want YOU! We’re getting rid of YOU over time!’

    “And … ummm … There’s a real sincere message of a lack of value (for students) there, that’s really consistent with how the district has treated its African-American students in this community for years now.”
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    Holy sh#%! Eve’s totally on fire, and she’s just getting warmed up.

    The Moderator then gives Eve an opening to tear apart the whole “choice system” implemented by Arne Duncan and by his underling Peter Cunningham, and the mechanisms of how “choice” works… or rather does NOT work.

    It’s “school choice” alright. The selective charter operators “choose” their students, not the other way around.
    ( 10:49 – )
    MODERATOR: “But I wonder again if this gets to the larger issue of this … this approach, this philosophy that’s not pretty entrenched, pretty ingrained not only in Chicago, but in other cities-”

    EVE EWING: ” – of the choice -”

    MODERATOR: “That I mentioned this whole idea of doing away with boundaries.”

    EVE EWING: “Um. It is. It’s very much endemic in that, because that is an idea that works very well if you think of (choosing) a school like ‘a market’, and you think of parents like rational consumers.

    “So the idea of choice assumes that people choose schools the way they choose cereal:

    “You go the cereal aisle.

    “You see what flavor you like.

    “You see what, you know, what nutritional content is there,

    ” Then you make this choice based on your preferences, and based on the data available.

    “And there’s A LOT of research that shows that that’s ACTUALLY NOT how this works AT ALL … in TWO directions:

    “ONE: parents who are already disenfranchised from the school system — which is in Chicago, means predominantly black, and also, Latino and poor parents — are often unable to make informed choices. The district doesn’t always make it easy for them to make those decisions.

    “For example, for a lot of these charter schools, you (parents) have to come to a mandatory informational session. You have to fill out supplementary and additional levels of applications to get your children into these schools, as well as a testing (minimum test score) cut-off.

    “And (TWO): it’s also not rational form the point of view of white parents, because there’s a lot of research (that shows) that while parents will actually pull their children out of a majority students of color school, even if that school is doing well, even it it’s academically superior to a majority white school.

    “So what we’re really seeing is that this ‘choice’ is NOT ‘informed choice’ AT ALL.”
    Wow. That was great!



    In his next turn to talk, Cunningham doubles down, and rejects Ewing’s claim that the so-called “choice” system, as is, does not enable parents to become the kind of “rational consumers” necessary for a market “school choice” system to function.
    ( 12:58 – )
    CUNNINGHAM: “I tend to think that parents ARE ‘rational consumers.’ I think that they’re looking out for their kids. I think that high school students are able to travel further distances. I think that at the elementary level, obviously people are more inclined to choose schools that are close to them. But at the high school level kids travel all across the city that appeal to them, and in this case (Dyett), you have a couple of competing proposals… ”

    (Cunningham then goes into the different groups wanting with proposals to seize and use the empty Dyett school building. He even makes some patronizing reference to Walter Dyett’s musical accomplishments, and the accomplishments of Dyett’s students… as if Cunningham actually gives a sh%# about African-American culture.)


    Listen the whole thing.

    One more point. Cunningham continues to talk about how under-enrolled schools are, with so many empty seats. The Moderator then asks him, if that’s the case..


    Hhere’s that particular moment worth spotlighting.

    In carrying out his corporate masters’ marching orders — to help create an environment favorable to opening more corporate, privately-managed charter schools and also closing down pre-existing traditional public schools — Cunningham contradicts himself.

    After saying over and over during the radio show that, all over Chicago, there are more seats than there were kids to sit in them, Cunningham now insists that there is “a demand” to open more schools

    So there’s “demand?”

    Really? From whom? The parents or the charter operators?

    In point of fact, it’s the latter, as Cunningham claims the demand is for more privately-managed corporate charter schools?

    ( 17:11 – )
    MODERATOR: “Here, we’re talking about under-capacity, right? But I’m wondering, even if there’s under-capacity, how come we keep opening up NEW schools (which Cunningham encourages)?”

    CUNNINGHAM: “Well, I think there’s demand for new schools. There’s a demand for better schools, especially … we’ve had a lot of challenges getting our high schools to improve (TRANSLATION: the traditional public schools are hopeless, so we need to open charters nearby to steal away the students, and eventually close down all those traditional schools… he then goes off into an infomercial about the Noble… you guessed it .. CHARTER Schools.

    In short, the fix is in, folks, with the endgame being another New Orleans, and the complete elimination of traditional public schools in Chicago, and replacement with privately-managed charter schools.)

  11. “The choice movement has grown steadily over the past 25 years by offering new and innovative approaches to teaching and learning.”

    “Really? Name two.”

    I can name three: mouth bubbles, eye tracking, posture policing. (Wonder how these techniques will work with your average 17 year old HS student?)

    Unfortunately the stereotypical 1950s parochial school model used by many charters sadly doesn’t get them a new or an innovative – just the most restrictive and constrained programs imaginable.

    The “1/6 don’t graduate” stat that implies that the learning opportunities that lead to an 83% (5/6) success rate were somehow denied to the 17% that don’t make it. Cunningham may be book smart but he is conveniently ignorant about the many serious life obstacles that make a 100% graduation rate nothing but a pipe dream. Students struggle and fail for a myriad of reasons, very few of which have anything to do with teachers, unions, curricula, standards, and pedagogy.

    Now that the curtain has been pulled back on charters, Cunningham thinks the answer lies in re-marketing? Oops, our shit sandwich doesn’t taste that good after all; how about souffle au feces?

    1. I can name a few others, though perhaps they are not new. Rural life charter schools like Walton Rural Life Charter Schools in Kansas, Waldorf schools like Madrone Trail Charter School in Oregon, Montessori schools like Hill View Montessori Charter School in Massachusetts, and project based learning education like Innovations Academy in California.

      Many of these programs have been available to those able to pay private school tuition for some time. The innovation here is that poor households can now send their children to these kinds of schools.

    2. So, the innovation is spending more money on the school. Again-- not an innovation

  12. There is no magic solution to the educational divide in our country because it involves so many things out of school's control. Unfortunately, that statement doesn't sell anything.