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Over the last two months parents, parent groups such as Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) and the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (C.O.R.E.) — the “reform” caucus of the Chicago Teachers Union have organized protests over announced Chicago Public School closings.

  • C.O.R.E. and teachers from Holmes Elementary School are planning to picket the McDonald’s as well as the Walgreens across the street to “inform the public of their anger toward big-business for meddling with public education.”
  • About 50 protesters picketed the McDonald’s before moving to Walgreens.
  • A sit-in at Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary School was held January 22 to protest the proposed turnaround.
  • Hundreds of upset parents and teachers in the Chicago Public School District held a rally outside a McDonald’s Restaurant on the city’s north side on Valentine’s Day.

Why are these concerned parents targeting Mickey D’s?

Surely these well-intentioned teachers and parents are protesting in the belief that McDonald’s should be donating more money to public schools right? No? Hmmmm….

Maybe these well-intentioned teachers and parents are protesting in the belief that McDonalds is somehow infiltrating the school lunch room and they’re worried about their children’s health? Is that why they’re shouting, “We don’t want your Big Mac. We just want our schools back.” No? Hmmm….

What then could they be protesting? It can’t be because McDonald’s Corp. and Ronald McDonald House Charities have donated approximately $2 million and Walgreens has donated approximately $500,000 to the Renaissance School Fund in the last four years. It is? Really?

Yes, really.

The Renaissance Schools Fund has provided nearly $21 million to schools over the last five years. As usual, somebody has a problem with this.

Renaissance 2010

The CEO and all seven members of the Board of Education are appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley under powers granted to him in 1995 with the passage of the Amendatory Act by the Illinois General Assembly. In 2004, approximately ten years into this era of “mayoral control” Daley announced the “Renaissance 2010” plan.

Under Ren 2010, the Chicago Public Schools systems is attempting to create 100 high-performing public schools by 2010. These performance accountable schools are given 5-year contracts and a fair degree of autonomy. There are three types of Ren 2010 schools:

  • Charter Schools are independent public schools, free from many state laws, district initiatives, and board policies.
  • Contract Schools are managed by independent nonprofit organizations in accordance with Performance Agreements. Contract schoolteachers are employees of the nonprofit.
  • Performance Schools employ CPS staff and are CPS schools that have freedom from and flexibility on many district initiatives and policies.
How Ren 2010 Works

Like many recent Daly Regime initiatives, Ren 2010 is a free marketers dream. By providing a market of quasi-independent schools, Ren 2010 forces schools and the now accountable administrations which manage them to compete for students based upon results. Ren 2010 schools can exclude students and don’t have to hire union or certified teachers. Students are allowed to go to any school they can get into.

In this innovative system, private and non-profit partners with the financial resources are found to help individual schools.

Basically, if a qualified private entity applies to create a school and CPS agrees, a new public school is created. Many charters lease former Catholic Schools. Currently, CPS gives $425 per pupil to the 31 schools in non-CPS buildings.

More recently, charters have begun to open in CPS-owned facilities. These REN 2010 schools are charged $775 – $1,025 per pupil by CPS to cover building costs. The fact that CPS allows charters to lease CPS buildings has begun to rankle the entrenched school interests, at least partially because they require the “old” school to be shut down.

Previously, most charters opened in already closed schools or other buildings. These charters seemed less threatening to CTU. With the supply of empty buildings used up, CPS has started to turn existing schools into charters.

Holmes Elementary is one of many struggling and under-enrolled schools in Chicago are identified for a “turnaround” process. When a school is turned around the existing is staff is fired and the new administration is allowed to hire everyone new. Previous teachers may reapply for their positions.

Other schools are simply closed, renovated, and leased out to charters. The closing and turnaround processes are being used by the Daley Regime to clean out bad schools, bring in the new charters, and give them a fresh start.

These charter and contract schools are theoretically then able to raise expectations and provide a more disciplined culture.

Its Been Four Years

REN 2010 still has two years remaining in its implementation phase. Its mostly too early to start talking about success or failure. Mostly.

We can outline some of its early successes and its future obstacles however. REN 2010 is especially relevant now in light of Obama’s appointment of recent CPS CEO Arne Duncan as his Secretary of Education.

Education may mostly be local, but understanding what Duncan did and allowed in one of the nation’s largest school districts should give a fair idea of what types of initiatives the Obama administration will be pushing.

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