Friday, October 2, 2009

'Chicago Turnaround' the deadliest 'reform' of them all

I'm posting this and thought you might like to share with New York friends. It's been very very busy here.
George Schmidt

October 2, 2009 


It's just seven and a half days since Derrion Albert ha d his skull crushed in that now-world-famous gang fight on 111th St. in Chicago.

And most people still don't realize that "turnaround" was a partial cause of that death.

And the White House is sending Arne Duncan and Eric Holder to Chicago next week to keep the cover up alive and well.

And most of Chicago's media will go along with that cover up, just as they've been cheerleaders for corporate school reform for 14 years now, since Mayor Daley became dictator over Chicago's schools.

But since Arne Duncan is going to force every state in the USA to do Chicago-style "turnaround" or lose stimulus money, let's take a close look at what just happened in Chicago. Not the hype. From the streets around Fenger High School I've been walking the past few days as a reporter, blacklisted Chicago teacher, and former "director of security and safety" for the Chicago Teachers Union. And, oh, as editor of

"Turnaround" and a decade of corporate media manipulation in Chicago and now beyond Chicago's lies, hoaxes, and Orwellian nonsense.

Read on if you want some narrative fact.

If you're waiting for all the "data" in this "data driven" age, I can't help you.

I just posted another critique of Chicago's school "turnaround" craziness at and hope it will he lp people understand what we have been talking about from Chicago for the past ten years or more. "Turnaround" as applied to Chicago's schools has a specific meaning, and is largely unrelated to the buzzwords of corporate America.

If you want to check out the mixed history of "turnaround" in corporate America, I urge you to Google Al Dunlap -- "Chainsaw Al Dunlap" prior to his nasty fall after destroying Chicago's Sunbeam corporation during the dot-com con. For the ten years prior to 2001-2002, "Cahinsaw Al" was a media favorite, and the public snarl of corporate "turnaround." His legacy was about to be poised into corporate "school reform" courtesy of Forbes magazine, which was about to nickname Paul Vallas "Chainsaw Paul" until Dunlap was exposed, top to bottom, as a fraud. They quickly withdrew the "Chainsaw Paul" sobriquet and went on to construct a new identity for Paul Vallas as he was leaving his mess behind in Chicago (after leaving CPS in June 2001) and continuing his corporate school reform work in Philadelphia. But that's another story for another time.

In public schools, as we've reported for years at Substance, 'Turnaround' is a Chicago process that is actually reconstitution. That is what the Chicago Board of Education approved on February 25, 2009, when it chainsawed Chicago's Fenger High School (the latest to be "turnarounded", as we put it here in Chicago). The vote of the Board was to do "turnaround," but Illinois state law doesn't have "turnaround" (yet) in its vocabulary, so the Board votes to do "reconstitution" (which all you ed researchers know has been a failure, at least as measured by any legitimate researchers and peer reviewed).

But Chicago still does "turnaround." It's the flavor of the month from Chicago's Madison Ave. hucksters, David Axelrod at the White House and Peter Cunningham working on Arne Duncan's spin from the Education Department. With Barack Obama reading the scripts.

Now we have "turnaround" on brutal display, courtesy of the murder of 16-year-old Fenger student Derrion Albert last Thursday (September 24) while one of his fellow students made a video that is now on international display.

How does "turnaround" relate to the Derrion Albert murder?

In June and July, after being warned not to, the administration of Ron Huberman, who succeeded Arne Duncan as Chief Executive Officer of Chicago's public schools, fired all but seven or nine of the more than 150 staff (teachers, principal, custodians, lunchroom workers, etc.) at Fenger High School and brought in a newly trained "turnaround" team. In July and August, the new "turnaround" team (mostly white, replacing a mostly black staff at an all-black segregated public high school) prepared its lessons avidly and studied its scripts earnestly.

Then on September 8, the kids arrived.

The 10th, 11th and 12th graders were the same from last year. This is because for the first time since "turnaround" began in Chicago Chicago forced the school to keep all the previous students. A year earlier, at Harper and Orr High School, "turnaround" allowed the new regime at each school to dump the "bad" kids. But last year they got caught, not only by Substance (that's us) but by public radio. By the time WBEZ reporter Linda Lutton was done with the Harper story, anybody paying attention knew that Harper had dumped between 300 and 400 kids between June and September 2008, Those kids (whom Lutton and some friends of ours tracked) wound up at schools like nearby Robeson (that's Paul Robeson High School) where they were kept (vaguely) under control because Robeson had a strong veteran staff.

But over the summer of 2009, CPS ordered Fenger High School not to dump its "trash" (this was the term used by both charters and "turnaround" schools to describe the process) into nearby schools. So Fenger began this school year not only with its exotic collection of 10th, 11th and 12th graders (hint: more than 30 percent were classified "special needs" even under CPS negligent special ed department), but it also added a group of 9th graders that nobody else on the South Side had to take.


By September 14, the teachers at Fenger High School were under siege. The bad guys knew the new teachers were what are called on ghetto streets "Marks." The majority of the kids were caught in the middle. Gang fights every day; coverups in the media (except for us at substancenews) 14/7.

By September 21 (the first day of the third week of school) things were still escalating despite the addition (quietly; keep it out of the media) of several cops, and enhanced police patrols. At one point they called in police from two already overstretched south side police district.

The teachers (a) didn't know the kids (b) didn't know much about inner city teaching, except what they got in their summer "turnaround" lessons and (c) were scared to death (not all, just the majority) at the first sight of blood.

Flash forward to September 24, 2009.

By 10:00 a.m., one of the Fenger children had gotten angry and fired a weapon outside the building, roughly from the corner of 113th and Wallace. The police got the child, a 15-year-old. But the building "heated up" all day.

At 2:46 p.m. (dismissal time) things were chaotic, except that Chicago had deployed at least eight squad cars around the building.

Rather than fight adjacent to the building (which fills the entire two-block square space at 112th - 113th and Wallace; use Google Satellites to see from space if you don't believe me), the really bad guys took the fight a quarter mile north and east of the building, to 111th and "the tracks." (Everyone knows "the tracks" except Chicago's "turnaround" geniuses; the tracks are where you find ammunition for a major battle, from huge rocks to throw to broken bottles to that 2 x 4s and 4 x 4s you can now see on display if you have the stomach for the video).

So, at a little after 3:00 p.m.. while eight or more Chicago police squad cars huddled around the Fenger High School building, a major gang battle was beginning at 111th St. outside the now famous "Agape Community Center" (which, by the way, was securitized like a fortress even before it became part of an international news story).

And one young lady turned on her phone camera and recorded the murder of Derrion Albert.

And a major commentary on "turnaround" in the real world.

Although that's still being covered up from the White House to 111th St. (where, irony of all ironies, young Barack Obama supposedly worked as a "community organizer" -- although don't try to find many people who remembered any impact he had on the public schools from Roseland and Pullman out to "The Gardens").

Anyway, that's all the time I have to share Chicago "turnaround" reality -- from "Chainsaw Paul" to Ron Huberman. And from Antwan Jordan (that's a kid I watched die with a bullet through his head outside Bowen High School in 1997 when I was "security coordinator") to Derrion Albert.

But if you want to continue believing in fairy tales, I'm sure Oprah will be back in time to feed you a couple of dozen.

As Deborah Lynch reports in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times (reprinted right now at

"Turnaround is the deadliest reform of all..."

George N Schmidt
Editor, Substance



Paul Moore said...

If George Washington was the "Father of this country" then George Schmidt is the "Father of the resistamce" to the corporate state's attack on public schooling. What a truth teller! What a profound tribute his report is to the too short life of Derrion Albert and the other child victims of these corporate maurauders!

Thank you George Schmidt for the courage it takes to point directly at the powerful and accuse them of this and their so many other crimes. In time, the truth will set us free.

ed notes online said...

You're right on Paul. George has been just about right about it all from the very beginning when I reconnected with him around 2000. He has given us the tools to analyze and connect up all the elements of what has been going on.

I found it interesting how some of the so-called "progressive" forces in Chicago who cooperated with mayoral control have attacked him so viciously over the years. They will never admit he was right all along.

Anonymous said...

It is disheartening to hear about this so-called "turnaround", but it is extremely sad and shocking to hear about the murder of Derrion Albert! Who do we really blame? Arne Duncan should re-examine that he may be at fault here. Each decision made by a corporate-type educrat whose has a politico-position-advancement agenda may cost the life of a child. It is time for all urban school teachers to come up with a strong action plan that will force each corporate-type educrat rethink thoroughly and carefully the "chainsaw"ing of the public school systems in the US. We need a super-massive rally that is from sea to sea where all teachers from across the nation take a strong stand for public education! Enough with Duncan! Enough with Klein! Enough with Rhee!