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Thursday, May 29, 2014 12:01 am

Letters to the Editor 5/29/14



Did anyone else find it odd that Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform didn’t spell out what she means when she says she wants parents to “take 20 years of lessons learned and move them into every community?” (“What parents need to know about schools,” May 22.) Allen says when kids fail, the problem isn’t with their parents, it’s with the “standards set by the school and its staff (often low and fuzzy), the low quality of instruction, the lack of accountability, and, for children of color, what was once called the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’.” The parentheses are hers. But there’s something we can do, she says.

But wait, what are those “20 years of lessons learned?” And what, exactly, is it we can do in Springfield so the kids will sit up straight and pay attention? Allen doesn’t say. So I got curious and looked her up.

Allen is founder of CER and the vice president for business development of Hot Chalk Inc., a digital technology firm that hosts “education-focused websites and helps advertisers reach a targeted audience.” According to its 2013 annual report, CER seeks to “increase the number and quality of appointments available among charter, digital, and other schools of choice.” On its website, CER also advocates: 1. Rigorous learning standards and strict accountability for public schools and teachers by means of “tests, developed at the state level and correlated directly to the standards.” 2. Increased reliance on technology, including “digital learning” and “a myriad of delivery mechanisms via online tools” for students wherever they are. 3. “Strong, data-driven, performance-based accountability systems.

In advocating these policies and products, CER and Allen say they’re opposed not only by teacher unions, but also “the associations of administrators, principals, school boards and hybrids of all (e.g., ‘The Blob’).” In newspaper op ed pieces, Allen likes to refer to brick-and-mortar public schools and professional educators’ advocacy groups collectively as “the Blob.” It’s a “special interest,” she says, and it’s outlived its usefulness.

Allen sees her advocacy of charter schools as a struggle for “excellence in education, through promoting choice and accountability.” But others see it as part of a nationwide assault on the public schools in the interest of school privatization.

Certainly if you read between the lines, CER’s rhetoric parrots the talking points of corporate school reform, school privatization and partisan right-wingers like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Walton Family Foundation, which in 2013 contributed $541,856 to CER, along with grants to charter schools from Arizona to Wisconsin including the Chicago Collegiate Charter School and the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.

Charter schools have a legitimate place, if they’re held accountable to the communities they serve and they’re staffed by professional teachers who have more than the five weeks of training typical of many charter school faculty, but they’re highly controversial. In Chicago, New York and other major metro areas nationwide, they’re blamed for a corporate school reform agenda that closed 50 neighborhood public schools in Chicago, for example, during the past year alone.

So Allen may sound like she’s got a cure-all for parents who are left “scratching their heads” but what she’s really got is a hidden agenda. It’s a corporate political agenda, it leads to school privatization and there’s no evidence whatsoever it would help parents – or students – in Springfield.

Peter Ellertsen

Seagull Press is publishing a book this summer about Lanphier High School. The book, Happy Times at Lanphier High: the Class of ‘62, will have three parts: a memoir of author Ken Mitchell’s years at LHS, a history of the school and northend and a Where Are They Now? section. We would like to enliven the history section with personal interviews of Lanphier students who attended in the 1930s-1960s. Please contact the author at 217-494-3295 or ken220@comcast.net.

Ken Mitchell

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