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While Arne Duncan was superintendent of schools in Chicago, he received over $10 million from the Gates Foundation to begin “turning around” low-performing schools. He supported the creation of The Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), which subsequently took over 31 schools, some of which raised test scores but were criticized for pushing out low-scoring students. One of AUSL’s goals was to train teachers for urban schools.
The leadership of Chicago Public Schools decided to absorb the 31 schools back into the school district, according to Chalkbeat. AUSL will continue training teachers.
Tapped in 2006 to steer improvements at some of the city’s lowest-performing schools, the nonprofit Academy for Urban School Leadership manages 31 schools that together enrolled 14,745 students this school year, mostly on the city’s South and West sides. The contractor oversees a yearlong teacher residency program that prepares educators to work with high-need students. In the past five years, enrollment across its schools has declined 12% compared to the district’s 10% drop, while year-to-year academic growth on standardized tests has shown some schools steadily improving and others struggling.
Mike Klonsky, veteran activist in Chicago, explains the spotty record of AUSL here. It was a key component of Arne Duncan’s “reform” agenda, handing over low-performing schools to private organizations and firing their teachers. It was a precursor to the massive failure of Race to the Top.
Lacking any research base and built on the false premise that private companies, hedge funders, and power philanthropists could best operate public institutions, AUSL’s school takeover turned out to be an expensive and dismal flop.
AUSL was founded and run by Chicago venture capitalist Martin Koldyke, who used his connections and big campaign donations to become a powerhouse in the school turnaround business. Koldyke, a golf buddy of then-Mayor Daley, decided he could save the public school system by running it like a business. Koldyke’s company, Frontenac, had been a big investor in for-profit colleges like DeVry and Rasmussen College.
Despite AUSL schools ranking at or near the bottom of the system, the company benefited from backing from Daley, and then from Rahm Emanuel. Rahm even selected a former AUSL top executive to oversee CPS’ finances and named AUSL’s previous board chairman, David Vitale, as president of the CPS Board of Education. With virtual control of the board and the central office, Koldyke was assured of a stable funding pipeline to his then 19 turnaround schools, even in the midst of a budget crisis when neighborhood schools were being starved of operating cash.
Jesse Sharkey, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, reacted gleefully to the news:
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s outgoing CPS leadership team publicly confirmed today that it is dismantling the Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL), the district’s largest turnaround school network. Beginning in 2006, turnaround actions across the South and West sides of Chicago led to a sweeping purge of Black educators under the guise of “failing” schools, when in reality, mayoral control of CPS had long starved these school communities of resources needed to thrive.
Our beloved Karen Lewis led the charge to fight these racist purges when she became president of our union in 2010. The following year, we filed suit in federal court against CPS for violating the civil rights of displaced Black educators. The district fought for a decade to derail this case until a judge ruled this spring that without a settlement, the suit would proceed to trial.
None of this happens without educators’ vocal opposition to turnaround actions, and coalition and community support for the brave plaintiffs in our lawsuit, which have pushed CPS to tacitly end this practice. The same can be said about broad opposition among parents, students and traditional, neighborhood public school communities to uncontrolled charter expansion, which has helped stall school privatization in recent years.
We will continue our work to dismantle racist metrics — now branded SQRP by CPS — even as the mayor’s handpicked Board of Education lets these policies fester. We will continue to push the state legislature to give Chicagoans what residents in every other school district in the state have — the right to a fully elected school board that will not rubber stamp the racism of the past. We will continue to fight, and we will continue to win.
Unity and commitment to creating a truly sustainable community school district is what moves our struggle forward. Educators’ work is anchored in the fight for the schools our students deserve, and the right to recovery for every CPS student and family.
Our mission remains to reverse the harm of racist policies like turnarounds, and move our bosses to provide school communities the resources required to support every student’s needs.