This spring, thousands of Chicagoans gathered to protest school closures. 54 schools were closed, against the wishes of the impacted communities. If you’ve missed this story, you can follow it back all the way to 2011 on the Huffington Post.
The official story behind the closures was that they were underutilized and that Chicago Public Schools just didn’t have the money to run them. But at the very same time, the school district is requesting applications from charter school companies.
They’re closing neighborhood public schools, against the wishes of the communities impacted, and replacing them with privatized charter schools.
In which kinds of neighborhoods? In Chicago, as in New York and Philadelphia, these school closures are happening mostly in communities of color. Here are the numbers:
But I digress. I was talking about the mysterious timing. What I’m talking about here is Teach for America, the nonprofit that was originally supposed to staff schools where teachers were hard to find. I remember learning about it many years ago from a PBS special. It showed a bright-eyed, passionate teacher going into a difficult classroom and excelling. Great, right?
Not so much, as it turns out.
In January, months before the school closures were announced, the Teach For America Board of Directors by some strange coincidence projected that the number of charter schools in Chicago would double, or in other words, increase by 52.
The same number as the public schools that closed.
Was Teach for America involved in the school closures? It sure looks that way. Blogger Ed Shyster, who broke the news about TFA’s charter school projections, argues that these projections represent “backwards planning” in which those in power decide on the result they want (52 new charter schools) and then design the plan. He further points out that there are close ties between TFA, charter school companies, and charter school authorizers (who help decide which charter schools can open).
The Washington Post Answer Sheet reprinted his blog post in the article “How Big Can TFA Get?” Check it out.
Why would TFA do this? If the mission is to help poor communities, why would TFA override their express wishes to keep their neighborhood schools?
I think the easiest way to answer this is to look at an article from the right-wing blog Education Next. TFA leaders go on to become “educational entrepreneurs” — which is to say people who are starting charter school organizations or otherwise privatizing education.
And, as it turns out, this is a core part of TFA’s mission. Read between the lines on their “Lifelong Leaders” web page. It says:
“As an alum, you will join a network of like-minded people who support each other personally and professionally in endeavors that further our mission – such as opening and staffing schools, partnering on social entrepreneurship initiatives, and sharing additional opportunities to advocate for students.”
Just to be clear, “opening schools” means opening charter schools. And “social entrepreneurship initiatives” means privatization.
And why would TFA want to privatize education? This part is really really important. It isn’t because TFA is somehow “evil” or whatever. It’s because the people who run it, who have loads and loads of money and power, think that privatizing our schools is the best way to “help” our communities.
But look back at the original photograph here. These people didn’t want to be “helped” by having their schools closed.
Next up: Are nonprofits our frenemies?