CHICAGO – In addition to 54 elementary schools slated for closure this year, the Chicago Public School district wants to “turnaround” six other neighborhood school campuses. The management contract will most likely be awarded to the Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL). The turnaround model is not about educational improvement. No study has ever shown that firing and replacing an entire school staff, from the teachers to the clerks and lunchroom attendants, has any positive impact on student learning, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) reports.
There are clearly benefits to receiving a full-time social worker, additional assistant principal, teacher aides in each classroom, an additional $420 per pupil, and $300,000 for the school. Those are resource investments that can help improve teaching and learning environments, and help schools organize to improve. Corporate reformers however, will never embrace a school improvement strategy based on resource investments that does not also involve an assault on dedicated educators and school staff.
“It appears the only purpose that the firing and replacing of staff serves as part of a ‘turnaround’ is to discriminate against experienced, expensive educators, especially educators of color,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “School turnarounds have disproportionately affected black educators in the past, and last year’s turnarounds are no different.”
According to CTU research, out of the seven turnaround schools with majority Black teaching staff prior to turnaround, only CVCA maintained the same proportion of Black teachers with their replacements.
Every other school had a large drop, most significantly at Stagg which went from 80% Black teaching staff to just 35 percent. Even starker are the differences in the experience of teachers that were hired as replacement teachers. There were no first-year teachers in the year prior to turnaround across all the 2012 turnaround schools. After turnaround, first-years became the overwhelming majority at 57%. Teachers with more than 5 years of experience shrank from 85 percent to just 28 percent.
The AUSL Turnaround Model: Perpetual Upheaval
At AUSL schools, the gutting and displacing of school staff doesn’t just end with the initial year of ‘turnaround’. Their schools remain in a perpetual state of staff upheaval, losing the majority of their teaching staff from year to year.
A comparative analysis of neighborhood schools to turnarounds released by Designs for Change in 2012 showed that many of the turnarounds kept few of their initial turnaround staff. Across all turnarounds that had been in operation since the 2008-2009 school year, an average of only 42 percent of teachers per school remained teaching at the same school four years later in 2011-2012.
Other than the six new turnarounds handed to AUSL in 2012, AUSL operates nine other elementary turnaround schools. These nine have all been in operation for at least three years. CTU’s analysis of the most recent year-to-year teacher turnover rates at the nine AUSL elementary turnaround schools shows that most schools lost over half their teaching staff since last school year! Teacher turnover rates ranged from 24 percent at Bethune, to a high of 67 percent at Morton and 70 percent at Johnson.
Percent of teachers retained from SY2012 to SY2013
Number of teachers in SY2012
Number of retained teachers
Bethune, which has the highest year to year retention rate of the AUSL schools, was selected for closure after this school year.
While some turnover could be created by lost teacher positions, it is clear from the data that even taking into consideration lost positions, the turnover remains remarkably high. Johnson had five fewer teachers in 2013 than in 2012, but their high rate of turnover still led to new hires making up a significant majority of the school staff, at 60 percent.
Percent of SY2013 teaching staff new to school in SY2013
Number of teachers in SY2013
Number of teachers new to school
The AUSL Turnaround Model: Exclude Experience
The perpetual upheaval at AUSL schools means that the collective experience at the turnaround schools remains low. Across the nine AUSL elementary schools that have been in operation for at least three years, the years of district experience for the average AUSL teacher is only 4 years. The only other type of schools in CPS where teachers and students have such consistently rare opportunities to interact, collaborate with, and learn from experienced teachers is at charter schools.
It’s not just the teacher turnover that keeps the average experience so low. As part of their management philosophy, AUSL routinely recruits teachers that have no or few years of prior teaching experience. Over 20% of teachers across the nine AUSL turnarounds had no years of applicable teaching experience, whether within district or outside CPS. Over 60% had less than three years of teaching experience. Both of these percentages are over 3 times the percentages found across CPS.
Years of experience
No years of experience
3 or fewer
5 or fewer
It is crucial when inducting new teachers to offer them supporting teaching and learning environments. It is clear from the rapid rates of teacher departure from AUSL turnaround schools that such environments are not valued by AUSL management in their ‘turnaround’ model. A proper induction for new teachers in CPS should require interaction and collaboration with a teaching staff that is both experienced and diverse. Neither of these characteristics seem important to AUSL.
The Chicago Teachers Union has called for an immediate moratorium on all school actions including closures, turnarounds and consolidations.