Take 5: Concept Schools Chatham location, healthy food and standardized testing

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Concept Schools just can’t catch a break. The Chicago Sun Times reports that the building they are trying to rent for their Chatham location is being foreclosed on by the bank run by CPS board president David Vitale.

Originally, Concept planned to rent space from a megachurch being built by the Rev. Charles Jenkins, pastor of Missionary Fellowship Baptist Church in Bronzeville and a close ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Concept had agreed to pay the church $528,000 in rent annually. Then, after the FBI raided its charter school locations in Illinois and other places, church leaders said they weren’t so sure that they wanted to rent to Concept.

But Concept leaders say they already have students signed up for the new school, set to open this Fall. They then announced they were eyeing a location at 9130 S. Vincennes, an old Christian school building. Concept leaders say they are planning to pay $210,000 to rent the property on a one-year lease, with options to extend the lease for another year or two, according to the Sun-Times. The Sun-Times says the building is in foreclosure proceedings with Urban Partnership Bank of which Vitale is the president. So, according to the Sun Times, Vitale’s bank will benefit from having the building rented. CPS officials and Concept deny Vitale had any knowledge of the connections. Vitale did not comment for the story.

Also, on Saturday, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that Concept hired an Ohio-based public relations firm, Communications Counsel Inc,. that worked for the campaigns of Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and has been a spokesman for gambling interests and electric utilities, according to the newspaper.

2. Healthy snacks… As Catalyst reported in June, for the first time, new federal nutritional standards are being extended to all food sold in schools during the school day, including in vending machines and fundraisers. The Chicago Tribune writes about how suburban schools are approaching these new rules, while pointing out that Illinois has been quick to dole out exceptions to federal nutritional standards. With 36 high schools and nine elementary schools being allowed exceptions, Illinois is one of only four states that together allow more than 21 school districts to bypass the guidelines. CPS’ guidelines for fundraisers are more restrictive than the state’s guidelines, allowing only two food fundraisers every year. Considering CPS schools are underfunded compared to some suburbs, it will be interesting to see whether these strict guidelines turn out to be another way city schools are at a disadvantage.

3. Protesting Pearson… As part of the “Public Education, Not Private Profits” campaign, New York union leaders plan to shred standardized tests in Albany Monday night to protest the dominance of textbook and test publisher Pearson, which develops tests for students and teachers. Last year, a television station in New York did an investigation into Pearson and found that the London-based company has a lock on administering tests in that state.

Illinois also funnels a lot of money toward Pearson, which created and administered both the standardized tests that the state is phasing out (the ISAT) and those it is putting in thier place (PARCC). Pearson also administers the test and performance assessment required for teacher certification in Illinois. The performance assessment is a new requirement and, earlier this year, some University of Illinois-Chicago students questioned why Pearson was awarded the single-source contract to administer it. They said they would rather have university professors grade them.

4. Speaking of testing … Jury selection begins today in one of the nation’s biggest school cheating scandals. Twelve former educators are on trial in Atlanta in connection with a 2011 state investigation that accused them of conspiracy to alter students’ standardized test scores to make it seem as though the students were meeting academic benchmarks.

The case raised questions nationally about what role standardized tests should play in education reform. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, “the pain has been felt particularly keenly among African-Americans, who make up 54 percent of Atlanta’s population,” the New York Times reports. “It is largely black educators who have been accused, and largely black students who have been harmed by bogus evaluations of their educational progress.” In a recent essay, the New Yorker magazine profiled one middle school caught in the investigation.

Such scandals have added fuel to campaigns in Chicago and elsewhere against high-stakes testing. Earlier this year, a group of teachers at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy and Drummond Montessori refused to administer the   standardized test the state is phasing out.

5. Libraries matter… The Atlantic Education channel has a moving video chronicling a day in the life of New York City libraries. The first image is a video of people lined up outside the library in the morning. Among the stories told are a shut-in who calls into a book club, a young mother using library computers to look for a job and a little boy who goes to the library for a quiet place to do his homework after school. Also, there are stories of immigrants who go to the library to learn English.

The video ends with the statement that the hours at the New York libraries have been cut and only eight are open on Sundays. Sound familiar? As you will remember, in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shortened the number of hours libraries are open.  He did this to save $11 million to help make up a budget deficit. These days only four Chicago libraries are open on Sunday and less than half have any hours beyond 6 p.m.