July 9, 2011; Source: Chicago Tribune | Questions are being asked in Chicago about whether a nonprofit charged with turning around a group of low-performing schools is exceptionally good at what it does or if the city is singling it out for support because of ties to the mayor. According to the Chicago Tribune, some 19 so-called turnaround schools are being run by the nonprofit Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). 

This year alone the AUSL will receive $6.4 million from Chicago Public Schools and some of that money is to train teachers in a program that has been praised by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The mayor¬† obviously thinks highly of some of the people associated with AUSL. He named the group’s former chair to head the city’s school board and also recruited the district’s chief administrative officer from the organization.

The newspaper reports these kinds connections have some people asking questions about AUSL’s role in Chicago’s school improvement efforts. “Clearly they’re very tied in to the political establishment in Chicago and they’re getting opportunities in funding not available to anybody else,” said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education. A CPS spokesperson says these schools were singled out for special support because they “are in the deepest of holes when it comes to student performance.”

The Tribune reports that the AUSL’s academies, which train teachers to work in the most challenging schools, are given credit for the group’s success. That includes 10 turnaround elementary schools that scored 8 percentage points higher on the state’s standardized exams compared to last year, and double the average of 3.8 percentage points for the district.—Bruce S. Trachtenberg