Over the last decade, a nonprofit teaching academy with strong political ties has launched an education revolution inside Chicago Public Schools, tearing down and rebuilding some of the city's worst-performing schools.
Now running 19 schools and locked in a public battle this month to add six more, the Academy for Urban School Leadership has become a force inside CPS, a virtually autonomous "district within the district" supported by millions in public and private funding.
The organization's pioneering work to "turn around" struggling schools by removing most of the teachers and administrators and replacing them with AUSL-trained staff, and installing a new culture of discipline and academic rigor, has won them praise from political heavyweights such as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
"Schools are in crisis right now. They're failing," said Donald Feinstein, AUSL's executive director. "And so the question is, how long would it take (for CPS) to redevelop an entire workforce when there may be a better way to go in with a dramatic intervention?"