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New parent group holds fair for all schools: public, private, charter

September 22, 2014 - 8:31pm

A new parent group is holding a school fair this fall that promises to offer something unprecedented: a one-stop place to shop for all schools, whether it be neighborhood, charter or private schools.

CPS has endorsed the Oct. 4 fair and is requiring all district-run high schools to have a display. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett sent a letter to parents encouraging them to come and district officials are organizing buses for seventh- and eighth-grade parents and students.

Also, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and the Archdiocese of Chicago are co-sponsors.

“As parents we send our children to someone for a long time each day to be educated,” says Chris Butler, the head of ParentPowerChicago. “We want to make sure they know the breadth of options.”

In the past, the district has run a high school fair and there was something called a New Schools Expo, which featured mostly charter schools. However, mostly the different types of schools, especially Catholic and other private schools, recruit students at different times and places.

Sullivan Principal Chad Adams says the fact that neighborhood high schools will be in attendance is a good thing and shows Byrd-Bennett’s commitment to neighborhood schools. But he says that he doesn’t expect to recruit large numbers of students from the fair.

“I will get more bang for my buck by visiting elementary schools in the area,” says Adams.

But ParentPowerChicago has raised suspicion among some parents who are concerned that the people behind the effort have an agenda. They also wonder why CPS would be so heavily involved in an effort that could draw students out of public schools and into private ones.

“Over and over, the optics are such that CPS appears not to believe in their own ability to provide a great education to all students within the public school system,” says Wendy Katten, who runs the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand Chicago.

Connections for parents

Butler was the outreach and advocacy director of New Schools for Chicago, which provided private funding for charter schools and is now in the process of reorganizing. Also, the IRS lists the address of the organization as the same as Old World Industries in Northbrook. Old World Industries was founded and is run by J. Thomas Hurvis, who served on the board of New Schools for Chicago.

Other well-connected pro-charter philanthropists, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, served on the board of New Schools for Chicago.

ParentPower is a not-for-profit organization and, as such, will have to file public tax returns, called 990s. But because it is only a year and a half old, those returns are not yet available. The Illinois Attorney General's Charitable Database indicates that ParentPowerChicago had $800,000 in income in 2013 and $90,000 in assets.

Richard Sanderson, a brand-marketing executive who runs the administrative side of ParentPower, says he and Hurvis are the two major donors. He and Butler declined to provide the names of any other donors.

Sanderson says he and Hurvis are both businessmen who thought that parent engagement was a missing piece in improving education. He says the main purpose of ParentPower is to connect parents with resources.

“This is a total agnostic venture,” he says. “There is no commercial interest and there is no income. The whole idea is to elevate children.”

Sanderson points to the fact that district-run schools, as well as private and charter schools are invited to the fair. He also notes that school choice is only one element of what the organization plans to help parents navigate.  

Butler says that in the initial stages of the organization, 500 parents were surveyed about what they needed and wanted. “Parents said they wanted the best for their children, but they don’t feel like they have enough time to be engaged. They also said they don’t have the necessary information and relationships to make a difference for their children.”

Butler says it is not directed at any particular demographic. “But it is the parents who have least who often need the most help finding resources,” he says.

While Butler’s contention that the organization is just trying to provide information about different school choices seems innocent enough, some will argue that if the district invested in neighborhood schools, then the maze of choices and school fairs would not be necessary.

But ParentPowerChicago is setting out to help parents find resources on subjects other than schools, such as preschools, tutoring and summer programs. This spring, ParentPowerChicago attracted 3,000 parents to a summer program fair. The organization also is doing two-day parent trainings called a parent university.

It also has a hotline that parents can call. A young man who answered the hotline last week says that radio ads have led to a steady stream of calls. Many times parents ask about after-school programs, he says. He finds out what their child is interested in and what neighborhood they live in and he tries to direct them to an appropriate program. Other times they ask about tutoring.

Sometimes, but rather rarely, they ask about school options, he says.

Take 5: Finding dropouts, missing the point on Obama Prep, charter unions

September 22, 2014 - 8:42am

WBEZ’s Becky Vevea looks at the challenges of re-engaging dropouts in Chicago. One of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first goals in office was getting more of Chicago’s 60,000 school-aged dropouts back into class. Vevea reports that the district’s new Student Outreach and Re-Engagement (SOAR) has helped bring 1,700 students back into CPS since it started last year; 130 of these have since gotten their high school diplomas.

Vevea rides along with staff from Prologue, a long-time alternative school operator, as they try to bring young people back into school. Not-for-profit operators, like Prologue and the 20-some Youth Connection Charter School campuses, are under pressure to get students. CPS has beefed up its recruitment of dropouts at the same time as it has embarked on a major expansion of for-profit alternative schools. Seven of these schools are slated to open this year. These schools, like all CPS schools, receive funding on a per-student basis.

Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced that the district’s graduation rate has increased under their administration and is now nearly 70 percent. All ethnic and gender groups have seen increases, but Black male student gradutation rates, already the lowest, did not go up as much and remain the lowest, with only 51 percent of Black male freshmen graduating in five years.

2. More subs… A Chicago Tribune analysis shows that students are increasingly coming to class to find that they have a substitute for the day. The analysis only included suburban and downstate schools, not Chicago. While students might be happy, experts say learning suffers when they are not with their regular teachers. School district officials say that some of the teacher absences can be attributed to participation in professional development to learn how to implement new standards, called the Common Core. Another reason is that, as a generation of teachers retire, districts are hiring a crop of young teachers, who often go on maternity leave.

In Chicago, the lack of substitutes is often a problem. Principals complain that the substitute center often doesn’t send substitutes, even when they ask for them several days in advance, according to a February 2013 Catalyst story. When substitutes don’t show up, city principals often pull assistant principals, special education teachers and art teachers to cover classes. Catalyst has heard that the problem has not improved over the last two years.

3. What’s in a name… Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday that he wouldn’t pursue his plan to name a new North Side selective enrollment high school after President Barack Obama. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell writes that, even as he backs down from using the Obama name,  Emanuel misses the larger point. She says he should reconsider building a new selective enrollment school on the North Side altogether. “These voters aren’t worried about what name hangs on a school. These voters are still seething because they couldn’t even control the pitiful, failing schools in their own neighborhoods,” she writes.

The building of a new selective enrollment high school, which Emanuel still wants to do, brings up another point. As required by state law, CPS had to develop a 10-year master facilities plan. The plan, which was completed last year, should have outlined what the district has and what the district needs. Hearings on the plan should have been about the specific types of new construction that the district would undertake over the coming years. But the plan is thin on specifics and is more a description of current conditions than anything else. Decisions about what new schools will be built, which ones will get annexes and which ones will get improvements seem to be made in a vacuum, without any justification or public input.

4. Charter unions … Why have we not seen more of them? The answer, according to Dara Zeehandelaar, research manager at the Fordham Institute in Washington in an Education Week article, is in part because teachers at charter schools “believe in the importance of autonomy .. They’re young, and young teachers believe in [unionizing] less.”

Zeehandelaar says the national unions -- the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) -- began moving in on charter schools after recognizing that it’s better to be “on the table” than not be there at all. Quite simply, “the greater percentage of those schools that are charters, the fewer percentage of schools are district schools, and the fewer teachers that are unionized.”

In Chicago, teachers are organized at about a quarter of all charter schools. The most recent school to unionize is Chicago International Charter School (CICS) ChicagoQuest, where teachers voted to unionize in May and are negotiating a contract. Meanwhile, teachers at Latino Youth Alternative School are nearing a vote on their own contract.

Read more about charter school unionization in these EdWeek stories, as well as a Catalyst story from earlier this year when teachers at the United Neighborhoods Organization (UNO) network voted on what some say is one of the largest labor contracts for a charter network in the country.

5. Benefits of a full-day of Pre-K … With all this recent talk of universal preschool, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s commitment to expanding slots for low-income children and a recent call by progressive unions for full-day preschool, it’s worth taking a look at a program here in Chicago that’s been providing comprehensive educational intervention to young, low-income children and their families for nearly three decades.

Last week, the Hechinger Report posted a Q&A with Arthur Reynolds, a professor at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, who has been following a class of 1,539 children from Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers for nearly 30 years. (This longitudinal study has tracked all sorts of long-term benefits of preschool, from academic achievement to a reduction in remedial education and juvenile arrests.)

Child-Parent Centers in Chicago and elsewhere got a funding boost from the federal government a few years ago, which is why they’ve been able to expand. And at more than two-dozen schools, principals are putting in additional funds to make the programs full day. At those schools, Reynolds says, “We found [significantly better] learning gains compared to kids in the half-day preschool. … That also reduced chronic absence rates by 40 percent. This fall, the program has over 30 full-day pre-K classes in the city of Chicago. This has been a tremendous expansion.”

 





Take 5: Danger in interest-rate swaps; Winckler's gone and Lane cuts architecture

September 18, 2014 - 9:37am

For years, the Chicago Teachers Union has been warning that so-called “toxic” swaps are costing the district millions and that they put it in a precarious position. This week articles in Forbes and Bloomberg confirm what union leaders have been saying and that CPS and the city, which also has these deals in place, must initiate arbitration by October if they want any chance of getting out of these deals.

Last decade, CPS and the city of Chicago, like many other cities, agreed to sell its debt and do interest rate swaps with companies, such as Bank of America Corp., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Loop Capital Markets. The governments went into these deals to protect themselves should interest rates spike, but they fell apart when rates plummeted in 2008. These kinds of swaps contributed in part to Detroit’s bankruptcy.

A provision in these deals stipulates that CPS and the city are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars if their credit ratings falls too low. CPS, which repeatedly has emptied out its reserves to balance its budget, is two ratings away from triggering a payout of $224 million, according to Bloomberg. The companies could also ask the district to put up collateral instead of paying up.

With this danger looming, on Tuesday in a press release, the CTU, AFSCME Council 31 and SEIU Healthcare IL called on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to file for arbitration to get out of the deal and ask for refunds for all the money paid to the banks. They also are holding a press conference on Thursday. A press release issued by the group notes that Los Angeles and Harris County (Houston), Texas, have taken steps to end these deals and recoup money.

The Forbes article notes that winning arbitration is difficult because cities must prove that underwriters knew city and district officials did not understand the risk. Another approach being bantered about on the Oakland and Los Angeles city councils is to threaten to blacklist the companies if they won’t renegotiate the swaps, according to Forbes.

While this seems like a rather technical issue, it gets to the heart of some bigger political issues. Emanuel and others make the case for pension reform by saying that the city and CPS are broke. But the unions say the city could recoup hundreds of millions of dollars by trying to renegotiate these deals. And they try to paint his refusal as evidence that he is more interested in keeping his banker friends happy than getting money to support the workers and services.   

2. Winckler out... CPS confirmed Wednesday that Chief Talent Development Officer Alicia Winckler is leaving her post, but there’s no word on why or who is taking her place. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said union officials, who negotiated with her during the strike, will not miss her. He is especially critical of the fact that the administration pushed the overhaul of the teacher evaluation during the last contract negotiations, but that this year--the first year the evaluations count---the evaluations won’t be available til October. Starting the school year and another round of evaluations without getting the last evaluations, he says is difficult for teachers. “That is just one thing that is a mess,” he says.

But in a letter to staff, Byrd-Bennett praised Winckler: “Under her leadership, CPS has begun the transformation from a compliance to a performance based culture, initiated very positive supports for families to take care of their health and wellness and implemented systems to support talent movement within CPS."

Byrd-Bennett said Winckler is leaving to “blend her private and public background to consult with organizations within and outside of education.”

Winckler came to CPS five years ago after working for Sears and Coca Coca. She was one of only four chief level executives to remain when Jean-Claude Brizard left and Barbara Byrd-Bennett took over. Now, the only holdover is Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley.

3. New design plan… Lane Tech High School cut its architecture program this year because its superstar teacher retired and the program had trouble competing with AP classes and electives, reports NewCity Design. The post by a blogger named Designy Mom notes that the architecture program was a staple at Lane since its early days when it was more of a vocational high school. Once upon a time, architecture was in several other vocational high schools in the city, including Lindblom, its counterpart on the South Side. A former design instructor, Designymom writes that Lane's program was a feeder to the University of Illinois Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology’s architecture and engineering programs.

While there was a big outcry this summer when Simeon’s principal cut the electrician program, there’s hasn’t been a stir around the loss of the architecture program at Lane. That’s likely because Lane is a selective enrollment school and almost all students are college bound; whereas Simeon’s electrician program is seen as an alternative for students who won’t go to college.

What’s more, Lane will had a ribbon cutting this week on its new “Makers Lab,” which has 3D printers, 3D scanners, wood and vinyl cutting machines, laser cutters and industry standard CNC machines, which uses computers to control machine tools. In his letter on the website, Lane’s principal writes “this type of learning will continue our pursuit of cross-curricular science, engineering, math, technology, and art.”

4. Cuts a coming… Portage Park Elementary School has 79 fewer students than its projections and now stands to lose a whopping $400,000, according to DNAinfo. For the first time this year, CPS is doing the official enrollment count on the 10th day, rather than the 20th day as has been done in the past. Also new this year is that schools will lose about $4,300 for each student less than projections.

Portage Park Elementary Local School Council members and the principal say that they think the loss is due to families moving to the suburbs or putting their children in Catholic schools.

On Monday, the news was that Goethe School in Logan Square was recruiting students to try to shore up enrollment. Catalyst has also heard of magnet schools offering seats in recent days, something that is pretty unusual after the school year has started.

CPS officials say that school-by-school enrollment counts will be available soon. What will be worth taking note of is whether overall enrollment in CPS is down and whether charter schools are also struggling to get their projected enrollment numbers.

5. Further allegations at Concept … Authorities in Ohio have widened their inquiry into allegations of misconduct inside Concept Schools, the chain of charter schools based in Des Plaines, the Associated Press reports. The state-level investigation had previously focused on allegations of test-tampering, sex games and other possible criminal acts at a Dayton school, but now authorities are also looking at schools in Columbus and Cincinnati run by the same operator. Meanwhile, the FBI continues to investigate Concept charter schools in several states in for its use of a federal “E-rate” program, which helps schools pay for internet access.

The new allegations come as the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University issued a series of recommendations this week on accountability for charter schools. “While most charter operators are working hard to meet the needs of their students, the lack of effective oversight means too many cases of fraud and abuse, too little attention to equity, and no guarantee of academic innovation or excellence,” the report’s authors write. Among the group’s recommendations: require members of charter school governing bodies to file full financial disclosure reports and identify potential conflicts of interest or relationships with management companies; prohibit online charter schools or halt their expansion until there has been an assessment of performance and operation.

In other news... Access Community Health Network, SGA Youth & Family Services, Near North Health Service Corp. and Healthcare Consortium of Illinois (HCI) received “Healthy Start” funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In a press release, SGA said it will be using a total of $10 million in funding over a five-year commitment in partnership with HCI to provide early childhood education services in Roseland and surrounding neighborhoods. 




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Teacher leaders must have support, financial incentives

September 16, 2014 - 10:03am

With students back to school for the new academic year, the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have begun negotiations for the upcoming 2015 teacher contract. As these progress, it is imperative that both sides discuss teacher leadership in our schools.  Teacher leadership roles vary widely across the city, and teacher leaders receive little to no incentive to become or remain in these positions.  This is in stark contrast to the suburbs where teachers who take on leadership positions like department chairs receive increased salaries and classes off to accommodate their heightened responsibilities.

Over the last 11 years, I have taught in three CPS high schools.  At my first high school, a large neighborhood high school in Roseland, department chairs would often teach five classes; they received no financial assistance and only occasionally got a class off to enable them to take care of their department-wide duties.  This led to a revolving-door at the school.  I left to become an English department chair at a small school in Englewood.  There, I was lucky to have a principal who had a high regard for teacher leaders.  She prioritized teacher leadership in a way I have not seen in other CPS schools: She compensated teachers for it. 

We received money on a per-student basis, and she set aside money from her budget to pay department chairs for their additional responsibilities-- around $3,000 that year.  When the budget situation changed, she gave us classes off.  We used this time to design curriculum, observe other teachers and create and provide professional development. I stayed at the school for five years.

This system of rewarding teacher leaders was incredibly effective.  There was not a revolving door of teacher leaders at that school.  I felt valued and was not overworked or under-compensated, the two characteristics most department chairs feel across the city.

Take a cue from suburban unions

I fear that our union will miss a great opportunity to champion and reward teacher leaders if the problem of teacher leadership is not confronted head on during the current contract negotiations.  This should be easy to do when there is a great model just around the corner: Unions in Chicago’s suburbs draw up contracts that reward teacher leaders financially and reduce their class loads to preserve their time for their additional duties.

Take Chicago’s largest suburb, Aurora, which is comprised of two districts.  In Aurora, separate pay scales have been written into the contract for department chairs.  Experience and size of department are taken into consideration for the stipend, and department chairs are classified in the same category as extra-curricular coaches for additional salary, which amounts on average to a $5,000 increase annually.

Other suburban district contracts have leadership-based salary increases and give department chairs classes off in order to complete additional duties.  If the CTU wants to remain competitive in retaining teacher leaders, they should look at neighboring suburban contracts.

Often when discussing leadership, we compare the education and business worlds.  In corporations, there is typically a hierarchy of roles and responsibilities. As workers get promoted into leadership roles, they are compensated appropriately and their daily duties shift.  This is also true of the CTU, where the hierarchy includes president, vice president, secretary and treasurer.  As a union member, I am glad that this is in place.  Otherwise, I don’t think our union would run as effectively.  In the same vein, I believe schools aren’t as effective for our students if we don’t utilize, support, and compensate our teachers as they move up the ladder of leadership responsibility.

Chicago needs to invest in teacher leaders.  Our students need master teachers to remain in the classroom and help train the new teaching workforce.  Leadership roles and incentives can inspire teachers to stay in a profession that currently has extremely high turnover.  In these contract negotiations, the CTU needs to fight for funding to train, support and reward teacher leaders at the school level.  Otherwise, great teacher leaders will end up leaving the district for a more progressive one. Their departure will surely be a disservice to Chicago’s students.

Gina Caneva is an English teacher, Instructional Leadership Team Lead and librarian at Lindblom Math and Science Academy. She is a National Board Certified teacher and Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alum.

 

Take 5: Marshall principal laid off, FOIA lawsuit, recruiting students

September 15, 2014 - 9:11am

In a developing story, teachers at Marshall High School are outraged that Principal Angel Johnson was told Friday that she was being reassigned. “It is really distressing that this is happening three weeks into the school year,” says Stacey Cruz-de la Pena, the chair of the math department. She says the staff is supportive of Johnson, pointing out that Marshall’s freshman on-track rate has improved from 56 percent in 2013 to 74 percent in 2014 with Johnson at the helm. Also, Johnson worked with the staff to apply and win a $3.7 million, three-year federal School Improvement Grant. Marshall also was awarded a SIG in 2011 when it became a turnaround school.

Johnson will be replaced by Lori Campbell, who served as the principal of Piccolo Elementary School, when it was made into an AUSL turnaround. 

CPS has not yet responded to questions about why Johnson, who was an interim principal, was displaced. This summer, Catalyst reported that Johnson was one of the seven interim high school principals who were asked to reapply for their jobs. On the last employee roster, some 68 principals were listed as interim.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood said this summer that  CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett wanted to get permanent people into the posts of these high schools to create stability and make sure they were on the right track. He said the district was conducting a nationwide search to fill them. Hood said decisions would be made about these positions before the start of the school year, which obviously didn't happen.

It is unclear whether the principals of the other high schools--Julian, Tilden, Kelyvn Park, Chicago Vocational, Hirsch and Corliss--will stay in their posts. One of those principals told Catalyst this morning that since going through the application process, he has not heard anything from the administration.

2. Hallelujah… In a move that had education reporters cheering, the Better Government Association and NBC Chicago sued CPS on Friday for systemically failing to comply with the Freedom of Information Act--the law that requires government bodies to provide public information within five business working days.

According to the complaint, the BGA and NBC-5 asked for settlement agreements, severance agreements and termination agreements from Jan. 2013 til now. After some back and forth, the district never produced the information. In another request, NBC Chicago asked how many shuttered buildings the district has and how much it is costing the district to heat, light and provide water for them. About two and a half weeks later, CPS asked for more time. After asking for two extensions, CPS failed to respond any more.

Catalyst has had many epic battles with the district over information. It often takes more than a month to receive it, and it is often incomplete or otherwise inadequate. Many times the public and the press must turn to the Illinois Attorney General for help. From January 2014 through May 2014, 43 such complaints about CPS were filed with the Attorney General, making it the fourth most complained-about public institution, behind the Illinois Department of Corrections, the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois State Police.

CPS Spokesman Bill McCaffrey told the Sun Times he did not have a direct response to the BGA/NBC Chicago lawsuit, but noted that the district just launched a “FOIA center,” which is basically an online system for tracking and submitting FOIAs. The district also plans to post FOIA responses online.

3. Charter back-and-forth... Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, has an editorial in Sunday's Sun Times refuting the analysis that charter school improvement on the NWEA test pales in comparison to growth in district-run schools. The Sun-Times wrote an article with this analysis and followed with an opinion piece by Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere.

Broy has three arguments: Charter schools should not be compared to magnet schools , though both have lottery admissions, because charters enroll more poor students; that some charters didn’t report scores and others administer the test on a different schedule; and that charters are doing better than many neighboring schools. 

Catalyst is looking into the second argument. District-run schools’ improvement scores compared spring 2013 to fall 2014. More than half of charters did not report 2013 scores. CPS officials say the district used a formula to come up with a baseline for schools that did not have spring 2013 scores, but Catalyst is still waiting for an answer to the question of whether this would impact the analysis.

As for the final argument, the charter movement has often said that charters should be compared to the school down the block (though neighborhood schools have to take students, while charters do not). Instead of using the national growth percentiles, Broy looks at the percentage of students who are at or above expected growth in reading and math. He finds that many charters do better.

The bottom line: statistics can be cut many different ways.

4. Today’s the day … DNAInfo has a story about Goethe Elementary School parents in Logan Square trying to recruit new students to the school through message boards and other methods. The reason they are so desperate to get some more students? Under per-pupil budgeting, schools receive an average $4,390 per child, plus extra money if they are low-income or English Language Learners. Goethe stands to lose upwards of $36,000 in funding if it doesn’t reach its projections and is eight students short. The school has until today to enroll eight more. The downside of the scenario: if Goethe attracts a student or two, another school will lose them.

Under student-based budgeting, the school must give back money for each student it doesn’t have. Last year, CPS officials had pity on schools and did not take money away from schools that were short students so this will be the first year that will happen.

Under the new per-pupil system, official enrollment counts were done on the 20th day. This year, they are being done on the 10th day. CPS officials say the move will result in less upheaval in schools. When the count was done on the 20th day, schools wouldn’t get the go-ahead till October to hire additional teachers if needed, or lay off teachers who weren’t needed.


5. Homework, oh, homework … Hamilton Elementary has gotten rid of homework for its kindergartners, first- and second-graders. Instead, they’re being assigned play, downtime, and to spend time with family -- and reading for fun. Principal James Gray told the Sun-Times the no-homework policy is a bit of an experiment this year, but that if it’s successful, he may expand it to later grades. Gray says the research he found doesn’t indicate too many benefits in assigning homework to very young students.

Still, CPS officials say they think Hamilton is the only school in the district with a no-homework policy. But no district-wide policies prevent any other principals from following suit.

   

Take 5: Marshall principal laid off, FOIA lawsuit, recruiting students

September 15, 2014 - 9:11am

In a developing story, teachers at Marshall High School are outraged that Principal Angel Johnson was told Friday that she was being let go. “It is really distressing that this is happening three weeks into the school year,” says Stacey Cruz-de la Pena, the chair of the math department. She says the staff is supportive of Johnson, pointing out that Marshall’s freshman on-track rate has improved from 56 percent in 2013 to 74 percent in 2014 with Johnson at the helm. Also, Johnson worked with the staff to apply and win a $3.7 million, three-year federal School Improvement Grant. Marshall also was awarded a SIG in 2011 when it became a turnaround school.

CPS has not yet responded to questions about why Johnson, who was an interim principal, was laid off. This summer, Catalyst reported that Johnson was one of the seven interim high school principals who were asked to reapply for their jobs. On the last employee roster, some 68 principals were listed as interim.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood said this summer that  CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett wanted to get permanent people into the posts of these high schools to create stability and make sure they were on the right track. He said the district was conducting a nationwide search to fill them. Hood said decisions would be made about these positions before the start of the school year, which obviously didn't happen.

It is unclear whether the principals of the other high schools--Julian, Tilden, Kelyvn Park, Chicago Vocational, Hirsch and Corliss--will stay in their posts. One of those principals told Catalyst this morning that since going through the application process, he has not heard anything from the administration.

2. Hallelujah… In a move that had education reporters cheering, the Better Government Association and NBC Chicago sued CPS on Friday for systemically failing to comply with the Freedom of Information Act--the law that requires government bodies to provide public information within five business working days.

According to the complaint, the BGA and NBC-5 asked for settlement agreements, severance agreements and termination agreements from Jan. 2013 til now. After some back and forth, the district never produced the information. In another request, NBC Chicago asked how many shuttered buildings the district has and how much it is costing the district to heat, light and provide water for them. About two and a half weeks later, CPS asked for more time. After asking for two extensions, CPS failed to respond any more.

Catalyst has had many epic battles with the district over information. It often takes more than a month to receive it, and it is often incomplete or otherwise inadequate. Many times the public and the press must turn to the Illinois Attorney General for help. From January 2014 through May 2014, 43 such complaints about CPS were filed with the Attorney General, making it the fourth most complained-about public institution, behind the Illinois Department of Corrections, the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois State Police.

CPS Spokesman Bill McCaffrey told the Sun Times he did not have a direct response to the BGA/NBC Chicago lawsuit, but noted that the district just launched a “FOIA center,” which is basically an online system for tracking and submitting FOIAs. The district also plans to post FOIA responses online.

3. Charter back-and-forth... Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, has an editorial in Sunday's Sun Times refuting the analysis that charter school improvement on the NWEA test pales in comparison to growth in district-run schools. The Sun-Times wrote an article with this analysis and followed with an opinion piece by Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere.

Broy has three arguments: Charter schools should not be compared to magnet schools , though both have lottery admissions, because charters enroll more poor students; that some charters didn’t report scores and others administer the test on a different schedule; and that charters are doing better than many neighboring schools. 

Catalyst is looking into the second argument. District-run schools’ improvement scores compared spring 2013 to fall 2014. More than half of charters did not report 2013 scores. CPS officials say the district used a formula to come up with a baseline for schools that did not have spring 2013 scores, but Catalyst is still waiting for an answer to the question of whether this would impact the analysis.

As for the final argument, the charter movement has often said that charters should be compared to the school down the block (though neighborhood schools have to take students, while charters do not). Instead of using the national growth percentiles, Broy looks at the percentage of students who are at or above expected growth in reading and math. He finds that many charters do better.

The bottom line: statistics can be cut many different ways.

4. Today’s the day … DNAInfo has a story about Goethe Elementary School parents in Logan Square trying to recruit new students to the school through message boards and other methods. The reason they are so desperate to get some more students? Under per-pupil budgeting, schools receive an average $4,390 per child, plus extra money if they are low-income or English Language Learners. Goethe stands to lose upwards of $36,000 in funding if it doesn’t reach its projections and is eight students short. The school has until today to enroll eight more. The downside of the scenario: if Goethe attracts a student or two, another school will lose them.

Under student-based budgeting, the school must give back money for each student it doesn’t have. Last year, CPS officials had pity on schools and did not take money away from schools that were short students so this will be the first year that will happen.

Under the new per-pupil system, official enrollment counts were done on the 20th day. This year, they are being done on the 10th day. CPS officials say the move will result in less upheaval in schools. When the count was done on the 20th day, schools wouldn’t get the go-ahead till October to hire additional teachers if needed, or lay off teachers who weren’t needed.


5. Homework, oh, homework … Hamilton Elementary has gotten rid of homework for its kindergartners, first- and second-graders. Instead, they’re being assigned play, downtime, and to spend time with family -- and reading for fun. Principal James Gray told the Sun-Times the no-homework policy is a bit of an experiment this year, but that if it’s successful, he may expand it to later grades. Gray says the research he found doesn’t indicate too many benefits in assigning homework to very young students.

Still, CPS officials say they think Hamilton is the only school in the district with a no-homework policy. But no district-wide policies prevent any other principals from following suit.

   

Hundreds of school custodians to be laid off

September 12, 2014 - 9:09pm

Some 476 custodians, one-fifth of the 2,500-some employed by CPS or private companies, are in the process of being laid off, says CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey.

These layoffs are happening despite the fact that principals are furious with the way their buildings have been cleaned over the past few months since the district turned over management of custodial services to two companies with $340 million in contracts. Last week, Catalyst reported that 230 principals responded to a survey and said that cleaning of their buildings was inadequate and that they were losing staff.

Troy LaRaviere, chairman of the activist principal group AAPPLE, responded angrily to the news.  AAPPLE sent out the survey to principals.

“They don't have enough custodians as it is and now this private company wants to lay off nearly 500 more in order to decrease their payroll and increase their profit margins at the expense of our schools and our students,” LaRaviere wrote in an e-mail to principals, which he shared with Catalyst.

LaRaviere wrote that already, principals were reporting rat droppings, having to keep a plunger in an office so she can unclog toilets and paying people out of their own pockets to move furniture.

CPS is actually not laying off the staff. Starting in March, the district contracted out with Aramark for $260 million and with SodexoMAGIC for $80 million. SodexoMagic is handling all the maintenance needs of 33 schools, including custodial managing, snow removal and electricians. Aramark is managing, supervising and training the custodians in the rest of the buildings.

CPS head of Asset Management Leslie Norgren insists that the No. 1 goal of contracting with the private companies is to make the buildings cleaner. She says the second objective is to save money and the third is to make principals lives easier.

She says that before the privatization of the custodians, a third-party company examined the schools and found only 20 percent met cleanliness standards. Aramark and SodexoMAGIC have until January to bring all the buildings up to standard.

She is confident that can happen with all of  the new equipment that Aramark and SodexoMagic are bringing in. “We are going from mop and bucket to some of the schools having rides,” she says.

This was the same argument made by Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley in February when he presented the plan to CPS’ Board of Education. He said the district would save $40 million a year, on top of $50 million he’s already saved.

In addition to using state-of-the-art technology, he said that the companies will streamline the ordering process. He said CPS was using 1,000 vendors to provide cleaning supplies.

At the time, Cawley did not say there would be layoffs as a result of the contracts.

Norgren says that only $18 million of the savings will come from the Aramark and SodexoMAGIC contracts, while the other $20 million will come from other efficiencies.

The custodians being laid off work for private companies that had contracts with Aramark and are unionized by SEIU Local 1. CPS employs 825 custodians who are part of SEIU Local 73.

LaRaviere says that in conversations with Cawley, Cawley told them not to focus on the number of custodians, but on the work that needs to be done. He does not buy that argument.

“The number of custodians assigned to work in our school is directly correlated to the likelihood of the work being done adequately and on time,” LaRaviere says.  “No transparent, competent, well-intentioned administrator would ignore this basic element of human resource planning. But that's not what we're dealing with here.”

Hundreds of school custodians to be laid off

September 12, 2014 - 9:09pm

Some 476 custodians, one-fifth of the 2,500-some employed by CPS or private companies, are in the process of being laid off, says CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey.

These layoffs are happening despite the fact that principals are furious with the way their buildings have been cleaned over the past few months since the district turned over management of custodial services to two companies with $340 million in contracts. Last week, Catalyst reported that 230 principals responded to a survey and said that cleaning of their buildings was inadequate and that they were losing staff.

Troy LaRaviere, chairman of the activist principal group AAPPLE, responded angrily to the news.  AAPPLE sent out the survey to principals.

“They don't have enough custodians as it is and now this private company wants to lay off nearly 500 more in order to decrease their payroll and increase their profit margins at the expense of our schools and our students,” LaRaviere wrote in an e-mail to principals, which he shared with Catalyst.

LaRaviere wrote that already, principals were reporting rat droppings, having to keep a plunger in an office so she can unclog toilets and paying people out of their own pockets to move furniture.

CPS is actually not laying off the staff. Starting in March, the district contracted out with Aramark for $260 million and with SodexoMAGIC for $80 million. SodexoMagic is handling all the maintenance needs of 33 schools, including custodial managing, snow removal and electricians. Aramark is managing, supervising and training the custodians in the rest of the buildings.

CPS head of Asset Management Leslie Norgren insists that the No. 1 goal of contracting with the private companies is to make the buildings cleaner. She says the second objective is to save money and the third is to make principals lives easier.

She says that before the privatization of the custodians, a third-party company examined the schools and found only 20 percent met cleanliness standards. Aramark and SodexoMAGIC have until January to bring all the buildings up to standard.

She is confident that can happen with all of  the new equipment that Aramark and SodexoMagic are bringing in. “We are going from mop and bucket to some of the schools having rides,” she says.

This was the same argument made by Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley in February when he presented the plan to CPS’ Board of Education. He said the district would save $40 million a year, on top of $50 million he’s already saved.

In addition to using state-of-the-art technology, he said that the companies will streamline the ordering process. He said CPS was using 1,000 vendors to provide cleaning supplies.

At the time, Cawley did not say there would be layoffs as a result of the contracts.

Norgren says that only $18 million of the savings will come from the Aramark and SodexoMAGIC contracts, while the other $20 million will come from other efficiencies.

The custodians being laid off work for private companies that had contracts with Aramark and are unionized by SEIU Local 1. CPS employs 825 custodians who are part of SEIU Local 73.

LaRaviere says that in conversations with Cawley, Cawley told them not to focus on the number of custodians, but on the work that needs to be done. He does not buy that argument.

“The number of custodians assigned to work in our school is directly correlated to the likelihood of the work being done adequately and on time,” LaRaviere says.  “No transparent, competent, well-intentioned administrator would ignore this basic element of human resource planning. But that's not what we're dealing with here.”

Comings and Goings: Husbands

September 11, 2014 - 10:01am

Jennifer Husbands was recently named founding executive director of Schools that Can (STC) Chicago. STC unites leaders to expand quality urban education, and connects leaders from urban schools with leaders from outside organizations and industry to share innovative practices that advance school improvement. In her new role, Husbands will build and strengthen the Chicago network and lead specific cross-city initiatives. Previously, she was the inaugural director of the Academy for Urban School Leadership Institute (AUSL).

Be a part of Comings and Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones. vjones@catalyst-chicgao.org

Comings and Goings: Husbands

September 11, 2014 - 10:01am

Jennifer Husbands was recently named founding executive director of Schools that Can (STC) Chicago. STC unites leaders to expand quality urban education, and connects leaders from urban schools with leaders from outside organizations and industry to share innovative practices that advance school improvement. In her new role, Husbands will build and strengthen the Chicago network and lead specific cross-city initiatives. Previously, she was the inaugural director of the Academy for Urban School Leadership Institute (AUSL).

Be a part of Comings and Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones. vjones@catalyst-chicgao.org

Take 5: Academic rigor, Rauner education plan, New York charter face-off

September 11, 2014 - 8:39am

For a long time now, rigor has been a buzzword in education and it's one reason Common Core standards were developed and pushed. But a key finding in a new brief released Thursday is that making classes harder won’t work unless teachers get more support around student engagement and classroom control. “Without concurrent efforts around helping teachers maintain classroom order and student engagement in the more difficult work, Common Core could ultimately lead to worse outcomes for students, particularly in already low-achieving schools,” says report lead author Elaine Allensworth in a press release. The Sun Times wrote a story on the brief.

Among those potential negative outcomes: students can disengage or act out when asked to do more challenging assignments, leading to lower grades and more failures.

CCSR found that high school students made the biggest gains on the EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT assessments in orderly and challenging classrooms; at the same time, order becomes harder to maintain as the work gets more challenging, particularly with low-achieving students. The researchers conclude that teachers need more support to develop strategies around classroom management and engaging students --and not just  professional development in curriculum content.

2. Sleeping in… At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Ald. Margaret Laurino submitted a resolution that calls for hearings on whether city high schools and middle schools should shift their start times back, according to DNAinfo. New research from the American Association of Pediatrics shows that it is unnatural for teenagers to go to sleep early and wake up early. Teens forced to get to school early could have physical and mental health problems and also are more prone to get into auto accidents and have poor academic performance.

Early start times are likely even worse for Chicago high school students. With more two-thirds not attending their neighborhood high school, many are traveling for an hour or more to get to school. However, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the studies findings inconclusive and too preliminary.

Also, at the City Council meeting, Emanuel introduced legislation that would make students under 18 subject to the city’s curfew laws. This would mean that 17 year olds, like their younger counterparts, would have to be inside by 10 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday and by 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

3. In the details… Gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner outlined his education plan on Monday, though as the Tribune article points out it does not get specific. He says he would put more money into schools, but he criticizes the way the state funds schools,calling the current method “a disaster.” However, he doesn’t say how his administration would change it. He’d figure that out once he discusses with lawmakers.

The other parts of the plan--increasing the cap on charter schools, getting rid of tenure and merit pay for teachers--are not really surprising or new. Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, is quoted as calling Rauner’s plan “a Greatest Hits of failed education experiments.”

4. Top of what… In addition to its annual ranking of high schools, Newsweek put out a second list of this year called the “Beating the Odds” list. This attempts to rank schools on how well they do with low-income students on a number of factors from attrition to AP and ACT/SAT scores. Northside College Prep is the top CPS school, coming in at No. 7, with Jones at No. 44 and Lane at No. 67.

These rankings always seem a bit disingenuous because it compares schools regardless of whether they are schools that get students of all different levels or schools that students must apply and test into, such as the ones in Chicago. As you know, it is extremely hard to get into Northside Prep and the other selective enrollments. Also, keep in mind that these schools have extraordinarily low numbers of poor students compared to the rest of the city. Northside, for example, does not reflect the population of the city schools at all. In a city whose public schools are 85 percent low-income, 40 percent black and 45 percent Latino, only 37 percent of Northside’s students get free and reduced lunch, 9 percent are black and a quarter are Latino.

5. New York’s face off… As Chicago gears up for what could be an epic battle between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTU President Karen Lewis, it is interesting to think that another such confrontation could be brewing in New York. The New York Times Magazine features a profile of charter school maven Eva Moskowitz, who Bill de Blasio has taken aim at since he took over New York City. Not to ruin the ending, but Moskowitz says she is considering taking on de Blasio in the next election.

The article lays out why there is so much conflict between de Blasio, union teachers and Moskowitz. Moskowitz runs the city’s largest charter school network. According to the article, her Success Charter School Network are “performing phenomenally.” In 2014, standardized tests put her schools in the top 1 percent of all state schools. However, de Blasio sees her schools as taking resources from all city schools to only education a few. “He talks about how all children must be saved.”

Success Schools are big on discipline and uniforms, like many of the charter school networks in Chicago. But Moskowitz also wants teachers to talk less during student discussions and wants teachers to work with students read deeply and dissect literature. The criticism with the most staying power, according to the article, is the “overly heated” preparation for exams.



Grassroots and union activists urge universal preschool in Chicago

September 9, 2014 - 3:47pm

As New York City rolls out an ambitious plan to offer free full-day prekindergarten for tens of thousands of 4-year-olds this fall, community activists and union members in Chicago say it’s time for universal early childhood education and child care in the Windy City.

Calling their campaign “Bright Future Chicago,” the groups say the city needs to find creative ways to finance the expansion of existing preschool and daycare programs – and extending the hours – so that parents can work full-time while their children under 5 years old are in a safe learning environment.

“The city needs to do something for us working parents,” said Hellen Juarez, a single mom and paralegal who is a parent leader with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. “I pay $700 a month for my 2-year-old to be in day care. That’s a rent payment. How is that affordable?”

At a press conference this morning in City Hall, a handful of progressive aldermen who support the new campaign said they’ll present a resolution on Wednesday requesting a public hearing to discuss what it will take to offer full-day preschool and childcare in the city. Supporters have suggested financing the expansion with a new tax on financial transactions at Chicago’s stock exchanges.

“We want to have a hearing and talk about why it’s important to offer full-day pre-kindergarten and how we can pay for it,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer of the 6th Ward. “I’m not saying the LaSalle Street tax or interest rate swaps are the end-all, be-all of what we’re going to do, but it’s worth a conversation.”

The organizations involved in the campaign include the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Pilsen Alliance, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Action Now, Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Healthcare Illinois.

Their campaign comes barely a month after Emanuel announced a plan to provide an additional 1,500 preschool slots for low-income 4-year-olds by next year, a goal he has described as “universal pre-K for every child at poverty.”

“Mayor Emanuel agrees that every child should have access to high-quality pre-school, which is why he has already committed to ensuring every 4-year-old from a low-income family will be offered free pre-school within a year,” a spokesman for the mayor said in a statement on Tuesday. “Throughout his time in office, Mayor Emanuel has prioritized ensuring every child in every neighborhood has a quality education that allows them to succeed, through early learning programs, a full day of kindergarten, a full school day and a full school year.”

The Mayor’s Office and CPS reached the 1,500 figure by subtracting the total number of 4-year-olds served in one of the city’s school- or center-based programs from the total number of children of that age who are considered at poverty level according to U.S. Census estimates.

Preschool spending on decline in Illinois

The challenges of providing early education opportunities to children aren’t unique to Chicago. As a state, Illinois has cut back spending on preschool programs by more than 25 percent, according to a recent report by Voices for Illinois Children.

To offset some of the loss, Emanuel pledged $36 million in additional funding over three years, starting in 2012 for his Ready to Learn initiative.

As part of Ready to Learn, the city also centralized its application process for early childhood programs, which are administered by the Department of Family Support and Services and CPS. The goal was to prioritize the high-poverty areas of the city with the most need. But parents struggled to navigate the new process and complained that it was harder to access preschools in their neighborhoods, which ultimately led to an enrollment drop of about 1,000 4-year-olds.

Parents and organizers say that while they’re glad the mayor is trying to expand the number of available seats, that it’s still not enough. True universal preschool, they say, would apply to all children, not just the poorest. Juarez, for example, says she doesn’t qualify for state childcare subsidies. In addition, recent studies including one by the Latino Policy Forum have found that there simply aren’t enough available slots at existing preschool programs in some densely populated Latino neighborhoods, such as Brighton Park or Belmont-Cragin.

And a recent report by Voices for Illinois Children showed that just 53 percent of Chicago’s 3- and 4-year-olds attended some sort of preschool, with the lowest participation rates in the heavily Latino Northwest and Southwest sides.

Grassroots and union activists urge universal preschool in Chicago

September 9, 2014 - 3:47pm

As New York City rolls out an ambitious plan to offer free full-day prekindergarten for tens of thousands of 4-year-olds this fall, community activists and union members in Chicago say it’s time for universal early childhood education and child care in the Windy City.

Calling their campaign “Bright Future Chicago,” the groups say the city needs to find creative ways to finance the expansion of existing preschool and daycare programs – and extending the hours – so that parents can work full-time while their children under 5 years old are in a safe learning environment.

“The city needs to do something for us working parents,” said Hellen Juarez, a single mom and paralegal who is a parent leader with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. “I pay $700 a month for my 2-year-old to be in day care. That’s a rent payment. How is that affordable?”

At a press conference this morning in City Hall, a handful of progressive aldermen who support the new campaign said they’ll present a resolution on Wednesday requesting a public hearing to discuss what it will take to offer full-day preschool and childcare in the city. Supporters have suggested financing the expansion with a new tax on financial transactions at Chicago’s stock exchanges.

“We want to have a hearing and talk about why it’s important to offer full-day pre-kindergarten and how we can pay for it,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer of the 6th Ward. “I’m not saying the LaSalle Street tax or interest rate swaps are the end-all, be-all of what we’re going to do, but it’s worth a conversation.”

The organizations involved in the campaign include the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Pilsen Alliance, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Action Now, Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Healthcare Illinois.

Their campaign comes barely a month after Emanuel announced a plan to provide an additional 1,500 preschool slots for low-income 4-year-olds by next year, a goal he has described as “universal pre-K for every child at poverty.”

“Mayor Emanuel agrees that every child should have access to high-quality pre-school, which is why he has already committed to ensuring every 4-year-old from a low-income family will be offered free pre-school within a year,” a spokesman for the mayor said in a statement on Tuesday. “Throughout his time in office, Mayor Emanuel has prioritized ensuring every child in every neighborhood has a quality education that allows them to succeed, through early learning programs, a full day of kindergarten, a full school day and a full school year.”

The Mayor’s Office and CPS reached the 1,500 figure by subtracting the total number of 4-year-olds served in one of the city’s school- or center-based programs from the total number of children of that age who are considered at poverty level according to U.S. Census estimates.

Preschool spending on decline in Illinois

The challenges of providing early education opportunities to children aren’t unique to Chicago. As a state, Illinois has cut back spending on preschool programs by more than 25 percent, according to a recent report by Voices for Illinois Children.

To offset some of the loss, Emanuel pledged $36 million in additional funding over three years, starting in 2012 for his Ready to Learn initiative.

As part of Ready to Learn, the city also centralized its application process for early childhood programs, which are administered by the Department of Family Support and Services and CPS. The goal was to prioritize the high-poverty areas of the city with the most need. But parents struggled to navigate the new process and complained that it was harder to access preschools in their neighborhoods, which ultimately led to an enrollment drop of about 1,000 4-year-olds.

Parents and organizers say that while they’re glad the mayor is trying to expand the number of available seats, that it’s still not enough. True universal preschool, they say, would apply to all children, not just the poorest. Juarez, for example, says she doesn’t qualify for state childcare subsidies. In addition, recent studies including one by the Latino Policy Forum have found that there simply aren’t enough available slots at existing preschool programs in some densely populated Latino neighborhoods, such as Brighton Park or Belmont-Cragin.

And a recent report by Voices for Illinois Children showed that just 53 percent of Chicago’s 3- and 4-year-olds attended some sort of preschool, with the lowest participation rates in the heavily Latino Northwest and Southwest sides.

Walking a financial tightrope through college

September 9, 2014 - 12:00am

In 2006, the Consortium for Chicago School Research issued a report that sent shock waves through the Chicago Public Schools system. The discovery that somewhere between only 6.5 and 8% of CPS students graduated from four-year colleges (and only 2% of African-American boys) was a call to action. 

Subsequent follow-up reports pinpointed some of the “potholes” on the road to college, despite the almost universal aspiration, across all racial and ethnic groups, to attend college. There was enough blame to go around, targeting schools, parents and communities, as well as the colleges themselves. And there was enough room for a variety of constructive approaches to improving the track record on each of these fronts, from the creation of freshman on-track indicators that would help raise high school graduation rates, to the establishment of mentoring programs to provide the personal support many students need to keep their eyes on the valuable prize of college graduation.

It is these mentoring programs that I want to focus on because they offer some strong prospects of success for students as they face obstacles that can only be overcome with support beyond their own capacities. The task for these programs is two-fold: getting students accepted into colleges that match their level of potential and from which the odds of graduating are in their favor; and keeping them in school despite the potholes that threaten to derail them. 

In recent years, these programs include:

The Network for College Success—working inside CPS schools to support leadership teams in each school that create a college readiness environment for students.

Umoja—a veteran in the work of leadership development among students, aimed at improving their chances of success as college students.

Bottom Line—a new arrival in town, with an impressive track record in New York and Boston on both college admission and college completion.

Schools like Noble Street and North Lawndale Charter Prep, which have developed strong databases for tracking their alums and brainstorming solutions to overcoming obstacles to graduation.

AIM HIGH—the program I am most closely involved with, built on a unique model of pairing students with teams of mentors from the corporate world who stay with them from their freshman year of high school all the way to college graduation.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but rather a sampling of the variety of work being done in this area. I am sure there is other valuable work under way of which I’m unaware, and the problem is so monumental that there is room for many more willing participants. 

Bottom line is economic inequity

Whatever the particular design strategy, all of these programs are wrestling with problems that reflect the fundamental inequities of our economic system. The low-income students who represent the vast majority of those in CPS are operating without the safety net that is invisible to most middle-class families—so invisible that they recognize it as little as fish recognize the medium of water that sustains them. 

Much of my work with AIM HIGH involves the almost inevitable financial shortfalls that our students encounter. These shortfalls block their ability to register for classes at the beginning of the term or, most unjust, prevent them from receiving their transcripts when they decide to transfer schools. These debts, often as small as three-figure sums, would be resolved in middle-class families with a call home providing access to a fatigued credit card—the kind that most low-income families don’t even possess. Any new strain on the finances of a student or a family already struggling to provide for basic needs—an unexpected medical bill, a costly car repair, an increase in dormitory costs, an unanticipated medical bill—is sufficient to lead students to drop out or take a leave from school, from which they are unlikely to return.

Colleges themselves must provide help

All mentoring programs have to face the question of how these inevitable shortfalls are going to be addressed. Part of the answer lies with the colleges themselves, many of which have demonstrated admirable social consciousness by seeking out low-income students of color in an effort to diversify their student bodies, but have not provided the resources to keep those students heading toward graduation. 

They have an obligation to set aside the modest sums that will help students who have made good-faith efforts to meet their debts, but have encountered insurmountable obstacles. The failure to do so places these students in jeopardy of leaving school with no degree and a burden of debt that puts them in a worse position than if they had never entered college at all.

In one recent situation faced by a student, the university sent this debt to a collection agency, with which she is now forced to deal, unprepared though she may be to deal with the often predatory practices of these agencies. Heartlessness should not be the trademark of an institution which pretends to play a high-minded role in our society.

These low-income students are a precious resource. They have the potential to bring new skills and commitments to their home communities and to the entire society. The existing mentoring programs can go a long way in accompanying them to their goal, but they need help with the deep-seated financial obstacles that stand in their way.

Marv Hoffman, now retired, was the associate director of the Urban Teacher Education Program at the University of Chicago. Prior to that he was the Founding Director of the University of Chicago Charter School—North Kenwood Oakland Campus.

Walking a financial tightrope through college

September 9, 2014 - 12:00am

In 2006, the Consortium for Chicago School Research issued a report that sent shock waves through the Chicago Public Schools system. The discovery that somewhere between only 6.5 and 8% of CPS students graduated from four-year colleges (and only 2% of African-American boys) was a call to action. 

Subsequent follow-up reports pinpointed some of the “potholes” on the road to college, despite the almost universal aspiration, across all racial and ethnic groups, to attend college. There was enough blame to go around, targeting schools, parents and communities, as well as the colleges themselves. And there was enough room for a variety of constructive approaches to improving the track record on each of these fronts, from the creation of freshman on-track indicators that would help raise high school graduation rates, to the establishment of mentoring programs to provide the personal support many students need to keep their eyes on the valuable prize of college graduation.

It is these mentoring programs that I want to focus on because they offer some strong prospects of success for students as they face obstacles that can only be overcome with support beyond their own capacities. The task for these programs is two-fold: getting students accepted into colleges that match their level of potential and from which the odds of graduating are in their favor; and keeping them in school despite the potholes that threaten to derail them. 

In recent years, these programs include:

The Network for College Success—working inside CPS schools to support leadership teams in each school that create a college readiness environment for students.

Umoja—a veteran in the work of leadership development among students, aimed at improving their chances of success as college students.

Bottom Line—a new arrival in town, with an impressive track record in New York and Boston on both college admission and college completion.

Schools like Noble Street and North Lawndale Charter Prep, which have developed strong databases for tracking their alums and brainstorming solutions to overcoming obstacles to graduation.

AIM HIGH—the program I am most closely involved with, built on a unique model of pairing students with teams of mentors from the corporate world who stay with them from their freshman year of high school all the way to college graduation.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but rather a sampling of the variety of work being done in this area. I am sure there is other valuable work under way of which I’m unaware, and the problem is so monumental that there is room for many more willing participants. 

Bottom line is economic inequity

Whatever the particular design strategy, all of these programs are wrestling with problems that reflect the fundamental inequities of our economic system. The low-income students who represent the vast majority of those in CPS are operating without the safety net that is invisible to most middle-class families—so invisible that they recognize it as little as fish recognize the medium of water that sustains them. 

Much of my work with AIM HIGH involves the almost inevitable financial shortfalls that our students encounter. These shortfalls block their ability to register for classes at the beginning of the term or, most unjust, prevent them from receiving their transcripts when they decide to transfer schools. These debts, often as small as three-figure sums, would be resolved in middle-class families with a call home providing access to a fatigued credit card—the kind that most low-income families don’t even possess. Any new strain on the finances of a student or a family already struggling to provide for basic needs—an unexpected medical bill, a costly car repair, an increase in dormitory costs, an unanticipated medical bill—is sufficient to lead students to drop out or take a leave from school, from which they are unlikely to return.

Colleges themselves must provide help

All mentoring programs have to face the question of how these inevitable shortfalls are going to be addressed. Part of the answer lies with the colleges themselves, many of which have demonstrated admirable social consciousness by seeking out low-income students of color in an effort to diversify their student bodies, but have not provided the resources to keep those students heading toward graduation. 

They have an obligation to set aside the modest sums that will help students who have made good-faith efforts to meet their debts, but have encountered insurmountable obstacles. The failure to do so places these students in jeopardy of leaving school with no degree and a burden of debt that puts them in a worse position than if they had never entered college at all.

In one recent situation faced by a student, the university sent this debt to a collection agency, with which she is now forced to deal, unprepared though she may be to deal with the often predatory practices of these agencies. Heartlessness should not be the trademark of an institution which pretends to play a high-minded role in our society.

These low-income students are a precious resource. They have the potential to bring new skills and commitments to their home communities and to the entire society. The existing mentoring programs can go a long way in accompanying them to their goal, but they need help with the deep-seated financial obstacles that stand in their way.

Marv Hoffman, now retired, was the associate director of the Urban Teacher Education Program at the University of Chicago. Prior to that he was the Founding Director of the University of Chicago Charter School—North Kenwood Oakland Campus.

Dirty schools the norm since privatizing custodians: principals

September 8, 2014 - 10:09pm

The $340 million privatization of the district’s custodial services has led to filthier buildings and fewer custodians, while forcing principals to take time away from instruction to make sure that their school is clean.

That is the finding from a survey done by AAPPLE, the new activist arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

The contract is the first issue the group is taking a hard stance on, hoping that their input will force the district to make some changes. About 230 principals responded to the survey, with most of them saying the number of custodial staff has been reduced and is now inadequate and the cleanliness of their buildings has been negatively affected.

A principal of a South Side school that is comprised of three buildings and more than 1,500 students says she now has just one day custodian, down from three. “The day custodian is running around here like a crazy lady,” says the principal, who did not want to be identified. “And it is filthy.”

In February, the Board of Education approved two three-year contracts—one for $260 million for Aramark and the other for $80 million to Sodexmagic. Aramark was to take over the training, supervision and management of custodians for all but 33 schools. Sodexmagic would handle the job for the other 33 schools.

When Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley presented the proposal to the board, he said the deal would save the district $40 million, lead to cleaner buildings and incorporate state-of-the-art cleaning technology, such as cleaning Zambonis.

Cawley did not say the contract would result in layoffs.

Email acknowledges problems

Though CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey says most schools had a smooth transition to the private vendor, on Monday that vendor, Aramark, sent out an e-mail to principals acknowledging significant problems and asking to meet with them and their staff.  

In the e-mail, shared by a principal, the Aramark official wrote that company officials hear “loud and clear” that “we have not delivered on the promise of making life easier for principals.”

In a white paper, AAPPLE is proposing that the contracts be voided if the buildings are not brought up to Level 2 industry standards for cleanliness, as promised when the contracts were approved. The group also wants CPS to consult them on any contract of more than $500,000 that will impact schools.

McCaffrey says CPS officials are working with contractors to address complaints. “CPS recently contracted with two proven facility management companies to improve cleanliness in all schools while saving millions of dollars that can be redirected to classrooms,” he said in a statement.

Principals say the cleanliness of their buildings is integral to student learning, and note that they are naturally held accountable for it. However, under the new contract, principals do not supervise the custodians at all. Some principals say the custodial managers turn over on a regular basis.

“The person who supervises them comes once a week,” says one principal, who did not want to be identified. “That is just not going to work.”

Bad timing, no new tech

That principal of a Northwest Side school said that at the end of the school year, the custodians assigned to her school left urine in the toilets for weeks. Then, they moved furniture out of a classroom, but broke things when they brought it back in. Her building is more than 100 years old and she says that it is difficult to clean when it gets dirty.

A big complaint of the principals is that staff has been laid off or reassigned at bad times, leaving someone new to take over at crucial moments. One principal said his custodians told him they had been notified that they will be laid off two weeks after school started.

Another had all his custodians sent to new buildings for no apparent reason. “The [ones who were reassigned] were custodians who knew the building, knew the children, knew the community,” he says. “They did not want to leave.”

Two of them were reassigned the Friday before school started. “That is really bad timing,” says the principal, who, like the others, didn’t want to be identified. He says the new custodians are okay, but that he is still waiting on Aramark to let him know their schedules.

The principal also is bothered by the fact that he has seen none of the new technology that was supposed to make the cleaning more efficient.   

One principal from a South Side school that took in children displaced from last year’s closings says she had to get parents, teachers and students to volunteer, in the days leading up to the opening of school, to get her building ready. She says they spent much of the time throwing out an enormous amount of trash, sweeping and mopping.

During the summer, she sent e-mails on a daily basis to her network chief complaining of the problem, but never heard back. One of her biggest complaints concerned the bathrooms, which she says have a bad smell. The custodians tell her it is a drainage problem, but there are no plans to fix it. “Can we just get some air freshener?” she said. “I have kindergarteners going into these bathrooms and they are scary.”

“I feel like this community is already disenfranchised,” she said. “You go up north and you can eat off the floors of the schools. I feel like my community should have that kind of building.”

Dirty schools the norm since privatizing custodians: principals

September 8, 2014 - 10:09pm

CPS’ contracting out the management of the district’s custodians has led to filthier buildings and forced principals to take time away from instruction to try to make sure that their building is clean.

This is the results of a survey done by AAPPLE, the new activist arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. The contract is the first issue the group is taking a hard stance on, hoping that their input will force the district to make some changes. About 230 principals responded to the survey with most of them saying the number of staff provided has been reduced and is now inadequate and that the cleanliness of their buildings has been affected.

A principal of a South Side school with three buildings and more than 1,500 students says her staff has been reduced from three day custodians to one. “The day custodian is running around here like a crazy lady,” says the principal who did not want to be identified. “And it is filthy.”

In February, the Board of Education approved two three-year contracts—one for $260 million for Aramark and the other for $80 million to Sodexmagic. Aramark was to take over the training, supervision and management of custodians for all but 33 schools.  Sodexmagic would handle the job for the other 33 schools.

When Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley presented the proposal to the board, he said the deal would save the district $40 million, as well as lead to cleaner buildings and the incorporation of state-of-the-art cleaning technology, such as cleaning Zambonis.

Cawley did not say the contract would result in layoffs.

Though CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey says most schools had a smooth transition to the private vendor, on Monday that vendor, Aramark, sent out an e-mail to principals acknowledging significant problems and asking to meet with them and their staff.  

In the e-mail shared by a principal, the Aramark official wrote company officials hear “loud and clear” that “we have not delivered on the promise of making life easier for principals.”

In a white paper, AAPPLE is proposing that the contracts be voided if the buildings are not brought up to Level 2 industry standards for cleanliness, as promised when the contracts were approved. The principal group also wants CPS to consult them on any contract of more than $500,000 that will impact schools.

McCaffrey says CPS officials are working with our contractors to address complaints. "CPS recently contracted with two proven facility management companies to improve cleanliness in all schools while saving millions of dollars that can be redirected to classrooms,” he said in a statement.

Principals say the cleanliness of their buildings is integral to students learning and note that they are naturally held accountable for it. However, under the new contract, principals do not supervise the custodians at all. Some principals say the custodian managers turnover on a regular basis.

“The person who supervises them comes once a week,” says one principal, who did not want to be identified. “That is just not going to work.”

That principal of a Northwest Side school said that at the end of the school year the custodians assigned to her school left urine in the toilets for weeks. Then, they moved furniture out of a classroom, but broke things when they brought it back in. Her building is more than 100 years old and she says that when it gets dirty it is hard to get clean.

A big complaint of the principals is that staff has been laid off or reassigned at bad times, leaving someone new to take over at crucial moments. One principal said his custodians told him they had been notified that they will be laid off two weeks after school started.

Another had all his custodians sent to new buildings for no apparent reason. “The (ones who were reassigned) were custodians who knew the building, knew the children, knew the community,” he says. “They did not want to leave.”

Two of them were reassigned the Friday before school started. “That is really bad timing,” says the principal, who, like the others, didn’t want to be identified. He says the new custodians are okay, but that he is still waiting on Aramark to let him know their schedules.

The principal also is bothered by the fact that he has seen none of the new technology that was supposed to make the cleaning more efficient.   

One principal from a South Side welcoming school says she had to get parents, teachers and students to volunteer in the days leading up to the opening of school to get her building ready. She says they spent much of the time throwing out an enormous amount of trash, sweeping and moping.

During the summer, she said she sent e-mails on a daily basis to her network chief complaining, but never heard back. One of her biggest complaints are her bathrooms, which she says smell. The custodians tell her it is a drainage problem, but there are no plans to fix it. “Can we just get some air freshener?” she said. “I have kindergarteners going into these bathrooms and they are scary.”

“I feel like this community is already disenfranchised,” she said. “You go up North and you can eat off the floors of the schools. I feel like my community should have that kind of building.”

To better educate students, teachers need time for learning

September 8, 2014 - 2:31pm

The essay topic was “How to become a better man.”

B.H., my student at Consuella B. York High School, located in Cook County’s largest juvenile detention facility, wrote: “Finish school.”

My students live in Division Nine, home to the most serious juvenile offenders. Many of them are at great risk of causing harm – to themselves, their communities, and our city. I know they will be at greater risk if I fail to help them achieve the same goal B.H. set for himself.

My job—to educate these students, provide them with the information and tools they need to succeed, and help them get on a better life path—is a responsibility shared by my colleagues in classrooms across Chicago. Whether our classroom is in a jail, a district-run school or a charter school, we meet every student “where they are” on their first day of class and then create a personalized education to move them forward.

And yet, even though we fulfill this important role for students and society, I don’t often get to share ideas with others on how to improve our schools.  That is why I take every opportunity to ask people who care about public education to invest in meaningful growth opportunities for educators like me. We need access to each other and ongoing support from partners to grow as professionals.

This summer, I saw the impact of those kinds of investments when my colleagues and I participated in the Summer Design Program. This opportunity, facilitated by the Chicago Public Education Fund, brought together 120 teachers and principals from 40 schools across the city. I worked with educators from my school, other schools, and experts in areas like technology and innovation to identify a challenge, and design a solution.

At York, our challenge was simple. How do we use our new computers to help students learn more at a quicker pace?

Creating a teacher exchange program

Through the Summer Design Program process, I took my unit on memoirs and created opportunities to do just that. Students will narrate their memoirs in PowerPoint and add images to their story to create an interactive presentation. This new approach will help my students learn writing and presentation skills, and gain computer skills that they need in today’s world.  This use of technology will also allow me to spend more one-on-one time with each of them.

Chicago needs more opportunities like this for educators like me.

What if we created an exchange program? In Elizabeth Green’s new book: “Building a Better Teacher,” she writes that educators in Japan have subject matter experts and observe each other teach. I would love to learn from my colleagues in other schools.

What about a fellowship for teachers to open their own schools? Spend a year helping the best teachers in Chicago build the school of their dreams, and connecting them with the resources they need to make it great.

Technology is capable of helping all teachers personalize instruction at new levels. Is there a way for nonprofits to support district efforts to create a more technology-literate educator workforce? What if we partnered with the experts from across the country to build a certification program? It could start at a few schools, and expand based on demand.

These ideas range from big to small, but one thing is for sure—they would make a difference to teachers like me and to the students we serve.

This school year, I will find new ways to get B.H., and all of my students, to learn.  I hope Chicago will find new ways to help educators like me to grow as well.

John Boggs is a National Board Certified English Language Arts teacher at Consuella B. York Alternative High School. York is located in Cook County’s juvenile detention center.

To better educate students, teachers need time for learning

September 8, 2014 - 2:31pm

The essay topic was “How to become a better man.”

B.H., my student at Consuella B. York High School, located in Cook County’s largest juvenile detention facility, wrote: “Finish school.”

My students live in Division Nine, home to the most serious juvenile offenders. Many of them are at great risk of causing harm – to themselves, their communities, and our city. I know they will be at greater risk if I fail to help them achieve the same goal B.H. set for himself.

My job—to educate these students, provide them with the information and tools they need to succeed, and help them get on a better life path—is a responsibility shared by my colleagues in classrooms across Chicago. Whether our classroom is in a jail, a district-run school or a charter school, we meet every student “where they are” on their first day of class and then create a personalized education to move them forward.

And yet, even though we fulfill this important role for students and society, I don’t often get to share ideas with others on how to improve our schools.  That is why I take every opportunity to ask people who care about public education to invest in meaningful growth opportunities for educators like me. We need access to each other and ongoing support from partners to grow as professionals.

This summer, I saw the impact of those kinds of investments when my colleagues and I participated in the Summer Design Program. This opportunity, facilitated by the Chicago Public Education Fund, brought together 120 teachers and principals from 40 schools across the city. I worked with educators from my school, other schools, and experts in areas like technology and innovation to identify a challenge, and design a solution.

At York, our challenge was simple. How do we use our new computers to help students learn more at a quicker pace?

Creating a teacher exchange program

Through the Summer Design Program process, I took my unit on memoirs and created opportunities to do just that. Students will narrate their memoirs in PowerPoint and add images to their story to create an interactive presentation. This new approach will help my students learn writing and presentation skills, and gain computer skills that they need in today’s world.  This use of technology will also allow me to spend more one-on-one time with each of them.

Chicago needs more opportunities like this for educators like me.

What if we created an exchange program? In Elizabeth Green’s new book: “Building a Better Teacher,” she writes that educators in Japan have subject matter experts and observe each other teach. I would love to learn from my colleagues in other schools.

What about a fellowship for teachers to open their own schools? Spend a year helping the best teachers in Chicago build the school of their dreams, and connecting them with the resources they need to make it great.

Technology is capable of helping all teachers personalize instruction at new levels. Is there a way for nonprofits to support district efforts to create a more technology-literate educator workforce? What if we partnered with the experts from across the country to build a certification program? It could start at a few schools, and expand based on demand.

These ideas range from big to small, but one thing is for sure—they would make a difference to teachers like me and to the students we serve.

This school year, I will find new ways to get B.H., and all of my students, to learn.  I hope Chicago will find new ways to help educators like me to grow as well.

John Boggs is a National Board Certified English Language Arts teacher at Consuella B. York Alternative High School. York is located in Cook County’s juvenile detention center.

Take 5: Ames closure, school funding, high school quest

September 8, 2014 - 8:45am

 Did CPS close a school last year, despite promising a five-year moratorium on closings and failing to go through the process required by state law? It seems like this is the case from a Sun Times story this morning on what happened to Ames Middle School and Marine Math and Science Academy. As you will remember, last year two schools existed: Ames in Logan Square--a school that the Logan Square Neighborhood Association waged a mighty battle to keep as a neighborhood school; and Marine, a high school that shared a school on the West Side with Phoenix Military Academy.

When activists confronted Board President David Vitale in December of 2012 about rumors that Ames was going to be closed and taken over by Marine, he told them in a board meeting that he didn't know of any plans. Then, in October of 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Marine is relocating to Ames. But, when it was pointed out that this would result in a school closing,  CPS spokespeople insisted that while Ames was becoming a military academy, Marine would stay open.

LSNA got a referendum placed on the ballot and by a margin of more than two to one, residents voted against the conversion to a military academy. But the board didn't budge. Now, CPS officials are telling a convoluted story about why all the Marine Math and Science students wound up at Ames, as well as why the Marine principal is suddenly in charge of the Logan Square school. According to spokesman Bill McCaffrey, no students chose to attend. But the Sun-Times reports that students and parents say they were told that there was only one Marine campus: in the Ames building.

Bottom line: Only one school exists now, where there used to be two, and CPS did not follow the procedure for consolidattion. The only question now is whether there’s anything anyone can do about it.

2. Heath risk.... Of the 18,000 CPS students with asthma, only a quarter of them had health management plans and only half of the 4,000 with food allergies had them, according to a Chicago Tribune story about a study of 2012-2013 records by Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. The plans are meant to help schools address chronic health conditions and prevent reactions. The study found that students on the North and Northwest Sides were the most likely to have a plan on file compared with the rest of the city. Also, poor black and Latino students were the least likely, though more of them were diagnosed with asthma and allergies.

 The Northwestern pediatrics professor who led the study said that he thinks that CPS is representative of the rest of the country.

However, one obstacle may be that CPS schools have far fewer nurses than recommended. The National Association of School Nurses recommends a minimum of 1 nurse for every 750 students for a general population. The association recommends much higher for students with special health needs. However, the latest CPS data shows that the district only has 322 nurses or nurse practitioners, with only six assigned to individual schools.

3. The yearly shuffle... Austin Weekly News has a story about layoffs in local schools. According to the article, some 54 CTU members and 11 paraprofessionals lost their jobs at schools in Austin, West Humboldt PArk and Garfield Park. CTU organizer Brandon Johnson, who lives in Austin, seizes the opportunity to make the layoffs an election issue. Brandon is serving as treasurer of CTU president Karen Lewis mayoral committee and said the layoffs show Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “distain for public education and disinterest in African American Chicagoans.”

But the main reason schools lost staff is that they were projected to have lower enrollment. Some could lose more. The article is a good reminder of what is going on at local schools right now. Coming up to the 20th day, schools are trying to shore up enrollment because if they do not get as many students as expected, they will lost money. CPS schools get about $4390 per student, plus extra stipends for students who are low-income and teachers for special education and bilingual students. Last year, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett chose not to take back money from schools that missed their enrollment targets, but she won't do that this year.

4. Funding overall still on table... Though he didn’t bring up the legislation in the spring, House Speaker Mike Madigan is quietly gathering together Democrats to get them to discuss a proposed change in the way the state funds schools, reports the Associated Press. The idea is to have the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill, ready for hearings after the November election. The Senate passed the bill. The proposed legislation tries to even out disparities between districts with rich property tax bases and those that are property poor.

Manar’s plan would make almost all state funding dependent on need. It also would drastically alter the way Chicago gets money from the state. Currently, CPS get a block grant, but under the plan, the district would bill the state for services or get money per student receiving them, like the rest of the state. Chicago stands to lose about $28 million in state funding if this plan is passed. Property-rich suburbs also stand to lose a lot. Schaumburg, for example, would get $12.4 million less. One amendment to the bill is that it would cap the amount of per pupil loss to $1,000 per student.

5. High school quest... WTTW started airing the first of five documentaries at 7:30 on Friday that follow eighth-graders from Chicago and Chicago suburbs. The documentaries, which are already available on youtube, use the stories of these teenagers striving to get into good high school as a way to show the disparities in the situations confronted by the students.

One of the documentaries focuses on the administrations of the elementary schools being attended by the students. The segment at a Wilmette Junior High School features the principal cutting a ribbon for the new science wing, which was paid for through a $100,000 donation from the school’s education foundation. The principal there talks about how he sees the middle grades as a time for exploration and experience. This stands in sharp contrast to the scene in Calumet City. There, a principal stands in front of a projector talking about the school’s low test scores and how the state could come take over the school if it doesn’t improve. It also has the superintendent talking about how the school district spurned an attempt by Urban Prep to open the school in the South Suburb.

The three Chicago schools are also very different. At the UNO school, the principal shows off  a “student data notebook” which lists test scores, demerits, attendance and homework. At Disney Magnet School, students put on a musical and do a project utilizing technology.

The other episodes look at communities, the high schools they are striving to get into and eventually reveals whether they got into the high school of their choosing.

 

 





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