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Updated: 1 hour 44 min ago

In the News: Noble network's discipline code in spotlight

April 7, 2014 - 8:04am

Officials and many parents from the Noble charter school network are defending its tough disciplinary code, but the network's disciplinary policies run counter to district and national efforts to find ways to keep students in the classroom. The discipline code also extends to teachers, who are penalized if they don't enforce the rules.

LSC ELECTIONS: Beginning Monday, residents will have the chance to elect parents and community members to Local School Councils. You don’t need to have kids enrolled in a particular school — or kids at all — to cast a ballot. You just need to be at least 18 years old and live within the boundaries of the school where you're planning to vote. To determine the boundaries, check the CPS school locator. (DNAinfo)

VALLAS GETS HIRED: Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, who is running for Illinois lieutenant governor, has taken a new job with a Chicago-based consulting firm. (ABC 7)

CERTIFICATION PROGRAM IN PERIL: The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is set to vote this week on whether to pull the plug on a multimillion-dollar effort to develop an advanced national credential for principals. (Education Week)

SCHOOL PRAYER BILL BLOCKED: Viriginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vetoed a school prayer bill on Friday, saying it could lead to “coercive prayer” or “religious messaging” at school events. (The Washington Post)

In the News: CPS reveals little about meal ingredients

April 4, 2014 - 7:46am

WBEZ's Monica Eng asked Chicago Public Schools to tell her the ingredients that go into students' meals and she had to filed a Freedom of Information Act to get an answer. So what does go into the chicken nuggets that the district serves? The complete ingredient list for CPS chicken nuggets is two words: “chicken nuggets.” And it took more than a month for CPS Nutrition Support Services to figure this out and get back to her, Eng reports.

GLITCHES PLAGUE TEACHER LICENSING SYSTEM: Hours after the state launched a new, multimillion-dollar teacher licensing system last year, an educator logging in was shocked to find a serious security breach. The glitch-prone system,which  has been compared to the Obama administration's troubled Affordable Care Act website, incorrectly labeled one educator a felon. Others were mistakenly listed as delinquent on child support, which could block them from getting a license, according to records obtained by the Tribune.


ANOTHER HIT TO COMMON CORE: The Oklahoma Senate passed a bill that would repeal the Common Core State Standards, moving closer to becoming the second state to officially dump the standards, following the lead of Indiana. (Tulsa World)

COST OF OPTING OUT: Students opting out of New York state tests could cost schools grants and trigger state reviews. (

JANITORS MAY GET GUNS: A bill that would allow teachers, janitors or anybody else a principal or superintendent designates to carry concealed weapons on school campuses passed a Florida House committee. (The Palm Beach Post)

EXPANDING CHARTERS IN LOUISIANA: Twenty-two organizations have applied to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to open 34 charter schools in Louisiana in 2015 and beyond. They could substantially increase the number of charters in the Louisiana, which has 117 charter schools already in operation. Fifteen new state charters will open in the fall. (Times-Picayune)

ADJUSTING TO COMMON CORE: Passing rates plummeted when New York State changed its tests to match Common Core curriculum standards, but this year students say they were better prepared to handle the material. (The New York Times)

In the News: How politics played a role in NYC charter victory

April 3, 2014 - 8:08am

The New York Times offers a behind-the-scenes look at how New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo out manuvered New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio to give New York City charter schools some of the most sweeping protections in the nation.

END OF THE LINE FOR INBLOOM? New York state legislators made clear in their recently inked budget deal that they didn't want student data uploaded to the inBloom database, which the Gates Foundation spent $100 million to build, hoping it would become a resource for states and school districts nationwide. So the New York State Education Department has directed inBloom to delete all data stored there to date. No additional data will be uploaded, a spokesman said. That abrupt termination leaves inBloom with no known customers. Massachusetts is still officially considering a contract with the nonprofit, but a state education department spokesman said it was unlikely to proceed. Illinois no longer plans to upload large amounts of data, though individual districts may participate; inBloom won't say whether any have agreed to do so. (Politico Morning Education newsblast)

Golden Apple has selected 175 young people for its 2014 class of the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois, making it the largest ever in 26 years. The program is also the leading pre-service teacher preparation and internship program in the nation. Chicago Public Schools recently approved a $1 million agreement with the Golden Apple Scholars program to provide 150 new teachers on top of the program's annual state-supported cohorts, during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. (Press release)

PEABODY AWARDS RECOGNIZE STRUGGLING SCHOOLS: The 2014 Peabody Awards honored three reports about schools facing poverty, crime and serious educational challenges. They included "This American Life’s" two-part feature on Harper High School in Chicago which aired on public radio stations across the country as well as "180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School," shown on Public Broadcasting Service television stations. (School Book)

PUBLIC, CHARTER SCHOOLS COMPETE FOR SAME FUNDS: In one corner: cash-strapped school systems with aging facilities and billions of dollars tied up in debt service. In the other: charter schools looking to build and refurbish facilities of their own. Both want dollars from an ever-shrinking pot of money. (Tampa Bay Times)

HOMEWORK BURDEN: A report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., shows that homework load has been mostly stable over the past two or three decades, but those who complain about too much homework get most of the attention. (The Detroit News)

TEACHER TENURE ON TRIAL: A lawsuit filed by the nonprofit advocacy group Student Matters on behalf of nine California public school students followed unsuccessful attempts in contract negotiations and the legislature to give school districts more freedom to hire and fire teachers. (Stateline)

Lawmakers consider LSC requirement at charter schools

April 2, 2014 - 3:17pm

As CPS gears up for the next Local School Council elections, legislation under consideration in the state’s House of Representatives would require every charter school in Chicago to be administered by an LSC.

Unlike traditional neighborhood schools in the city, charter schools are not overseen by an elected body of parents, community members and staff. (Find out who is running for the LSC at your school.)

“The whole point of this is bringing democracy into our schools,” says Rod Wilson, a member of Communities Organized for Democracy in Education, which has been lobbying for the bill. “We feel that if a school is in District 299 and receives public funding, there should be parents with decision-making authority, not just giving advice or input.”

House Bill 5328, sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero) also restores some authority to LSCs at schools under probation and requires Chicago Public Schools to provide $2,500 to each council for training purposes. The bill passed on first reading in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee in late March and is awaiting a second vote to get out of committee.

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) opposes the bill, arguing that it “would create an additional and conflicting decision making entity in the charter school authorization process,” according to a summary of charter school-related legislation that the organization is tracking in Springfield.

Charter schools under current law and contract are governed under non-profit governing boards, and if you add LSCs as a layer, it’d be unclear what role they’d play,” says Andrew Broy, president of INCS. Charters get to design their curriculum and they get held accountable for results, not process.”

Broy said most charter schools already have active parent councils and that many schools’ governing boards include parents and community members. As an alternative to the LSC proposal, he said he’s suggested to lawmakers that charter schools should demonstrate how they’ll ensure parental and community involvement during the authorization process.

Even though the group doesn’t want charter schools to have elected governing entities, three staff members of INCS are currently running for seats on LSCs in Chicago. LSC elections take place on April 7 at the city’s elementary schools, and on April 8 at the high schools.

The INCS staff running for seats at LSCs include: the group’s spokeswoman, Jodie Cantrell, community candidate at Blaine Elementary School; director of development and capacity, Eric Johnson, parent candidate at Audubon Elementary School; and charter support manager, Jelani McEwen, community candidate at Kenwood High School. WBEZ first reported on some of the unusual candidates running for the Blaine LSC in March.

Suspicious of motives

Broy says he doesn’t think it’s a contradiction for his staff to run for positions on LSCs while the organization opposes having councils at charter schools. He considers it a sign of their “well-roundedness” if they participate in community organizations in their neighborhood.

“They’re trying to have a role in governance in local schools, and in those schools they can do that through LSCs,” he says.

But perhaps not surprisingly, activists against charter schools say they are suspicious of the true motives of LSC candidates who support charter schools.

Earlier this week, for example, some parents and educators circulated a list of candidates “not to vote for” on Facebook because of their support for charter schools and supportive politicians, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner.

“If they’re running for LSCs, does that mean they want to make them charter schools? Is that the purpose?” asks Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center in Bronzeville and a former LSC member himself. “Or do they want to be a part of a democratic process? If so, they should support this bill.”

Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is also getting increasingly involved in promoting LSC participation to both its own members and community groups. In February, the CTU and the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) organized a summit for about 250 LSC candidates and other community activists who wanted to learn about how to run an effective council. The coalition of like-minded LSC candidates voted to share a campaign platform that advocates for an elected school board, universal pre-kindergarten and an end to charter and military school expansion.

“We realize how important the LSCs are, and that they’re pretty much in the same boat as the union,” said Michael Brunson, the CTU’s recording secretary. “We have the same interests in having our publicly funded schools survive.”

LSC elections

LCSs are responsible for approving schools’ discretionary budgets, hiring principals, and overseeing the school’s Continuous Improvement Work Plan, although councils at schools on probation have more limited powers. Each council is made up of six parents, two community members, two teachers, one non-teacher staff member and the school principal. High schools also include one student representative.

Getting teachers, residents and community members interested in joining their LSCs isn’t always easy, Brunson says.

“You mention LSCs and people’s eyes roll,” he says. “There has been a lot of cynicism and disengagement. You can see that each year as you have elections, fewer and fewer people running for school councils.”

After passage of the historic School Reform Act and during the first elections in 1989, more than 17,000 people ran for seats.  But interest in LSC elections has since dwindled. This year, for example, CPS extended the deadline for candidates to file their paperwork to encourage more people to sign up.

Despite the extension, many LSCs still lack enough candidates to fill the vacancies. Nine of the 516 schools with LSCs lack any parent candidates, while 39 lack any community candidates. In total, 35 percent of councils don’t have enough parent candidates to fill the vacancies, and 22 percent don’t have enough community member candidates, according to CPS data. Click here to see an interactive map of all LSCs and the names of all of the candidates.

Pauline Lipman, a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago who studies race and class inequality in urban schools, says that despite the lack of interest in LSCs, they remain “the only place where there is democracy at any level” in Chicago schools. The city’s School Board is handpicked by the mayor, although there is currently movement in Springfield to change the system. 

“They have great potential to involve parents and community members and teachers with the principals in robust discussions of what they want to happen at their schools and put pressure on CPS to provide it,” Lipman says.

In the News: State task force to study Chicago School Bd overhaul

April 2, 2014 - 8:10am

The Illinois House opened the door ever so slightly Tuesday to stripping Mayor Rahm Emanuel and any of his successors of the sole authority to appoint the Chicago public school system's board of education, the Sun-Times reports.

By a 108-5 margin, the House approved legislation sponsored by Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, to create a task force to study whether the board should be appointed, elected or mixed.

DEVELOPING VOCABULARIES: The PNC Foundation will partner with the University of Chicago Medicine’s Thirty Million Words Initiative to help parents develop their children’s vocabularies. The initiative is based on an influential study showing that by age 4, a low-income child will hear 30 million fewer words than a child from a higher-income family. PNC is investing $19 million into the program as part of its Grow Up Great 10th Anniversary. (Press release)

PENSION BATTLE: After crashing a press conference held by the mayor at Merchandise Mart on Tuesday, the Chicago Teachers Union held its own emergency presser to bash a pension deal that’s on the table for some city workers. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said the city needs to find creative ways to generate new revenue, and not simply increase employees’ contributions or raise property taxes, as has been reported in the Sun-Times and Tribune. Meanwhile, during the CTU’s separate negotiations, Sharkey said the city has so far balked at the union’s proposals to raise taxes on the rich through a luxury tax or a so-called millionaire’s tax. (Melissa Sanchez/ Catalyst Chicago).

STUDENT STRESS: Lyons Township High School students reported higher levels of academic stress than students at similar schools in a recent survey, reinforcing education officials' efforts to reduce stress at the competitive school. Students and parents reported the homework load is the primary cause of the stress. Teachers ranked "family problems" and "competitive college requirements" above homework. (Tribune)

CHARTER GROUP FAILS: As Indiana's charter school association completes a shutdown, which could be done within days, questions about what sort of group might replace it remain unanswered. (Chalkbeat Indiana)

KHAN ACADEMY AND COMMON CORE: Continuing its evolution from quirky disruptor of traditional classroom learning to mainstream player aligned with the education establishment, the nonprofit Khan Academy recently unveiled new online math resources tied to the Common Core State Standards. (Education Week)

CPS fails to nurture a true vision for charters

April 1, 2014 - 11:52am

What happened to the vision?

The original purpose of charters, as proposed by the legendary head of the American Federation of Teachers, Albert Shanker, was to be a beacon for innovation. By loosening the reins on some public schools they would be free, he argued, to innovate and experiment with new models for learning that might serve as a model for change in other public schools.

But Shanker’s original intention has now largely been lost in the fog of history. His vision has been replaced by the zeal of a powerful group of "true believers" in charters – good, bad or indifferent -- who see them as an alternative to the existing public school system. These true believers are advocates for sweeping privatization as the solution to all the ills of our current schools, liberating them from the control of the unions, which must be broken if schools are to improve.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his appointees in CPS have settled more and more definitively in the privatization, union-busting camp. The percentage of students attending charters, once a blip on the radar screen, has risen steadily: 24% of high school students in Chicago now attend charter schools, while the overall figure for all schools is around 13%. The vast majority of charter students attend schools that are part of the large charter management organizations (CMOs) that have come to dominate the scene--each in effect, a mini-school district in its own right.

Make no mistake: Some of these CMOs include admirable schools and staff who perform well above the level of the schools they replaced, which had been badly serving poor children of color for decades. But for the most part, they are not the lights of innovation that early charter advocates promised.

The true carriers of that vision tend to reside in the small mom-and-pop, stand-alone charters that are usually run by mission-driven teachers and their community supporters. Schools like Namaste, the Academy for Global Citizenship, Polaris, Alaine Locke, The Montessori School of Englewood and others represent new approaches to education, fueled by a greater end goal than merely raising test scores. Yet it is these schools that CPS tends to treat as afterthoughts, second-class citizens in its charter school portfolio because they are not committed to “going to scale,” which has come to be the system’s gold standard for charter worthiness.

Rather than serving as the answer in a desperate search for quick fixes, the impact of innovative charter models on larger numbers of schools and students depends on breaking down the polarization between so-called neighborhood schools and charters, as has been done in a few districts around the country. Boston; East Providence, Rhode Island; Hartford, Connecticut; Austin, Texas; and Broward County, Florida are all places where consortia of neighborhood and charter schools have made possible the more organic spread of innovative ideas, regardless of school labels. These models may even include new designs for union contracts being created by some charters, as more of them explore paths to unionization which do not strait-jacket schools’ flexibility in the way current contracts do.

Take responsibility for supporting teaching and learning

I have been viewing the disturbing trend away from the original charter school vision through my own association with existing and aspiring charter schools, which, in different ways, represent that vision--and for whose failure CPS owns a large share of responsibility. Remember the studies of children in orphanages who were said to be suffering from “failure to thrive” as a result being deprived of care at their most fragile stage of development? I would argue that CPS’ malady in this case could be called “failure to nurture.”

If this or any other school district wants to present itself as a proponent of charter schools, it needs to assume the responsibility for supporting, in deep and meaningful ways, those schools that truly represent something new in education – a different way of thinking about teaching and learning, a new vision of what a holistic school community looks like, a recombination of elements that have, until now, only existed in isolation from one another.

Such one-of-a-kind schools are likely to be fragile. They are less likely to have wealthy financial backers, less likely to have boards that pack a political punch. With these schools, CPS needs to act less like an authorizing body and more like an advocate for innovation. If these schools are to become incubators of positive educational change, rather than a disruptive force dedicated to privatization with all the attendant damage to communities and to democratic life, CPS needs to be more proactive about identifying them early in the proposal stage and equipping them with the kind of facilities and professional support they will need through the delicate early years.

CPS houses people with those skills in its central office. They need to be freed up from policing and monitoring duties to help the schools that could truly be incubators of innovation to really make their mark. This represents a radical re-visioning of the purpose of the central office of a large school system. It is, in fact, the vision reflected in the original School Reform Act of 1989, which posited a handoff of powers to local schools and communities and the shrinking of central office to the constructive roles it could play, not simply by swelling the numbers of children they serve but in nurturing and supporting powerful teaching and learning.  We have strayed a long way from that ideal in the last quarter-century.

It’s time to return to the original concept of charter schools as wellsprings of innovation and to couple it with a new vision of the school district as a promoter of that vision. Only then will we begin to liberate ourselves from the oppressive cycle and ever-increasing testing at the expense of what one Houston school board member once told me was “destroying children’s souls.”

Marv Hoffman recently retired as 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.

In the News: U.S. students trail in problem solving

April 1, 2014 - 7:50am

Fifteen-year-olds in the United States scored above the average of those in the developed world on exams assessing problem-solving skills, but they trailed several countries in Asia and Europe as well as Canada, according to international standardized tests results being released on Tuesday, The New York Times reports.

HEALTH CARE ON WHEELS: A mobile van health clinic is bringing check-ups to nearly 3,000 Chicago Public Schools students at six schools on the Far South Side, offering vaccines and physicals and treating everything from asthma to diabetes to eczema. It’s all at no cost to the kids and their families. TCA, a Chicago community health center, used money made possible from the Affordable Care Act to buy the van. (CBSChicago)

MORE CHANCES: Aspiring teachers are expected to get more chances to pass the state's basic skills test for educators. The Illinois State Board of Education adopted rules this month to allow unlimited attempts to pass the reading, writing and math test. (Tribune)

COMMON CORE TO USE ROBO-GRADING: Millions of elementary, middle and high school students in 14 states and Washington, D.C. may have their essays graded by computers next year if initial tests of robo-grading prove to be accurate. A multi-state consortium, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, known as PARCC, is developing the tests and said it hoped to use essay-grading software as soon as Spring 2015, when its new computerized tests are scheduled to roll out. (Hechinger Report)

CLASSROOM TRAILERS: Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg vowed that New York City would get rid of all “transportable classroom units” by 2012. But today, 7,158 students, most of them in the beginning grades, are still learning in them, a testament to the struggle to keep up with rapid neighborhood growth. (The New York Times)

THE BUSINESS OF EDUCATION: A news analysis discussing the decision last week that Northwestern University must treat football players as employees says "higher education is today less a rite of passage in which institutions serve in loco parentis, and more a commercial transaction between school and student." (The New York Times)

Comings & Goings: Goren

March 31, 2014 - 11:01am

Evanston School District 65, the elementary district in that suburb, has tapped Paul Goren for superintendent. Goren currently is senior vice president for program at the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning. He also has held leadership positions at the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, the Spencer Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He also was a deputy superintendent in the Minneapolis MN school district.

Comings & Goings: Goren, Russo

March 31, 2014 - 11:01am

Evanston School District 65, the elementary district in that suburb, has tapped Paul Goren for superintendent. Goren currently is senior vice president for program at the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning. He also has held leadership positions at the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, the Spencer Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He also was a deputy superintendent in the Minneapolis MN school district.

 Long-time education blogger Alexander Russo is closing down his District299 and This Week in Education daily news roundups to become a teacher. Here is an excerpt from his online announcement:  … on a lark this past fall I applied to Teach For America. I told myself it was just for the book I was writing. Nobody was more surprised than I was when I actually made it through and got picked. I had to think long and hard whether or not to quit blogging and accept the spot.  But finally I said yes and so I'm going to Houston this summer and starting teaching -- here in Brooklyn, I hope -- in the fall.  

In the News: CPS seeks proposals, ideas for shuttered buildings

March 31, 2014 - 8:25am

Chicago Public Schools is collecting ideas and proposals for more than 40 of the school buildings it shuttered in last year’s massive school closing on a website the district launched Friday. (Sun-Times)

Members of the public and community groups can submit proposals for the old school sites at, which has a full list of available school sites; the website also includes financial and physical information about each property, according to CPS.

JANITORS FEAR PRIVATIZATION: Chicago Public Schools has entered into a $260 million contract with Aramark to manage building maintenance for more than 500 schools — a step some union janitors fear could lead to the privatization or elimination of 825 custodial jobs. (DNAinfo)

EFFECTS OF GANG INVOLVEMENT: A new study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, paints a clearer picture of how long the effects of the decision to join a gang echo and how negatively it impacts a broad scope of factors—from the likelihood of later drug abuse and incarceration to poor health in adulthood. (Education Week)

PRE-K FUNDING AGREEMENT: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders announced on Saturday an agreement on a state budget that would provide $300 million for prekindergarten in New York City, but also undercuts other educational policies of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has championed prekindergarten while trying to slow the spread of charter schools. (The New York Times)

CUOMO BOOSTS CHARTERS: Charter schools will be big winners in the new state budget under a tentative deal hammered out by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders last week. For the first time, the privately operated schools will be eligible for government funds to cover the costs of leasing classroom space in private buildings, sources said. (New York Post)

THE COMMERCIAL SIDE OF HIGHER ED: A news analysis discussing the decision last week that Northwestern University must treat football players as employees says "higher education is today less a rite of passage in which institutions serve in loco parentis, and more a commercial transaction between school and student." (The New York Times)

Cincinnati leaders explain "cradle to careers" educational initiative at Chicago forum

March 28, 2014 - 4:43pm

As part of the 2014 Chicago Policy Forum Series, Cincinnati's schools and community leaders discussed a unique and collaborative effort to improve educational outcomes in their city.

Education journalist and consultant Richard Lee Colvin moderated the forum on Cincinnati's Strive initiative. The main speakers were Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan, and United Way of Greater Cincinnati CEO Robert Relfsnyder.

Event co-organizers Catalyst Chicago and Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI) -- with the help of audience members -- live-tweeted the March 28, 2014, event at the Union League Club of Chicago. The following is a Storified version of the tweets.


[<a href="//" target="_blank">View the story "Cincinnati leaders talk about "cradle to career" initiative" on Storify</a>]


The Chicago School Policy Forum Series is sponsored by the Spencer Foundation, McDougal Family Foundation, Oppenheimer Family Foundation and the Union League Club of Chicago.

In the News: Science museum expands STEM training

March 28, 2014 - 6:31am

The Museum of Science and Industry is expanding efforts it has made in recent years to train middle-school teachers in science as part of a broader initiative to motivate students to choose careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields. Since 2006, 800 teachers, most of them from Chicago Public Schools, have taken science courses at the museum’s teacher professional development program. (Tribune)

CROWDING SHUTS DOWN PRE-K: Southport-area parents have lost a pre-K option for next year, as Chicago Public Schools ended Blaine Elementary's last tuition-based pre-K class due to the school's overcrowding. Blaine is at 138 percent capacity and has been trying to expand for two years. (DNAInfo)

TIME WASTED: Principals spend only a small fraction of their day on instruction-related duties, and new research suggests that some of that time may be wasted. (Education Week)

TOPS IN SEGREGATION: New York state has the most segregated public schools in the nation, with many black and Latino students attending schools with virtually no white classmates, according to a report released Wednesday. (Education Week)

ANOTHER KIND OF MADNESS: In the middle of college basketball's March Madness, Jalen Rose, former NBA player and charter school founder pens an editorial in support of "more school choice," what he calls a "remedy for educational madness." (

CHARTER CONVERSION BILL PASSES: The Kentucky Senate passed a bill that would allow persistently low-performing schools to convert to charter schools. Currently, Kentucky gives consistently underperforming schools four options for improvement, ranging from re-staffing to closing down. (Associated Press)

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In the News: CPS furniture proposal draws protesters

March 27, 2014 - 6:25am

Parents, activists, teachers and administrators gathered outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters Wednesday morning to protest a proposal to spend nearly $10 million on new furniture as the district prepares to move to new offices. (Tribune)

BYRD-BENNETT'S ASSESSMENT ON CLOSINGS: Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett on Wednesday said that a district analysis of schools consolidated with the closed 47 elementary schools showed that incidents of misconduct were down in schools that took in children from closed schools in the second quarter of this year over last; grade point averages had risen; and the much-touted Safe Passage routes between the closed and new schools saw no major violent incidents while workers were at their posts. (Tribune)

SHOW OF SUPPORT: The Faculty Association of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools issued a statement to the Chicago Teachers Union in support of educators for families and teachers who opted out of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test in Chicago Public Schools. (Hyde Park Herald)

VICTORY FOR FOOTBALL PLAYERS: Northwestern University football players are employees of the school and are therefore entitled to a union election, Peter Sung Ohr, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, said in a ruling released Wednesday afternoon. (Tribune)

PRINCIPAL SUPPLY AND CAPACITY: Without a deeper bench of principals who specialize in overhauling chronically failing schools, the Obama administration's efforts to turn around low-performing schools will have a fleeting impact, city K-12 leaders told federal education officials Monday. Leaders in urban districts told those who wrote the rules for the school turnaround program that principal supply and capacity remain among the most pressing challenges for school districts. (Education Week)

UNFAIRNESS ALLEGED: The Bright Futures scholarship program in Florida is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights concerning allegations that its method of deciding who gets tuition assistance is unfair for minority groups. (Education Week)

CPS touts minute improvements for students from closed schools

March 26, 2014 - 6:29pm

Ever-so -slight improvements in attendance, graduation on-track rates and grade-point averages among students from closed schools proved enough to please CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and board members.

In her first update on what has happened to the roughly 12,000 students whose schools were closed at the end of last school year, Byrd-Bennett told board members on Wednesday that dire predictions of chaos did not come true.

 “We’re stronger today than we were before and better positioned than we were before,” she said. “Students impacted by the consolidations are making academic gains.”

But the CEO’s preliminary report does not show substantial gains.

In every area, students from closed schools lag way behind and have made less progress than other students throughout the city. The on-track rate for students who did not experience any school actions last year was nearly 60 percent in Quarter 2 of this school year, up 2 percentage points from last year. Those numbers were nearly parallel for students from the welcoming schools, whose graduation on-track rates grew from 57 percent to 59 percent.

But students from closed schools have seen an increase of only 0.3 percent, to 48 percent.

Board members, who didn’t ask any questions about the report, lauded the CEO.

 “Congrats to you and the team,” said Board President David Vitale. “Frankly, it’s an incredible success to date.”

CPS has spent more than $225 million on capital and academic programming at the 50 welcoming schools to smooth students’ transition from the closed schools.

Byrd-Bennett said that the placement of additional monitors along routes used by students from closing schools led to no “major” incidents, and that attendance was up. During the first two quarters of the 2012-2013 school year, the average attendance of students from closed schools was 92.7 percent. During the same period this year, the average attendance was 93 percent.

The CEO also noted that just over half of students from closed schools improved their attendance. It’s unclear whether the other half fared worse off, or if their attendance did not change. CPS officials did not provide more detailed data.

Context missing from report

The 9-page midyear report does not take into account some factors that could have impacted data on student performance during the first two quarters of last school year – when a parsed list of potential closures was first made public.

A 2009 Consortium on Chicago School Research study on school closings found that the most precarious time for students of closed schools are the months around the announcement. The research indicates that the drama caused by knowing a school may close can affect attendance and conduct.

Also, some of the students in closed schools did not actually change buildings. In those cases, the staff and students from welcoming schools moved into their space. The children who did not change buildings would not have had to travel longer distances, something that many worried would affect attendance.

During her comments to the board on Wednesday, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the CEO’s report doesn’t tell the entire story about the consequences of closing schools.

“There are still 800 students unaccounted for from the entire move last year,” Lewis said. “These are things that are never discussed publicly that need to be discussed publicly.”

The CEO said she would return to the board at the end of the school year with a more comprehensive analysis, and promised to provide annual updates during the next three years.

ISAT investigation “winding down”

Byrd-Bennett also briefly addressed the controversy surrounding an ongoing CPS investigation into teachers at Drummond Montessori School and Saucedo Scholastic Academy who refused to give the ISAT standardized test earlier this month.

CPS legal investigators interviewed Drummond students last week, infuriating their parents, who had not given their consent for the interviews. Investigators later talked with Saucedo teachers but said they did not interview students there.

“We are obliged to investigate the allegations of staff misconduct,” Byrd-Bennett said. “Our interviews are winding down and concluding, and after consultation with legal, I will bring back findings and recommendations for this board to consider.”

Many parents in the audience who spoke during the public comments section of the meeting criticized the district for the ISAT investigation. Parents said it was their decision – and not the teachers’ – to opt their children out of taking the ISAT.

“Who the heck thought it was a good idea to send an investigator in to question our kids?” asked Mary Zerkel, a Drummond parent. “Did our mayor approve this?”

School board silent on school turnarounds

Before the meeting, dozens of parents, teachers and community supporters rallied against a CPS proposal last Friday to “turn around” three elementary schools:  Dvorak in North Lawndale, McNair in Austin and Gresham in Auburn-Gresham. The board will vote on the proposal next month.

One Dvorak parent, Lisa Russell, asked the board to give the schools more resources to turn themselves around instead of turning over the management to an outside organization.

“I know we’re not moving as fast as you want us to, but we take every child from everywhere,” she said. “We take the children nobody wants.”

Russell also suggested that the board vote against a proposal to nearly double its budget for new furniture for CPS headquarters, which are changing locations later this year. Still, the board voted unanimously for the proposal, bringing the total furniture budget for the new office space to $9.5 million.

No more background checks for some volunteers

In other action, the board agreed unanimously to scale back CPS requirements on background checks for volunteers. The new tiered system makes it easier for parents and community members to get involved in schools, said Phil Hampton, who heads the district’s family and community engagement programs.

“We feel that the current policy and practice is somewhat restrictive and that’s why we’re here today,” he said. “We want to increase access to interested volunteers, in particular to parents and non-parents, while also providing the necessary safeguards for students and staff.”

Criminal background checks will now only be required for parent volunteers who spend more than 10 hours per week at the school their child attends, and non-parent volunteers who work five hours per week. Chaperones on overnight school-sponsored trips, coaches, one-on-one tutors and others with direct, regular contact with students will still have to undergo background checks.

In the News: CPS wants $5 million for new HQ furniture

March 26, 2014 - 6:55am

Chicago Public Schools is seeking to double its furniture budget to $9.5 million, chalking up $5 million of that to an upcoming move of its central headquarters. District officials want the Board of Education to approve the expense for the purchase and installation of new office furniture by Staples at Wednesday’s monthly meeting, a proposal the Chicago Teachers Union called “poor stewardship of money.” (Sun-Times)

TESTING PROBE RILES PARENTS: Some parents outraged over Chicago Public Schools interviewing children without parental consent in a probe into standardized testing at a Bucktown school said Monday they want the district to give them transcripts of the conversations and have expressed interest in talking to lawyers about potential legal issues of what happened. (DNAInfo)

AUSL GETS AUSTIN TURNAROUND: Less than a year after closing four elementary schools in Austin, CPS has announced it will overhaul a fifth Austin school. Chicago Public Schools said late last week it will designate Ronald E. McNair Elementary as a “turnaround” school; the privately run Academy for Urban School Leadership will operate the school starting with the 2014-2015 academic year. (Austin Talks)

NEW VISION FOR NYC SCHOOLS: In remarks Sunday before the congregants of the Riverside Church, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio laid out his vision for New York City’s schools and pledged an approach that fosters fairness and progress across the entire school system. (NYC)

NEW STANDARDIZED TESTS: Schools across California began administering new standardized tests Tuesday that are designed to demand more of students and offer a clearer picture of how much they are learning. More than 3 million students will be tested in English and math through June 6, and for the first time, everyone will take the exams on a computer — either tablet, laptop or desktop.  The new tests are linked to state learning goals that have also been adopted by 44 other states and the District of Columbia. The tests and learning standards have raised philosophical and political questions across the country.

Q&A with Randi Weingarten

March 25, 2014 - 1:38pm

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten was in Chicago on March 24 to deliver the annual “Distinguished Labor Leader Lecture” at Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Weingarten and the 1.5-million member AFT made national news recently when Weingarten announced the union would no longer accept money from the influential Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the AFT’s Innovation Fund. In this interview with Catalyst Chicago Associate Editor Melissa Sanchez, Weingarten talked about that decision, Chicago’s test boycott and charter union movement, teachers’ distrust of the Common Core and what can be done about it, and whether Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis should run for mayor.

(This interview has been condensed.)

Catalyst Chicago: So while it might seem like there’s never a dull moment in the Chicago education world, you’ve come at a particularly interesting time. What do you think of last week’s announcement that the district will “turn around” three more schools?

Randi Weingarten: CPS should be fixing, not closing public schools. This is not about charters vs. non charters. There’s room in this city for lots of different school designs, as long as they’re public schools. Parents want good neighborhood public schools. Schools that are safe. Schools that are welcoming. Schools that help engage kids in terms of arts, music and have the services they need like guidance services and nursing services. They don’t want schools to be shuttered.

CC: Also last week, the CPS legal department interviewed children without their parents’ consent as part of an investigation into some teachers’ decision to boycott the ISAT standardized test. Some parents say they feel their kids are being used as pawns in a political fight. How do you think this will end?

RW: First off, in the two schools where you had teachers actually boycott the test, they voted to join a parent-led boycott of the ISAT. This boycott started with parents, not with teachers. Those teachers were listening to the will of parents -- something that the school system should be listening to as well, not trying to interrogate parents’ children without parents’ knowledge. The issue here is: why do you even have an ISAT when everybody believes that test is unnecessary and irrelevant? This punitive action makes no sense. Frankly, people should be crediting the teachers for saying they want that time to actually work with kids.

CC: Earlier this month you announced that the AFT’s Innovation Fund will no longer accept money from the Gates Foundation because so many of your members don’t trust how the Common Core State Standards have been implemented. Are there other funders that members are asking you to reconsider accepting money from?

RW: I think this is a very unique issue. When the Broad Foundation seemed to be on the path of closing schools and stripping teachers of rights as opposed to working together and helping kids succeed, we also said we weren’t going to solicit funds from that foundation. The other major foundation here is the Walton Family Foundation, which doesn’t even pretend to respect workers. Look at what they’ve done in their own worksites throughout the country, stripping our kids’ parents – the people who work for them – of decent wages, of health security, of retirement security. So they don’t even pretend that teachers are an important part of this equation. And the third major foundation in this arena is the Gates Foundation.

I think that there are things that the Gates Foundation has done that are good, and I think there are things the Gates Foundation has done that need to be rethought. But regardless of what I think, the trust with your members is of paramount importance. So when they are so deeply distrustful of a foundation, one needs to listen to them. Even though we don’t believe that the foundation influenced our policymaking, the perception is more important than the reality. And so the line we drew is to say that prospectively, on something so important like the Innovation Project, where folks are trying new things and innovating and take different risks, we would look to replace that funding with members’ money.

CC: Do you think members will be willing to pay more in union dues to offset that loss?

RW: What we’ve said in the proposal that would be at our convention is that we’re asking for 5 cents per member per month to fully replace the funding we got from the Gates Foundation. It was a statement that said that the membership’s deep concern with what’s happening in schools today is more important than anyone’s grant money.

CC: What do you think it will take to reduce the overall distrust teachers have of the Common Core standards? Is it even possible?

RW: Look, in a place like California, there isn’t the deep distrust because California did two things: First, they decoupled it from testing. They didn’t do it permanently, but they also targeted resources for people to be comfortable with the transition. So there is much more openness to a transition to these standards that most people believe have real promise. If you think about schooling as fundamentally three things – how do you help people develop relations with each other and with adults; how you help kids apply knowledge, not just “know things”; and how do you help kids confront adversity and get up when they stumble -- then a transition to standards that are embedded in critical thinking and problem-solving is important. Common Core is not the only way of doing it. The problem [arises] when people think this is more about testing and measurement and reducing kids to an algorithm as opposed to the process of teaching and learning. Teachers get the difference.

CC: Teachers and staff at one of Chicago’s biggest networks of charter schools ratified their first labor contract last week. The local that negotiated the agreement is part of the AFT. How important are organizing efforts at charter schools for the AFT?

RW: They’re very important. In a city like this, where charter schools are a reality, teachers are teachers. They want a voice at work, whether they’re in a charter school or whether they’re in a traditional public school. They want to be part of helping kids succeed. They want to get the tools and conditions they need and decent pay for it. When you’re all rowing in the same direction, as the UNO contract suggested, then what happens is, we have a chance to help more kids. When you have huge polarization, you’re constantly in the conversation about who’s right.

Public education is how we help all kids succeed, not how do we try to eliminate each other. What you’re seeing in too many places is a ruse of austerity to justify starving schools. There’s just this constant drumbeat that public schools are bad. It creates this Catch-22 circle of starve the schools so they don’t have the funding that they need to help kids, particularly poor kids, so that it’s open to other alternatives, which then take the public dollars. And ironically, these other alternatives actually have been around for 20 years and they haven’t done any better than the public schools. And the public schools are the schools that have the accountability, the transparency, and also the public voice.

CC: CTU President Karen Lewis may be the most public adversary of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Many of her followers would love to see her run against him in next year’s mayoral race, although she’s suggested that won’t happen because she’s not a politician and her husband has said “no.” Do you think she should give it a shot?

RW: I am not … (laughs). Karen is a fantastic leader of our union. Most of us love doing the jobs we are doing, which is representing educators who want to make a difference in the lives of children and working with parents and communities to make a better life for those children.

In the News: Student group calls CPS discipline racially biased

March 25, 2014 - 6:35am

A student group joined religious and community leaders Monday in pushing for a "Campaign for Common Sense Discipline" in Chicago Public Schools. The groups presented data showing that African-American students were 30 times more likely to be expelled than white students in CPS last school year. (DNAInfo)

PRACTICE TEST TAKING: Students in Illinois schools will take a practice test this spring that will help them become familiar with next year’s line of new assessments in English Language Arts and mathematics and provide state policy makers and educators with valuable feedback before the tests are finalized. The new state tests are aligned to Illinois’ new learning standards and aim to deliver clear and timely information about what students know and can do and whether they can demonstrate the academic preparation necessary to succeed as citizens and in college and careers. (Press release)

TAXPAYERS FUND CREATIONISM IN CLASSROOM: Taxpayers in 14 states will bankroll nearly $1 billion this year in tuition for private schools, including hundreds of religious schools that teach Earth is less than 10,000 years old, Adam and Eve strolled the garden with dinosaurs, and much of modern biology, geology and cosmology is a web of lies. Now a major push to expand these voucher programs is under way in 26 states from Alaska to New York — a development that seems certain to sharply increase the investment. (Politico)

FALLING SHORT ON EDUCATIONAL EQUITY: New federal civil rights data show persistent and widespread disparities among disadvantaged students from prekindergarten through high school on key indicators—calling into question whether the national push for educational equity and college and career readiness for all students is working. (Education Week)

In the News: Progress cited in Race to the Top

March 24, 2014 - 8:16am

States have made great progress in the final year of Race to the Top, but there have been bumps in the road, according to a report by the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington that many consider to be closely aligned with the Obama administration. (Education Week)

MAKING ATTENDANCE PAY OFF: Harper High School students with good attendance could get a job out of it. The Rev. Johnny Banks Sr., executive director of the nonprofit A Knock At Midnight, last week told a group of 15 William Harper High School students and their parents that if they go to school every day on time for the next two weeks he would hire them at $10 per hour. (DNAInfo)

CONSUMERIST MESSAGES: Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis wants schools to teach social justice, not “consumerism,” she said in a video. Lewis spoke about ways to avoid “consumerist” messages while teaching subjects typically seen as apolitical, like math, at the annual conference of the Network for Public Education, a progressive advocacy group that backs public schools. (Daily Caller)

MEETING IN CHINA: Students from Thomas and South middle schools in Arlington Heights who began a 10-day trip to China on Tuesday got a chance to meet first lady Michelle Obama at the Summer Palace in Beijing on Saturday. Obama is on a good-will tour to China with her daughters and mother. (Daily Herald)

RANKING CHARTER SCHOOL LAWS: Although charter schools have been a part of the nation's education landscape for more than 20 years, states still have a long way to go in paving the way for them to successfully educate students, finds a new report from a research and advocacy group that supports charter schools. (Education Week)

CLARIFIYING CHARTER POSITION: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday acknowledged he has fallen short in explaining his position on charter schools, after coming under criticism from both sides of the debate. (Capital New York)

CPS proposes three new school turnarounds

March 21, 2014 - 6:28pm

CPS officials announced late Friday afternoon that they are proposing turnarounds for three schools: Dvorak in North Lawndale, McNair in Austin and Gresham in Auburn-Gresham.

Since 2006, CPS has been turning around schools—a process that involves laying off an entire staff. Though they can reapply for their jobs, most principals and teachers don’t stay on. Like most turnarounds in CPS, these schools will be managed by the not-for-profit teacher training program, the Academy for Urban School Leadership.

After a round of public and community hearings in early April, the proposals will likely be voted on at the April board meeting.

Angela Gordon, LSC chairwoman at Dvorak, said at first she didn’t know how to react, but as the afternoon went on, she pledged to fight the turnaround. “The mood at the school is sad and somber,” she said.

Gordon said she thinks Dvorak is a good school. She said she brought her children to Dvorak when she was homeless four years ago and the staff has stepped up and helped her family.

Low test scores are not entirely the fault of the teachers, she said. “It takes a village,” she said. “We need more parent support and more CPS support.”

Performance not stellar

AUSL currently manages 20 elementary turnaround schools and two high schools. CPS operated its own turnarounds at nine additional schools before former CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced in 2011 that the district would not undertake them any longer. Brizard said he would recruit other organizations to do so, but so far, no other groups have stepped forward.

CPS also has not turned around any high schools since the 2009-2010 school year. High school turnarounds, whether managed by CPS or AUSL, have had lackluster results.

Even elementary schools have not had stellar performance. Four of the AUSL turnarounds that are more than two years old score in the bottom 10 percent of all elementary schools. Ten of them are Level 3 schools, which is the lowest rating on the performance scale.

Interestingly, Chalmers, a new turnaround this year, moved up from Level 3 to Level 2 based on last year’s test scores and performance--when the pre-turnaround teachers were still in place.

CPS Network and Strategy Implementation Officer Adam Anderson said district officials think AUSL has had impressive results. Thirteen AUSL turnarounds improved at a faster rate than other district schools on the ISAT. AUSL students are also showing higher-than-average growth on the NWEA, the standardized test that CPS is using to determine student promotion and other decisions as it phases out the ISAT.

“These are the most challenging schools and the ones that need the most support,” Anderson said. “They are catching up to the district as a whole.”

Dvorak, McNair and Gresham are in the bottom 10 percent of elementary schools, but are not the lowest-performing.

When deciding which schools to turn around, CPS officials look at more than the ratings under the district's performance policy, Anderson said. They also look at the trajectory of achievement and whether the current staff can put the school on a better path.

Anderson said Dvorak, McNair and Gresham have low attendance compared to the district average and noted that it translates into many missed days of instruction.

Critics speak out

Soon after the announcement, the Chicago Teachers Union issued a press release criticizing the proposals. CPS’ Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley and Board President David Vitale were high-level AUSL officials, which CTU leaders see as a conflict of interest.

The CTU also is highly critical of the fact that turnarounds usually result in layoffs of veteran, mostly black teachers who are replaced with less-experienced, mostly white teachers.  

Of the 70 teachers at Dvorak, Gresham and McNair, 64 percent are African American, compared to 25 percent in CPS overall, according to the 2011-2012 teacher service records maintained by the Illinois State Board of Education. Also, teachers at the three schools have an average of 15 years of experience, compared to 12.75  years in CPS.

“This is the mayor’s continued war on our schools and older black educators. This is nothing more than school closings by another name,” said CTU President Karen Lewis in a press release.

Lewis said school turnarounds are akin to school closings.

The CTU and others also criticize AUSL turnarounds because schools end up being run by private entities. And with more charter schools opening every year, CPS is responsible for managing fewer and fewer schools.

North Lawndale has been hit especially hard. If these turnarounds are approved, almost half of North Lawndale’s 18 elementary schools will be under private management: Three will be AUSL turnarounds and five are charter schools.

After watching two schools close last year in North Lawndale, Gordon said she feels as though Dvorak is predestined to either close or become a charter school. “What will happen if the scores don’t move with the turnaround?” she said. “Then what?”

Austin also is home to two other AUSL turnarounds.

Last year, as CPS was in the midst of shuttering 50 elementary schools, officials proposed turning around Barton in Auburn-Gresham, but the school was pulled off the list at the last minute by CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Harvard in Auburn Gresham has been a turnaround school since the 2007-2008 school year.

Click here for detailed information on the race and experience of teachers at the proposed turnaround schools.

In the News: DOE finds inequality in number of fronts

March 21, 2014 - 8:48am

Black students are more likely than white students to be suspended from school, to have less access to rigorous math and science classes, and to be taught by lower-paid teachers with less experience, according to comprehensive data released Friday by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. (The New York Times)

In the first analysis in nearly 15 years of information from all of the country’s 97,000 public schools, the Education Department found a pattern of inequality on a number of fronts, with race as the dividing factor.

CONDOM PILOT EXPANDS: Chicago Public Schools and the city’s public health department will be expanding a pilot program to make condoms available to high school students to 24 schools this fall as part of an ongoing effort to combat teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among young people. School officials said currently condoms are available at two district schools—Collins High School and Foreman High School. The district will be working with the Chicago Department of Public Health to identify which 24 schools will get the condoms, but CPS spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said it is ultimately up to each principal to decide whether condoms will be available in their school building. (Tribune)

CATHOLIC SCHOOLS CHIEF CRIES FOUL: Changes in the standardized testing that Chicago Public Schools is requiring for entry to selective-enrollment high schools puts Catholic school students at a distinct disadvantage, the superintendent of the city's Catholic schools says in a letter sent to the district and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (Tribune)

STUDENTS QUESTIONED: Fury is spreading among some parents of children at a Bucktown public school where investigators from the Chicago Public School's Law Department have been taking students out of classrooms and questioning them behind closed doors, sources confirmed Thursday. (DNAInfo)