Catalyst Chicago

Subscribe to Catalyst Chicago feed
Stories and items from the Catalyst Chicago Front Page
Updated: 36 min 4 sec ago

Conversations with teachers: Discipline

September 4, 2014 - 4:10pm

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has talked more passionately about reducing suspensions and expulsions than almost any other subject. And for the first time ever this year, the district is publishing school-level statistics on discipline.

Activists hope that shedding light on what is happening with school discipline will help expose problem areas so they can be addressed. They also hope principals will consider implementing alternatives to discipline that puts students out of school, especially black boys, who are disproportionately targeted.

But even activists who heralded the district’s new transparency and apparent willingness to confront the issue remain worried because money for restorative practices, such as peace rooms, peer juries or counseling, remains scarce.  Teachers, as a result, have few outlets to help them deal with problem behavior.

 At Catalyst Chicago’s recent teacher roundtable, participants said they have gotten the message that schools should curb suspensions and expressed dissatisfaction with the practice. In order for students to improve academically, they need to be in class, they said.

However, the conversation quickly shifted from discipline to what emerged as the underlying concern: a lack of support for troubled students.

Participants in our latest roundtable were Monty Adams, a science teacher at Latino Youth High School, an alternative charter school; Jamie Cordes, a ninth- and 10th-grade English teacher at Noble Street Charter College Prep; Kris Himebaugh, an English teacher and Chicago Teachers Union delegate at Orr High, a turnaround school managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership; Hen Kennedy, a seventh- and eighth-grade history and civics teacher at Carl Von Linne Elementary; and Amy Rosenwasser, a long-time special education teacher who now teaches fifth grade at Pritzker Elementary School.

Here is what they had to say:

Monty Adams: Being at an alternative school, I always talk to the kids. Most of them you would never imagine had been kicked out of a public school. They are the nicest kids. I get to talk to them, find out why they were kicked out of school, for fighting or something. I can’t imagine doing that. I’ve even had kids kicked out of CPS because of numerous medical absences. These are the children we get. I want to keep teaching at the alternative school. I love it. But I don’t understand the rationale sometimes.

Hen Kennedy: We have definitely gotten that message to not expect [misbehavior] to end in a suspension. It is something I agree with. I don’t think suspension is particularly effective. I have heard grumblings. But I think [the grumblers] also don’t think it is the most useful solution. The catch is, I am not sure we’re being taught effective alternatives to suspension. I think it is important to not suspend kids whenever possible. But it is also important to have counseling or whatever to replace that.

Adams: This year we have a principal and a dean of discipline. It is so nice to be able to teach and, if there is a student you're having a problem with who won’t be cooperative, just to be able to pick up the phone. That doesn't come back and reflect poorly on me. In fact, I can tell a student it’s kind of out of my hands. “Just go and calm down and talk to somebody else.” A lot of times they do.

They come in with all kinds of emotional problems. They need counseling. They need somebody to cool down with. You can’t do that simultaneously with teaching.

Kris Himebaugh: That is another [effect] of the budget cut. Our social worker and psychologist both got cut down to part-time and you're talking about Orr High School. You're talking about kids who are in and out of jail, who see their friends, siblings, parents die on the streets. My students get shot and killed. And so we have a half-time social worker and psychologist?

Kennedy:  We’re lucky enough to have a phenomenal full-time counselor. I can’t even imagine how our school would function without it.

Amy Rosenwasser:  We don’t have a full-time social worker. There is a definite push being made [for a social-emotional program]. We had two days of training at the end of the school year and two more next week on The Responsive Classroom, which is supposed to be a way to deal with problems in the classroom. The paraprofessionals and security [workers] did not have to report to school on those days and so they did not have to receive the training. It requires everyone to be on the same page [yet] we only had training with the teachers.

There also has to be something in place for those kids that don’t respond to that. Maybe there is something that is going to be in place, but I think a lot of schools don’t have that.

Adams:  When I was in Waukegan, [administrators] would look at it almost in a punitive way, if you had trouble with one of your students in your classroom and had to call security or something like that. Having deans of discipline is a great solution. Being able to remove that responsibility (to discipline) from [the teacher] and let the dean deal with those issues--as a result, I had much better rapport with each student because I don’t have to get involved emotionally.

Jamie Cordes: In terms of suspensions, I feel very much like [Monty] was saying. We have a dean of discipline and a culture team, and if a kid is really disrupting the learning [environment], that’s who they go to. It won’t always lead to a suspension. We've got a social worker. We've got a culture team that is quasi-security, but building relationships with students as well. We are trying to pilot a peer mediation program for certain conflicts, like student conflicts, to get more student ownership in terms of the discipline policy. But there are some things that, according to our discipline code, trigger automatic suspensions, such as drug possession or fighting.  I want to keep my kids in school. If the kid can come back to my class and still learn, then great. If a kid is on the way out and is suspended, I want them to get work in their hands so they can come back prepared. We’ve got demerits and suspensions to use when necessary. Ultimately, we want kids in class learning.

Take 5: Karen Lewis questions, UNO and the IRS, Kennedy-King honor

September 4, 2014 - 7:57am

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis still hasn’t made up her mind -- at least not publicly -- about whether she’ll run for mayor against incumbent Rahm Emanuel. But she’s been hitting the pavement, talking with residents and asking followers to help circulate a petition to get her name on the ballot.

But all the quasi-campaigning has some teachers a little worried. During a teacher roundtable organized by Catalyst last month, some CTU members in the room expressed concern about what a campaign run would mean for leadership, especially with contract negotiations approaching. “If she runs, is she going to quit her job at the CTU? Who is going to take over?” one teacher asked. “And what will that mean for contract negotiations?” asked another.

Lewis told Catalyst she’s been asking herself the same questions but said that it’s important to remember that “union negotiations are done by a very large group of people. It’s not just me at the table.” At the moment, she says, she has no intention of resigning from her CTU gig. That’s a matter she first needs to discuss with both her executive board and the House of Delegates. “This issue is kind of like putting the horse before the cart,” she says.

2. First day turnaround… Gresham Elementary School students learned Tuesday what it means to sweat the small stuff, reported the Chicago Sun-Times. As a newly-minted school turnaround, it’s now run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership. AUSL, which has been overhauling schools since 2004, has a detailed checklist for operating its schools. The list includes things like standing in line leaving a square floor tile between students and waiting to use the bathroom at Level Zero (perfectly quiet).

The staff and parents at Gresham waged a major battle against the turnaround. At one point, some of the parent activists thought they had won over CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. The latest NWEA test scores show that about two-thirds of the 24 elementary schools run by AUSL are among the lowest 25 percent in reading. However, 10 of the 24 are among the highest 25 percent in test-score growth.

3. More UNO trouble…  The Chicago Sun-Times has reported that UNO charter schools is now being audited by the IRS. UNO’s (United Neighborhood Organization) troubles first boiled up when the newspaper reported apparent conflicts of interest in spending a $95 million state construction grant. Because the charter network did not reveal these conflicts, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission accused them of defrauding investors. According to the Sun-Times, the IRS investigation has to do with the bonds issued through the Illinois Finance Authority, a state agency that provides non-profits with low interest loans. Over the years, the agency has provided bonds for Learn, Namaste and Noble charter school networks.

This year, CPS allocated $84.5 million for UNO to run 15 schools serving a projected 7,909 students. The board gave UNO permission to open two new schools this fall, but UNO decided to hold off. UNO is currently the third largest charter network in CPS.

4. Kennedy-King honored… The South Side community college is one of 10 finalists in the Aspen Prize for Community Colleges, which carries with it a $1 million award. The award judges how community colleges are doing in getting their students to graduate and get a job, especially focusing on equitable outcomes for poor black and Latino students. Staff from the Aspen Institute will spend the next three months visiting the 10 campuses. The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy organization based in Washington D.C.

Since 2011, the City Colleges have been undergoing a process leaders call “reinvention.” In a Catalyst interview with Chancellor Cheryl Hyman, she said the goal of the initiative was to increase the number of students earning college credentials, transferring to bachelor degree programs and to improve the outcomes for those students who need remediation. The fourth is to increase the number of adult education students who succeed at college-level courses.

This summer, PBS interviewed Hyman as part of their series Rethinking College and reported that the number of graduates has doubled from 2,000 to 4,000 since “reinvention” was put in place.

5. Massive pre-K expansion in NYC… One thing Chicago’s city and teacher union leaders seem to agree on is that expanded early learning opportunities would be a good thing. Chicago Teachers Union issued a call for universal preschool last week, not too long after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel shared his own plan to expand pre-K enrollment to an additional 1,500 low-income 4-year-olds.

With all this extra attention on preschool, it might be worthwhile to see what happens when a major U.S. city actually attempts to unroll universal preschool. More than 50,000 4-year-olds in New York City have been enrolled in free full-day prekindergarten as part of one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most ambitious initiatives since he took office. The expansion has involved getting an additional $300 million in state funds, training thousands of teachers and hiring nearly 200 inspectors, teaching coaches and enrollment specialists.

But as Chalkbeat New York reports, “some skepticism of the pace of the plan has persisted, especially around basic concerns over child safety and more challenging concerns about curriculum standards and teacher quality.” Just last week the city’s comptroller complained that his office has received less than half of the center contracts he needs to review -- to ensure vendors have proper documentation such as insurance and background checks on staff.

Conversations with teachers: Evaluations

September 3, 2014 - 11:33am

For most CPS teachers, this is the year the district’s new evaluation system finally means something. And that’s a scary prospect.

When the Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago Students (known as REACH) system went into effect last year, it only applied to non-tenured teachers and those with lower ratings (satisfactory or unsatisfactory) ratings under the prior, decades -old checklist system.

But starting this school year, all teachers will be evaluated using the new system, which was launched in 2012 to comply with a state law requiring all teacher evaluations to be tied to growth in student scores on standardized tests. Under the new system, 30 percent of evaluation scores will be based on test score improvement; 70 percent will be based on principal observations using the Framework for Teaching tool.

Catalyst Chicago asked teachers about REACH, how their own informal evaluations went last year, and their thoughts on evaluations in general during our recent roundtable discussion. Today, for the second part in our series “Conversations with Teachers,we’re publishing a condensed and edited version of the discussion. (Read Part 1 here.)

Participants in the roundtable discussion included included two charter school teachers who are not evaluated using REACH: Monty Adams, a forensic science, health and chemistry teacher at Latino Youth High School, an alternative school; and Jamie Cordes, a ninth- and 10th-grade English teacher at Noble Street College Prep. The other teachers were Kris Himebaugh, a 10th-grade English teacher and union delegate at Orr High School, a turnaround school managed by Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL); Hen Kennedy, a seventh- and eighth-grade history and civics teacher at Carl Von Linne Elementary; and Amy Rosenwasser, a long-time special education teacher who now teaches fifth grade at Pritzker Elementary School.

Catalyst Chicago: Tell us how last year’s trial run with REACH went. The evaluations are finally going to mean something this year, right?

 Kris Himebaugh: We don’t know how we did last year, because we won’t get our evaluation scores until mid-September. I just went to a professional development on REACH, and they told us that.

Hen Kennedy: So how do they use that for staffing decisions?

Himebaugh: Good question.

Kennedy: Sounds disruptive.

Amy Rosenwasser: There are things that really concerned me about the evaluations. Part of our evaluation is based on the NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association assessments), and the growth shown between the spring of 2013 and spring 2014. But the NWEA itself was given in a different manner from one year to the next. In 2013, for example, the kids could use a real calculator for anything on the math section. This time, only if the NWEA [system] feels you need a calculator does one show up on the screen, and you have to click on it.

So you have students who may not be able to do the math calculations with a piece of paper or in their head, who a year ago could have gotten the question right by using a handheld calculator. Now they have to use something different and it didn’t always pop up. In that respect, those were not the same tests.

Kennedy: One thing I don’t understand is why they don’t disregard outliers. We had one kid who was having a rough day and [his growth] was minus 24 points. I know he grew last year. I know he was having a rough day. That happens. And once I taught a kid who allegedly grew five levels in math in six months. I think both of those scores – the highest and the lowest -- should be disregarded when evaluating teachers.

Catalyst: Does knowing that it is part of your evaluation affect how you talk about the test with your students?

Rosenwasser: Yeah. I don’t say, “Look, I could lose my job if you don’t do well.” But in my head I’m thinking that. And I say, “I really expect you to take this seriously. I really expect you do your best. Take your time.” I do everything other than say “Look, my job depends on this.”

Catalyst: What about principal observations, which account for the bulk of the ratings?

Kennedy: I think I’ve really benefitted as an untenured teacher, because I had four observations last year. And with each observation there’s a pre- and post-evaluation conference. So it became more like, “Here’s another one coming up.” That’s quite a bit of time spent with the principal, which I think helped me get to know her better and get more comfortable. And I have a principal who makes it a real supportive thing, as opposed to an adversarial thing.

Catalyst: For our AUSL teacher, how do you think that evaluations are being rolled out? (Teachers at AUSL schools are also evaluated with REACH, although they must follow an additional protocol.)

Himebaugh: I was on leave last year so I didn’t get to experience the Framework. But in previous years, I was in a constant state of fear during observations. I was constantly fearing what was going to happen, who was going to pop into my room, what they were going to see, what they were going to mark me down on.

Monty Adams: I think what Kris is saying applies to a lot of schools, not just AUSL.

Rosenwasser: For me, last year my principal moved me from special ed, where I’m a National Board Certified Teacher and I had always received superior ratings, to a fifth grade general education position, for no real reason other than I think she wants me to leave. I am not an exceptional fifth-grade teacher, or I wasn’t last year. The whole time I kept thinking, “Oh my God, she is going to walk in. She’s going to see something.” I think my kids were doing very well. They’re very engaged. But you just need that one time where you get a “basic” rating and then you're done.

Rosenwasser: My unofficial rating last year was done just before my class went to lunch. The principal noted that one kid wasn’t pay attention.

Himebaugh: They were probably starving,

Rosenwasser: That’s when you chose to come, right when we’re going to lunch? That’s not the same as coming in in the middle of a reading lesson.

Catalyst: What do evaluations look like at Noble?

Jamie Cordes: We don’t have a network-wide evaluation tool. We don’t have REACH. We have a campus-specific system. Our principals set up more holistic evaluations, where you’re scored around instruction and leadership. It’s not really tied to hiring or firing decisions. The way it’s messaged to me is, if you’re not a good fit that could be a problem. We’re not tenured. The message is and has been that the EPASS [test score] data is an important measurement but I don’t feel and I don’t think teachers in my building feel it’s the be-all, end-all of the year.

Catalyst: And observations?

Cordes: You have an instructional coach -- in most cases it’s a dean of instruction -- who’s coming to your room every other week. So it’s an observation one week and a meeting the next, and that sort of cycle continues. And that really does feel supportive and doesn’t feel tied to any sort of evaluation of salary or hiring or firing decisions. Bonus pay is tied to the historic best in the Noble Network growth on your section of EPASS. And I think there’s merit pay if you’re an Advanced Placement teacher.

Adams: People usually do their best work when they feel supported and appreciated. The thing that bothers me the most about these evaluations is it makes it an adversarial process rather than a process to support people. We’re coming to work every day because we like the job. We’re not coming for the paycheck. As [Cordes] said, in situations where a teacher is not a good fit in a school, that’s a different thing. But we’re all out there trying our darndest to help these children and that’s what should be appreciated.

Himebaugh: You know who should evaluate teachers? Other teachers. We want what’s best for our kids. If you’re a friend of mine, I’m sorry but if you’re not doing well then I would like to show you some strategies to help you improve.

Rosenwasser: And we do that in the lunchroom when we’re all sitting there. Right now, I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do when school starts because I’m going to have an all-boys classroom. Am I going to talk about what’s happening in Ferguson [since the police shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown]? Where am I going to get information that’s appropriate for fifth-grade minority boys when I’m an older white Jewish woman? This is their life, not mine. So what am I going to do? And how will that affect me if the lesson I’m trying to do is not successful when the principal comes in to do an informal observation? Maybe instead I’ll do something that I know will be successful, just in case somebody walks in. It makes it much harder to take risks.

Kennedy: To me, any good tool can be misused. I mean, if you try to use a snow shovel to rake a yard, you’re going to kill the grass. To me, the Framework presents a lot of opportunities, but if you don't have the leadership in place it’s a lost opportunity and a negative experience. REACH is now in place and now the district should focus on principal quality, making sure principals have significant classroom experience and leadership skills so they know how build rapport.

Conversations with teachers: Testing

September 2, 2014 - 1:25pm

What’s on teachers’ minds as a new school year gets under way?

That question led Catalyst Chicago to invite a group of teachers to our office recently for a roundtable discussion on the issues they believe are important to improving education, but don’t always get the public attention they deserve.

We reached out to more than a half-dozen educators from traditional public schools, charters and alternative schools. Five showed up for the discussion and had a lot to say: For nearly two hours they shared their thoughts about a range of topics, from testing and evaluations to student discipline and money matters.

(Catalyst convened a similar roundtable discussion in May with principals that resulted in a four-part series.)

Participants in our latest roundtable were Monty Adams, a science teacher at Latino Youth High School, an alternative charter school; Jamie Cordes, a ninth- and 10th-grade English teacher at Noble Street Charter College Prep; Kris Himebaugh, an English teacher and Chicago Teachers Union delegate at Orr High, a turnaround school managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership; Hen Kennedy, a seventh- and eighth-grade history and civics teacher at Carl Von Linne Elementary; and Amy Rosenwasser, a long-time special education teacher who now teaches fifth grade at Pritzker Elementary School.

Catalyst transcribed and divided the discussion into a four-part series, which has been edited for clarity. Today, on the first day most CPS students return to school, we begin the series with a conversation about what seemed to be the biggest source of frustration — and confusion — among the group: testing.

It’s worth highlighting that some teachers were still unclear on whether all schools will be required to give the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (known as the PARCC) this year — and whether it will count toward evaluations. CPS officials confirmed last week that the PARCC is definitely on the district’s calendar for next spring, but it won’t be used for evaluations of teachers, schools or principals.

Illinois is requiring all districts to give the PARCC next spring to comply with federal mandates related to using curricula that are aligned to the Common Core State Standards. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett — as well as CTU President Karen Lewis — have both expressed concerns about what the PARCC’s roll-out will look like, given the lack of discussion about the results of a pilot program last spring.

“We haven’t seen any of the information from the pilot,” Lewis said. “And the PARCC is supposed to be computer-based, but some of our schools don’t have the bandwidth to handle that.”

CPS officials said last week they have shared their concerns with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and indicated they may ask for some sort of waiver or delay on the assessment.

Here’s what teachers had to say about assessments:

Kris Himebaugh: I counted how many tests I would have to give this year that don’t even count for a grade and it would be at least eight. That doesn’t mean finals I would give, or quarter finals, or even a vocabulary l test.

Hen Kennedy: For us, some of those tests last for multiple days.

Amy Rosenwasser: I was just looking at the testing calendar Raise Your Hand Illinois posted on Twitter, and we’ll be giving the PARCC basically from the beginning of March until the end of the school year. My class may not be testing every day, but the school is testing and I can’t really plan anything because what if that’s my time to go in and test? What if something happens so that the computer system goes down?

Monty Adams: We have a small school, so it’d be nice if they just tested everybody on a single day. But because of the attendance problems, sometimes kids are taken out of their class — so you have half the class instead of the whole class. It’s incredibly disruptive to our teaching.

Kennedy: I feel like regardless of whether you advocate for more vocational opportunities or more college preparedness, the emphasis on standardized testing is doing a disservice to kids either way. You just don’t have to take standardized tests in life. It’s not preparing kids for life.

Adams: You can’t get inside of a kid’s head when everything is a multiple-guess answer. On any tests I make, I always make sure there are short answers or essays or you have to figure something out mathematically or show your work.

Rosenwasser: I don’t know how many of you have taken the sample PARCC test, but the biggest problem I’ve seen is just the navigation. Normally, when you’re taking something on a computer, and you finish, it automatically goes to the next page or there’s something that says “next” on the bottom right. But it’s not that way with the PARCC. There’s an arrow on the top left, and you’re just supposed to figure it out. I thought, “If I’m having trouble with this, how are 10-year-olds going to be able to figure this out, much less type and finish in 50 minutes or whatever?”

Kennedy: None of my kids can type. I really worry about kids who are already on the margins when they take tests like that. I’ve seen so many kids cry before tests, throw up before tests. The stress is very, very real to them. It’s kind of ironic, because for a lot of them it’s not actually a very meaningful test. But they absorb the stress around them. I don’t want my kids to feel like failures. I think the adaptive tests are better. The NWEA is better because you can focus on growth as opposed to just a static achievement level. But those [tests] still have their own issues in terms of high stress and high stakes.

Adams: The at-risk kids come in with so much baggage and such a feeling of failure. I spend probably about half the year trying to build their self-esteem when I first get them. These things don’t build self-esteem.

Jamie Cordes: I think the PARCC is really pushing thinking in the right way, and rigor in the right way. I agree that it’s going to be an awkward year while they iron out the kinks. And I’m not sure what it means to colleges yet, for example.

Himebaugh: What’s the right kind of thinking?

Cordes: I would say, a question that asks students to choose an answer that’s evidence-based, and also to provide a rationale, is going to be higher-order [thinking compared to] filling in a bubble. I can see on an English test someone saying, “You need a comma there.” But I don't know if you’re just guessing. I don't know what your rationale is.

Adams: But that’s what the Common Core is supposed to be based on. You’re supposed to be doing that in the classroom.

Cordes: I understand. I think that’s good. I totally understand, especially in the middle years, how testing for everyone might not be appropriate. Maybe the politics and measuring of it get complicated, but I also think that having some sort of yardstick is important, just so I know where I am headed.

Himebaugh: Should the rigor for your students be the same as for mine?

Cordes: I don’t know. Not knowing your students and not having been in your school, it’s hard for me to say. But I think that if you’re going to say, “This is the track for a kid to get into college, and these are the tests that are going to get them there,” then those tests are worthwhile and it’s an important message to students that this is what someone who is ready to be a college freshmen in a year or two is expected to do.

Kennedy: I just wanted to clarify something--I think the NWEA has been a useful yardstick. What concerns me is when it’s used as more than a yardstick. I like to have a lot of data points, and for the NWEA to be one on that broad spectrum of data points.

Catalyst: What is your experience with individualized, computer-based programs that help get students up to speed for these tests?

Kennedy: My experience with the Compass program was at the school where I taught previously. It’s very appealing because the program automatically matches kids up with what the test shows they need to work on. So there’s no work for the teacher involved in that, which is very appealing…

Himebaugh: Which eliminates your job eventually.

(laughter in room)

Kennedy: Which eliminates your job eventually, absolutely. But I think those programs can be useful to practice some very simple skills, like multiplication facts. I find their use beyond that to be problematic because it’s still ultimately pre-constructed, multiple-choice questions that students are responding to. But I’ve heard of these programs being used very widely in schools. At my school, there was a lot of pressure just to hit certain targets in terms of number of minutes per child per week, to make sure we were getting enough Compass and it would help their NWEA scores.

Catalyst: How many minutes?

Kennedy: I don’t recall, because I didn’t hit them. It was a school target, a grade-level target, so I never was called out individually for not hitting a target. It was never that type of environment. It was more like, “We haven’t spent enough time on Compass, make sure you’re getting to the lab.” It made me really uncomfortable.

Adams: That’s one thing that bothers me about the field of education. Everyone is still trying to come up with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ in education. And it doesn’t exist. Everyone is different, and they have unique things they want to pursue. I think we need to offer a wide spectrum of choices to students and sometimes force them to go into directions they’re uncomfortable with, because there’s no one-size-fits all.

Take 5: Safe Passage expands, test score analysis, a new blog

September 2, 2014 - 10:13am

It was a morning of anxiety and excitement for hundreds of thousands of CPS students who headed back to school today. And for their parents, too. “I’m happy for her but nervous, too. It’s her last year of elementary school,” said Jenny Santos, whose eyes welled up as she watched her eighth-grade daughter walk into Monroe Elementary School near Logan Square.

Many parents told Catalyst Chicago they were relieved to know more adults will be watching their children on their way to school this year, after a $10 million state investment in the CPS Safe Passage program. The program, which works to reduce incidents of crime and boost attendance, will now encompass 133 elementary and high schools.

“There needs to be more control, more security at these schools,” said Ernesto Ramirez, after ensuring his 14-year-old daughter walked through the doors at Kelvyn Park High School. The expansion was announced last week by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Pat Quinn, both Democrats running for reelection.

On the city politics front, one parent said she doesn’t care whether Emanuel is reelected -- or is beat by his potential challenger, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. “I just hope they’re both doing it because that’s what’s best for our kids,” said Lilia Mendez, as she waited for her a bus to pick up her children, students at Sabin Magnet Dual Language School. “What I do worry about is whether the mayor can take on a more conciliatory tone with the teachers this year, to avoid any future conflicts or strikes.”

2. Graduation next… Though they are serving ever fewer students, neighborhood high schools showed the biggest jump in five-year cohort graduation rates, shows a Catalyst analysis of school-level data. Mayor Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced last week that graduation rates jumped by 4 percent in one year. Neighborhood high schools rose from 64 percent to about 69 percent, though at 12 schools, half or less than half the students graduated. The worst rate was at Orr High School--a turnaround school run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership -- where only 42.5 percent got their diploma within five years. The best was Lake View High School, at nearly 86 percent.

Charter schools, with 76 percent of their students graduating within five years, continue to have a markedly higher graduation rate than neighborhood schools, though lower than selective and magnet schools.

What is not known is how of the many of the students counted as graduates actually got their diploma from an alternative school. The five-year cohort rate counts students as graduates of the school where they started as freshmen, regardless of where they actually earned thier diploma. Over the last five years, the number of alternative schools in CPS has doubled. The expansion continues this year with nine more slated to open.

3. Another test-score analysis… The Chicago Sun Times reported this weekend that charter elementary schools showed less growth on the NWEA than did district run schools. It is a solid analysis that is sure to reinvigorate the debate about why CPS is investing in charter schools. The article quotes activist Dwayne Truss, who says a lot of marketing paints neighborhood schools as “horrible places and that charter schools are better.” This analysis seems to say that this image is not true, he says. Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere, who alerted the Sun-Times to the disparity, notes in a follow-up editorial that it is unfortunate that CPS is funneling poor black and Latino students to charter schools and turnaround schools, schools that are improving more slowly, while an increasing number of Caucasian and Asian students go to neighborhood schools that show the most growth.

Illinois Network of Charter Schools President Andrew Broy points out that some of the higher-performing charter schools, such as the LEARN network and Namaste, did not provide scores on the NWEA, a test that allows for national comparisons. CPS leaders have said that as part of contract renewals, they will require to charters to agree to provide NWEA scores, but currently, most of their contracts say the district will judge them based on the ISAT.

There are other reasons to be a bit cautious when drawing conclusions from the data. All the growth in CPS-run schools is a comparison between spring 2013 and spring 2014. But of the 58 charter schools that provided scores, 35 did not provide information for spring 2013. A number of the charter schools did not even exist or were adding grades at the time, so it's unclear what time period the growth is measuring.

4. Speaking of the charter school debate…. Some familiar names---former CPS communications head Peter Cunningham, along with former deputy Michael Vaughn, former Chicago Tribune education reporter Tracey Dell’Angela and a network of others--launched a website Monday called educationpost.com. The three issues they intend to tackle are: high standards for all children; taking responsibility, which is about accountability and testing; and high-quality charter schools. Cunningham and the others left CPS with Arnie Duncan and went to Washington. Now they are back in Chicago.

In his opening blog, Cunningham states upfront that the organization is being supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation--all strong backers of charter schools. Cunningham is being transparent by admitting this and surely he and the others involved know that these funders are political hot buttons, and their support will elicit assumptions about the blog’s point of view and true intent.  

Still, Cunningham’s blog insists the organization wants to engage in a conversation with diverse voices. The website will feature columns written by parents, teachers and students, he writes. “At Education Post, we want to foster a new education conversation--based on more hard facts and fewer unsupported opinions, more fair-mindedness and less name-calling, more concrete solutions and fewer impassioned excuses for why nothing can be done.”

The webpage also features an impassioned argument in support of the Common Core by Dell’Angela and a nifty little first day of school video at Montessori School of Englewood.

5. Later start time? Last week the American Academy of Pediatrics urged schools to push back the starting times for middle- and high-school students to 8:30 a.m. or later, noting that the average teenager is sleep-deprived.

Judith Owens, lead author of the academy's policy statement and director of sleep medicine at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, called teen insomnia "a national public health crisis” and told the Chicago Tribune that "delaying school start times is one of the most effective interventions to reduce the negative consequences of chronic sleep loss.”

But don’t expect any changes any time soon at CPS. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he’s not about to use “preliminary research” to reconsider start times in Chicago.

 

 

 





Take 5: Graduation rate up, Urban Prep's first class, end of PURE?

August 28, 2014 - 9:17am

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett are basking in the latest graduation and on-track rate numbers, saying the five-year cohort graduation rate is now nearly 70 percent. Instead of holding a press conference and taking questions, though, Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett announced it in an editorial in the Sun-Times.  They credit full-day kindergarten, the longer school day and better programs in neighborhood high schools, such as International Baccalaureate and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.

Of course, these initiatives probably had little effect on the graduation rate, as they are too recent to have had any impact on the cohort of students in question, who entered high school in 2009-2010. The Consortium on Chicago School Research has another theory: In 2005, the consortium put out a study stating that freshmen who earn at least five credits and no more than one “F” in a semester in a core course are 3-1/12 times more likely to graduate in four years. The findings prompted CPS to hire on-track coordinators to stay on top of freshmen, though many of those support positions have vanished due to budget cuts.

Even without the supports, though, the on-track rate is 84.1 percent, according to Byrd-Bennett’s announcement at Wednesday’s board meeting. Board member Henry Bienen said it was a fresh change of pace to hear positive news about CPS. “We hear so much criticism of staff and the board, on school closings, on investments, on our priorities,” he said. “But at the end of the day, the metrics are the metrics. This tells us not that we’re perfect, but that success is happening […]. We can put almost everything else on the side when we see this kind of data.”

Chief of Accountability John Barker said school-level graduation and freshman on-track data should be available sometime Thursday.

2. After graduation… The Chicago Tribune revisits the first class of graduates from Urban Prep Charter School, the city’s only all-boys charter school. Earlier this year, the Associated Press did a similar story. The school made news in 2010 when all its graduates were accepted into college. National Student Clearinghouse data later showed that 76 percent of the graduates actually enrolled. The question since then has been: How many of those students will persist and earn their college degree? The backdrop for this question: In 2006, a Consortium on Chicago School Research report found that only 3 percent of black male freshmen in CPS earned a bachelors’ degree by the time they were 25.

Urban Prep’s head, Tim King, declined to provide information for the Tribune on how many students from the first graduating class got their college diploma this fall. (Tribune columnist Eric Zorn says he should have talked about the problems students encounter as they transition.) But profiles of four of the students show that they struggled with figuring out how to find a support network and deal with the increased academic rigor. One impressive point: Urban Prep stepped up and helped support these students, paying for one student to have a writing coach and another to take summer classes.

The article doesn’t confront the fact that many of the students entered college with low ACT scores. In 2010, the average was 16; last year, 17.1. A 20 is generally considered the minimum for college readiness.

3. PURE activist moves on… Through the years, PURE (Parents United for Responsible Education) Executive Director Julie Woestehoff has sounded alarms about a myriad of issues in the school system, including the dangers of retaining students and of relying too much on standardized testing. She and PURE were perhaps the first to sound alarms about UNO Charter Schools when in January of 2013 they met with the Illinois Office of the Executive Inspector General to ask for an investigation into the charter school’s financial condition.

But Woestehoff, who has been trying to keep PURE going on a shoestring budget, announced in a blog post that she has moved to Wyoming. She says later this month the board will have a meeting to decide if PURE will continue without her. 

4. Some school-related politics… The Sun-Times reports that Edward Oppenheimer is CTU President Karen Lewis’ first campaign donor for her potential mayoral run. The Oppenheimer Family Foundation is well-known among teachers for giving small grants for classroom and school projects, such as mosaic and gardening projects. Records show that Oppenheimer contributes to many campaigns. In 2011, he gave $500 to Miguel Del Valle’s mayoral campaign.

Also, this week lieutenant governor candidate Paul Vallas said that Chicago schools would face “devastating cuts” if Bruce Rauner becomes governor. He said that under the budget Rauner presented, schools would lose $4 billion annually. It is worth noting, however, that the education budget, among other areas, has been cut under Vallas’ running mate Gov. Pat Quinn. Neither candidate is talking about addressing structural problems that lead to annual deficits.

5. A look at the numbers … Chicago schools have long had more students of color than white students – not surprising, given the city’s demographics. But national student enrollment in public schools is catching up: For the first time ever, the number of Latino, African-American and Asian students is expected to surpass the number of non-Hispanic white students, according to Education Week.

Projections by the National Center for Education Statistics show that 50.3 percent of schoolchildren will be minorities this fall, with these populations remaining in concentrated major urban areas like Chicago, where just over 90 percent of CPS students are students of color.

The story points out that the most dramatic changes in public schooling have been seen in the increased numbers of students whose first language isn’t English. And the numbers are expected to rise, both in traditional urban immigrant hubs as well as the suburbs and rural communities. In Chicago, about 16 percent of CPS students were considered to have limited English proficiency last year. We reported on the challenges of bilingual education and how the suburbs are responding to the increased numbers of English Language Learners in 2012. 



School rating system gets tweaked

August 27, 2014 - 6:14pm

Just one year after unveiling a new School Quality Rating Policy that’s based on a range of indicators from attendance to academic growth, the Board of Education voted on Wednesday to now allow schools to be ranked entirely on their test results.

The change to the rating policy comes because high-performing schools would show less academic growth, thus affecting their SQRP scores, explained John Barker, the district’s chief of accountability.

Ultimately, this would “make it more difficult for schools that are performing at those top levels to [have] much growth that’s higher,” Barker told reporters after the meeting.

Under the revised policy, schools will get two ratings: one based on the SQRP and one based solely on test scores. The higher of the two ratings would be their official rank in the district’s 5-tier system.

Elementary schools that rank in the top 90th percentile nationally in both reading and math on the NWEA will automatically land in Tier 1, regardless of their SQRP score. A Catalyst Chicago analysis of the data shows that 50 elementary schools would be automatically ranked in the highest tier based on test scores, including 21 selective enrollment or magnet schools.

For high schools, the rating will be based on the composite scores for EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT.

Cassie Creswell from the anti-testing group More Than a Score says she finds it "bizarre" that CPS is revising a performance policy before even issuing its first ratings based on it.

 "The performance policy seems to ignore social science, which shows that when you put pressure on one measure then people start to juke the stats. They will do whatever they can to get high test scores," she says.

The ratings, which will be released in about three weeks, are important because they determine whether a school may be targeted for actions – such as a turnaround or closure. And parents are more likely to try to send their children to a highly rated school, which impacts enrollment.

Delay of PARCC?

During the public comment portion of the meeting, parent activist Wendy Katten told the board she was concerned about the state’s implementation of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (known as the PARCC), which is supposed to take place this spring.

“The issue with the PARCC test is not that it’s rigorous or challenging,” said Katten, of Raise Your Hand Illinois. “But the instructions are confusing, and the answers are often vague.” Katten added that some parts of the computer-based version of the test are clunky.

Illinois is one of several states that are using the PARCC to comply with federal requirements related to aligning curricula to the Common Core State Standards. CPS will not consider it a high-stakes test, meaning that it will not be tied to evaluations for teachers, principals or schools.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she’s discussed the PARCC with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and both agree that there hasn’t been sufficient discussion around the piloting of it last spring. But her explanation of whether the district plans to ask the Illinois State Board of Education for some sort of waiver or delay was not totally clear.

“I’ve had additional conversations with the state superintendent and the president of the [state] board of education to say that we’d like further discussion around – and we presented why think that we should not – I’m not looking for a long-term waiver, but the opportunity for us to really to ensure that everything is in place so that our children will be the best they can be on that test,” Byrd-Bennett said.

After the meeting, Barker told reporters that school district officials from across the state have had “a number of conversations” regarding how the PARCC will be handled in the spring. Some school districts have expressed concern about the technology required to offer the assessment on computers, although there is also a paper version, while the Peru superintendent recently questioned whether states were putting too much emphasis on the test.

Barker said CPS is investigating its options but did not explain whether the district intends to seek a waiver or delay.

Meanwhile, ISBE spokesman Matthew Vanover said the state has no authority to provide a waiver or delay for the federally mandated tests.

“We did have an extensive field test this spring where about 500 districts, 1,200 schools and 110,888 students in Illinois took part in PARCC field testing,” he wrote in an e-mail to Catalyst. “The field test was a ‘practice run’ to gather input from teachers and students and to identify and correct problems with this assessment system before its first official administration in spring 2015. This field test did include the online and pen and paper versions.   These assessments are required under NCLB and we have no authority to waiver them.

NWEA analysis

Since CPS released school-level NWEA test scores a few weeks ago, it has been difficult to figure out how to analyze them. This is the first time CPS released the detailed scores and tied them to a performance policy. But the revised performance policy passed Wednesday reveals that the district is looking at the national attainment percentile—the average score of students, compared to the national average--as a measure.

Using that indicator, here are some findings:

  • Charter schools and neighborhood schools did about the same on average, while selective enrollment elementary schools and magnets did way better. Eight charter schools, including all the LEARN campuses and Alain Locke, did not provide NWEA scores.
  • The schools in Riverdale on the Far South East Side and Fuller Park on the South Side did the worst; while the schools in Edison Park and Forest Glen on the Far North Side did the best.
  • In reading, 87 schools or nearly one-fifth scored below the 10th percentile in national attainment. Ninety percent of them are mostly black and/or neighborhood schools.
  • Of the schools that scored above the 90th percentile in national attainment in reading and math and were therefore automatically given the highest rating: 28 are neighborhood schools, one is a charter school and 21 are either magnet or selective enrollment schools. Of the neighborhood schools, only one, Hefferan in West Garfield Park, is mostly black.

School rating system gets tweaked

August 27, 2014 - 6:14pm

Just one year after unveiling a new School Quality Rating Policy that’s based on a range of indicators from attendance to academic growth, the Board of Education voted on Wednesday to now allow schools to be ranked entirely on their test results.

The change to the rating policy comes because high-performing schools would show less academic growth, thus affecting their SQRP scores, explained John Barker, the district’s chief of accountability.

Ultimately, this would “make it more difficult for schools that are performing at those top levels to [have] much growth that’s higher,” Barker told reporters after the meeting.

Under the revised policy, schools will get two ratings: one based on the SQRP and one based solely on test scores. The higher of the two ratings would be their official rank in the district’s 5-tier system.

Elementary schools that rank in the top 90th percentile nationally in both reading and math on the NWEA will automatically land in Tier 1, regardless of their SQRP score. A Catalyst Chicago analysis of the data shows that 50 elementary schools would be automatically ranked in the highest tier based on test scores, including 21 selective enrollment or magnet schools.

For high schools, the rating will be based on the composite scores for EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT. (National percentiles indicate how a school compares with schools across the country.)

Cassie Creswell from the anti-testing group More Than a Score says she finds it "bizarre" that CPS is revising a performance policy before even issuing its first ratings based on it.

 "The performance policy seems to ignore social science, which shows that when you put pressure on one measure then people start to juice the stats. They will do whatever they can to get high test scores," she says.

The ratings, which will be released in about three weeks, are important because they determine whether a school may be targeted for actions – such as a turnaround or closure. And parents are more likely to try to send their children to a highly rated school, which impacts enrollment.

Delay of PARCC?

During the public comment portion of the meeting, parent activist Wendy Katten told the board she was concerned about the state’s implementation of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (known as the PARCC), which is supposed to take place this spring.

“The issue with the PARCC test is not that it’s rigorous or challenging,” she said. “But the instructions are confusing, and the answers are often vague.” Katten added that some parts of the computer-based version of the test are clunky.

Illinois is one of several states that are using the PARCC to comply with federal requirements related to aligning curricula to the Common Core State Standards. CPS will not consider it a high-stakes test, meaning that it will not be tied to evaluations for teachers, principals or schools.

Byrd-Bennett said she’s discussed the PARCC with CTU President Karen Lewis and both agree that there hasn’t been sufficient discussion around the piloting of it last spring. But her explanation of whether the district plans to ask the Illinois State Board of Education for some sort of waiver or delay was not totally clear.

“I’ve had additional conversations with the state superintendent and the president of the [state] board of education to say that we’d like further discussion around – and we presented why think that we should not – I’m not looking for a long-term waiver, but the opportunity for us to really to ensure that everything is in place so that our children will be the best they can be on that test,” Byrd-Bennett said.

After the meeting, Barker told reporters that school district officials from across the state have had “a number of conversations” regarding how the PARCC will be handled in the spring. Some school districts have expressed concern about the technology required to offer the assessment on computers, although there is also a paper version, while the Peru superintendent recently questioned whether states were putting too much emphasis on the test. Link

Barker said CPS is investigating its options but did not explain whether the district intends to seek a waiver or delay.

Meanwhile, ISBE spokesman Matthew Vanover said the state has no authority to provide a waiver or delay for the federally mandated tests.

“We did have an extensive field test this spring where about 500 districts, 1,200 schools and 110,888 students in Illinois took part in PARCC field testing,” he wrote in an e-mail to Catalyst. “The field test was a ‘practice run’ to gather input from teachers and students and to identify and correct problems with this assessment system before its first official administration in spring 2015. This field test did include the online and pen and paper versions.   These assessments are required under NCLB and we have no authority to waiver them.

NWEA analysis

Since CPS released school-level NWEA test scores a few weeks ago, it has been difficult to figure out how to analyze them. This is the first time CPS released the detailed scores and tied them to a performance policy. But the revised performance policy passed Wednesday reveals that the district is looking at the national attainment percentile—the average score of students, compared to the national average--as a measure.

Using that indicator, here are some findings:

  • Charter schools and neighborhood schools did about the same on average, while selective enrollment elementary schools and magnets did way better. Eight charter schools, including all the LEARN campuses and Alain Locke, did not provide NWEA scores.
  • The schools in Riverdale on the Far South East Side and Fuller Park on the South Side did the worst; while the schools in Edison Park and Forest Glen on the Far North Side did the best.
  • In reading, 87 schools or nearly one-fifth scored below the 10th percentile in national attainment. Ninety percent of them are mostly black and/or neighborhood schools.
  • Of the schools that scored above the 90th percentile in national attainment in reading and math and were therefore automatically given the highest rating: 28 are neighborhood schools, one is a charter school and 21 are either magnet or selective enrollment schools. Of the neighborhood schools, only one, Hefferan in West Garfield Park, is mostly black.

 

Teachers get creative to find time for professional development

August 25, 2014 - 12:37pm

On a sunny August morning, several dozen teachers from a range of schools crowded into the cafeteria of Prieto Math and Science Academy in Belmont-Cragin. No children were in the room. On this day, teachers were the students, and the class was the Lesson Study Alliance’s summer institute.

In one corner, teachers from South Shore Fine Arts Elementary School presented their plans for teaching two-step word problems involving addition and subtraction to third-graders. Over several days, they explained, one teacher would go over addition and subtraction problems separately. On the sixth and final day, she’d combine both concepts into a single word problem about someone collecting and discarding rocks while on a nature walk.

The other teachers in the cafeteria asked how they thought students would respond, including the kinds of wrong answers they might offer. They also discussed the best order in which to write out students’ answers on the board, and how that might be important for future lessons on the order of math operations.

“When you’re working with a team, you think of things you wouldn’t have thought of on your own,” says Kelly Miller, one of the South Shore teachers. “We’ve all been to PD where it’s just a waste of time. This isn’t like that.”

Teachers and CPS leaders say workshops like those offered by Lesson Study Alliance are an example of quality professional development that both improves their teaching and fulfills requirements for state certification renewal and salary advancement.

But with limited time and resources, many teachers say it’s harder to get access to good PD during the school year. Even though 10 days for PD are built into the calendar year, teachers say it’s simply not enough.  In some cases, time is eaten away by administrative announcements or other school business – especially at schools that have cut support staff that used to handle those duties.

That means educators have to be creative to find and take advantage of opportunities, by applying for them over the summer and sharing with colleagues who don’t get to attend.

Mariel Laureano, the principal at Prieto, for example, offered to host the summer Lesson Study institute in exchange for allowing teachers from her school participate for free.

“It’s a win-win for everybody, as it really deepens their understanding of learning overall so that they want to be here,” she says.

Teacher-led trainings

In the meantime, CPS is trying to improve in-school opportunities by using a model of teacher-led PD. The district says the shift, which began two years ago, has less to do with saving money than it does taking advantage of the trust teachers have in their own colleagues.

The district trains so-called “teacher leaders” from each school on specific skills or curricula, and the teacher leaders are then expected to go back to their schools and share what they’ve learned, explains Susan Kajiwara-Ansai, executive director of Professional Learning at CPS.

The model has its pros and cons, teachers say. On the one hand, teachers can learn more from colleagues than outside providers because they have an intimate understanding of the local context and student body.

“It can be a powerful thing because of the local knowledge and relationships,” says Mark Sidarous, a biology and chemistry teacher who has done trainings for his colleagues at Community Links High School.

But on the other hand, many teachers said trainings are limited to what people in the building already know or happen to learn at one of the district’s trainings. And it’s extra work for which teachers don’t get paid.

To avoid burdening the same teachers repeatedly with extra work, CPS asked principals to develop plans for one of the district’s learning priorities, the Common Core, during a three-day summer training.  Annette Gurley, chief of the Office of Teaching and Learning, says this should have a positive impact on the overall professional development of teachers.

“We asked, ‘Who are you counting on to help you do this in your building,  to make sure we are not pulling on the same people all the time?’” she says. “It’s a rare opportunity to stop and really reflect on who we’re using without overloading them.”

Building trust, camaraderie

At Wadsworth Elementary, administrators and staff spent part of the summer developing a plan to encourage more teachers to lead trainings among their colleagues, especially on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subject areas. The idea is not only to spread knowledge, but to build camaraderie and trust in a school that has had a tumultuous past year. Wadsworth was recently designated a STEM school and last year welcomed students from closed schools, at the same time making a move to the former Dumas Elementary building when a charter high school took over the former Wadsworth building.

Many teachers seemed disinterested last year in learning more about STEM. “But when teachers were motivated and [got the chance to] train others, they would come in and share their personal narratives, and that was really the key that broke down some of the walls,” says Michelle Warden, the school’s STEM technology specialist.

The Wadsworth group worked on the plan to promote teacher-led training during the recent Summer Design Program, a project of The Chicago Public Education Fund. The Summer Design Program brought teams of teachers and principals from 40 schools together to find solutions for specific school challenges.

About 80 schools applied for the free summer program, which itself was a form of professional development that can count toward teachers’ requirements for certification renewal. Heather Anichini, president and CEO of The Fund, says she was pleased at the level of interest even though the program is only in its second year.

“People are really hungry for professional development that takes into account what teachers know and experience in schools,” she says. “So much of the professional development that’s out there is lecture-driven, non-engaging, kind of rooted in the idea that someone has one solution and it’s going to work in all schools.”

On their own time, educators are also seeking professional learning opportunities around the Common Core State Standards and the Framework for Teaching, on which teachers are now being evaluated, says Lynn Cherkasky-Davis, who heads the Chicago Teachers Union Quest Center.

“We are seeing a lot more people attending the study sessions we’ve developed around the Framework for Teaching,” she says. “Ratings are coming up this year and teachers want to know what they need to do to improve.”

Menu for principals

Meanwhile, the district is trying to make it easier for networks and schools to vet outside professional development providers.  Earlier this summer, CPS issued a broad request for proposals from PD providers that could support the implementation of some of the district’s top priorities, including the Common Core and Framework for Teaching. Principals and network chiefs will be encouraged – though not required – to use the approved vendors.

Last year, CPS issued a similar but more narrow RFP. Lesson Study Alliance, which offered the summer institute at Prieto earlier this month, was one of 19 providers that made the cut. Thomas McDougal, executive director of the organization and a former teacher himself, says what makes the “lesson study” model so useful to other educators is the opportunity to practice lessons in a controlled setting before taking them into the classroom.

 “Imagine a soccer player watching a video of a new move. That’s a helpful start, but does that mean he’s ready to go out and play?” McDougal says. “That’s how most American professional development is structured. You learn about ‘unpacking’ the Common Core or talking about ‘differentiated instruction.’ But does this mean teachers are ready to go out and teach this stuff?”

The RFPs also help the district itself to know what kinds of professional development opportunities are offered across CPS and how much is being spent, which is a challenge for any school district. In addition, district officials say the process will ensure providers charge schools the same rate for the same trainings.

Gurley says giving principals a go-to “menu” of pre-approved PD providers should save them from wasting time doing their own research.

“As the instructional leaders in a building, principals are very busy. We really want them to spend the time in the classroom monitoring and supporting instruction,” she said. “Whatever we can do to take something off their plate that is the focus of Central Office.”

Teachers get creative to find time for professional development

August 25, 2014 - 12:37pm

On a sunny August morning, several dozen teachers from a range of schools crowded into the cafeteria of Prieto Math and Science Academy in Belmont-Cragin. No children were in the room. On this day, teachers were the students, and the class was the Lesson Study Alliance’s summer institute.

In one corner, teachers from South Shore Fine Arts Elementary School presented their plans for teaching two-step word problems involving addition and subtraction to third-graders. Over several days, they explained, one teacher would go over addition and subtraction problems separately. On the sixth and final day, she’d combine both concepts into a single word problem about someone collecting and discarding rocks while on a nature walk.

The other teachers in the cafeteria asked how they thought students would respond, including the kinds of wrong answers they might offer. They also discussed the best order in which to write out students’ answers on the board, and how that might be important for future lessons on the order of math operations.

“When you’re working with a team, you think of things you wouldn’t have thought of on your own,” says Kelly Miller, one of the South Shore teachers. “We’ve all been to PD where it’s just a waste of time. This isn’t like that.”

Teachers and CPS leaders say workshops like those offered by Lesson Study Alliance are an example of quality professional development that both improves their teaching and fulfills requirements for state certification renewal and salary advancement.

But with limited time and resources, many teachers say it’s harder to get access to good PD during the school year. Even though 10 days for PD are built into the calendar year, teachers say it’s simply not enough.  In some cases, time is eaten away by administrative announcements or other school business – especially at schools that have cut support staff that used to handle those duties.

That means educators have to be creative to find and take advantage of opportunities, by applying for them over the summer and sharing with colleagues who don’t get to attend.

Mariel Laureano, the principal at Prieto, for example, offered to host the summer Lesson Study institute in exchange for allowing teachers from her school participate for free.

“It’s a win-win for everybody, as it really deepens their understanding of learning overall so that they want to be here,” she says.

Teacher-led trainings

In the meantime, CPS is trying to improve in-school opportunities by using a model of teacher-led PD. The district says the shift, which began two years ago, has less to do with saving money than it does taking advantage of the trust teachers have in their own colleagues.

The district trains so-called “teacher leaders” from each school on specific skills or curricula, and the teacher leaders are then expected to go back to their schools and share what they’ve learned, explains Susan Kajiwara-Ansai, executive director of Professional Learning at CPS.

The model has its pros and cons, teachers say. On the one hand, teachers can learn more from colleagues than outside providers because they have an intimate understanding of the local context and student body.

“It can be a powerful thing because of the local knowledge and relationships,” says Mark Sidarous, a biology and chemistry teacher who has done trainings for his colleagues at Community Links High School.

But on the other hand, many teachers said trainings are limited to what people in the building already know or happen to learn at one of the district’s trainings. And it’s extra work for which teachers don’t get paid.

To avoid burdening the same teachers repeatedly with extra work, CPS asked principals to develop plans for one of the district’s learning priorities, the Common Core, during a three-day summer training.  Annette Gurley, chief of the Office of Teaching and Learning, says this should have a positive impact on the overall professional development of teachers.

“We asked, ‘Who are you counting on to help you do this in your building,  to make sure we are not pulling on the same people all the time?’” she says. “It’s a rare opportunity to stop and really reflect on who we’re using without overloading them.”

Building trust, camaraderie

At Wadsworth Elementary, administrators and staff spent part of the summer developing a plan to encourage more teachers to lead trainings among their colleagues, especially on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subject areas. The idea is not only to spread knowledge, but to build camaraderie and trust in a school that has had a tumultuous past year. Wadsworth was recently designated a STEM school and last year welcomed students from closed schools, at the same time making a move to the former Dumas Elementary building when a charter high school took over the former Wadsworth building.

Many teachers seemed disinterested last year in learning more about STEM. “But when teachers were motivated and [got the chance to] train others, they would come in and share their personal narratives, and that was really the key that broke down some of the walls,” says Michelle Warden, the school’s STEM technology specialist.

The Wadsworth group worked on the plan to promote teacher-led training during the recent Summer Design Program, a project of The Chicago Public Schools Education Fund. The Summer Design Program brought teams of teachers and principals from 40 schools together to find solutions for specific school challenges.

About 80 schools applied for the free summer program, which itself was a form of professional development that can count toward teachers’ requirements for certification renewal. Heather Anichini, executive director and CEO of the Education Fund, says she was pleased at the level of interest even though the program is only in its second year.

“People are really hungry for professional development that takes into account what teachers know and experience in schools,” she says. “So much of the professional development that’s out there is lecture-driven, non-engaging, kind of rooted in the idea that someone has one solution and it’s going to work in all schools.”

On their own time, educators are also seeking professional learning opportunities around the Common Core State Standards and the Framework for Teaching, on which teachers are now being evaluated, says Lynn Cherkasky-Davis, who heads the Chicago Teachers Union Quest Center.

“We are seeing a lot more people attending the study sessions we’ve developed around the Framework for Teaching,” she says. “Ratings are coming up this year and teachers want to know what they need to do to improve.”

Menu for principals

Meanwhile, the district is trying to make it easier for networks and schools to vet outside professional development providers.  Earlier this summer, CPS issued a broad request for proposals from PD providers that could support the implementation of some of the district’s top priorities, including the Common Core and Framework for Teaching. Principals and network chiefs will be encouraged – though not required – to use the approved vendors.

Last year, CPS issued a similar but more narrow RFP. Lesson Study Alliance, which offered the summer institute at Prieto earlier this month, was one of 19 providers that made the cut. Thomas McDougal, executive director of the organization and a former teacher himself, says what makes the “lesson study” model so useful to other educators is the opportunity to practice lessons in a controlled setting before taking them into the classroom.

 “Imagine a soccer player watching a video of a new move. That’s a helpful start, but does that mean he’s ready to go out and play?” McDougal says. “That’s how most American professional development is structured. You learn about ‘unpacking’ the Common Core or talking about ‘differentiated instruction.’ But does this mean teachers are ready to go out and teach this stuff?”

The RFPs also help the district itself to know what kinds of professional development opportunities are offered across CPS and how much is being spent, which is a challenge for any school district. In addition, district officials say the process will ensure providers charge schools the same rate for the same trainings.

Gurley says giving principals a go-to “menu” of pre-approved PD providers should save them from wasting time doing their own research.

“As the instructional leaders in a building, principals are very busy. We really want them to spend the time in the classroom monitoring and supporting instruction,” she said. “Whatever we can do to take something off their plate that is the focus of Central Office.”

Latino Youth Alternative School teachers to vote on union contract

August 25, 2014 - 12:22pm

Nearly five years after they started organizing to form a union, teachers at the alternative Latino Youth High School in Pilsen say they’re preparing to vote on their first labor contract.

Organizers said they are still finalizing the details on the tentative agreement with the school’s operator, Pilsen Wellness Center. The 12 teachers included in the contract won’t vote on it until after school begins in September, and the school’s board also has to ratify the contract.

The tentative agreement includes language on due process and the formation of committees for teachers to participate in making decisions about the school, including on social-emotional and academic issues. Teachers will also work with management to develop the process and tools to be used in their own evaluations.

The tentative agreement also creates a step and lane system for salary increases, a first in any union contract for charter teachers in Chicago.

“This makes it more attractive to teachers with advanced degrees to work for the school, and encourages people who are already there to continue their educations,” said Chris Baehrend, an English teacher at Latino Youth and the vice president of Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS). “Overall, we’re satisfied with the contract.”

Administrators of Pilsen Wellness Center and an attorney representing the non-profit organization did not respond to requests seeking comment on the negotiations.

Teachers at Latino Youth had voted to unionize under state labor law in 2010, but the school appealed to the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that the state’s education labor laws didn’t apply because it was a charter school. After a protracted fight, teachers again voted under federal labor law last fall, and have been negotiating their first contract ever since.

Baehrend said the process helped rebuild the relationship between teachers and management.

“Sitting down with that board and having discussions really created trust in that we all want to do what’s in students’ best interest,” he said.

Latino Youth is one of 20 alternative schools that operate under the umbrella of Youth Connection Charter Schools (YCCS), the non-profit organization that hold the charter with Chicago Public Schools. Last year Latino Youth reported an enrollment of about 200 students, grades 10 through 12.

It’s one of 29 unionized charter schools in Chicago, representing about a quarter of all charter schools in the city. Apart from Latino Youth, the only other school that lacks a contract is Chicago International Charter School (CICS) ChicagoQuest.

Teachers there voted to unionize in May after a months-long standoff with CICS. Those teachers are currently in contract negotiations with the school’s management group, ChicagoQuest Schools. Another three CICS schools managed by a separate management group already have a contract.

Latino Youth Alternative School teachers to vote on union contract

August 25, 2014 - 12:22pm

Nearly five years after they started organizing to form a union, teachers at the alternative Latino Youth High School in Pilsen say they’re preparing to vote on their first labor contract.Organizers said they are still finalizing the details on the tentative agreement with the school’s operator, Pilsen Wellness Center. The 12 teachers included in the contract won’t vote on it until after school begins in September, and the school’s board also has to ratify the contract.

The tentative agreement includes language on due process and the formation of committees for teachers to participate in making decisions about the school, including on social-emotional and academic issues. Teachers will also work with management to develop the process and tools to be used in their own evaluations.

The tentative agreement also creates a step and lane system for salary increases, a first in any union contract for charter teachers in Chicago.

“This makes it more attractive to teachers with advanced degrees to work for the school, and encourages people who are already there to continue their educations,” said Chris Baehrend, an English teacher at Latino Youth and the vice president of Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS). “Overall, we’re satisfied with the contract.”

Administrators of Pilsen Wellness Center and an attorney representing the non-profit organization did not respond to requests seeking comment on the negotiations.

Teachers at Latino Youth had voted to unionize under state labor law in 2010, but the school appealed to the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that the state’s education labor laws didn’t apply because it was a charter school. After a protracted fight, teachers again voted under federal labor law last fall, and have been negotiating their first contract ever since.

Baehrend said the process helped rebuild the relationship between teachers and management.

“Sitting down with that board and having discussions really created trust in that we all want to do what’s in students’ best interest,” he said.

Latino Youth is one of 20 alternative schools that operate under the umbrella of Youth Connection Charter Schools (YCCS), the non-profit organization that hold the charter with Chicago Public Schools. Last year Latino Youth reported an enrollment of about 200 students, grades 10 through 12.

It’s one of 29 unionized charter schools in Chicago, representing about a quarter of all charter schools in the city. Apart from Latino Youth, the only other school that lacks a contract is Chicago International Charter School (CICS) ChicagoQuest.

Teachers there voted to unionize in May after a months-long standoff with CICS. Those teachers are currently in contract negotiations with the school’s management group, ChicagoQuest Schools. Another three CICS schools managed by a separate management group already have a contract.

Take 5: Dyett's future, summer of SUPES, Duncan re-thinks testing

August 25, 2014 - 8:16am

The Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization announced today that CPS officials called some of Dyett’s remaining students last week to encourage them to transfer to another school. During a press conference this morning, KOCO leader Jitu Brown said the move indicates CPS intends to close the school one year earlier than planned and that the students, all seniors, “are now being displaced for the last year of their high school.”

CPS officials confirmed late Monday afternoon that they "have contacted the remaining 21 students [...] to explore their interest in transferring" and said 12 of those students are in the process of transfering out. Though that leaves just nine students, CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the district does not intend to close the school: "If students want to stay at Dyett, they can stay at Dyett."

Since 2011, KOCO activists, students and parents have led a full scale effort to save the school, noting that it is the only neighborhood high school in the area. They came up with a plan called the Bronzeville Global Achievers Village, to align the curriculum of feeder schools with Dyett’s.

In recent months, Brown said, some students at a local alternative school called Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy had told him they were moving into Dyett. But then he said local officials told him that they wanted to keep a neighborhood school there.


2. Rare plaudits… What is ironic is that KOCO planned a press conference Monday for a rare move: applauding the U.S. Department of Education. KOCO and a national coalition of activists called the Journey for Justice Alliance are impressed with a new provision included in the application for federal School Improvement Grants for low-achieving schools.

Until now, the SIG program required one of four drastic actions that the Alliance has fought because they rely on private entities and mass firings: closure; restart, which means closure and re-opening as a charter; turnaround, which entails firing at least half of the staff, including the leadership; or transformation, under which an outside entity comes in to help improve the school and the principal must be relatively new. A fifth provision is being added this year: the “proven whole school reform model.” It will allow schools to keep their staff and adopt a strategy that has been proven to work in other similar schools.

In a press release, Brown, who is national director for Journey for Justice, said: “This is an opportunity for the U.S. Department of Education to begin to right a wrong.” The press conference will be at 11 a.m. Monday at City Hall, 121 N. Lasalle. At least 10 groups in other cities will also be holding actions.

3. Summer of SUPES… Principals, assistant principals and other network leaders have spent a lot of time this summer going to Chicago Executive Leadership Academy professional development, organized by SUPES Academy, according to an e-mail sent to principals and forwarded to Catalyst. The e-mail sent out last week boasts that 56 sessions were held over the summer with more than 600 participants and they are getting better ratings. It also says that 67 administrators have coaches and that they have “touched base” more than 2,000 times. The principal who forwarded the e-mail is skeptical, though, especially since the trainings she attended had low attendance that dwindled through the day.

Getting principals to buy into the expensive training has been difficult, especially as they have been struggling with tight budgets. SUPES is the Wilmette-based outfit that last year was given a $20 million, three-year no-bid contract to provide training and individualized coaching to principals and other administrators. The SUPES contract has been met with deep suspicion because Barbara Byrd-Bennett worked for SUPES prior to becoming CPS CEO, and it had contracts with her former school districts. What’s more, principals complained that the training was a waste of time and that their coaches did not have enough experience with urban schools to be helpful.

That the trainings and coaching are led by some current superintendents has also been controversial. These trainers and coaches are paid thousands of dollars, according to sources, though SUPES officials have refused to divulge the exact amounts. Some of the superintendents getting paid by SUPES run school districts that have awarded contracts to SUPES. This revelation has led to a world of trouble for Dallas Dance, the Baltimore County School superintendent. Dance’s consulting work with SUPES led to an ethics complaint. Also, it led to the state prosecutor announcing last week that he was investigating his school board for its contract with Dance, according to the Baltimore Sun.

4. Back to testing… U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is giving states the go ahead to delay for one year using test scores in teacher evaluations, the New York Times reports. But perhaps even bigger news is Duncan’s acknowledgement in his “Back-to School Conversation” blog post that testing has become a problem. “Testing---and test preparation---is taking up too much time,” he writes. Yet he also makes a case for why testing is important. Assessment plays an important role in learning and teaching, especially as it sheds light on students and groups of students who need help, he writes. But Duncan writes that as schools transition to more rigorous standards, called the Common Core Standards, testing is “sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools--oxygen that is needed for a healthy transition to higher standards, improved systems for data, better aligned assessments, teacher professional development, evaluation and support, and more.”

Getting Race to the Top federal grant money was predicated on having a law in place that, among other things, tied test scores to teacher performance evaluations. Forty states, including Illinois, passed such laws. In 2011, Illinois was awarded $42.8 million under the grant program. Catalyst will check with the state board to see if they plan to delay the use of test scores in teacher evaluation. However, CPS has already started the practice with probationary teachers and in the coming year all teachers will be partly evaluated based on test scores.

 

5. Grading private schools … For the parents who can afford it, Chicago Magazine has put together a guide of the area’s private high schools for its September issue. Here’s the story and a useful chart with data on tuition, average financial aid award, admission rates, teacher-student ratios and average ACT scores. The data isn’t perfect, largely because not all schools volunteered information to the magazine, including most schools that are part of the Archdiocese.

But the story does include a lot of interesting facts, including the fact that tuition at independent private schools has gone up by 3 to 5 percent each year since 2010, reaching an average of $19,898 last year. At the same time, enrollment at archdiocesan high schools has fallen during each of the past five years, from 26,333 in 2009–10 to 23,228 last year.



Take 5: Dyett's future, summer of SUPES, Duncan re-thinks testing

August 25, 2014 - 8:16am

The Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization announced this morning that they have been told that Dyett will be closed this year, rather than serve the last 28 seniors. CPS officials have not confirmed the announcement. CPS planned to spend $1.1 million at Dyett, or $41,000 per student, and a school that small can’t offer a range of classes.  

Since 2011, KOCO activists, students and parents have led a full scale effort to save the school, noting that it is the only neighborhood high school in the area. They came up with a plan called the Bronzeville Global Achievers Village, to align the curriculum of feeder schools with Dyett’s.

In recent months, KOCO leader Jitu Brown had said some students at a local alternative school called Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy told him they were moving into Dyett. But then he said local officials told him that they wanted to keep a neighborhood school there.


2. Rare plaudits… What is ironic is that KOCO planned a press conference Monday for a rare move: applauding the U.S. Department of Education. KOCO and a national coalition of activists called the Journey for Justice Alliance are impressed with a new provision included in the application for federal School Improvement Grants for low-achieving schools.

Until now, the SIG program required one of four drastic actions that the Alliance has fought because they rely on private entities and mass firings: closure; restart, which means closure and re-opening as a charter; turnaround, which entails firing at least half of the staff, including the leadership; or transformation, under which an outside entity comes in to help improve the school and the principal must be relatively new. A fifth provision is being added this year: the “proven whole school reform model.” It will allow schools to keep their staff and adopt a strategy that has been proven to work in other similar schools.

In a press release, Brown, who is national director for Journey for Justice, said: “This is an opportunity for the U.S. Department of Education to begin to right a wrong.” The press conference will be at 11 a.m. Monday at City Hall, 121 N. Lasalle. At least 10 groups in other cities will also be holding actions.

3. Summer of SUPES… Principals, assistant principals and other network leaders have spent a lot of time this summer going to Chicago Executive Leadership Academy professional development, organized by SUPES Academy, according to an e-mail sent to principals and forwarded to Catalyst. The e-mail sent out last week boasts that 56 sessions were held over the summer with more than 600 participants and they are getting better ratings. It also says that 67 administrators have coaches and that they have “touched base” more than 2,000 times. The principal who forwarded the e-mail is skeptical, though, especially since the trainings she attended had low attendance that dwindled through the day.

Getting principals to buy into the expensive training has been difficult, especially as they have struggling with tight budgets. SUPES is the Wilmette-based outfit that last year was given a $20 million, three-year no-bid contract to provide training and individualized coaching to principals and other administrators. The SUPES contract has been met with deep suspicion because Barbara Byrd-Bennett worked for SUPES prior to becoming CPS CEO and they had contracts with her former school districts. What’s more, principals complained that the training was a waste of time and that their coaches did not have enough experience with urban schools to be helpful.

That the trainings and coaching are led by some current superintendents has also been controversial. These trainers and coaches are paid thousands of dollars, according to sources, though SUPES officials have refused to divulge the exact amounts. Some of the superintendents getting paid by SUPES run school districts that have awarded contracts to SUPES. This revelation has led to a world of trouble for Dallas Dance, the Baltimore County School superintendent. Dance’s consulting work with SUPES led to an ethics complaint. Also, it led to the state prosecutor announcing last week that he was investigating his school board for its contract with Dance, according to the Baltimore Sun.

4. Back to testing… U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is giving states go ahead to delay for one year using test scores in teacher evaluations, the New York Times reports. But perhaps even bigger news is Duncan’s acknowledgement in his “Back-to School Conversation” blog post that testing has become a problem. “Testing---and test preparation---is taking up too much time,” he writes. Yet he also makes a case for why testing is important. Assessment plays an important role in learning and teaching, especially as it sheds light on students and groups of students who need help, he writes. But Duncan writes that as schools transition to more rigorous standards, called the Common Core Standards, testing is “sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools--oxygen that is needed for a healthy transition to higher standards, improved systems for data, better aligned assessments, teacher professional development, evaluation and support, and more.”

Getting Race to the Top federal grant money was predicated on having a law in place that, among other things, tied test scores to teacher performance evaluations. Forty states, including Illinois, passed such laws. In 2011, Illinois was awarded $42.8 million under the grant program. Catalyst will check with the state board to see if they plan to delay the use of test scores in teacher evaluation. However, CPS has already started the practice with probationary teachers and in the coming year all teachers will be partly evaluated based on test scores.

 

5. Grading private schools … For the parents who can afford it, Chicago Magazine has put together a guide of the area’s private high schools for its September issue. Here’s the story and a useful chart with data on tuition, average financial aid award, admission rates, teacher-student ratios and average ACT scores. The data isn’t perfect, largely because not all schools volunteered information to the magazine, including most schools that are part of the Archdiocese.

But the story does include a lot of interesting facts, including the fact that tuition at independent private schools has gone up by 3 to 5 percent each year since 2010, reaching an average of $19,898 last year. At the same time, enrollment at archdiocesan high schools has fallen during each of the past five years, from 26,333 in 2009–10 to 23,228 last year.



Keeping Simeon program only a start to improving career education

August 22, 2014 - 1:14pm

Brandon Davenport scored in the top 3.5 percent on the apprenticeship test he took this spring. Takaia Butler recently graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a B.A. in applied sciences. Timothy King was named valedictorian of his high school class, went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from Southern Illinois University and has been accepted to graduate school. Malcolm Zeno and Aaron Moore have just successfully completed their first year of apprenticeship school and are well on their way to good careers as union electricians.

They are all alumni of the electricity program at Simeon Career Academy, and theirs are just a few of its names and faces of hope. These young people, who hail from neighborhoods with some of the highest unemployment rates in the city and state, were trained, mentored and equipped for success in the only remaining electrical shop in the Chicago Public Schools. Last month, a decision was made to terminate this proven school-to-career pipeline and, with it, the hopes and dreams of the dozens of youths enrolled each year in Latisa Kindred’s classes.

As legislators proudly representing the communities Simeon serves, we were moved to raise our voices in opposition to the steady erosion of opportunities for our youth, and we were honored to stand alongside the students, families, advocates and community partners who refused to yield.

We thank Mayor Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett for listening to our concerns and responding appropriately, reinstating this vital program in time for the start of the new school year. And it is with tremendous gratitude and excitement for the future that we recognize Local #134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which has committed to offering jobs to students who complete the three-year program. Local #134, which has long partnered with Simeon and vocational education, will also begin an outreach campaign to make middle school students aware of career opportunities in electricity.

Expand career offerings

Now is not the time to rest. College is more expensive than ever, and America’s total student loan debt has supplanted its credit card debt as the heaviest millstone holding back the next generation from financial freedom. Many students in our public schools are not college-bound but deserve the chance to take pride in a trade, provide for themselves and their families, contribute to economic growth and give back to their communities. It is essential that CPS not only maintain its existing career and technical education programs but expand on them, forging new partnerships and reaching out to students in more effective ways.

We stand ready to continue working with CPS and, most importantly, the extraordinary citizens who cared enough about our youth and neighborhoods to get organized and achieve this victory for Simeon’s students.

State Sen. Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-Chicago 16th), State Sen. Donne E. Trotter (D-Chicago 17th), State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago 31st), State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago 8th)

Keeping Simeon program only a start to improving career education

August 22, 2014 - 1:14pm

Brandon Davenport scored in the top 3.5 percent on the apprenticeship test he took this spring. Takaia Butler recently graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a B.A. in applied sciences. Timothy King was named valedictorian of his high school class, went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from Southern Illinois University and has been accepted to graduate school. Malcolm Zeno and Aaron Moore have just successfully completed their first year of apprenticeship school and are well on their way to good careers as union electricians.

They are all alumni of the electricity program at Simeon Career Academy, and theirs are just a few of its names and faces of hope. These young people, who hail from neighborhoods with some of the highest unemployment rates in the city and state, were trained, mentored and equipped for success in the only remaining electrical shop in the Chicago Public Schools. Last month, a decision was made to terminate this proven school-to-career pipeline and, with it, the hopes and dreams of the dozens of youths enrolled each year in Latisa Kindred’s classes.

As legislators proudly representing the communities Simeon serves, we were moved to raise our voices in opposition to the steady erosion of opportunities for our youth, and we were honored to stand alongside the students, families, advocates and community partners who refused to yield.

We thank Mayor Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett for listening to our concerns and responding appropriately, reinstating this vital program in time for the start of the new school year. And it is with tremendous gratitude and excitement for the future that we recognize Local #134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which has committed to offering jobs to students who complete the three-year program. Local #134, which has long partnered with Simeon and vocational education, will also begin an outreach campaign to make middle school students aware of career opportunities in electricity.

Expand career offerings

Now is not the time to rest. College is more expensive than ever, and America’s total student loan debt has supplanted its credit card debt as the heaviest millstone holding back the next generation from financial freedom. Many students in our public schools are not college-bound but deserve the chance to take pride in a trade, provide for themselves and their families, contribute to economic growth and give back to their communities. It is essential that CPS not only maintain its existing career and technical education programs but expand on them, forging new partnerships and reaching out to students in more effective ways.

We stand ready to continue working with CPS and, most importantly, the extraordinary citizens who cared enough about our youth and neighborhoods to get organized and achieve this victory for Simeon’s students.

State Sen. Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-Chicago 16th), State Sen. Donne E. Trotter (D-Chicago 17th), State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago 31st), State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago 8th)

Concept Charter won’t open in Chatham this fall

August 21, 2014 - 4:26pm

With less than two weeks to go before the start of school, CPS leaders announced Thursday that Concept Charter Schools’ Chatham location will not be opening. The school had 400 elementary school students registered.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett says the only reason for the delay is the building has not met deadlines to be ready for the start of school on Sept. 2. “It is not a safe, viable facility,” she says.

Byrd-Bennett emphasized that the decision had nothing to do with recent news that the FBI raided Concept schools in Illinois and other Midwestern states.  Concept already runs three charter schools in Chicago and will still open a school in South Chicago this fall.

Byrd-Bennett says her staff is now calling each of the parents of the registered students, giving them the news and telling them about the options they have. In addition to neighborhood schools, some charter schools might still have space, she says.

The CEO also says she willing to consider raising a charter school’s enrollment cap if the operator agrees to take in more students. The only elementary charter schools near the Chatham site are the Loomis and Longwood campuses of Chicago International Charter School, at 95th Street and Throop Street.

History of setbacks, controversy

Concept’s Chatham location has seemed tangled in trouble since before it was approved. The original plan was for the location to rent space from politically-connected Rev. Charles Jenkins, who was building the Legacy Project, a megachurch connected to a community center in the area. Once the school was at full capacity, Concept planned to pay the church almost $1 million in rent. 

Then, many of Concept Charter’s campuses were raided. The spokeswoman for the megachurch said leaders wanted to see how the FBI’s issue with Concept was resolved before going forward and allowing the charter school move in. However, Jenkins has had his own personal problems that have aired publicly, and currently the project is on hold.

As a result, Concept’s leaders began looking for a new space and found an old building that once housed a Christian school. On Tuesday evening, CPS held a hearing for the location change and, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Concept brought about 40 parents out to support the new location.

Having an opening delayed so close to the start of the school year is unprecedented. However, including Concept, six of 11 charter schools approved to open in the fall will not do so.  In May, the board granted requests from the operators to push back the start dates of four schools to fall 2015. In addition, the developers of Orange Charter, which was supposed to be an arts-focused elementary school, already said they are not going forward with plans.

Concept Charter won’t open in Chatham this fall

August 21, 2014 - 4:26pm

With less than two weeks to go before the start of school, CPS leaders announced Thursday that Concept Charter Schools’ Chatham location will not be opening. The school had 400 elementary school students registered.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett says the only reason for the delay is the building has not met deadlines to be ready for the start of school on Sept. 2. “It is not a safe, viable facility,” she says.

Byrd-Bennett emphasized that the decision had nothing to do with recent news that the FBI raided Concept schools in Illinois and other Midwestern states.  Concept already runs three charter schools in Chicago and will still open a school in South Chicago this fall.

Byrd-Bennett says her staff is now calling each of the parents of the registered students, giving them the news and telling them about the options they have. In addition to neighborhood schools, some charter schools might still have space, she says.

The CEO also says she willing to consider raising a charter school’s enrollment cap if the operator agrees to take in more students. The only elementary charter schools near the Chatham site are the Loomis and Longwood campuses of Chicago International Charter School, at 95th Street and Throop Street.

History of setbacks, controversy

Concept’s Chatham location has seemed tangled in trouble since before it was approved. The original plan was for the location to rent space from politically-connected Rev. Charles Jenkins, who was building the Legacy Project, a megachurch connected to a community center in the area. Once the school was at full capacity, Concept planned to pay the church almost $1 million in rent. 

Then, many of Concept Charter’s campuses were raided. The spokeswoman for the megachurch said leaders wanted to see how the FBI’s issue with Concept was resolved before going forward and allowing the charter school move in. However, Jenkins has had his own personal problems that have aired publicly, and currently the project is on hold.

As a result, Concept’s leaders began looking for a new space and found an old building that once housed a Christian school. On Tuesday evening, CPS held a hearing for the location change and, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Concept brought about 40 parents out to support the new location.

Having an opening delayed so close to the start of the school year is unprecedented. However, including Concept, six of 11 charter schools approved to open in the fall will not do so.  In May, the board granted requests from the operators to push back the start dates of four schools to fall 2015. In addition, the developers of Orange Charter, which was supposed to be an arts-focused elementary school, already said they are not going forward with plans.

Take 5: Simeon electrician program, Lewis campaign, middle school dropouts

August 21, 2014 - 7:54am

Late Wednesday afternoon CPS announced that Simeon High School’s electricity program will be “reinstated” for the coming school year. In addition, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will offer jobs to students who complete the three-year program.

Teacher Latisa Kindred led the fight for the program, the only one in the district. Ald. Howard Brookins and activist Shoneice Reynolds, along with her son of CNN "Chicagoland" fame, Asean Johnson, joined in the fight. CPS officials said budget cuts and lack of interest were behind the shut-down, though Simeon kept its barber and cosmetology programs.

The cut shed light on the fact that, with student-based budgeting, CPS now allows principals to open and close Career and Technical Education Programs based on how they want to use their budgets and whether they think students are interested. The issue arose at the July board meeting and several members seemed surprised by it, saying they wanted more information about how Career and Technical Education offerings are decided.

2. Getting interesting… It is looking increasingly like CTU President Karen Lewis will jump into the mayoral race. More than 400 of her followers -- mostly teachers in tell-tale red union shirts -- packed the Beverly Woods Banquet Hall on Tuesday to hear her speak about what she'd do if she won. While Lewis hasn't said whether she'd resign from her CTU post, she indicated that she'd ask union members what they think first. In the meantime, she's created a committee to collect campaign contributions, according to the Sun-Times. And the American Federation of Teachers has pledged $1 million to a potential bid.

Lewis didn't have clear answers to some questions during Tuesday's event, but said she'd surround herself with competent people who could help her figure it out. She said she'd like to put more cops on the street but didn't know how she'd pay for them. When asked about the controversial red-light cameras, Lewis said she thinks a serious audit of the program is a good place to start. On schools, Lewis said she'd scrap the "CEO" title and replace it with "superintendent," and would avoid closing charter schools but look into folding them back in with the rest of CPS schools.

The Caucus of Rank and File Educators, which lifted Lewis to power, has always had grander ideas than just working on the teachers’ contract. “One of our primary objectives is to start making proposals for school reform,” said CORE’s Jackson Potter in January of 2010. But Lewis will not be running for mayor of schools. Therefore, it will be interesting to see if she and the activists who back her can develop a solid plan for reforming the city.

3. Small improvement …Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced that attendance was up from the 2012-2013 school year, but movement was less than 1 percent, from 92.5 percent to 93.2 percent. Though used by many school district, the attendance rate, which measures the average percent of days students attend school, has been criticized as misleading. A school could look like it has high attendance, but have cohorts of students who miss weeks, even months of school. The school-level data can be found here

Catalyst reported that chronic absenteeism, which is the percent of students who miss 5 percent or more of the school year, spiked in 2012-2013. While officials say they don’t know why the jump occurred, during that year the district officials announced after a labored process that they were going to close 50-some schools. The biggest jump was at elementary schools. The chronic absenteeism rate went down a bit during the last school year, but is still higher than in 2010-2011, according to Catalyst’s findings. Further, schools that took in students from closed schools didn’t see a decrease in chronic absenteeism in the 2013-2014 school year.

4. Even smaller improvement… Another CPS press release came out this week touting that city students scored the highest on record on the ACT. But it was only a 0.1 scale score increase from 2013. The current CPS ACT average composite score is 18, according to the press release. To be fair, making gains on the ACT is difficult and scores tend to inch up slowly. CPS’ composite ACT scores have gone up every year, except for 2006 and 2009, for the past decade. In 2003, the average composite score was 16.4.

This is the last year in which all high school students in Illinois will take the series of tests, called the PSAE, which culminated in juniors taking the ACT. Next year, Illinois will administer the PARCC, an exam that is supposed to be aligned with the new Common Core standards. However, at the moment, CPS’ accountability rating system for high schools is tied to the PSAE so the district will likely keep giving it.

5. Middle school dropouts… California state education data shows that more than 6,400 students dropped out of middle school in the 2012-2013 school year, according to the Hechinger Report, which is a not-for-profit education news service. The story points out that most of the focus is on high school dropouts and many time statistics don’t even include students who leave 7th or 8th grade and don’t come back. In addition, students often start exhibiting the behavior that leads to dropping out in middle school, though they don’t formally do it until high school.

A 2001 Catalyst article looked at the issue of middle school dropouts. The article found that there were 5,600 middle school students who were unverified transfers. Had they been in high school, they would have been counted as dropouts. Students who exit in middle school are still absent from the main dropout number CPS uses. These days, CPS uses a five-year cohort dropout rate that looks at how many students who start in ninth grade make it to graduation within five years. The figure, however, says nothing about those who never make it to ninth grade.

Oh, and one more thing ... CPS rolled out a new website last night, complete with a new logo designed by students. The content looks to be pretty similar to what was up previously, including some out-of-date information on programs that no longer exist. Still, district officials say it's a more user-friendly site and easier to view on a mobile device.

State delays requirement for teachers of preschool English learners

August 20, 2014 - 2:19pm

The Illinois State Board of Education voted on Wednesday to delay a requirement for preschool teachers to obtain additional qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English.

The decision comes three months after ISBE first put the proposed delay to public comment. The requirement was supposed to kick in on July 1, but now teachers of preschool students who are learning English will have until July 2016 to get endorsed in either bilingual education or English as a Second Language instruction.

ISBE asked for the delay because school districts were simply unable to find enough fully qualified staff for their preschool programs to work with English language learners (ELLs).

“A lot of personnel don’t have that endorsement,” said Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education during Wednesday’s board meeting. “At the very minimum we need these to be adopted to give schools more flexibility [in meeting the requirement].”

Most of the 23 public comments on the proposed rule change agreed with the delay, although many commenters “pointed out that it is cost-prohibitive for currently employed early childhood teachers or bilingual education teachers to complete preparation programs for the endorsement that they lack.”

The board also took a step on Wednesday toward creating a set of standards for the state’s “seal of bi-literacy” for graduating high school students who attain a high level of proficiency in a language other than English. After California and New York, Illinois became the third state in the nation to approve such a program last year.

Starting this fall, districts that opt into the program will certify graduates’ diplomas and transcripts if they attain “intermediate high” proficiency or better on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages assessment.

“This is a great way to support bilingualism and multiculturalism in the state,” Koch explained. “This is starting to see dual language as a valuable thing.”

The proposal now goes to a public comment period before the board takes a final vote.

Pages

Subscribe to CRS Main Feed