The chess coach at Kelly High School, now spends his time trying to raise money through candy sales and skating parties. Neal Suwe told his chess team players recently that being in a Chicago Public School is sometimes like being in a Third World country and that to sustain the team they’d have to raise the funds themselves, the Illinois Chess Association reports on its website.
But raising money in an urban, low-income school is easier said than done, says Suwe, and many of his efforts fail. “I feel like Ralph Kramden with his get-rich-quick schemes that never pan out. I am one CPS chess coach who sees the writing on the wall that I may soon have to give it up. I need a lifeline."
FUNDING ALTERNATIVES: Budget cuts in Chicago Public Schools have affected everything from teachers to toilet paper, and extracurricular programs are no exception. But many teachers, including Christopher Hennessy of Haines Elementary School, are now seeking alternative routes to get funding for sports, arts and music through sites like DonorsChoose.org, a digital donation platform for classroom projects around the country. (Red Eye)
ABSENT CHARTERS: Out of the more than 60 elementary charters across the state, none of them hold a top-50 spot on the Sun-Times list of top 50 grade schools, CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker reports.
CPS FUNDING OPPONENTS: Illinois lawmakers are hoping to force the Chicago Public School system to show how they're spending grant money. It's a process many of them believe lacks accountability and leaves districts in other parts of the state shortchanged. Downstate lawmakers say almost every school district in Illinois has to show exactly where they're spending state funds. That money then goes to specific educational needs. However, they say that's not true for the Chicago School System. That district has been overpaid by millions of dollars. A group of bills filed this month by Representative Sandra Pihos is looking to change that payment procedure. (WSILTV.com)
STEM WORKSHOP FOR GIRLS: On Nov. 9, the Adler Planetarium will host a one-day event dedicated inspiring young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Working with Chicago Public Schools and other organizations, the Adler will invite a group of 48 young women, ages 14 to 18, to participate in a selection of workshops designed to highlight the types of skills required in STEM careers. (Digital Journal)
IN THE NATION
COLLEGE GENDER GAP: A new study traces the growing gender gap in college enrollment choices girls and boys make about which high school to attend. The research findings, published in a recent issue of the journal Educational Researcher, look at the high school and college-enrollment patterns of 537,000 students in Florida public high schools from 2002 to 2006. Overall, 65 percent of high school graduates in Florida immediately went on to a 2-year or 4-year college, but 70 percent of females enrolled and just 59 percent of males—more than a 10 percent gap. (Education Week)
The push to toughen state exams for Illinois grade school students triggered widespread drops in 2013 scores, with hundreds of schools in some of the state's poorest communities seeing performances plunge, test results show.
But some schools in affluent suburbs — from Winnetka and Lake Forest to Hinsdale — saw far less severe declines. Even after the state made it harder to pass reading and math exams for third- through eighth-graders, those schools still posted some impressive results, a Tribune analysis found.
CHARTERS GET WARNING: Five charter schools have been placed on the Chicago Public Schools academic warning list for failing to meet academic standards, CPS officials announced Wednesday. The schools are: Catalyst Circle Rock, Catalyst Howland, Chicago International Charter School Longwood, EPIC Academy and UNO Tamayo. (Sun-Times)
TECHNOLOGY AND TESTING: Illinois State Board of Education chairman Gery Chico says the state urgently needs to “play catch up” with technology in schools, in part because the state will be unable to administer its basic annual standardized exam to elementary students unless more schools are wired for the internet and outfitted with computers. (WBEZ)
IN THE NATION
DEASY TO STAY: Los Angeles schools chief John Deasy will continue to lead the nation's second-largest school district through June 2016, the district's legal counsel announced Tuesday, ending days of speculation about his future. Deasy received a satisfactory evaluation from the L.A. Unified Board of Education during a nearly five-hour, closed-door meeting. Last week, he told some high-level district officials he would resign amid reports that he was frustrated by a new school board majority that challenged his policies and philosophy. (Los Angeles Times)
RISKS OF EXCLUSION: While policymakers and educators fret about ongoing achievement gaps for students of color, school policies continue to make it harder for black, Hispanic, and American Indian students to stay in class in the first place. A new analysis of the most recent 2009-10 data from the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights finds minority students are disproportionately excluded through a wide array of disciplinary practices: corporal punishment, suspension, expulsion, and even police referral and arrest. Black students, for example, face triple the risk of white students of being suspended out of school multiple times. (Education Week)
Five charter schools, including one run by the scandal-ridden UNO and another that took in more than 50 students from closed West Side schools, have a year to improve or face being shut down.
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced Wednesday that UNO- Tamayo, Catalyst-Howland, Catalyst-Circle Rock, Chicago International Charter-Longwood and EPIC Academy are all on the warning list for this year. About 3,000 students attend these schools.
The schools' staff will have to craft a remediation plan and, if the schools don’t make reasonable progress by next September, the district will start the process of revoking their contract--effectively closing them down in June of 2015.
“I have said that I don’t care about the governance of a school, I care about whether it is producing quality,” Byrd-Bennett said.
But the announcement also underscored the danger of a system with many low-achieving schools combined with a wide array of options: Parents might enroll their children in poorly-performing schools that shut down, sending them repeatedly on the hunt for new choices.
Some of the charters took in significant numbers of students from shuttered schools this fall. When Paderewski closed in June, CPS designated Cardenas and Castellanos as welcoming schools. But only 40 percent of the students went to Cardenas and Castellanos. One group—26 students of 150--ended up at Catalyst-Howland.
Another 25 students from other closed schools went to Catalyst-Howland. Catalyst-Circle Rock and CICS-Longwood each also attracted about 10 students from closed schools.
Catalyst-Howland is the only school that remained on the warning list for the second year in a row. With only 26.6 percent of students meeting standards on the ISAT, it is among the 20 worst schools in the district, according to the CPS performance policy.
Having already received notice from CPS that the Catalyst schools were on the warning list, the charter operator brought out some parents to the October board meeting, including Linda Kapers, whose son just transferred from Paderewski.
“My son is in 6th grade and already he is talking about De La Salle,” she says. “I think Howland is a great school.”
CEO Gordon Hannon told board members that, while he and his staff are working on improving test scores, the schools do a good job of getting their 8th graders to graduate from high school. He said the North Lawndale and Austin areas have graduation rates below 50 percent.
“In these communities we deliver a graduation rate of 99 percent,” he said.
(Catalyst charter schools have no connection to Catalyst Chicago.)
Byrd-Bennett acknowledged that many of students from the closed schools went to Howland and said that was one reason it was important to hold the school to a high standard.
CPS Chief of Innovation and Incubation Jack Elsey said he knows that the staff are trying to improve the schools and he is hopeful they will be able to stay open.
This is the second year that CPS issued a warning list for charter schools. Last year, in the heat of the process that resulted in the closure of 49 elementary schools, Byrd-Bennett announced that low-performing charters were in danger, just as district-run schools.
Two charter schools-- Mirta Ramirez Computer Science High School, run by ASPIRA, and DuSable Leadership Academy, run by Betty Shabazz International Charter School—did not have their contract renewed and they were told they would be phased out. This was first time that CPS forced charter schools to close for low academic performance.
Also, this year, the leadership of Henry Ford Charter School and Chicago Talent Development High School decided to phase the schools out as they struggled to attract students, improve performance and remain financially healthy.
Before that, only two have closed since 2005. Choir Academy decided to shut itself down for financial and performance issues. ACT Charter’s board of directors was pressured to close the low-scoring school, but the school’s charter remained active and was given to KIPP to open a junior high school this year.
CPS has just restructured its networks to better align its academic goals and the geography of existing neighborhoods. Though the restructuring brought potential benefits, it puts North Lawndale schools in a more precarious position.The reorganization reduced the number of networks from 19, with separate networks for elementary schools and high schools, to 13 networks, each with a pre-k through 12th-grade structure. CPS hopes the new structure will allow for a more "coherent, continuous delivery of instruction for students starting in Pre-Kindergarten through the 12th grade."
Some types of schools will operate under their own organizational structure. The Alternative Schools Network has been renamed the Department of Option Schools, and will report to the Office of Innovation and Incubation. Service Leadership Academies (military schools) will be counted in the new structure, but will operate as a separate unit within the district. Lastly, Academy for Urban School Leadership schools will no longer be included the networks and will instead be organized under the chief officer of network supports. To date, AUSL operates 4 schools in North Lawndale: Chalmers, Collins, Johnson and Herzl.
The Lawndale Alliance really likes the idea of creating networks that address education from pre-k through 12th grade. For too long, there has been a huge disconnect between early childhood education, elementary education and high school education. Many of the issues that affect education in elementary and high school have their foundation in a child's formative years. We believe the new approach could help to better align curricula throughout children’s school years.
We look forward to more information about the new structure, including staff names, so that we can get a better understanding for how this will work from an operational standpoint.
Concerns about polarization
However, we are deeply concerned that this new structure could potentially cause more division within a system that is already dangerously polarized and divided.
This restructuring will allow many silos within single communities and result in less transparency for CPS stakeholders. Even worse, communities like North Lawndale don't have a traditional neighborhood high school to fit within the new structure. With AUSL, charter and alternative schools ostensibly serving the same community but reporting to different network chiefs, the alignment that the new structure seeks to achieve could be undermined.
There is also the potential for traditional neighborhood schools to continue to be under-resourced while other schools continue to get more resources at their expense. With different types of schools all part of different networks, who at the community level would know about the disparity?
North Lawndale is in an especially precarious position. In our community, this new structure has separated our neighborhood high schools from the elementary schools. Collins High School is an AUSL school, and so will only be reaching out to AUSL elementary schools. For all intents and purposes, AUSL will be operating as an island unto itself in and around Douglas Park (with the exception of Herzl).
In addition, North Lawndale College Prep and other charters will be isolated into their own network, creating alignment among charter elementary schools and North Lawndale College Preparatory Charter High School.
Guess what? There is no traditional high school in North Lawndale with which the remaining traditional elementary schools can be aligned. What is the plan to prepare children from traditional elementary schools in North Lawndale for high school? With what high school does CPS propose to align them?
It's bad enough that CPS closed 50 schools and developed a master facilities plan that does not adequately align capital resources with a strategic education plan that lifts ALL boats. Now, we have to live with a structure that compounds segregation in a hopelessly segregated system--this time, segregated by school type. How does this improve education for all?
A school system is only as strong as its weakest link. This structure weakens the majority of its members, and cannot be sustained.
Valerie F. Leonard is co-founder of the Lawndale Alliance.
Despite having a state law that requires teachers to be evaluated based on student performance, Illinois still hasn't been able to secure a waiver under the No Child Left Behind Act, even as the vast majority of states have been awarded the coveted flexibility from the U.S. Department of Education.
The hang-up? One year. Illinois' state law puts teacher-evaluation implementation on a slower track than what federal officials want, leaving the state to languish in waiver purgatory.
STRENGTHENING HEALTH EDUCATION: The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Chicago Public Schools a competitive $2.25 million grant that will provide $750,000 annually over three years to help support the district’s efforts to expand physical education and professional development for PE teachers and strengthen health and nutrition education programming. The funds will add to CPS’s efforts to promote greater student health and wellness through its Healthy CPS initiative, part of the City’s Healthy Chicago agenda. (Press release)
CHANCELLOR'S PRICY PERK: When she was hired five years ago at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares received a new perk with the job: an all-expenses-paid house to live in, with the expectation that it would be used for university functions. Yet despite UIC spending about $1 million to renovate, furnish and maintain the house, the chancellor rarely uses it for university events, a Chicago Tribune review has found.
IN THE NATION
APPS FOR PARENTS: Washington area school districts are creating mobile apps to make it easier for busy, cellphone-addicted parents to check school lunch menus, e-mail a teacher or check on their daughter’s latest math score. Arlington and Fairfax county schools were the latest to add their logos to the iTunes app store this fall. (The Washington Post)
CPS officials announced Tuesday that they are cutting the number of networks, the mid-level administrative units that work directly with schools. Nearly every administration has reorganized these offices at least once.
The new networks will include elementary and high schools in a given geographic area. In the past, high schools and elementary schools were in separate networks or areas. District officials said they are making this move in order to foster more “coherent, continuous delivery of instruction for students.”
The move also will save money. Instead of 19 offices with about 16 employees each, the district will have 13 offices and will end up eliminating 79 jobs.
Schools run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, military schools and alternative schools will not be part of networks.
The structure and duties of these area units has shifted significantly over the years. In the 1970s, the district had 27 sub-districts. In cost-cutting moves over the following two decades, the number was cut to 23, then to 11.
Under former CEO Paul Vallas, the units were called regions and the number reduced to six.
In 2002, Arne Duncan, who had just been named CEO, created 24 area offices and called their leaders instructional officers. His successor, Ron Huberman, reshuffled the offices yet again, creating more for high schools and fewer for elementary schools. The leaders were dubbed “chief area officers.”
Huberman beefed up the offices to reflect his commitment to move resources away from central office and closer to schools, and added staff to help schools with performance management and data analysis.
Under Jean-Claude Brizard, the area units were renamed yet again, becoming networks and sharing a support center that was supposed to provide access to central services such as facilities management, operations, and technology and compliance personnel.
The reorganization was in line with Brizard's embrace of the idea that schools should have the autonomy to "buy" the services they need.
It remains to be seen how the new reorganization under CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett will make a significant impact on school improvement.
UPDATE: CPS officials now say that Ames will convert to a military school and add high school grades, but that Marine Math and Science Academy will not move into the Ames building, according to WBEZ and the Chicago Tribune. The news comes just days after Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Marine Academy would relocate into the Ames building, a move that Ames parents had long suspected and fought against. The relocation would have effectively shuttered Ames just months after the controversial closure of 49 schools.
For over a year, parents at Ames Middle School fought a proposal by 26th Ward Ald. Roberto Maldonado to move Marine Math and Science Academy into the school. They held rallies, showed up at school board meetings, and contacted decision makers – only to be told that CPS had no such plan in the works. Yet on Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced exactly that move.
He was flanked by Board President David Vitale, Vice President Jesse Ruiz, Maldonado and 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett.
The change, which will effectively result in Ames closing, comes in spite of a CPS pledge not to close any schools for underutilization or academic reasons in the next 5 years. In a fact sheet, the mayor’s office calls the move a change in “academic focus” for Ames and notes that Ames is a Level 3 school that “has consistently been 50 percent underutilized.”
Though more students are attending the school this year than last due to the addition of Barry and Falconer as feeder schools, parent Emma Segura says enrollment is around 575 students. That’s far below the 1,110 students the school was designed for.
Before Marine Math and Science Academy moves in, the building will get $7 million in renovations paid for with tax-increment financing (TIF) dollars, including new science, computer, art and music classrooms. Current Ames students will be able to stay as students at Marine Academy. The new school will end up with 750 additional seats, according to the mayor’s office. Phoenix Military Academy will take over the building it now shares with Marine, gaining 600 new seats.
Emanuel touted the new 1350 seats as part of a plan to increase the number of seats in selective military schools by 60 percent, because of an increase in applications to those schools. Currently, 2,800 students are enrolled in military programs, Emanuel said, and 90 percent of those who graduate go on to attend 4-year colleges.
Admission to these schools is based on test scores, 7th-grade grades and attendance at an information session where students write an essay and complete a “Motivation and Perseverance Assessment.
“For every opening we have, there are six students trying to get in,” Emanuel said. He said his pledge to parents whose students q ualify for admission is that “from now on, you’re going to get an acceptance letter, not a rejection letter.”
This year, three of the district’s six military schools – Marine, Phoenix, and Rickover – saw enrollment increases of between 6 percent and 16 percent. But enrollment was down 6 percent at Air Force Academy High School, and 13 percent at Chicago Military Academy.
At the press conference announcing the move, Cadet 2nd Lt. Jordan Grajales, a sophomore at Marine, said that he had attended Ames but “wasn’t being academically [challenged] to the best of my abilities.” He said he found that challenge by coming to Marine, which was “much more structured.”
Afterwards, Cadet Lt. Col. Christopher Fletcher, a senior who is the battalion commander for Marine, said that “there’s a lot of people that are confused about what it means to go to a military school. We are here to help students, not to reform students. We are here to help students excel, students that want to excel.”
Parents charge back-door dealings
When asked about board members’ past claims that no changes to Ames were in the works, Ruiz said, “I don’t recall the statement. Things are always being explored, how to improve options for students.”
He added: “For this community to have an opportunity to have a rebirth of a school is a positive thing.”
Ruiz predicted that an increased number of available seats will lead to an even greater number of applications at military academies. “The fact that there’s more opportunity will advertise itself,” he said.
A number of parents from Logan Square Neighborhood Association, which has long been opposed to Marine’s move to the Ames building, protested outside Emanuel’s press conference. “I’m really angry; I’m very upset. They never came to the school and talked to the parents,” said parent Emma Segura, who has a 7th- grade and an 8th-grade student at Ames. “They haven’t even come to the school to see how the school is utilized.”
Segura says parents are upset because they need information from CPS about whether “your children are going to move out, (or) your kids are going to stay there.” Key to her concerns are whether Marine, a selective military high school, will be able to serve bilingual and special needs students.
She adds that parents would be willing to discuss the issue if given the opportunity.
“If Maldonado would come and talk to us, we would talk to him,” Segura said. “But nobody has.”
Miriam Perez, a community representative on Marine’s LSC who attended the press conference and whose son will attend the school next year, says she is enthusiastic about the move.
“My son was telling me he is very happy to move in. His vision is, ‘I’m going to be an example for the 7th- and 8th-graders,' ” Perez says. “They’re not using the space. This is a great idea.”
But, Perez said, she was not aware that Ames would be closing.
Maldonado said he had worked with Vitale, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and Mayor Emanuel to move Marine into the Ames building. He also thanked longtime community activist Rev. Walter “Slim” Coleman for helping bring the deal to fruition.
“Who better than our clergy to understand the psychological and emotional needs of our kids?” Maldonado asked.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel had little to say Monday about embattled charter school network UNO that is the subject of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation. The politically-connected Latino school organization is led by CEO Juan Rangel, who has been a key Emanuel supporter. Asked if he still had confidence in Rangel, Emanuel said he wanted to wait and see what conclusions UNO’s board reaches. (Tribune)
$10,526 PER STUDENT: Chicago Public Schools funnels some $80 million a year to UNO charters schools to educate 7,600 students at 16 campuses. (Tribune)
TUMULTUOUS TENURE: Frustrated by years of tumult and alleged mismanagement, the teachers union president ticked off a series of complaints at a recent south suburban school district board meeting. Staff members at Thornton Township High School District 205 were being paid incorrectly, he said. Hiring had been delayed. Crucial school year planning hadn't started. And most absurdly, the board was deleting its policy against nepotism. But the chaos reached a tipping point last week when school board President Kenneth Williams was kicked out of office by a Cook County judge because of a three-decade-old felony forgery conviction. The conviction violated Illinois law, which states elected officials convicted of an "infamous crime" cannot hold office, the judge said. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
OVER-THE-TOP COMPENSATION: As New York city charter schools cry poverty over the threat a new mayor might charge them rent, their bigwigs raked in the big bucks — with at least 16 earning more than the city schools chancellor. While Chancellor Dennis Walcott earns $212,614 for overseeing more than 1,600 public schools, Village Academies Network CEO Deborah Kenny, who founded just two schools, scored $499,146 — tax returns for the 2011-12 school year show. (New York Daily News)
LINKING EDUCATION TO CAREERS: Appearing at an experimental New York high school Friday, President Barack Obama implored Congress to invest in new high school models that help prepare students for the ever-changing job market. (Education Week)
Two months after Chicago's school year began, the city is pulling back on non-public safety workers staffing the Safe Passage routes that remain in place to ensure children's safety to and from school. The change comes after Chicago Public Schools said only half of the children expected to attend new welcoming schools actually made the switch. (NBC Chicago)
CROWDED CONDITIONS: Hitch Elementary School on the far Northwest Side is among the most crowded public schools in Chicago, but pleas to build an annex or simply set up extra classrooms in mobile buildings have fallen on deaf ears at Chicago Public Schools headquarters, parents, school officials and Ald. John Arena (45th) said. The school, at 5625 N. McVicker Ave., has 585 students attending class in a building that has an ideal capacity of 450 students, Reese said. One class studies in what was once a men’s bathroom. The defunct projector’s booth in the school’s auditorium has been converted into a room for the school’s speech therapist to work with students. (DNA Info)
MOVING ON: Stephanie Gadlin will leave the Chicago Teachers Union where she served as spokesman to become the Senior Communications Manager for the governor’s office. (NBC Chicago)
IN THE NATION
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY: Dollars-and-cents tabulations are the fastest-growing sector of the college rankings industry, with ever more analyses vying for the attention of high school students and their parents who are anxious about finances. (The New York Times)
Measure of America released Halve the Gap by 2030: Youth Disconnection in American Cities, a new report that reveals a staggering number of disconnected youth in the top 25 most populated U.S. cities. Disconnected youth are 16-24 year olds who are not employed or in school; an astonishing 5.8 million youth nationwide—or one in seven youths.
Halve the Gap looks deeper into youth disconnection than a previous report from last year to examine youth disconnection at the neighborhood level, exposing extreme gaps within the most racially segregated cities. In Chicago, New York, and Detroit, for instance, gaps of 30 percentage points separate the most – and least – connected communities. In Chicago, the Lake View and Lincoln Park neighborhoods have a youth disconnection rate of 2.9 percent, compared to South Lawndale and the Lower West Side with a rate of 33.2 percent.
A CHANCE TO SHOW OFF: Once considered the "ugly duckling" of its suburban district, Wheeling High School showed off its new nanotechnology lab during a visit Thursday by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
SCHOLARLY STATES: A new analysis of how all U.S. states stack up against countries around the world shows that 8th grade students in 35 states outperformed the international average in math and those in 46 did so in science. The federal report showcases the academic prowess of high-achieving states, such as Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Vermont, which outperformed all but five of 47 countries, provinces, and jurisdictions abroad in mathematics. The top performers in that subject were South Korea, Singapore, and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). At the same time, the study also highlights some states' scholastic weaknesses. Alabama, Mississippi, and the District of Columbia, for instance, were the lowest-performing domestically in math. (Education Week)
COUNSELORS RECALLED: Last week, after Gov. Corbett announced that he would release an additional $45 million to the District, Philadelphia schools Superintendent William Hite said he'd immediately begin recalling 400 employees. Of that number, he said, 80 would be guidance counselors. (The Notebook)
Earlier this year, CPS launched a centralized enrollment process for its preschools, setting an earlier deadline to apply for a slot and designating sites around the city where parents had to submit their application.
At the time, some teachers and principals feared that families might be put off by the new process, which also now requires proof of income and government benefits (a common requirement for early childhood programs). And though CPS made some adjustments and extended the deadline, enrollment in CPS preschools dropped this year, CPS spokesperson Keiana Barrett concedes.
There are a total of 23,671 students in preschool this year, compared to 24,507 last year -- a decline of 3 percent. Of the students in preschool this year, 17,000 registered this year for the first time, but CPS has not yet provided data on how that compares to last year.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story inaccurately calculated the decline in the number of preschool students this year. The story inaccurately compared the 17,000 children who registered for preschool this year to the total enrollment of approximately 24,000 last year.)
Preschool teachers say part of the problem is the loss of hands-on involvement from them.
“We lost control,” says Laura Avalos, a preschool teacher at Addams Elementary in the Lake Calumet neighborhood on the Southeast Side. “They changed the process and took it out of our hands.”
In her 15 years as a teacher and community resident, Avalos routinely approached parents and encourage them to bring their children to school, where they could fill out a preschool application. Based on the date they applied, with at-risk children getting priority, parents would get a call-back informing them of whether they had gotten a slot.
“We had a real handle on it and typically knew what our roster was by the end of June,” says Avalos.
The school typically kept a waiting list, and any families who were unable to get a spot would be the first to be contacted the following year.
The new centralized approach scrapped this informal enrollment process. Instead of applying at their neighborhood schools, parents now must bring their application to one of just 24 designated sites and list their top school choices. Once turned in, the site administrator approves the family, issues them an ID number, and assigns them to a preschool that has space. The preschool then contacted parents to begin the enrollment process, which includes collecting paperwork like medical forms and immunization records.
“Parents would go to the school and ask for an enrollment application, but they’d tell you to go somewhere else or to call somebody,” says Felipa Mena, a co-chair of POWER-PAC, a coalition of parents from low-income, immigrant, and working-class families. Mena pointed out that transportation became a problem for parents who lived further away from one of the application sites.
The original May 3 deadline was extended, allowing families to register as late as September.
But late signups added confusion to the new process, particularly when preschool teachers were unable to answer questions about changes to the process.
“It was lot of ‘Just look online.’ But a lot of parents don’t have access to the Internet, particular in these low-income areas,” says teacher Joyce Rogers of Cook Elementary in Auburn Gresham.
Still, CPS points out that despite setbacks, 80 percent of parents were able to have their children attend their first choice of preschool.
“Like with any new system or process, there were some parents and stakeholders who required additional support to successfully navigate the system,” spokesperson Barrett wrote in an e-mail. “As issues arose, we addressed them individually and made adjustments including extending time-lines and keeping central sites open all summer.”
Transfers, tuition co-pays
At Cook Elementary this fall, only 36 children are currently enrolled in the preschool, split between the morning and afternoon sessions. A full roster would be 40 children.
“I’ve never gone into the school year without a full roster. We’ve never had to worry about still bringing in students at this point in the year,” says Rogers, in her sixth year at Cook. “It feels like we were kind of strangle-held by the process.” By the ninth week of school, 7 children had transferred in or out; the preschool typically has three or four transferring students in an entire year.
Rogers is still getting calls from parents who want to enroll their child, but she can only direct them to one of the registration sites; the nearest is five miles away. Rogers said she’s concerned that the distance may discourage some parents from following through with enrollment.
Similar concerns were raised in other communities. One preschool teacher in the Garfield-Humboldt Park area also says high mobility became a concern with the earlier deadline. Though parents would register their child in the spring, they sometimes didn’t “know where they’ll be a few months from now,” says the teacher, who asked that her name not be used.
When school began, teachers were unable to reach some families either by phone or at their previous homes, the teacher adds.
Part of the new application includes income verification, which is used to determine if a family has to pay tuition. For students who do not qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, families have a co-pay based on a sliding scale.
Rosie Lopez, a preschool teacher at McCormick Elementary in Little Village, says she received no information about how much each family must pay. She is worried that families will stop bringing their children if the co-pay is too high.
Barrett says families were supposed to be notified of their co-pay amount at the time of registration, and that tools were provided, in the Ready to Learn! booklet and online, to help families calculate their payment ahead of time.
CPS has no current plans to change the process or add additional application sites, but could make changes based on feedback from stakeholders.
Illinoisans will get a new and improved view of their local schools through a more consumer-friendly State, District and School Report Card, set to debut Oct. 31.The new Report Card features multiple measures of academic performance as well as school climate and learning conditions, giving a more complete picture of the state’s nearly 4,000 public schools. The Report Card, developed through the Illinois State Board of Education, will be available Oct. 31 at illinoisreportcard.com in two new formats:
1. An online Report Card with an interactive tool for exploring school performance data. The tool includes simple, intuitive displays as well as detailed data views and descriptions for each school and district. The online Report Card will continue to offer information on student demographics and performance. 2. An At-A-Glance Report Card will offer a two-page snapshot that can be downloaded from the online Report Card, printed and distributed to local families and community members. A sample of the “At-A-Glance” Report Card can now be found at illinoisreportcard.com.
COMEBACK FOR OWENS: The Chicago Board of Education on Wednesday agreed to restore Jesse Owens' name to a South Side elementary school after a campaign by the track and field star's family. The name was removed when the district closed 47 elementary schools this summer, including Jesse Owens Community Academy in the West Pullman neighborhood. The school's students were directed to nearby Gompers Fine Arts Options Elementary School. (Tribune)
AT THE BOARD MEETING: CPS board members adopted a new promotion policy at their meeting on Wednesday that adopts the more difficult NWEA test as the basis for promotion decisions. Catalyst Chicago explained the policy earlier this week. CPS Chief of Teaching and Learning Annette Gurley emphasized to the board that, in order to keep children from being held back, teachers are being instructed to provide intervention to students who are getting bad grades or testing poorly. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said he didn’t like the idea that the extra support, both in summer school and during the school year, will be computer-based, calling it a “a recipe for disaster ” for students who might already be disenchanted with school. Board member Andrea Zopp said she wanted an update on how the supports are put in place. “Often things are put on paper, but they don’t get implemented on the ground.” Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Gordon Hannon, executive director of Catalyst Charter Schools (which has no connection to Catalyst Chicago), said he received notice that two of his three schools are being put on a warning list for possible revocation of their charter. He acknowledged that they need to improve the schools’ test scores, but said they do a good job of getting their students prepared for high school and most of their students graduate. Board President David Vitale said that some charter schools have been given notice that their schools will be on a warning list. (Catalyst Chicago)
1963 BOYCOTT REVISITED: Fifty years ago on Wednesday, 200,000 Chicagoans boycotted Chicago Public Schools because of the segregationist policies of Superintendent Benjamin Willis, who put mobile units on playgrounds and parking lots to solve crowding in African American schools. These students were also given secondhand books. Read more about a documentary chronicling the protests of Freedom Day on Oct. 22, 1963 and watch a video clip on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight."
IN THE STATE
COMMON CORE HOPES: Can the Common Core State Standards transform teaching and raise student achievement? The Hechinger Report and the Education Writers Association look at seven states—New York, Tennessee, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Colorado, California and Florida—in depth.
MIDDLE CLASS CAN'T SAVE URBAN SCHOOLS: As groups of middle-class families in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston choose to remain in the city and send their children to public schools instead of fleeing to the suburbs, it is tempting to see this development as a solution to the problem of urban school failure. However, while more middle-class families in cities and city schools would certainly help, attracting such families does not and cannot substitute for reforms that address the root causes of concentrated poverty, budget shortfalls, and failing schools. (The Atlantic)
Part of Catalyst Chicago's ongoing coverage on the transition of students after the historic closing of 49 elementary schools in June 2013. Catalyst's Fall In Depth analyzes the aftermath of these closings.
During the uproar over school closings, CPS officials repeatedly promised that students would end up at better schools and poured millions into “welcoming schools” to improve them. Now, with the revelation that only 60 percent of displaced students enrolled in their designated welcoming school, the academic performance at the schools where they landed becomes an important X-factor, made even more critical by the fact that the Consortium on Chicago School Research has found that closings are only beneficial if students end up in the top-performing schools.
Most of the shuttered schools—80 percent—were rated Level 3, the lowest rating CPS now hands out. A Catalyst Chicago analysis of CPS data found that, in one sense, there’s good news: Overall, just over half of students who went to their welcoming school ended up at schools that were rated Level 1 or 2.
But the analysis also revealed troubling news: Only one-fifth of all students made it to the highest-performing schools, and a significant number landed at bottom-tier schools.
Catalyst’s analysis of the data on enrollment from the 1st, 10th and 20th day of school also showed that more than 2,000 students, including preschoolers and severely disabled students, were not enrolled anywhere on the first day of school. This figure represents about 18 percent of the 11,729 displaced students and is more than double the 7 percent of students whom CPS admitted over the summer were not enrolled.
All but 570 of these students eventually enrolled in a school. Despite the pricey renovations and new resources, the welcoming schools did not attract the bulk of students after the first day. In fact, those schools lost about 80 students between the 10th and 20th day after the start of school.
One of the construction companies at the center of the controversy surrounding the United Neighborhood Organization’s state school construction grant is in line to get part of a Chicago Public Schools deal that the Board of Education is expected to approve on Wednesday. (Sun-Times)
SEEKING TIF FUNDS FOR CPS, NOT DEPAUL: About 40 education activists picketed outside a City Club of Chicago luncheon Monday at a downtown Maggiano's where DePaul University President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider was speaking. The protestors said the private and profitable college does not need taxpayer dollars to finance a basketball arena, arguing that TIF money would be better spent on public education. (Progress Illinois)
IN THE NATION
TEACHER RATINGS DEBATE: Only one out of every hundred public school teachers in New York was rated ineffective under a new state evaluation system implemented during the last school year, according to data released Tuesday by the state Education Department. While preliminary state numbers showed most teachers got passing marks, the results did little to calm controversy over the use of tougher new state tests to measure how teachers do in the classroom. (The Buffalo News)
CORPORAL PUNISHMENT PERSISTS: Even as an increasing number of districts and states abolish the practice, corporal punishment remains a legal form of discipline in 19 states, most of them in the South, according to the Center for Effective Discipline, a nonprofit based in Columbus, Ohio, that provides educational information on corporal punishment and alternatives to its use. That's a decrease from 2004, when 22 states permitted the practice. (Education Week)
Seven years ago, I became a founding teacher at a new, small CPS high school on the South Side. We replaced a neighborhood high school and admitted 150 students from the Englewood area. The initial year was incredibly challenging for many reasons. But a main factor in our struggles arose from the mismatch of teachers’ expectations and students’ academic skills and work habits.
Many students did not complete homework assignments. Some students did not complete class assignments even when they were present in class. One student – Vanessa –walked out on the final exam because she did not want to take it. Instead, she looked through the exam and said she would take it the next day. I asked her if something was wrong, but she admitted she just wasn’t ready. I told her I couldn’t give her the exam the next day because she had already seen it, and it wouldn’t be fair. She walked out, saying she was going to fail anyway.
That year, we gave our students zeroes for the work they did not turn in. And those zeroes had an impact. Many students tried to make up the zeroes for partial credit through tutoring sessions in the morning, on lunch periods, and after school. I remember grabbing kids at lunch to work with them to improve their grades and skills. When, in spite of these efforts, only 59 percent of our students were considered on-track to graduate in four years by the end of the school year, many of the off-track students signed up for summer school.
No more incentive
After our first year, our principal proposed that we move to what is called a “no-zero policy,” because a zero could bring a student’s grade down so far that recovery was not an option. She had us read an article that argued that the traditional grading scale of 90-100 for an A, 80-89 for a B, 70-79 for a C, 69-60 for a D, and 59-0 as an F unfairly penalized students because the range for an ‘F’ was 59 points while the other grades spanned only 10 points.
The principal’s proposal was quickly put to a vote, and teachers had the notion that we could always change the policy if we thought it wasn’t working. The majority of teachers voted in favor of the policy, which meant that if a student did not complete an assignment, he or she would receive a 50 percent.
Many students continued to fall into similar categories--the students who didn’t do homework still didn’t do it, those who didn’t do much class work still didn’t do much class work, and a few opted out of an exam. But there was one major change: The kids who once worked hard to pass by attending tutoring sessions instead decided to forego the sessions and do other things.
In fact, even though both batches of freshmen were similar academically, our on-track rate rose from 59 percent to 87 percent. Since few students were truly failing, hardly anyone thought they needed to work hard to improve.
With 87 percent of our freshmen considered on-track, one would expect that those in the second group would have much higher standardized test scores. But in fact, the ACT scores of both groups were nearly the same, and equally abysmal—a 15.1 for those with a 59 percent on-track rate, and a 15.4 for the group with 87 percent on-track.
After one year, some teachers wanted to reverse the no-zero policy, but the administration would not allow it. Why would they, when a major metric for rating a school, the freshman on-track rate, had increased nearly 30 percentage points and was far higher than the CPS average?
However, the statistic was not accurate in comparison to schools that did not have a no-zero policy. It was just that our expectations weren’t as high: If a student earned a D at our school for the same work that would have earned an F somewhere else, of course our on-track rates were higher.
Solutions for better academics, accountability
Now, with the new school ratings system in CPS, many networks and schools are trying out no-zero policies, especially schools that are already on probation and have experienced little improvement. My suggestion to these schools is to not lower your expectations for students by giving them the academic equivalent of a Monopoly-like “Get out of jail free” card. With the no-zero policy, I saw us telling our students, “You can get a pass even when you don’t work hard for it.”
It is incredibly difficult for people in our country to claw their way out of generational poverty. A good education is central to that struggle. And yet we are saying to young people in Chicago who have grown up in the deepest poverty, “You don’t have to work hard to pass. You can miss half of your assignments in all of your classes, and you can still graduate from our high school.” Most suburban schools and selective enrollment schools would never even consider this rule. And no, most colleges will not apply it either. But we are allowing our students in CPS to believe they are on-track because of it.
A better solution to the problem of ensuring that students get on-track is to offer clear, school-wide standards for revision of work and late assignments. The selective enrollment school where I currently work has implemented such policies as determined by departments. For example, in our English department, kids have up to two weeks to hand in late work, but their grade declines by a certain percentage each class day that their work is late. They also have two weeks to revise assignments for a higher grade.
We must also find a solution for how schools are held accountable for growth. If a school does have a no-zero policy, it is incredibly unfair to rank them equally alongside schools that do not. For accountability reasons, schools that have a no-zero policy should have an asterisk beside all of the numbers that are affected by the policy and explaining that the policy is in place. These schools should be held responsible for their D’s as well as their F’s when it comes to on-track data reporting.
It is a terrible lesson to teach any student in America that it is okay to be lazy, but this lesson is exactly what the no-zero policy says to our Chicago students. Teachers in schools where this policy is under consideration need to band together to fight it. We know that lowering academic expectations will only hurt our students in the long run.
Parents can be allies for teachers on this issue. During parent-teacher conferences at my old school, parents were surprised and put off by the no-zero policy. Many parents felt that students should receive zeroes if they didn’t do work, and that receiving a grade of 50 percent instead was not giving students real consequences.
It may seem like an uphill battle, but keeping our expectations high will help our students in school as well as in their future careers.
Gina Caneva is a National Board Certified teacher and Teach Plus teaching policy fellow who has been in CPS for 10 years. Currently, she is a librarian, English teacher, and Instructional Leadership Team Lead at Lindblom Math and Science Academy.
A decade-long study of more than 225,000 Illinois public high school graduates finds many reasons that African American and Latino graduates are not becoming teachers.
Illinois education officials have been wrestling with a significant mismatch between the number of minority teachers and the number of minority students in the state’s public schools. While almost half of students are non-white, more than 80 percent of their teachers are white. A recent push to increase teacher quality standards threatens to exacerbate the difference. (WBEZ)
IN THE STATE
DUNCAN TOUTS S.T.E.M.: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will visit with students at Wheeling High School on Thursday to discuss the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and tour the school's new nano technology laboratory, officials said Monday. (Daily Herald)
IN THE NATION
ACA POSES CHALLENGES FOR DISTRICTS: School districts are facing vexing financial and operational questions about how they will comply with the Affordable Care Act, which is leading some school systems to cut employees' work hours. (Education Week)
POSSIBLE IRS VIOLATIONS: In a letter to the IRS’ acting commissioner, ProgressNow New Mexico alleged that Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education “has failed to disclose payments — or as the Foundation calls them, scholarships — for public official travel on its Form 990s as required by the IRS.” ProgressNow executive director Patrick Davis argued that “it is possible these unreported payments to the government officials may be deemed to provide a private inurement in violation of IRS regulations.” (Salon)
Two former teachers who got their start through Teach for America have ambitious plans for a new preschool that would combine the best elements from several popular methods of teaching with an emphasis on serving parents as well as children.
The pair hope to open their preschool on the Southwest Side as soon as next summer.
Ultimately, Jesse Ilhardt and Kelly Powers want to run a network of early childhood centers that provide early care and learning for infants and children starting at 6 weeks of age up to 5 years. Though specifics are still up in the air, the centers could operate up to 11 hours a day—a boon to working parents—and would be staffed with certified teachers.
So far, finding money and space have been big hurdles for the new non-profit, VOCEL, which stands for Viewing Our Children as Emerging Leaders. Initially, Ilhardt and Powers planned to start with a center in Belmont-Cragin. They had held forums in the community, with help from the CPS Office of Family and Community Engagement. But those plans were scrapped once they learned that other South Side and West Side neighborhoods, with lower median incomes than Belmont-Cragin, were higher on the city’s priority list for early childhood programs.
The two recently considered a storefront space in Brighton Park, only to find that it had been snapped up by a local elementary school.
Though VOCEL was a finalist in the Project Impact competition sponsored by A Better Chicago, Ilhardt and Powers recently found out that their nonprofit did not win one of the $100,000 grants. Their only clear source of financing will be state child-care funds, which many preschools find are too paltry to sustain a quality program.
“It is just reinforcing how challenging it is for providers to enter the market without startup funding,” says Ilhardt, executive director of education for VOCEL.
She and Powers have a combined 11 years in early childhood education, making them relative newcomers as educators. Before hatching their preschool idea, Ilhardt and Powers worked at Teach for America, coaching new early childhood teachers across the city. They are two of several Teach for America alumni who have gone on to start nonprofits in Chicago.
Ilhardt says a key motivation for the venture is the lack of access many children in Chicago have to quality pre-K programs. They want to “provide that for families who are sitting on waiting lists,” she says.
Curriculum focus becomes clearer
The vision for VOCEL is to combine elements from well-known early childhood teaching methods such as Reggio Emilia, the Project Approach, and Montessori, to create a preschool that is “holistic” and “culturally relevant” with a focus on literacy and social-emotional development.
Last winter, Ilhardt and Powers held their first parent forum, in Belmont-Cragin. A big snowstorm hit, and the forum drew no attendees, the pair notes in a blog entry on the Teach for America website.
But by April, they had connected with more parents, developed the name VOCEL and decided on a curricular focus. For inspiration, they visited early childhood education programs at Chicago Commons, Mary Crane Center, Educare, the Children’s Home + Aid Society and Christopher House.
Powers, who serves as executive director of operations, says their center will also focus on educating and empowering parents to choose their children’s paths as they transition into kindergarten. She envisions a “multi-generational program” with a focus on family involvement.
“One thing we want to do is treat the child intake as a family intake, and being able to structure our program around that,” Ilhardt says. The specific focus of their programs for parents, which could include English as a Second Language or GED classes, will depend on parents’ needs.
Another strategy the center hopes to adopt is training parents to be additional teachers in the classroom, a plan inspired by a similar program at Park West Cooperative Nursery.
Another emphasis of the center will be on staff development, with weekly formal observations and debriefings with teachers and in-depth feedback twice a year.
In line with practices believed to be developmentally appropriate for the youngest students, much of the instruction will be play-based, with teachers using “purposefully planned play.” For instance, adults can ask open-ended questions about children’s play and purposefully introduce advanced vocabulary words in discussion of a child’s work.
Gov. Pat Quinn vowed Friday not to give “any more” school construction money to the scandal-tainted United Neighborhood Organization after word surfaced this week of a federal securities probe into the clout-heavy group that’s spent tens of millions of dollars in state grant funds building charter schools. (Sun-Times)“My judgment is we’re not going to give any more construction money to UNO given the situation that they have found themselves in,” Quinn told reporters at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago in his first public statements about suspending UNO funding for a second time this year.
TEACHER PROFILE: Sharon Eskridge was 38 years old when she decided to become a teacher after hearing negative statements about black children on the radio. She graduated from DePaul University and for the last 14 years has worked as a language arts teacher for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at South Side School in the neighborhood where she grew up. (DNA Info)
TAX INCREASE PROPOSED: Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to propose increasing the city cigarette tax by 75 cents to help plug a budget gap and provide more free vision care for low-income Chicago Public Schools students, a City Hall source said Saturday. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
RURAL AND URBAN DIFFERENCES: Students in poverty have been repeatedly shown to have poorer working memory than higher income students, but those working memory problems seem to differ between students in rural and urban poverty. Higher-income rural and urban students performed about equally well in verbal and visual-spatial memory tasks, at about the 60th percentile. However, while students in urban poverty performed at just below the 40th percentile in both verbal and spatial working memory, students in rural poverty performed better in verbal-memory tasks—at the 45th percentile—and significantly worse in visual-spatial working memory, at the 29th percentile. (Education Week)
NEW MODEL FOR EDUCATION JOURNALISM: A new non-profit news outlet, Chalkbeat, debuting Monday is gearing up to cover education in-depth in four states, in the process providing an alternative model for local journalism about schools, education policy and education politics. The online-only Chalkbeat springs from the unlikely partnership created last January when the New York-based non-profit news site GothamSchools merged with Denver-based EdNews Colorado. Mostly foundation-funded, it gets about one-fifth of its revenue from local sponsorships and job ads for teachers and administrators. (USAToday)
Two community groups are trying to figure out their next steps after they lost their battle to block the construction of a new Noble Street Charter School.
The City Council’s zoning committee voted 7 to 3 to approve a request to rezone an area across the street from Prosser Career Academy to allow for another school. The School Board has not yet approved the charter school, but Belmont-Cragin is considered a priority area for new schools.
“We don’t mean to diminish the success of any schools, but this is also a neighborhood that CPS has named overcrowded,” said Angela Montagna, director of external affairs for Noble Charter Schools Network. “It’s with this knowledge that we decided to come into the Belmont-Cragin community. We are adding a high-quality educational resource to the community.”
According to CPS standards, Prosser is 127 percent over capacity.
However, two groups—Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools and Communities United for Quality Education—did not want to see Noble move in. Also, Ald. Nick Sposato (36th Ward) opposed the new charter.
Sposato said he doesn’t believe it is Noble’s intention to cause a rift in the neighborhood, but there are areas that are more overcrowded. And with the new per-pupil budget system, every student who Noble draws away from Prosser will mean a loss of money for Prosser.
“I, who have lived here all my life, whose house is two miles away from there, don’t think it’s a good location,” said the alderman.
Safety also is a major concern for community members who do not like the idea of having potential rival high schools across the street from each other.
Once the new ward map goes into effect in January 2015, the new Noble would technically be in Ald. Emma Mitts’s 37th ward, while Prosser will be in 36th Ward.
The new Noble Street school will be built with a $20 million grant from Illinois Tool Works, a private manufacturing company. They are donating the money to fund the project in honor of their former President and CEO David Speer, who passed away last year. It will be focused on STEM fields. (This information is corrected from the original article.)
Community education activists plan to continue putting pressure on officials to invest in neighborhood schools, said Juan Cruz, a spokesperson for Communities United for Quality Education. He said members of his group will be at the next Board of Education meeting on October 25.
For the second time this year, Gov. Pat Quinn has suspended state funding to the scandal-scarred United Neighborhood Organization, the biggest charter-school operator in Illinois. A Quinn spokeswoman said Thursday the state has frozen the final $15 million of a $98 million state school-construction grant that the Illinois Legislature promised UNO in 2009 to help build a network of charter schools. (Sun-Times)POLICY CHANGE AT CPS: With more rigorous assessment tests this year creating concerns that the number of failing students could rise, Chicago Public Schools plans to revamp its promotion policy for third-, sixth- and eighth-graders. (Tribune)
TOUGHER STANDARDS: As CPS moves toward implementing tougher academic standards and assessments, district leaders plan to adjust the promotion policy and allow some students who score low on the new standardized test to be sent to the next grade. (Catalyst)
A TURNAROUND AT SENN: DNA Info looks at how Senn High School on the North Side moved from among the bottom third of Chicago Public Schools to the top tier. Senn earned a level 1 (excellent) rating from Chicago Public Schools this year after being on academic probation 13 of the last 17 school years, according to district data. Much of the credit goes to principal Susan Lofton, hired in 2010.
IN THE NATION
TEACHER ACHIEVEMENT: The District of Columbia's closely watched system for evaluating teachers and providing bonus pay appears to have motivated weak teachers to make improvements, and to spur already-effective teachers to even higher levels of performance, a new study concludes. (Education Week)