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Updated: 1 hour 13 min ago

CPS investigating alleged ‘teacher misconduct’ with test boycott

March 20, 2014 - 6:33pm

UPDATE: Following Thursday's interviews at Drummond, CPS officials visited Saucedo on Friday to continue their investigation into "teacher misconduct" related to the recent ISAT boycott. CPS officials said that, unlike Thursday, no students were questioned on Friday.

Saucedo teachers said that CPS investigators only interviewed teachers who didn't boycott the test.

Investigators from the Chicago Public Schools Law department interviewed students and staff today about possible “teacher misconduct” related to ISAT testing at Drummond Montessori, where some teachers refused to administer the standardized tests as part of a highly publicized teacher protest earlier this month.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood said in a statement that the district wants “to ensure students were comfortable during the time the test was administered,” although he could not confirm any specific allegations.

The district has not yet disciplined any teachers at Drummond or at Saucedo Scholastic Elementary, where the entire faculty also boycotted the test. But Hood said that teachers do face possible discipline, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Meanwhile, Drummond parents who “opted” their children out of taking the exams  – which CPS is phasing out and will not count this year toward students’ promotions or entry into selective schools – cried foul after learning that investigators had questioned some children without their consent.

“Don’t use these kids as pawns in this political game,” said Jonathan Goldman, a parent and chair of Drummond’s local school council. “Given that the allegations that has been made generally is that perhaps teachers were actively encouraging parents to opt their students out, then they should be talking with the parents. It’s the parents who made the decision.”

Goldman and other parents say they don’t understand why CPS did not notify parents or ask for permission before interviewing students. Some parents, including Mike Staudenmaier, called the school after learning of the ongoing investigation to ask that their children not be questioned.

Staudenmaier said he was “infuriated” that the school district would interrogate children at the school without attempting to notify their parents. 

“I’m not a lawyer but this seems completely unethical and reprehensible,” he said. “They know how to reach us and they chose not to attempt to reach me or any other parent, probably because they recognized they wouldn’t have any sympathy from us. So they harassed our kids instead.”

Hood did not respond to the parents’ criticism, but described the investigation as routine. He said that any time there are allegations of teacher misconduct, students and staff may be interviewed. He also clarified that CPS had sent investigators from its Law department, and not actual attorneys, to Drummond to conduct the interviews.

In an interview with Catalyst Chicago, Hood said that “CPS may conduct similar investigations at other schools around the district.” Although he declined to name the other schools, the comment is a likely reference to Saucedo.

The Chicago Teachers Union has vowed to fight any discipline.

Read CPS’s complete statement below. 

"Chicago Public Schools is meeting and talking with students, teachers and staff at Drummond Elementary School about ISAT testing to ensure students were comfortable during the time the test was administered. CPS officials only spoke with students who opted to talk with them and the investigation does not pertain to any student disciplinary issue. Students who chose not to take the state-required ISAT test last week do not face discipline from the District. CPS has decreased the number of standardized tests issued each year, but the District is required by Illinois law to administer the ISAT, and the test is tied to federal and state funding for schools."

At charters, variety the norm for teacher evaluations

March 20, 2014 - 11:38am

During the contract negotiation sessions that recently ended at the UNO Charter School Network, one of the biggest points of contention for teachers was the evaluation system and its link to year-end bonuses.

Teachers considered the evaluation metrics unfair and complained that formal observations weren’t done the same way in all classrooms.

“For us, they stay the whole hour. For other [schools], they may only stay 15 minutes,” says Gerit Nora, a 5th-grade teacher at UNO’s Officer Donald Marquez Elementary. “In some schools, teachers never get feedback all year but then get a score at the end.”

At Marquez, teachers are formally observed and evaluated four times a year, Nora says. The evaluations are factored into a year-end score that comprises 40 percent of a teacher’s rating. Half of the rating is student growth on the NWEA test, and the remaining 10 percent is a mix of student attendance, student dress code compliance, and school-wide and network-wide performance.

The evaluation process did not change under the new contract ratified this week by UNO teachers and staff, who were represented by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, or Chicago ACTS.

But the contract did eliminate the link between evaluations and pay. Mallory Bruno, a special education teacher at UNO’s Octavio Paz Elementary School, said the bonus system “really formed bad relationships and ruined morale.”

Organizers said UNO administrators “really believed” in the system and were unwilling to change it, but compromised on the link to bonuses.

UNO representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

While traditional schools in CPS must adhere to the new evaluation system called REACH (Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago), one of the hallmarks of charter schools is the variety of systems used to evaluate teachers. 

Nationally, charter school teacher evaluations can be “as different as the number of charters,” says Nancy Waymack of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “It is hard to generalize and say that charters evaluate their teachers in one way, versus districts.”

Allison Jack, director of charter growth and support at the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, says charter school principals often can spend more time in the classroom for observations because they more commonly hire business managers to take on school operations. As a result, they may be more hands-on, teaching lessons and observing teachers regularly.

As with UNO, charter schools commonly weigh growth in test scores more heavily in evaluations than non-charters. (Under REACH, test score growth currently accounts for up to 25 percent of teacher evaluations.)

In charters, scores are also often used to determine merit pay, unlike in traditional CPS schools.

Chicago ACTS President Brian Harris says that union members are almost entirely opposed to merit pay, believing it sows distrust. Instead, Harris suggests, evaluations should be about coaching and improving teachers’ work.

Teacher firing not a big strategy

Waymack notes that charter schools have more freedom to fire teachers with—or without—negative evaluations. But charters have not necessarily been quick to get rid of teachers who don’t measure up. Instead, some say they place more emphasis on good hiring practices and training.

Angela Montagna, director of external affairs at the Noble Network of Charter Schools, says the network leaves it to principals to “decide if and how they want to evaluate teachers.”

All teachers in the Noble network are eligible for bonuses based on factors including growth in student test scores, school culture, and parent involvement. But principals get the leeway to create their own evaluation systems.

Tyson Kane, the founding principal of Noble Street-Chicago Bulls College Prep, says that the network places a greater emphasis on hiring teachers who can demonstrate good results with students, rather than on evaluation once teachers are hired.

At Kane’s school, 80 percent of teachers’ evaluations scores are based on factors related to student achievement, like ACT and Advanced Placement test results and whether students are on-track to be promoted to the next grade. The remaining 20 percent is determined by more intangible factors, like professionalism and helping other teachers.

Teachers are measured against the Noble network’s own historical data that shows how much progress teachers are able to make with students.

He says the school focuses on outcomes such as test scores because those are the same factors that will determine life opportunities for students.

“If those outputs are on the critical path to our students being able to graduate from college, then we really have to give credence to these things [that] Harvard and Yale and Dartmouth are saying,” Kane says.

Allison Slade, the founding principal of Namaste Charter School, says that school uses a modified version of Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, the teacher rating system CPS has adapted for its observations.

Teachers receive 12 short, informal observations each year from administrators and colleagues who drop into their room, and two longer, formal observations from their immediate supervisor.

Teachers don’t get an overall rating, however. “I don’t think that is helpful in helping a teacher grow,” Slade says. Instead, they get ratings in each category of the scoring rubric.

Teachers with lower ratings are put on an “Improvement Action Plan,” but three-quarters of them complete it successfully and are able to keep their jobs.

Test scores are a factor in teachers’ raises, along with attendance on the job and at professional development workshops, plus other intangibles like collegiality, communication with families, and observation ratings.

Contributing: Melissa Sanchez

In the News: CCSR report looks at sorting students by ability

March 20, 2014 - 8:34am

How students are sorted into classrooms by skill level can have as much of an effect on their achievement as the content they are taught, according to a new report by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. "Skill-Based Sorting in the Era of College Prep for All" examines the effects of two curricular reforms by Chicago Public Schools, one that sorted students into algebra classes based on ability and another that de-sorted students. (Press release)
Key findings from the report include:
• Overall, test scores are higher when classes are sorted by skills due to large benefits for high-skilled students’ learning gains.
• However, sorting by ability has different effects on test scores than on grades and pass rates; the grades and pass rates of high-skilled students decline, while the grades of low-skilled students improve.

HAPPY STUDENTS IN HYDE PARK: A video of Kenwood Academy High School students singing and dancing in the hallways to Pharrell Williams’ infectious hit “Happy” has become a minor YouTube sensation, drawing nearly 14,000 views – more than seven times the school’s population – in just a few days. Produced last week on the South Side campus, teens perform for the cameras alongside teachers, security guards, administrators and the school mascot, Billy the Bronco. (Tribune)

COLLEGE ADMISSIONS AND DATA MINING: To woo prospective students, many schools are increasingly gathering multiple streams of online information to hone the most personalized pitch. Institutions are turning to "big data" companies such as Hobsons, Oracle and Ellucian to be their The trove of data allows recruiters to mine social media interactions, Internet habits and the socioeconomic standing of a student's parents, experts say. (Tribune)

LET GO: The Belleville School District 118 school board unanimously approved the honorable dismissals of one full-time teacher and 24 teaching assistants at its meeting Tuesday night. (Belleville News Democrat)

BOON FOR PUBLISHERS: The new education standards called Common Core that are being adopted in 45 states and Washington, D.C., have has created an opportunity not just for companies that make textbooks and teaching materials, but also publishers of children's books - novels, nonfiction, the kind of books people read for pleasure. (NPR)

MORE PRE-K EXPANSION: Maryland already offers free pre-kindergarten classes to economically disadvantaged or homeless 4-year-olds, but state leaders proposed a new bill that would slowly expand those classes to all 4-year-olds. (The Washington Post)

In the News: CPS to begin computer science curriculum pilot

March 19, 2014 - 6:46am

Chicago Public Schools announced Tuesday that 46 schools will pilot the district’s new computer science curriculum beginning next fall, the most comprehensive K-12 computer science education program of any major school district in the country.

This effort is part of CPS’ plan to provide access to computer science at an earlier age to bridge the digital divide and gender gap. While computing occupations are among the highest-paying jobs for new graduates, fewer than 3 percent of college students across the nation will graduate with a degree in computer science – and of all students taking Advanced Placement Computer Science, fewer than 20 percent are women and fewer than 10 percent are African American or Latino.
Participating schools include:
Elementary schools: Ariel Community Academy (Pre-K-8); Armstrong International Studies (Pre-K-8); Azuela (Pre-K-8); Bateman (K-8); Daniel Boone (K-8); Carson (Pre-K-8); Chicago Academy (Pre-K-8); Coles Language Academy (K-8); Disney Magnet (Pre-K-8); Edison Regional Gifted Center (K-8); Gunsaulus Scholastic Academy (Pre-K-8); Hamilton (K-8); Henderson (Pre-K-8); Andrew Jackson Language Academy (K-8); Mahalia Jackson (Pre-K-8); Moos (Pre-K-8); Kwame Nkrumah Academy (K-5); Sauganash (K-8); Sayre Language Academy (K-8); Sheridan Math & Science Academy (K-8); STEM Magnet Academy (Pre-K-8); Tonti (K-5); Washington (K-8); Waters (Pre-K-8); Whitney (Pre-K-8).
High schools: Amundsen (9-12); Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy (9-12); Bogan (9-12); Corliss (9-12); Hancock College Prep (9-12); Julian(9-12); Kenwood Academy (7-12); Lake View (9-12); Lane Tech (7-12); Lindblom (7-12); Marine Math & Science Academy (9-12); Mather (9-12); Morgan Park (9-12); Solorio Academy (9-12); Urban Prep West (9-12); Urban Prep Bronzeville (9-12); Urban Prep Englewood (9-12); Wells Community Academy (9-12); Whitney Young (7-12); U of C Woodlawn (6-12); Young Woman's Leadership (7-12).

UNO TEACHERS RATIFY CONTRACT: Teachers and staff at schools operated by the United Neighborhood Organization, one of city’s largest charter school networks, overwhelmingly ratified a first contract Tuesday. The contract includes salaries that will promote teacher recruitment and retention and increased time to prepare and collaborate. The vote was nearly unanimous, according to a press release from the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

LSC CANDIDATES: A Chicago school that vociferously protested school budget cuts last summer has some interesting candidates running for its local school council, among them a former member of the Chicago Board of Education. (WBEZ)

SUGAR IN THE MORNING: University of California-San Francisco anti-sugar advocate Dr. Robert Lustig says the U.S. School Breakfast Program is "poisoning our kids." He explains here in a conversation in WBEZ's Monica Eng.

RACE TO THE TOP PROGRESS: States sharing $4 billion in the federal competitive grants are delivering on some promises, but continue to struggle on teacher evaluations, the U.S. Department of Education finds. (Education Week)

LOOKING FOR COMMON CORE DEFENDERS: Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder who is spending part of his considerable fortune trying to change U.S. public education, last week called on teachers to help parents understand the new Common Core academic standards in an effort to beat back “false claims” lobbed by critics of the standards. (The Washington Post)

In the News: Safe Passage workers get thanks from mayor, lunch

March 18, 2014 - 6:22am

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday thanked safe-passage workers for a job well done  and urged them to finish the school year strong and carry child safety into the summer months at a celebratory luncheon at the UIC Forum. (DNAInfo)

'PLATOONING' TAKES HOLD: The relentless pressure of high-stakes testing keeps driving educational leaders to experiment with new ways to increase scores and emphasize their importance in this “accountability” era. One of the most recent examples is “platooning” of students beginning in kindergarten and first grade. “Platooning” ends the long-standing primary grade practice of homerooms where a teacher works with the same group of students throughout the year in all of the major subject areas. Instead, each group of students, or “platoon,” moves every 45 minutes or so to a different classroom to receive instruction from a “teacher  specialist” in math, language arts, social studies, science, music, art and physical education.  (The Washington Post)

VOUCHER BILL ADVANCES: A narrowed version of a special education voucher bill for Mississippi students is moving ahead. The measure now would bar using state money to home-school students and give state officials more control over how the money is spent. (Clarion Ledger)

INSTILLING TRUE GRIT: Around the nation, schools are beginning to see grit as key to students' success — and just as important to teach as reading and math. Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who coined the term "grit" — and won a MacArthur "genius grant" for it. Others say teaching grit has become a fad in education, a convenient distraction that doesn't address the pedagogical and curricular problems in the schools. (NPR)

UNO teachers, staff ratify first union contract

March 17, 2014 - 10:08pm

Teachers and staff at the United Neighborhood Organization’s 16 charter schools overwhelmingly voted to ratify their first contract on Monday, becoming Chicago’s biggest charter school network to operate under a labor agreement.

Union organizers say the contract, approved in a 445-to-16 vote, sets a “gold standard” for future charter school labor agreements across the country. It includes:

  • A salary schedule based on years of experience and educational attainment that will raise some employees’ salaries by as much as $10,000. Pay increases will be retroactive to the beginning of this school year.
  • Elimination of year-end bonuses based on evaluations that employees say used inconsistent metrics and fueled resentment among colleagues.
  • A “just cause” provision for terminations and a grievance procedure.
  • Paid and unpaid release time for bargaining unit members to do union-related work.
  • A longer summer break for teachers. Previously, teachers and staff had four weeks of summer vacation; now they will have five weeks under the new contract. However, the total number of instructional days remain unchanged.


“This contract will give a lot of people hope that [the charter network] is a place they can stay at for more than a year or two and grow as teachers and professionals without thinking their jobs are going to be on the line at the end of the year,” said Mallory Bruno, a special education teacher at UNO’s Octavio Paz Elementary School. “The salary schedule is so appealing now, I look forward to staying here for years to come.”

UNO charter school officials and board members – who approved the contract in a meeting last week -- did not respond to multiple requests from comment. UNO administrators and union members reached a tentative agreement in late February after months of negotiations.

The three-year contract will apply retroactively to the beginning of the school year. It covers about 520 teachers and professional staff at UNO schools, including information technology staff, office support, nurses and social workers.

Previously, only about 300 teachers and employees at 11 of the 126 charter schools in Chicago worked under labor contracts. The Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, or Chicago ACTS, an affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, is the bargaining agent for all organized charter schools in the city.

“The UNO effort is a great example of what can happen when teachers and charter management work together for what’s most important—the students’ success,” said IFT President Dan Montgomery in a written statement. “Strong staffs lead to strong schools, and their ability to advocate for high-quality education with a collective voice will greatly benefit the students and our communities.”

UNO staff unionized last spring in the midst of a corruption scandal at the charter schools network.

Former CEO Juan Rangel bowed out of both organizations last year after a series of revelations by the Chicago Sun-Times of nepotism and contract steering. Adding to UNO’s woes is a loss of millions of dollars in state grant money and an ongoing U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into a 2011 bond deal that helped expand the network.

Bruno said she hopes the contract ratification changes the public image of UNO for the better.

“I think people will start to respect UNO more than it’s already respected,” Bruno said.


UNO teachers and staff say their next step after today’s vote will be to schedule elections for union representatives and officers.

For the Record: "Chicagoland" and Fenger High

March 17, 2014 - 2:02pm

Last week’s episode of “Chicagoland”  on CNN once again featured Fenger High Principal Liz Dozier as a heroine trying to help her students get an education while coping with intense violence in the surrounding Roseland neighborhood. At the same time, Dozier has to deal with the fact that Fenger’s hefty federal grant, which paid for services to support students’ social and emotional needs,  was about to run out.

Fenger is one of 19 high schools in Chicago to be awarded a multimillion dollar School Improvement Grant. Along with Harper, Marshall and Phillips, Fenger was part of the first cohort of schools from 2011.

These grants targeted the bottom 5 percent of high schools in the nation. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s idea was to throw so much money at the schools that lack of resources would cease to be an excuse for low achievement.

The cliffhanger in the last episode of the Chicagoland series, which was filmed last year, is how Fenger will fare once it loses the $6 million grant. The answer: Fenger lost 36 of 100 staff members, including 10 teachers, four security guards and the school’s social worker.  

In fact, few CPS schools have a full-time social worker on staff. In 2012, Dozier fretted about the potential loss of a worker who ran much-needed group and individual therapy sessions on trauma and anger management. 

Altogether, Fenger and the other three schools that received School Improvement Grants in 2011 have lost 126 staff members as their grants ran out this year, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of CPS employee rosters.

These schools were hit with a double whammy:  losing the grant while continuing to lose students, which meant a loss in district funds. This year, Fenger has 87 fewer students compared to last year and the freshman class has just 75 students, down from 102 last year. 

Enrollment loss from neighborhood schools is a citywide trend caused by population loss from  distressed neighborhoods as well as the opening of charter schools that draw students away from traditional schools. 

The Fall 2011 Catalyst In Depth questions whether the School Improvement Grant initiative can save schools that are rapidly losing students. 

To get the grant, schools and districts had to promise to enforce one of several drastic strategies. Fenger and five other high schools fired the entire staff in a process called turnaround. Other schools have undertaken what is called transformation, a strategy in which school employees stay on but the school partners with an outside institution to improve education.

Schools were charged with using the grant money to develop programs that could be sustained once the money ran out. But that challenge is often nearly impossible. Therapy sessions, anti-violence training, tutoring and other supports require staff--and it is hard to “sustain” people without money to pay them.

The early results from the School Improvement Grant initiative, both in Illinois and nationally, have been mixed. A 2012 Illinois study found that attendance, truancy and mobility improved, but not academics.  The findings are similar in CPS.

However, Fenger has posted more impressive results, with the percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards doubling in three years.

A federally-funded national study released in November 2013 showed that two-thirds of schools saw an uptick in test scores, but the rest saw declines. 

Comings & Goings: Moreno Cargie

March 17, 2014 - 12:03pm

Nora Moreno Cargie, the director of global corporate citizenship at The Boeing Company’s Chicago office, is stepping down in April.  She is moving to Boston, where she will serve as vice president of corporate citizenship for Tufts Health Plan and executive director of its foundation.  Before her work at Boeing, Cargie was the vice president of external relations at Illinois Action for Children.  She has also worked for the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development, the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Department of Human Services and Chicago Public Schools.

In the News: Moody's downgrades CPS

March 17, 2014 - 8:15am

Moody's Investors Service said its outlook remains negative for the Chicago Board of Education.The Wall Street credit rating agency reduced the Chicago Board of Education one notch to Baa1 from A3, the same downgrade the city got March 4. The rating applies to $6.3 billion in outstanding school-related general obligation debt. (Crain's)

CASTING A BAD LIGHT ON CPS STUDENTS: CNN’s "Chicagoland" contributes to the "one-sided journalism that highlights only the violence, only the failures, only the stereotypes that taint our low-income students in Chicago Public Schools," writes Ray Salazar on his blog The White Rhino: A Chicago Latino English Teacher.

PRE-K EXPANSION MOVES FORWARD: Even as he came under escalating attacks from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Legislature for his stance toward charter schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio last week stepped closer to securing state financing to expand prekindergarten in New York City. (The New York Times)

COMMON CORE GETS AXED: The Indiana Senate approved legislation that would void the national Common Core standards the state adopted in 2010. An hour after S.B. 91 was sent to Gov. Mike Pence for his consideration, members of the state board of Education discussed progress on new English and math standards that will replace those Common Core benchmarks. (Indiana Star)

For the Record: Maintenance costs for closed schools cut by $300 million

March 14, 2014 - 7:15pm

To help sell its plans for closing 50 schools, CPS leaders claimed that it would cost more than $400 million over the next decade to keep the buildings open, repair them and maintain them. Closings the buildings would thus save a big chunk of money.

But now that the district is trying to get the shuttered buildings off the books, officials have dramatically reduced their initial estimate of maintenance costs.

CPS now says that it would cost only about $100 million to maintain the buildings, as schools, over the next 10 years, according to a Request-for-Proposals that was issued in February to solicit bids from real estate agents. CPS also includes TIF information for each school, showing how much money is available from tax increment financing, an incentive program that developers can access to pay for capital improvements.

Cecile Carroll of the grassroots group Blocks Together says she is alarmed that CPS is having brokers look at the schools before getting feedback from the community about what they would like to see the buildings used for. 

Carroll and a few other activists showed up on Thursday at the closed Ward school where, according to the RFP, district officials were going to conduct a walk-through for potential brokers. Unbeknownst to them, CPS had withdrawn the RFP and was rescheduling the walkthroughs.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood said the RFP was withdrawn because officials wanted to clarify some of the language around community involvement in the process. He said the solicitation for brokers was just in case the community couldn’t come up with a use for the building and a broker was needed. 

About four of the new estimates on the RFP don’t differ much from last year’s figure. But most of the differences are huge. For example, CPS estimated that it would avoid spending $25 million by closing Morgan in Auburn Gresham. Now, it says the cost to maintain it as a school is $287,000, and just $256,000 to maintain as a vacant property. 

A more typical example is Songhai on the Far South Side. Last year, CPS estimated it would avoid spending $8 million over a decade by the closing the school. Now, it is telling potential developers that it will only cost $340,000 yearly to maintain.

Hood said the estimates last year included "needed capital improvements."

"The maintenance numbers in the this RFP (as a school) are our own estimates about what it would likely cost someone to operate this building as a school or office building or whatever else," Hood wrote in an e-mail. "It only takes into account annual utility costs, janitorial services, landscaping, etc."

However, some of the criticism of the original cost estimates were that they included capital improvement projects, even though CPS often puts off improving buildings for decades.

From the moment that CPS put out cost-savings estimates last winter, principals and parents questioned the figures. One principal told Catalyst Chicago that when he saw the district’s huge estimate for maintenance, he immediately knew that the numbers would be used against his school and that it would be targeted for closure. 

A joint analysis by Catalyst and WBEZ/Chicago Public Media showed that the cost savings touted last year were significantly flawed, and were based on outdated assessments of building needs and other flawed information.

The RFP only included information for 41 schools because some of those shuttered are not being sold. About five already have new uses planned, such as Lafayette in Humboldt Park, which will become the new home for Chi Arts. Some schools shared a building with a school that is still operating: for instance, Wadsworth was consolidated with nearby Dumas, and the school that previously shared Wadsworth’s building, the University of Chicago Charter High School-Woodlawn, now has the entire building.

In the News: Failure built into the system, researcher argues

March 14, 2014 - 8:41am

A new book by Camille Farrington, a research associate (assistant professor) at UChicago Consortium on Chicago School Reform, argues that high schools were designed to generate widespread student failure and considers the changes that would need to occur for all students to have a legitimate shot at college.

Roughly half of all incoming ninth-graders across urban districts will fail classes and drop out of school without a diploma, suggesting an underlying flaw in the way high schools are structured. Failing at School: Lessons for Redesigning Urban High Schools proposes fundamental changes to high school design, based on what researchers know about how students learn, what motivates them to engage in learning, and what kinds of educational systems and structures would best support their learning. The book is available on Amazon. (Press release)

MURDERS AND TESTING: Homicides in a handful of Chicago neighborhoods "are affecting children's test scores, some studies show -- at the same time the school system is struggling to fund enough counselors, social workers and psychologists who could help students cope with the violence," according to CNN's docuseries "Chicagoland," which recently looked at the city's "crime gap."

LSC ELECTIONS: Earlier this week, the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Local School Councils reported 4,474 candidates had filed to run in the April 7 and 8 elections for 5,771 LSC positions. That leaves 1,297 positions to fill by 3 p.m. today. (Austin Talks)

POOR FINANCIAL HEALTH: Statewide data show that Illinois public school districts are continuing to struggle financially, with 532 districts – or nearly 62 percent – deficit spending, using their reserves or borrowing, this year compared to 32.5 percent in 2008, according to an annual Illinois State Board of Education statewide review. The ISBE analysis shows that one third of students in state are in schools in poor financial health. (Press release)

PRESCHOOL EXPANSION: Starting in the 2011-12 school year, the 27,000-student St. Louis school system began increasing its number of preschool seats, using part of the money from a 2011 court settlement of a long-running desegregation case. The number of preschoolers enrolled grew from about 1,300 in 2011 to about 2,000 this school year. And now, the preschool program is counted as a bright spot in the troubled district, and an example of the working partnership between Kelvin R. Adams, 57, the district's superintendent since 2008, and Mary J. Armstrong, the president since 2003 of the St. Louis Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. (Education Week)

In the News: UNO teachers to vote on union contract

March 13, 2014 - 7:22am

Teachers at the scandal-plagued UNO charter school network are about to vote next week on their first union contract. (Huffington Post)

If approved by teachers and by UNO's own board, the contract negotiated by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff would more than double in number, with between 500 and 550 teachers and other UNO staff joining about 300 ChicagoACTS members at 11 charter schools. The UNO contract could be one of the biggest labor contracts in the country for a charter network.

NAME CHANGE: Gordon Tech College Prep will become DePaul College Prep as soon as summer, the school’s board announced Wednesday. The school in the 3600 block of North California Avenue will be renamed DePaul College Prep, but its campus will be known as “Fr. Gordon Campus.” (Sun-Times)

ZERO-TOLERANCE DISCOURAGED: Schools should avoid zero-tolerance policies and reserve suspension and expulsion of students only for the most serious offenses or when it is legally required, a draft of a model policy under discussion by the State Board of Education says. (

POORER FAMILIES BEAR BRUNT: Tuition tax credits and other tax breaks to offset the cost of higher education _nearly invisible federal government subsidies for families that send their kids to college— disproportionally benefit more affluent Americans. So do tax-deductible savings plans and the federal work-study program, which gives taxpayer dollars to students who take campus jobs to help pay for their expenses. (The Hechinger Report)

CHARTER STRATEGIES: New York City charter leaders strategizing about how to work with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration and avoid paying rent say committing to particular enrollment policies could be one way to assuage de Blasio’s and Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s concerns about charter schools “doing their part.” One main issue is backfill, or what happens to space vacated by students who leave charter schools. Some schools fill those spots by calling students off of their waiting lists. Other schools focus on teaching the students who remain. (Chalkbeat)

To boost teacher diversity, state scraps limits on basic skills test-taking

March 12, 2014 - 4:22pm

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) voted on Wednesday to scrap a policy established just four years ago that set a limit on the number of times prospective teachers could take the required basic skills tests.

The decision is aimed at eliminating a barrier for minority college students who want to enter the teaching profession, but tend to fare worse on exams than their white counterparts.

State school board president Gery Chico said the state needs to “manipulate the pipeline” of teachers in order to increase the disproportionately small number of African American and Latino educators in Illinois schools.

“When you have a student body like ours, nobody is looking for perfect parity but we have to improve,” he said. “You have to have some reflection of what the student body looks like.”

Half of students in Illinois public schools are white, but close to 84 percent of their teachers are white, according to state records.

In Chicago Public Schools, 86 percent of students, but less than half of teachers, are black or Latino. Catalyst Chicago wrote about the lack of diversity in the teaching force in 2011. The problem has worsened in recent years, as veteran black educators have lost their jobs with the advent of more school closings, turnarounds that overhaul entire faculties, and other actions. In addition, as the percentage of Latino students has soared to 44 percent, Latino teachers remain a paltry 18 percent of CPS teachers.

 “So many people are not passing” 

 In January 2010, the state set a five-attempt limit on the number of times teacher candidates could take each of the four portions of the Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP). But many candidates-- especially black and Latino students – found it challenging to pass all of the exam’s components in five tries or less, especially after the state adopted higher cut-off scores in September 2010.

Test result data from the fourth quarter of 2013,  for example, showed that only 18 percent of blacks and 23 percent of Latinos passed the math portion of the test, compared to 40 percent of whites. Meanwhile, only 26 percent of blacks and 34 percent of Latinos met the reading comprehension requirements, compared to 52 percent of whites.

Overall, less than a third of all test-takers – and less than 18 percent of black and Latinos -- passed all four sections of the test last year, according to state records.

“So many people are not passing these tests,” says Anne Hallett, director of Grow Your Own Teachers, an organization that seeks to diversify the teaching workforce. “Lots of factors are troubling about standardized tests, from test anxiety to [the quality of] your own education leading up to the time you took the test. If it’s been less than sterling, it makes it more difficult to pass these tests.”

Hallett added that students who speak English as a second language face additional challenges when taking standardized tests. Plus, many people have difficulties with math.

“If you’ve taken [the test] four times, then you’re now facing a limit which puts yet another stressor on the test taking,” Hallett says.

Until recently, state law required that prospective teachers pass the TAP before entering an education program. Now, schools have the discretion to allow students into an education program before they’ve passed the exam, although candidates must still pass it before their student teaching.

The state also waives the tests for students who have high scores on the ACT or SAT.

The decision to do away with the cap on test-taking attempts stemmed out of an ISBE meeting last fall on diversifying the state’s teaching workforce, says Jason Helfer, the state’s assistant superintendent on teacher and leader effectiveness.

During two subsequent meetings in February, ISBE staff spoke with administrators of college education programs, as well as young teachers of color, about how to improvement minority recruitment.

Helfer noted one difference in the two groups’ opinions: “Faculty thought of recruitment and support in terms of program elements, [but] the young teachers thought of recruitment and support in terms of individual relationships.”

In order to continue the conversation, ISBE has convened an advisory group on recruiting a more diverse teaching workforce that will meet periodically and share its work with the state.

For the Record: Gifted education

March 12, 2014 - 3:12pm

Students who lose out in the upcoming round of selective elementary school admissions – as well as other students whose families might have never considered applying – have another option: The district’s less-well-known comprehensive gifted programs, located within magnet and open-enrollment neighborhood schools.

In recent years, these gifted programs have lost the extra staff that the district once allocated to them, such as psychologists and coordinators. But they remain a draw for parents, offering classes that are accelerated by half a year to a year plus perks such as foreign language instruction or violin or jazz band classes.

Admissions are determined by each school and there is no centralized collection of data on the demographics of students. But most schools with gifted programs enroll students of color: Eight schools are majority African American, 12 are majority Latino, one enrolls mostly Asian students, and the remaining six are integrated.

Overall, enrollment at most of the 27 schools with comprehensive gifted programs is on the upswing. At 17 schools, enrollment increased. Nine schools experienced decreases, and one school did not have enrollment data for 2012-13.

Less selective

Unlike magnet and selective enrollment programs, gifted schools do not control for socioeconomic factors when sorting out which students get a slot. And at small schools, running separate classes for gifted students can mean putting everyone in split-grade classes.

In general, students are selected for the programs using a language development test administered at the end of kindergarten, often combined with teacher recommendations and standardized test scores. At O.A. Thorp Elementary, says Principal Efren Toledo, teachers use a checklist of traits that aims to bring more objectivity to the identification process.

Even so, he notes that the students tend to come from middle-class families, with a few exceptions. There is no scientific definition of “giftedness,” but middle-class children who have more learning and enrichment opportunities usually have advantages in selective admissions.

“I’d love to see more, but the scores just aren’t there,” Toledo says. “In kindergarten, the only students who do well are those who’ve been read to, those with language skills.”

Once accepted, students get the chance to work at their own ability level with online curricula such as Compass Learning and Khan Academy.

This year, Toledo says, teachers are launching small-group math instruction that will teach 3rd- through 8th-grade students based on their math abilities rather than their grade.

Yet gifted programs can “create a bubble” of students who only socialize with each other, Toledo points out.

“When they get out of school, they’re not going to go to a ‘gifted’ grocery store. They are not going to go to a ‘gifted’ gas station. They need to know how to interact with everyone,” he says.

To avoid elitism, Toledo mixes students from throughout the school for recess and classes in non-core subjects.

Gifted programs solve another problem, he notes: “We tend to focus on getting the low students up. Rarely do we focus on getting those kids who are scoring really high and pushing them, because they’re not a problem.”



In the News: W. Side high school students go without teachers

March 12, 2014 - 7:40am

WBEZ interviewed a dozen students at Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy, and all of them told the same story. Their core courses in English and science have been taught mostly by substitutes this year—sometimes a different substitute every day—meaning no homework, and often no classwork.  One student said students are passed automatically since there are no teachers.

CUTTING TOO DEEPLY: The head of the Illinois State Board of Education says some districts might not make it through the school year if the proposed state budget cuts are approved. (

REBELS WITH A CAUSE: Chicago is not the only scene of the high-stakes testing revolt. The uprising is growing nationwide, with FairTest fanning the flames. Teachers and parents and students cities in Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Alabama, Texas are rebelling.

OPT-OUT STRATEGY: Riding what they see as a wave of anti-testing sentiment among parents, opponents of high-stakes assessments believe a strategy known as opt-out — having parents refuse to let their children take state-mandated tests — could force policymakers to take note of their cause. (Education Week)

SHORTENING THE SCHOOL YEAR: In an effort to save money for cash-strapped Wisconsin districts, state lawmakers are considering ending a requirement that schools teach for 180 days a year or lose state funding. The bill, expected to win Senate approval, would allow schools to extend school days rather than force them to stay open later in the summer to make up days lost to weather closings and parent teacher conferences. (Associated Press)

UNO teachers to vote on first union contract

March 11, 2014 - 11:17am

Charter school teachers and staff at United Neighborhood Organization charter schools are preparing to vote on what some say could be one of the biggest labor contracts for a charter school network in the country.

The scandal-plagued UNO network, one of the largest charter networks in Chicago, and the union reached a tentative agreement late last month after dozens of negotiation sessions that started in May 2013. UNO agreed last March to allow teachers to form a union.

Charter school officials did not respond to requests for comment on the pending agreement, and union leaders declined to share details, as neither UNO’s board nor the teachers have yet voted on the deal. But educators’ priorities included the elimination of merit pay, shorter schooldays and a shorter calendar year.

The UNO Charter School Network’s Board of Directors will vote on the tentative agreement on Wednesday during a special meeting at the Roberto Clemente campus, according to an agenda posted at the organization’s main office. Meanwhile union members will begin voting on a school-by-school basis on March 17.

"We know this is something that has never been done before and we’re pretty pleased," says Rob Heise, an English teacher at UNO’s  Garcia High School and a union delegate on the negotiating team. “My No. 1 personal goal was to create a place where teachers didn’t have to choose between having a family and being a teacher.”

A model for more charter unions

What makes this tentative agreement so unique is the number of schools and educators involved in a single labor contract involving a charter.

The UNO contract, if approved, would cover between 500 and 550 teachers and other employees – including information technology staff, office support, counselors, paraprofessionals and apprentices—at the 13 elementary schools and three high schools that make up the network, organizers say.

Charter school labor contracts are often negotiated on a school-by-school basis, not for all schools within a single network. In recent years, the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS), which falls under the umbrellas of the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), has negotiated contracts for about 300 teachers and staff at 11 of the city’s 126 charter schools.

The UNO contract would more than double those numbers.

"Everybody is going to be looking at the UNO contract as a model,” said Chicago ACTS President Brian Harris, who added that some of the key wins at other schools have included improved health care plans for families and employer contributions to teachers’ pension plans.

Many existing labor contracts at Chicago charter schools include no-strike agreements and tie teacher pay to student performance, although Harris says he now discourages members from agreeing to the merit pay clauses.

“One of the things our union has moved away from is merit pay agreements,” Harris says. “They’ve been a complete disaster so far. Everybody hates them.”

Unlike traditional public schools, the vast majority of charter schools are not unionized. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, just 12 percent of the country’s charter schools were unionized during the 2009-2010 school year, the last year during which the group collected data

Advocates for charter schools have long said that operating without a labor agreement allows for more innovation in curriculum development and the ability to offer more instructional hours than traditional public schools.

“One of the keys to running a successful charter school is the flexibility to structure the school, including teaching agreements, in a way that best serves the needs of the students,” wrote Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance, in an e-mail to Catalyst Chicago. “Sometimes this means offering students a little extra tutoring help or a slightly longer school day. Unfortunately, the agreements unions negotiate are often not flexible enough to address changing circumstances during a school year.”

UNO scandal bolstered union drive?

Across the country, charter school educators who do unionize often benefit from the help of traditional teachers unions, including the AFT and the National Education Association (NEA), which have bolstered their ranks with charter school employees.

“Teachers who come to us often went into a charter school because they wanted a voice and bigger say in their school, but without a union, that doesn’t become a reality,” says Jim Testerman, senior director for the NEA’s Center for Organizing. “And to attract and retain the best and the brightest, you need a good compensation package, making sure you have due process […] as well as a stable workforce.”

Charter schools tend to have higher teacher turnover than traditional public schools, which also means they spend less on salaries for more experienced teachers. For example, state records show that the average UNO teacher earns less than $53,000 per year, while teachers at traditional Chicago Public Schools earn more than $70,000 on average.

UNO union members credit two major factors for their ability to unify educators across the network: The support of traditional teachers unions, including the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the AFT, and the timing of a major corruption scandal involving former UNO CEO Juan Rangel.

CTU leaders, for example, offered informal advice and guidance to UNO teachers at the contract negotiating sessions and assigned an organizer to work with charter schools in the city.

Last year Rangel stepped down from his posts as head of both the charter school network, which he helped create in 1998, and its parent political organization, after a Chicago Sun-Times investigation uncovered a pattern of contract steering and cronyism at the privately run, but publicly financed charter school chain. The state has since pulled millions in grant money to UNO while the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating a 2011 bond deal that helped expand the network.

“When the s--t hit the fan with Juan, I don’t know if it created an opening for us to unionize,” Heise says. “But this probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”

Comings & Goings: Haugh, new principal

March 11, 2014 - 10:07am

Patrick Haugh, formerly the vice president of program investments at the Chicago Public Education Fund, is now the president of Teaching Trust.  Based in Dallas, Texas,  the Teaching Trust develops programs to prepare educators to lead change from the “inside out” and to build trust across organizations central to transformational change—districts, charters, higher education and other non-profits. 

Joshua Vander Jagt, an assistant principal at Kenwood High School, is now the contract principal at Ogden Elementary.

The Chicago Teachers’ Center at Northeastern Illinois University has a new name—The Center for College Access and Success.  The new center will focus on the coordination of a university-wide effort that will draw on the expertise of all of its colleges to strengthen and enhance programming targeted at helping P-12 students gain access and succeed in college.  

In the News: AFT shuns Gates funding

March 11, 2014 - 9:28am

The American Federation of Teachers ended a five-year relationship with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation after rank-and-file union members expressed deep distrust of the foundation's approach to education reform.

AFT President Randi Weingarten told Politico's Morning Education the union will no longer accept Gates money for its Innovation Fund, which was founded in 2009 and has received up to $1 million a year in Gates grants ever since. The Innovation Fund has sponsored AFT efforts to help teachers implement the Common Core standards—a Gates priority—among other initiatives.

RALLY FOR TEST BOYCOTTERS: A group of about 100 people rallied Monday in the Bridgeport neighborhood to call on Chicago Public Schools officials not to retaliate against a group of teachers who refused to administer a state mandated test to students. CPS had threatened the boycotting teachers with disciplinary measures including decertification if they did not administer the multi-day Illinois State Achievement Test, which began last week. (Sun-Times)

BILL HAS ALEC BACKING: Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palestine) is the sponsor of SB 3533, a bill that would give public school students a choice of who will teach them - a teacher in their local schools or a "provider" in a remote location, even in another state. Murphy's bill, now assigned to the Senate Education Committee for consideration, was drafted by ALEC, a right-wing, corporate-funded, state policy-shaping organization based in Arlington, VA. (Illinois School News Service)

For the Record: Homeless students lack services

March 10, 2014 - 4:22pm

With the number of homeless children in Illinois on the rise, many school districts across the state admit that they aren’t providing students all of the educational services they need. Since 2009, the number of homeless students has doubled in size statewide to nearly 55,000. In Chicago, the number has risen sharply to 18,854 from 12,512.

In a recent survey, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless documented the lack of services and is now urging the state Legislature to reinstate an additional $3 million that it last earmarked in 2009 for tutoring, preschool, counseling and other support.

The online survey of three dozen regional educational offices and school districts was self-reported. Among the findings:

-       52 percent of survey respondents said more than half of homeless students weren’t receiving tutoring or preschool, even though they needed it. Many respondents wrote about the kinds of services they’d like to offer, including “tutoring after school and in the evenings at shelters and transitional housing.”

-       56 percent said that more than half of homeless students did not receive counseling. In Chicago, for example, the district estimated that only 25 to 50 percent of homeless who need counseling services actually receive them.

-       44 percent said they had “limited” or “very limited” capacity to identify and enroll homeless students in the school.

Patricia Nix-Hode, associate director of the coalition’s Law Project, says it was important to quantify some of the problems the advocacy organization had been hearing about anecdotally.

The federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides funding to states for services to keep homeless students in school, including preschool. Students are entitled to transportation to attend the school they were in before they became homeless to assure stability. Illinois receives $5 million, which homeless advocates say is not enough.

In its report, titled “Gaps in Educational Supports for Illinois Homeless Students,” the coalition carefully steered clear of criticizing districts for not providing mandated services; one of every five survey respondents said that less than half of students who need transportation get it.

“With more resources, districts will be able to provide the best services to homeless students and these gaps would be addressed,” Nix-Hode says.

Students are identified as homeless if they’re living on the streets, in cars or if their families have doubled up for financial reasons.

 “It’s very difficult to focus on academics when you don’t know where you may lay your head at night or where you’re going to get your next meal,” says Mary Fergus, an ISBE spokeswoman.

Tom Bookler, who serves as a homeless liaison for the north and northwestern suburbs of Cook County, says the additional state funding in 2009 coupled with other federal stimulus funds allowed districts to dedicate more personnel to homeless students and their families.

“Now we’re all stretched thin,” Bookler says. “I believe my districts are doing as much as they can for the families and certainly doing what’s required by law…but it’s difficult to implement everything you want because of the funding.”

Early College expansion paying off

March 10, 2014 - 2:45pm

In recent years, the district has touted its growth in Advanced Placement course-taking among black and Latino students. Education experts say the introduction to tougher academic coursework in high school helps pave a smoother path to college. But there’s a significant caveat: Far fewer students achieve the ultimate goal of college credit by earning a 3 or higher on AP exams. 

Enter Richard Gelb’s senior English composition class on the third floor of Juarez High School in Pilsen, where an alternative to AP coursework is on display. The class is one of a growing number of dual credit classes that bring college coursework to high school campuses.

Today, four young women lead the class through a PowerPoint on the story “Vampires Never Die.” They discuss the history of vampire lore, present a literary analysis and define advanced vocabulary, such as panacea and dystopia.

When they are done, Gelb asks if anyone has questions. They don’t, so Gelb has them pick questions from a set he has handed out. One question is about gender roles. A student named Kevin observes that vampires are usually men; if they were women, they would be called witches. After the discussion, the rest of the period is spent writing essays.

Stephanie Gil says Gelb’s class is similar to the AP English class she took last year, with one big difference:  She is much more likely to earn college credit.

Dual credit courses, along with dual enrollment courses that bring high schools students to college campuses, make up the district’s Early College program and are changing the high school day for a growing number of students. In CPS, enrollment in early college courses has soared from 816 three years ago to 2,350 this year. Over the next two years, CPS and the City Colleges of Chicago would like to see the number reach 4,000. (Only a handful of students take early college courses at other institutions.)

About 89 percent of students in dual enrollment classes and 79 percent of those in dual credit courses earn college credit for them, according to CPS.

The growth of early college course-taking in CPS mirrors that of many suburban and rural school districts in Illinois. In some districts, virtually every senior graduates with at least some college credit.

The trend is national too. According to the most recent data from the National Center on Education Statistics, 82 percent of high schools had students enrolling in dual enrollment coursework in 2011. (Many of these students were in career and technical education courses.) 

Seats left empty

Before 2011, only small pockets of students participated in early college classes. Only five high schools offered dual credit classes and about 600 students took dual enrollment classes. Some high schools had small, one-off programs that sent students to City Colleges and other colleges, but the effort wasn’t coordinated and bureaucratic snafus sometimes cropped up.

Freda Richmond, early college manager at City Colleges, says that it was a “best-kept secret.” 

In 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told CPS and City Colleges to work together to increase early college participation. In 2012, the City Colleges started offering 100 free courses to high schools at each of its seven campuses.

Now, 30 high schools offer dual credit and scores of students are in dual enrollment courses.

The benefits are well documented. A 2013 study by the American Institutes for Research found that students in early college programs had higher graduation and college enrollment rates than a comparison group of students. The study examined an initiative in California community colleges that was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Plus, students and their families can save a lot of money. One young man at Kennedy High School earned all the prerequisites for the City Colleges nursing program. “He has been really strategic,” says Josh Kaufmann, senior manager of Early College Initiatives for CPS.

Being on a college campus can be especially important for those first-generation college-goers and shows them they can be successful in college, Kaufmann adds.

Says Richmond: “This is a great opportunity to see if you are ready for the rigor of college. This demystifies college.”

In CPS, most early college students take English or math courses, and must be a junior or senior with a GPA of at least 2.5 to be eligible. (Some students take career and technical education classes, which do not have any requirements.)

To earn credit, students have to meet requirements set out by City Colleges. For example, in Gelb’s English class, students have to submit three essays and earn passing grades on them. Of 31 students, 30 earned college credit last year.

Chadra Lang, who works for Kaufmann at CPS, notes that one of the best things about dual credit and dual enrollment is that it gives mid-level students an opportunity to earn college credit, which doesn’t happen with AP courses.

Suburban and rural high schools came to this realization long ago. At Alton High School in Alton, Ill., about 25 minutes from St. Louis, most students take at least one early college class. The school’s program has been running strong for at least five years.

Assistant Principal Catherine Elliott says the school is just starting to offer AP classes, mostly to attract students who are considering more selective universities and want the chance to get transferable credits. Some out-of-state colleges, and highly selective schools like Northwestern University, won’t take credits issued by Lewis and Clark College, the community college in the area.

Rewards for the motivated

For those that do dual enrollment classes, perhaps the most important, if intangible, benefit to students is the experience of actually going to a college campus.

While a student at Phoenix Military Academy, Francisco Peralta took English 101 and English 102 at Harold Washington College in the Loop. The classes started at 7 p.m. and lasted an hour and a half, allowing him to continue participating in after-school activities.

“I was the youngest one there,” Peralta says. He ended up enrolling at Harold Washington because it is more affordable than the four-year colleges he was accepted into. Making the transition was easy.

Juarez Principal Juan Ocon prefers dual credit classes because sometimes traveling to college campuses and fitting an off-site class into a school day can be difficult for students.

Yet offering dual credit classes can be a challenge also. For one, the high school teacher must have a masters’ degree in the subject they are teaching. Many teachers do not, though they have advanced degrees in education.  

Gelb, who is also Juarez’s assistant principal, is unique: He has a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Gelb usually teaches freshmen, because of the importance of freshman year. But for the last two years, he has taught the dual credit class. “Teaching these students is a treat,” he says.

Gelb has one complaint. Only students who get a certain score on the Compass exam—the placement exam for City Colleges—can take dual credit courses. That leaves out students who don’t take the exam but might benefit from the exposure to college coursework.

That the students in Gelb’s class at Juarez are among the motivated is obvious. Stephanie Gil and her two friends, Marisol Dominguez and Teresa Calderon, each took three AP classes last year. Stephanie was the only one to earn college credit, and she did so in only one class. 

Stephanie had also participated in a summer program at Harvard so she was familiar with the rigors of a difficult curriculum. (She got deferred early admission at Harvard.)

Teresa wants to enroll in pre-med courses at Elmhurst College. Last year, she took Juarez’s dual credit math program, passed it and will save money by having several math classes already behind her.

Marisol is mother to a little girl, so she plans to stay close to home for college, enrolling in a nursing program at either Daley College or St. Xavier University. She giggles when she says she only scored a 1 or a 2 on the AP exams she took last year. “I am not going to lie. I was not even close.”

Marisol is the only one of the three young women who is nervous about going to college next year, especially about meeting new people. She was nervous, too, about taking college-level classes. Now, she’s glad she did.

Looking at her friends, she says: “They encouraged me.”