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Elected school board to be litmus test for aldermanic candidates: grassroots groups

October 3, 2014 - 7:00am

As if Chicago’s upcoming mayoral election didn’t already promise to feature education as a prominent campaign issue, a coalition of community and labor groups are now trying to get a measure for an elected school board on February’s ballot in each of the city’s 50 wards.

Part of their strategy, organizers say, is to make the question of whether Chicago should have an elected school board a sort of litmus test for incumbent aldermen and their challengers.

“We’re going to raise this with aldermen in upcoming elections – and hopefully in time for the November elections – and ask, ‘Do you support this?’” said Jitu Brown, executive director of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and a longtime proponent of a change from an appointed board. “Will these people go against the mayor’s wishes and advocate for the children of Chicago, or will they go lockstep with the mayor while our children are the collateral damage of these policies?”

Brown says he expects some current aldermen and other candidates for city seats – including Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who is considering a mayoral run – to support the referendum and even circulate some petitions, but he says that the effort is not coordinated with those campaigns.

“If someone wants to champion this issue, that’s what our elected officials should be doing,” Brown added.

Even if the referendum gets on the ballot and passes, state legislators would have to rewrite state law--and go against Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who now has control of the system--to allow for an elected board.

The effort is being led by the coalition of community groups called Grassroots Educational Movement, or GEM, of which KOCO is a member. In addition, the United Working Families independent political organization--which formed over the summer with the Chicago Teachers Union, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Action Now, and Grassroots Illinois Action--is also supporting the campaign.

“Never any debate”

Among the groups gathering signatures is the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, which will be leading volunteers to canvass in the 12th, 14th and 15th wards on the Southwest Side.

“This is a very popular issue in our community, and a lot of people support this,” says Patrick Brosnan, the group’s executive director. “There’s never any kind of debate going on at any of those board meetings, always just presentations and ‘everything is great.’ But things aren’t great. There’s a lot of problems […] Frankly, I don’t think an elected school board would be making most of the decisions this current board is making.”

Chicago’s school board has been made up of mayoral appointees since 1995, when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley convinced the State Legislature to turn over control of the school district to City Hall. Chicago’s previous system for choosing school board members involved a messy nominating procedure in which community groups offered up names from which the mayor had to choose appointees.

To get the item on the ballot, the groups need to collect signatures from at least 8 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial race in each ward; that means some wards with a higher voter turnout will require more signatures. Petitions are due to the city’s Board of Elections on Nov. 24, the same day they’re due for aldermanic and mayoral candidates.

Previous efforts

This wouldn’t be the first time the issue goes to a referendum. In 2012, another coalition of community groups called Communities Organized for Democracy in Education (CODE) collected enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot in 327 of the city’s more than 2,000 precincts.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the non-binding referendum, with an average of nearly 87 percent of votes in favor in each precinct.

“It’s pretty clear that the sentiment is there,” says Rico Gutstein, a professor at the University of Illinois Chicago who is part of Teachers For Justice, a member of CODE. “We were in 13 percent of precincts, in precincts that were entirely black, entirely white, entirely brown and entirely mixed […]. We were in the wealthiest and the poorest neighborhoods.”

Unlike the 2012 campaign, CODE is not actively taking part in this newest, ward-level effort to get a referendum on the ballot. (There are several ways to get a referendum item on the ballot, including at the precinct-, ward- and city-wide level.) Instead, the group is focusing on two other strategies for transforming the school board’s makeup, explains Roderick Wilson, who heads the Lugenia Burns Hope Center in Bronzeville and is a member of CODE.

“We’re seeing if we can file a state or federal lawsuit because this is voter suppression and taxation without representation,” Wilson said, adding that the group is currently fundraising for that possibility.

Separately, CODE has also been actively lobbying the State Legislature to push forward a bill to convert Chicago’s board into an elected body. The bill was introduced in the House in 2013 but has not advanced much since.

“This particular policy need to be changed in Springfield,” Wilson acknowledges. “What these referendums do is show more citywide support for an elected school board, which is definitely helpful in bringing the issue to move in our Legislature.”

CPS won't consider new charter proposals this year

October 2, 2014 - 4:12pm

In a first in at least a decade, this year Chicago Public Schools will not approve any new charter or contract schools to open in the coming fall.

Not having the process for approval play out over the winter months will certainly be seen as a political decision. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is running for re-election, has come under fire for opening charter schools after closing 50 neighborhood schools last year. CTU President Karen Lewis is considering a run for mayor. 

However, CPS officials emphasize that some charter schools will still open next fall. An Intrinsic Charter school and an elementary school operated by a new group called Chicago Educational Partnership already were given conditional approval through the last process to open in Fall of 2015. In addition, as many as five charter schools—the Concept school in Chatham, two UNO schools, one Learn school and an Aspira High School--that were originally slated to open in Fall of 2014 have asked the district if they could delay the opening. It is unclear what their plans are now.  

CPS has yet to post a request for proposals (RFP) this year—a document that usually comes out in the summer and outlines what types of schools and locations the district hopes to add to its portfolio. Spokesman Bill McCaffrey says the district plans to post an RFP in December, but that it will only ask for proposals for schools to be opened in the Fall of 2016.

McCaffrey says the delay is to allow potential charter and contract school operators time to go through the entire process, which includes being vetted by CPS and public hearings. “We want to ensure adequate time for the process,” he says.

Wendy Katten, director of the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand, welcomed the announcement, but said she would like to know what officials are thinking.

“You never know if they just didn’t want any noise during the election year or if they are thinking about the number of seats and considering whether they need to open up more schools,” she said.

Rebeca Nieves-Huffman, Illinois State Director for Democrats for Education Reform, said that there is an urgent need for “high quality charter schools, particularly in underserved communities.” She welcomed the next review process as an opportunity to “create more charter options that would address overwhelming parent demand."

 Also, it does not look like CPS will be doing much in the way of school actions this year. On Wednesday, as it must do by law, CPS posted it guidelines for school actions, which only featured criteria for co-locations and for changing the attendance boundaries of schools.

Take 5: Reaction to Hancock change, City Colleges free ride, feds issue equality guidelines

October 2, 2014 - 9:06am

So far, the reaction to the announcement on Wednesday that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS officials want to convert Hancock High School in McKinley Park into a selective enrollment  school has not been entirely positive. Ray Salazar, an English teacher at Hancock and a columnist for ChicagoNow, was quick to post a blog questioning the decision to convert an old school, built in 1936, and into a selective school when more affluent areas of town are getting brand new annexes and buildings. He says that the $10 million investment that CPS plans will not completely fix Hancock’s faulty heat, inefficient air conditioning, outdated auditorium, and a long list of other problems.

“How do political and district leaders expect Southwest Side families and educators to accept this is a reasonable solution when other selective enrollment high schools get $115 million buildings and $17 million expansions?” Of course, he’s referring to the new Jones College Prep in the South Loop and the plans to build an annex to Payton College Prep on the Near North SIde, where the mayor also wants to build a new selective enrollment school.

Salazar is not the only one critical of the move. After using a $5.7 million federal grant to partner with the Network for College Success at the University of Chicago, Hancock is now a good Level 2 neighborhood school, says Sarah Duncan, co-director for the Network. In Catalyst’s story on the announcement, she wonders why CPS would dismantle the high school and the work that has been done there.

Another outstanding question is how neighborhood high schools will absorb the students who do not win one of the spots at Hancock. According to 2013-2014 data, most of the other high schools in the area--two UNO charter schools, Curie, Solorio, Kennedy and Kelly--are at more than 100 percent capacity and edging toward being overcrowded. The closest high school is Gage Park, but it is significantly lower-achieving compared to Hancock.

A public hearing has yet to be held and the board has yet to approve the move, but the district is already allowing students to apply for the school.   

Free college ride… CPS students with above a 3.0 GPA will not have to pay to attend Chicago’s city colleges, announced Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Sun-Times reports. Full-time tuition, school fees and books cost about $4,400. The scholarship being offered by the city will fill the gap after federal aid and Emanuel estimates that it will cost about $2 million a year. The Sun Times describes this as another “pre-election bone to black voters who helped put Emanuel in office but abandoned him in droves after he closed 50 public schools, most of them in impoverished neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.”

City Colleges have traditionally attracted the highest percentage of CPS graduates who enroll in college, although one study found that many graduates could get into better schools than the ones they landed in; plus, students are more likely to finish college at four-year institutions. More than 100,000 students took classes at City Colleges of Chicago in 2013, according to the Illinois Community College Board. But only about 10,000 received associates degrees or certificates. The City Colleges has launched a “reinvention” process to try to improve degree-completion and transfer to four year university rates.

A noble move… The Pritzker Foundation announced that it will award scholarships to undocumented immigrants who graduate from one of the Noble Street Charter School campuses. The $3 million that the Pritzkers are making available is intended to fill in the gap for the students who do not qualify for state or federal grants because of their status.

Seven of Noble Streets 13 campuses serve predominantly Latino populations.

It is unclear exactly how many undocumented immigrants graduate from CPS each year. The Urban Institute estimated that in 2010-2011, about 16,000 16-and-17-year-old non-citizens were living in the Chicagoland region. Some are in the United States legally, but those who are not often struggle to stay interested in school knowing that college will be difficult, if not impossible, to pay for.

However, some opportunities have opened up in recent years for undocumented immigrants. The federal Dream Act, initiated President Barack Obama in 2012, allows some to get federally-backed student loans, as well as temporary legal status and some benefits like health care. In 2011, a law created the Illinois Dream Fund, which provides scholarships for undocumented immigrants. On November 1, the fund will begin taking applications for scholarships. Also, Illinois is one of only a dozen states that offer in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.  

Backing off layoffs… Though it does not seem like this will solve some of the larger issues, Aramark said it will only lay off 290 custodians, not the 468 they had previously announced, according to WBEZ and the Sun-Times. In March, Aramark took over the management of custodians, promising to bring new technology to campuses and to take the onus off principals to monitor the work (though building engineers supervised custodians). The company promised that they could get building cleaner and save the district nearly $20 million a year.

But principals complained that schools were not being cleaned, and that Aramark was shuffling around custodians, hiring unfamiliar people and laying off workers who have been in schools for years.

Just as these complaints were reaching a fever pitch, CPS confirmed that Aramark was planning to reduce staffing. SEIU-Local 1 President Tom Balanoff tells WBEZ that he thinks Aramark can accomplish their task with the workers they are keeping on and the 2,000 others that are in place. But to make the principals happy, Aramark will also likely need to find some way to give principals control of the custodians. After all, when a classroom is dirty or a school gets bed bugs, it is the principal who hears about it.

Guidelines for equality… Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Wednesday new federal guidelines for reducing racial disparities in education, reports the New York Times. Among the issues the guidelines tackle are access to high-level classes such as calculus and Advanced Placement courses, as well as whether students go to facilities with air conditioning and computers. These guidelines follow discipline recommendations by the Department of Education, stating that schools should only call police as a last resort and work to reduce suspensions and expulsions.

These guidelines and recommendations are being called a “refreshing change” by civil rights advocates.

In CPS, disparities persist, according to the latest collection of data. Though CPS’ student population is about 12 percent white and Asian, they make up nearly 30 percent of students in programs for gifted and talented students. And while access to Algebra 1 in 7th and 8th grade is relatively equal, pass rates of black students pale in comparison to white, Asian and Latino students.

 



 

Hancock to become a selective admissions school

October 1, 2014 - 4:45pm

CPS wants to turn Hancock High School in McKinley Park into a selective enrollment and career and technical education (CTE) school, saying that families, elected officials and community leaders in the area want more selective admissions seats.

The decision, which still must go through public hearings, prompted criticism from one of the leaders of a well-regarded University of Chicago initiative that works with neighborhood high schools to improve academics and increase college-going.

“You can understand trying to shake up a school that is not performing, but shaking up something that is working really well, it looks like you’re trying to undo it or reduce its effect,” says Sarah Duncan, co-director of the Network for College Success at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. “The conspiracy theorists might say they’re undermining high-achieving neighborhood schools on purpose. It kind of looks like that.”

The Network for College Success has worked with Hancock since 2008. As it does with other schools in the city, the staff helps with Hancock’s organizational development and making improvements that are based on research and data. It also partnered with the school in its $5.7 million, three-year federal School Improvement Grant, which ended this past school year. The SIG program is a reform effort aimed at improving the worst schools in the country, without firing an entire staff, as in a turnaround.

Last year, Hancock was rated a Level 2 school. Its freshman on-track rate, a measure of whether freshmen are earning enough credits to graduate on time, was 91.2 percent, up nearly 10 percentage points from the previous year. Research by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research has shown that the on-track metric is a strong predictor of high school graduation.

“Hancock is a neighborhood school that while serving its neighborhood kids, has solved its dropout problem, its on-track rate is in the 90s, it’s really raising the bar on instruction and getting kids into better colleges,” Duncan says. “Why would we take half of that opportunity for successful neighborhood schools away from that community? Honestly, it is a model of a neighborhood school.”

Money for capital improvements

The new programs at Hancock will also entail $10 million in capital improvements, which CPS says the state will finance.

The district plans to phase in the selective enrollment slots one grade at a time starting next fall, with a freshmen class of 105 students. An equal number of slots will be available for the CTE program, focused on pre-law or engineering, and students from a wider area will get a preference for those seats. Still, students must apply for admission into both citywide programs.

“We are enthusiastic about the potential of a revitalized Hancock High School and look forward to establishing a new high-quality option in the far southwest side of Chicago,” said CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in a statement.
CPS projects the school will serve about 840 students after four years, which is less than its current enrollment level of 920 students. Neighborhood students who don’t make it into either the selective-enrollment or CTE programs would get diverted into one of the area neighborhood high schools, whose attendance boundaries will be redrawn.

The two closest neighborhood high schools are Curie and Hubbard, both of which are also Level 2.

Even though the transformation has not yet been approved, CPS says it will start taking applications for seats in Hancock’s proposed selective enrollment and CTE programs today. The application process for all selective enrollment schools will close on Dec. 12.

Comings and Goings: new principals

September 29, 2014 - 10:50am

Mark Grishaber has been named principal of Taft High School. He was formerly assistant principal at Young High School.

New principal, Michael Herring, has been named principal of Jahn.

Former interim principal at Burnside, Kelly Thigpen has become contract principal.

Kelly Moore-Shelton has been rehired as principal at Attucks.

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

Take 5: Fewer tenured teachers rehired, voucher rally, Elgin charter fight

September 29, 2014 - 9:13am

As promised, many of the educators who were laid off earlier this summer as a result of drops in enrollment were rehired, but rehire rates were different for tenured versus non-tenured teachers.

Of the 299 non-tenured teachers laid off this summer, 177 or 59 percent were brought back for full-time jobs, according to district data that the CTU shared with Catalyst. Meanwhile, of the 231 laid-off tenured teachers, 123 or 53 percent were rehired and more of them landed only substitute of part-time jobs.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey says the stats prove that the district’s new student-based budgeting model discourages principals from hiring more experienced teachers because they are paid more. Last week, CPS officials announced they wouldn’t cut school budgets if their enrollment numbers fell below projections. Sharkey says he’s glad principals won’t have to lay off more teachers, but that it’s too late to reverse some of the negative impacts already felt by experienced teachers because of the new budgeting formula.

2. Enrollment drain… Another revelation from Friday's announcement that CPS won't cut budgets based on enrollment is just how many fewer students are going to traditional schools. Just a decade ago, about 393,000 students went to district-run schools and only 12,000 students went to charter schools. On Friday, CPS officials said that 309,182 students were in traditional schools on the 10th day. CPS has yet to provide information on the count at charter schools.

Some of the enrollment drop at traditional schools is caused by students being lured away by charter and contract schools. But another part of it is that families are either moving out of Chicago or choosing to send their children to private schools. Overall, CPS officials said total enrollment was down by about 3,000 students. In a large school district, that is a small drop of less than 1 percent. But it bears keeping in mind that for at least the past decade CPS has been losing about 1 percent of students each year and now, for the first time perhaps ever, it will serve less than 400,000 students.

The Sun-Times applauded the move to let traditional schools keep the cash for students who did not show up. In an editorial, the Sun-Times says CPS should stop threatening to take money away from schools that don’t meet their enrollment projections. CPS is such a transient system with students who live transient lives and schools shouldn’t be penalized for their movements, the editorial argues.

3. Are vouchers on the horizon? Last week about 500 people--mostly affiliated with the Archdiocese of Chicago--gathered outside the State of Illinois Building to rally for school choice. They want state education money to follow children into private schools -- and expect to see a related bill in the State Legislature sometime this spring.

“The Bill Gates’ of the world don’t need school choice,” said Rebeca Nieves Huffman, state director of Democrats for Education Reform. “We would love to see something that prioritizes the lower-income families.”

Patrick Landry, the principal at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Humboldt Park, says that “parents are the primary educators of their children and deserve the right to choose their child’s education.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Chicago’s new archbishop, Blase Cupich, will handle these issues. A Chicago Tribune article this weekend detailed how Cupich battled to keep inner-city Catholic schools open despite declining enrollment at his previous post in Spokane, Wash., where he oversaw just 16 schools; Chicago’s system is the nation’s largest with more than 83,000 students and 244 schools. The article notes that his predecessor, Cardinal Francis George -- who has cancer and will retire from his duties as archbishop --  was big on lobbying legislators for tax credits and private school vouchers.

4. Suburban fight… In July, School District U-46 board members rejected the proposal for the Elgin Math and Science Academy, saying they were worried that the approval would “open the floodgates” for charters in the town. Board members also said they would rather the local not-for-profit leaders work with the school district to improve math and science education for all students in the district.

 But now the charter school operators appealed to the State Charter School Commission and are in the process of drumming up support for the idea. Last week, they won a victory when the Elgin City Council passed a resolution endorsing the charter school. On Tuesday evening, the charter school commission will hold a public hearing on the proposal.

Outside of Chicago, charter schools are pretty rare with only 15 campuses serving about 5,000 students. This past Spring, there was a major effort to abolish the charter school commission, which can override local school board decisions to reject charters. Schools approved by the Illinois State Charter School Commission are funded directly through the state, which winds up costing school districts more. But after being passed by the Senate, the bill to scrap the Illinois State Charter School Commission was sent to the Rules Committee in the House and never left.


5. Money for STEM teachers … Two teacher training programs in Illinois will receive a total of some $18.5 million in federal funds to recruit, train and support more STEM teachers in high-needs districts over the next five years. One grant for $10.2 million will go to a project at Illinois State University run by Robert Lee, who is well known for the Chicago Teacher Pipeline program he oversees. The other, for $8.3 million, goes to National Louis University’s Science Excellence through Residency program, directed by Shaunti Knauth.

The grants, which were announced last week, are also supposed to increase the participation of underrepresented groups, including women, minorities and people with disabilities, in teaching STEM subjects.

 

 












CPS won't cut schools based on enrollment shortfalls

September 26, 2014 - 6:12pm

CPS officials on Friday said principals would not face budget cuts if student enrollment in their schools failed to meet projections. 

Schools  enrolling more than the number of students projected will receive additional student-based budgeting of about $4,390 per student, according to a letter sent out by CPS.

No reason was given for the decision.  About half of CPS schools would have lost a total of about $38 million, if these cuts had gone through, according to CPS. The number of students going to district-run schools dropped dramatically in the last year from about 320,000 to 309,000 with some going to charters or contract schools and others leaving CPS.

About 214 schools will get additional $24 million.  CPS officials said they will use money in contingency and an anticipated surplus of Tax Increment Financing money to offset the extra costs..

Last spring, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced that the district was dramatically overhauling the way the district provided money to schools. Rather than providing teachers based on enrollment, the district now pays schools a stipend for each student under a system called student-based budgeting.

CPS also decided not to penalize schools last year—a move that cost the district about $20 million.

The principal of a Southwest Side school nervous about losing money this year put a banner on her website to recruit  25 more students. She eventually got four additional children.

That would have meant a $100,000 budget cut, equal to the cost of employing at least one teacher, she said.

“I can’t afford to cut teachers or staff,” said the principal, who asked not to be identified. “I had already drafted a letter … begging to keep the money.”

She says CPS needs to do a better job of helping principals deal with shifts in enrollment, which she doesn’t see how she can control.

Michael Beyer, a principal at Morrill Elementary School, also on the Southwest Side, applauded district officials for not cutting budgets until they get comfortable with student-based budgeting.  “I think they are trying to smooth out the bumps,” said Beyer, whose school received more than the expected number of students this fall.

A political issue

When Byrd-Bennett announced the move to a student-based budgeting system, she touted it as a way for principals to exert more control over their budgets, something should would have preferred when she was  a principal.

She also said it is a more equitable way to fund schools because each one is allotted a set amount per student, and the amount and rationale for the allocation is transparent.

Student-based budgeting also has been pushed by those promoteingmarket-based school reform. They prefer for the money to follow the student. High-performing schools would attract more students and the poor performers would lose them.  Charter schools have long been funded per pupil.

The decision to hold schools harmless met with skepticism from the Center for Reinventing Education, an organization that promotes choice in school districts. 

Larry Miller, an expert on student-based budgeting with the center, said that when a school gets to keep money for students they don’t have, they are effectively taking money away from students in other schools. He said too often school districts put off fully implementing student-based budgeting for the wrong reasons.

“There is often a lot of political support for the status quo,” he said. “They get overwhelmed by requests to keep things the way they are and they cave.”

But critics of student-based budgeting don’t like it because traditional schools are penalized when charter schools siphon students away.  Also, they worry that principals will be tempted to hire less experienced teachers so their money can be spread further.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey called the decision to hold schools harmless a "tacit admission that this is a fundamentally flawed way of doing the budget."

He said student based budgeting already has had a "devastating negative consequence" on schools, as principals have become motivated to hire less experienced, poorer paid teachers. Recent data on rehires after last year's layoffs, he said, showed that more untenured teachers were rehired than those with tenure.

 "Why would someone who is untenured be hired over a tenured teacher who's already proven to be an effective teacher at CPS? Because they're cheaper," he said.

Take 5: First-day attendance, Dyett concessions and school funding bill

September 25, 2014 - 9:00am

Continuing a kind of dubious tradition started by former CPS CEO Arne Duncan, CPS officials announced Wednesday that first-day attendance was better than ever this year. Accountability Chief John Barker  told CPS board members at their monthly meeting on Wednesday that 93.7 percent of enrolled students showed up on the first day of class -- which is ever so slightly higher than last year’s 93.5 percent rate. In addition, he said the attendance rates were higher on each day of the first week of school.

Forget the fact that in 2009 Duncan announced the first-day attendance was a record 94.1 percent, but the way the district calculates first-day attendance has always been questionable. The first-day attendance rate is calculated by taking the number of enrolled or projected students divided by those who show up. The many thousands of inactive students or those who are not officially enrolled or projected are not counted in first-day attendance figures at all. In many schools, especially high schools, the number of students who eventually enroll is significantly more than those who are in attendance on the first day. Also, the first-day attendance figures do not include the 55,000-some students who attend charter schools. 

Duncan started reporting the first-day attendance because he said it affected state funding. Later it was pointed out and he conceded that the first day doesn’t count any more than any other day. Funding is based on the average number of students in attendance over the three months with the best results. Yet Duncan insisted that first-day attendance was important as it set the stage for the rest of the school year.

 2. Outlawed… Wednesday’s board meeting was a pretty civil affair with some people complaining about the privatization of custodial services and others asking district offficials for help with overcrowding. Missing were some of the fiery speakers who regularly attend. DNAinfo reports that four of them had been banned, including Rousemary Vega and her husband Jesus Ramos. Vega and Ramos became incensed at the July board meeting when board member Jesse Ruiz left the meeting before they had a chance to speak.

The letter sent to Vega and others who were banned quoted public participation guidelines, which call for participants to be “courteous, respectful and civil.” CPS rules give Board President David Vitale the unilateral power to establish and publish guidelines.

The enforcing of such a rule is not the only way the board meetings have changed under this administration. The sign up to speak at a board meeting begins a week and half before the actual meeting and ends the Friday before. However, the board agenda does not get posted until the Monday before the meeting. This effectively prevents anyone from speaking on the items on the agenda--something board members say they want.

 3. Small wins for Dyett.. Police arrested 11 people who refused to leave City Hall Tuesday night after staging a sit-in to protest the pending closure of the Bronzeville high school. The school is scheduled to close after this school year with its final class of seniors, although in the week before school began, CPS officials called them to encourage consider attending a different school.

Activists say Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s staff made several concessions to the students, including a commitment to hire a physical education teacher instead of having to take an online gym class. They will also get to use the gym again, which had been closed soon after the school had won a full overhaul of its facilities in an ESPN contest, DNAinfo Chicago reports. 

The mayor’s staff also agreed to provide ACT test prep and tutoring services to the students, in addition to allowing the school to hold prom.

4. Work in progress … Lawmakers and educational leaders continue to debate the merits Senate Bill 16, legislation aimed at transforming the way the state funds schools. But don’t expect it to get resolved anytime soon, according to comments in a recent Chicago Tribune article. "We're going to have hearings on Senate Bill 16 and continue discussions throughout the next year," said Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia during a recent meeting with suburban school district leaders. "We can't unravel 20 years of education inequity in just one year. That's highly unlikely.”

The state Senate passed SB16 last May, and House Democrats have been meeting regularly with Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) staff since June to discuss the new, simplified formula. SB16 would give more money to poorer districts, while including weights for need based on the number of students enrolled who are special education, gifted or English Language Learners.

The school funding bill has become a campaign issue in at least one House race, according  to a recent Daily Herald article. A Democrat running to represent Downers Grove says that while she opposes the bill as it’s written because suburban districts that stand to lose millions, it’s a good “conversation starter.” Her opponent, an incumbent Republican, says the problem with the bill is that it tries to adjust how education funding is distributed without adding more money to the pot. Check out a model developed by ISBE on how the legislation would impact local school districts based on 2013 data here (the model will be updated this fall using more recent data).

5. And the winners are…. Of 40 school staffs that spent the summer dreaming up projects that could help their schools, 23 willl share a total of $100,000 to implement a pilot version of their programs,The Chicago Public Education Fund announced Tuesday. The Summer Design Program projects range from teacher professional development to parent engagement to buying technology to help teach STEM. The schools, which include charters and traditional schools, also are eligible to win an additional $30,000 for ongoing support.

The highest award per school for the Summer Design Program is $7,500. Budlong Elementary in Lincoln Square was one of the top winners and will use its winnings to make its third through fifth grade classes more interdisciplinary. “The program we designed was to pair teachers who are strong in humanities with teachers who are strong in math and science,” says Budlong Principal Naomi Nakayama. “Typically, when teachers are working together, they are working with other people in the same grade level, or the same content area in the upper grades. This is a different model for us.”

Nakayama says the school plans to use the money toward giving the teachers planning time and buying equipment so students can have hands-on experiences.  

Comings and Goings: Chapman

September 24, 2014 - 12:12pm

Warren Chapman has been named Chief Advancement Officer at The Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired. In this position he will manage activities related to analysis, planning, and execution of fundraising/development goals.

Previously, Chapman has served as senior vice president and interim vice president for Institutional Development at Columbia College of Chicago; vice chancellor for external affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago; vice president and national philanthropic advisor at JPMorgan Chase; president at Bank One Foundation; and lead program officer at the Joyce Foundation. He has also served on numerous boards, including Catalyst Chicago’s.

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

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

September 22, 2014 - 8:31pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connections for parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 22, 2014 - 8:42am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 





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

September 18, 2014 - 9:37am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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Teacher leaders must have support, financial incentives

September 16, 2014 - 10:03am

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

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

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

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

Take a cue from suburban unions

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

September 15, 2014 - 9:11am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

   

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

September 15, 2014 - 9:11am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

   

Hundreds of school custodians to be laid off

September 12, 2014 - 9:09pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hundreds of school custodians to be laid off

September 12, 2014 - 9:09pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comings and Goings: Husbands

September 11, 2014 - 10:01am

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

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

Comings and Goings: Husbands

September 11, 2014 - 10:01am

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

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

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

September 11, 2014 - 8:39am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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