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Take 5: Budget matters, teacher licensing clout, bad help for student loans

July 14, 2014 - 10:44am

Budget matters. The Chicago Tribune’s school budget analysis shows that the143 charter and contract schools are getting a funding increase of $72 million---exactly the same amount as the cuts for the 504 traditional schools. The story does not say how this breaks down per student, but CPS officials say most of the increase has to do with the fact that they are predicting 3,400 more students in charter schools and 4,000 fewer students in district-run schools. Note, however, that more than half of traditional schools are either getting more money or staying level, while schools that are losing money are either "welcoming schools" that took in students displaced by closings, or neighborhood high schools. 

The principal of welcoming school Mollison Elementary made a personal appeal to Mayor Rahm Emanuel to increase funding for all welcoming schools, saying it’ll take more than a year of extra help “to heal from these wounds."

CPS will hold three simultaneous public hearings on next year’s proposed $5.7 billion budget on Wednesday. The hearings begin at 6 p.m. at the theaters of Wright College, 4300 N. Narraganset Ave.; Kennedy-King College, 740 W. 63 Street; and Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren Street. On-site registration begins an hour earlier. The budget is available in an interactive format online and will be up for a vote on July 23. Because all that data is a bit tricky to navigate, the parent group, Raise Your Hand Illinois, will offer a two-hour training at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Eckhart Park, 1330 W. Chicago Ave.

2. Teacher licensing clout. A Chicago Tribune investigation found that lawmakers are stepping in to help constituents get teacher licenses, which have traditionally not been used as a clout bargaining chip. In some cases, lawmakers just helped speed up the process, including one young woman who was helped by House Speaker Mike Madigan. But in others, teachers with troubled pasts were helped. One lawmaker who couldn’t get a requirement waived got the law changed, so that some of his constituents would qualify to as administrators.

3. Librarian “shortage.” The Chicago Reader’s Ben Joravsky knows where CPS could find some. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett indicated that one reason so many CPS schools with libraries didn’t have librarians is that there’s a shortage of certified librarians. An official with the Chicago-based American Library Association, however, says she has plenty of resumes from certified librarians that she can send CPS. Joravsky also points out that some certified librarians in CPS are working at other jobs because their schools don’t have librarian positions. 

The U.S. Department of Education reports a nationwide shortage of certified librarians. Because of the shortage, CPS considers certified librarians as a “special needs position” and waives the residency requirement. However, usually when principals are asked why they don’t have a librarian, they cite lack of money rather than a lack of candidates.

4. Mayor Lewis?  CTU President Karen Lewis could take on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, if she ever decided to throw her hat in the race. That’s according to a new Chicago Sun-Times poll, which shows that 45 percent of voters would side with the teachers union boss -- and only 36 percent with the incumbent mayor. The remaining 18 percent of likely voters are undecided. =Emanuel would face an even tougher opponent if Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle decided to give it a go, with some 55 percent of voters favoring her over the mayor.  Asked about the poll results, Emanuel’s people told the Sun-Times said they were “laughable.”


5. Getting help with student loans. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is reportedly going to sue companies that promise to help lower student loan payments. These are the same type of debt settlement companies that offer to help with credit card debt and mortgages. According to the New York Times, Madigan contends that some people paid hundreds of dollars upfront for debt assistance that that could have gotten for free from the Education Department. Also, in some cases, the companies said they had relationships with federal relief programs when they didn’t.

Take 5: Avoiding budget reality, discipline disparities, problems with choice

July 10, 2014 - 9:49am

1. The Chicago Tribune blasts CPS in an editorial today for the plan to spend 14 months of revenue in the next 12 months in order to balance the 2015 budget. Now that it is increasingly clear that CPS won’t get pension relief, the Tribune says CPS should just deal with reality, instead of borrowing against the future. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has readily admitted that this was a one-time fix that does not solve structural budget problems. And officials admit that for at least five years, they have used one-time fixes to close budget gaps--which makes it harder to believe their claims that next year they will really be in trouble. Yet Byrd-Bennett said she doesn’t see any other one-time fixes showing up  to save CPS next time. One thing that the Tribune mentions is the underlying--and yes, cynical --reason most people assume the district won't tackle the problem this year: Mayor Emanuel is up for reelection.

2. We’ve said it before, but … the teaching workforce here in Chicago and the rest of the country is disproportionately white when compared to the student body. The left-leaning Center for American Progress issued a report last month on how districts must do a better job of getting teachers of color in front of students. 

Nationally, students of color make up nearly half of the public school population, while only about 18 percent of teachers are of color. In Chicago, 86 percent of students are of color, but less than half of all teachers are minorities. The report stresses the fact it’s a matter not just of recruitment, but of retention as new teachers leave the profession at disproportionately high rates.

Catalyst wrote about the shifting demographics of Chicago’s teaching force, and school closings and turnarounds in black communities have likely shifted the demographics even more, especially given the lack of black students in teaching programs and entering the teaching profession in Illinois--though Latinos are making progress on this front. 

3. Disciplining children of color… Minorities are underrepresented as teachers, but overrepresented when it comes to suspensions and expulsions in schools across the country.  Andre Perry, founding dean of urban education at Davenport University, says schools are giving up on black children “by expelling those who are considered not ready to learn. While zero-tolerance expulsions myopically help the school and the majority of students in it, they destroy the student — and, ultimately, the community, too.”

School officials in Chicago recently rewrote the student code of conduct policy. Byrd-Bennett says she made this a priority because she is personally disturbed by disparity in CPS. (For example, about 75 percent of suspended CPS students are black, though they make up only about 40 percent of the student body.) While advocates of restorative justice practices applauded CPS, many are cautious and still worry about skewed statistics that cloud the truth about discipline. You may recall last week’s public celebration by Mayor Rahm Emanuel of a drastic drop in expulsions that turned out not to be true.

4. Choice is great, but… More parents in cities are getting the chance to choose their children’s schools, but they report some substantial difficulties, according to a survey from the Center for Reinventing Public Education, a Seattle, Washington-based group that supports choice. Among the problems: parents understanding options, getting students to schools and making sure children with special needs get the right services.

Parents in CPS have complained about similar problems. Most charter schools don’t offer bus service, putting parents without cars at a significant disadvantage. Also, charter schools in Chicago serve way fewer students with more significant special needs and parents say they don’t choose charters because of problems they’ve had with getting needed services.The report calls on city and state leaders to try to solve these problems, instead of continuing to be tangled in the charter vs. district debate.

5. A summer reading reminder … As part of former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s “Too Small to Fail” campaign, parents are being urged to read, talk and even sing to their babies to develop literacy habits early on. As part of that effort, the Illinois-based American Academy of Pediatrics has asked its members to talk with parents about the benefits of reading on early brain development and even to incorporate reading into office checkups. Dr. Pamela High, who wrote the Academy’s new policy, told the Hechinger Report that reading is so powerful because “ it’s often a one-on-one experience between parents and children where children have your full attention.” It can also be a language-enriching experience and a reassuring routine that nurtures the relationship between parents and children.

Some classrooms in Chicago, including Cardenas Elementary in Little Village,  got special federal funding starting in 2010 to improve literacy in the earliest grades. This is important because poor readers from poor families face among the worst educational outcomes. Overall, CPS officials have been working on a district-wide literacy initiative that has yet to be rolled out.

On a related note, the New York Times' Opinion section has dedicated a "Room for Debate" to whether children's books should address politics, race, gender, sexual orientation and other potentially controversial issues. What do you think?

 



Take 5: Avoiding budget reality, discipline disparities, problems with choice

July 10, 2014 - 9:49am

1. The Chicago Tribune blasts CPS in an editorial today for the plan to spend 14 months of revenue in the next 12 months in order to balance the 2015 budget. Now that it is increasingly clear that CPS won’t get pension relief, the Tribune says CPS should just deal with reality, instead of borrowing against the future. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has readily admitted that this was a one-time fix that does not solve structural budget problems. And officials admit that for at least five years, they have used one-time fixes to close budget gaps--which makes it harder to believe their claims that next year they will really be in trouble. Yet Byrd-Bennett said she doesn’t see any other one-time fixes showing up  to save CPS next time. One thing that the Tribune mentions is the underlying--and yes, cynical --reason most people assume the district won't tackle the problem this year: Mayor Emanuel is up for reelection.

2. We’ve said it before, but … the teaching workforce here in Chicago and the rest of the country is disproportionately white when compared to the student body. The left-leaning Center for American Progress issued a report last month on how districts must do a better job of getting teachers of color in front of students. 

Nationally, students of color make up nearly half of the public school population, while only about 18 percent of teachers are of color. In Chicago, 86 percent of students are of color, but less than half of all teachers are minorities. The report stresses the fact it’s a matter not just of recruitment, but of retention as new teachers leave the profession at disproportionately high rates.

Catalyst wrote about the shifting demographics of Chicago’s teaching force, and school closings and turnarounds in black communities have likely shifted the demographics even more, especially given the lack of black students in teaching programs and entering the teaching profession in Illinois--though Latinos are making progress on this front. 

3. Disciplining children of color… Minorities are underrepresented as teachers, but overrepresented when it comes to suspensions and expulsions in schools across the country.  Andre Perry, founding dean of urban education at Davenport University, says schools are giving up on black children “by expelling those who are considered not ready to learn. While zero-tolerance expulsions myopically help the school and the majority of students in it, they destroy the student — and, ultimately, the community, too.”

School officials in Chicago recently rewrote the student code of conduct policy. Byrd-Bennett says she made this a priority because she is personally disturbed by disparity in CPS. (For example, about 75 percent of suspended CPS students are black, though they make up only about 40 percent of the student body.) While advocates of restorative justice practices applauded CPS, many are cautious and still worry about skewed statistics that cloud the truth about discipline. You may recall last week’s public celebration by Mayor Rahm Emanuel of a drastic drop in expulsions that turned out not to be true.

4. Choice is great, but… More parents in cities are getting the chance to choose their children’s schools, but they report some substantial difficulties, according to a survey from the Center for Reinventing Public Education, a Seattle, Washington-based group that supports choice. Among the problems: parents understanding options, getting students to schools and making sure children with special needs get the right services.

Parents in CPS have complained about similar problems. Most charter schools don’t offer bus service, putting parents without cars at a significant disadvantage. Also, charter schools in Chicago serve way fewer students with more significant special needs and parents say they don’t choose charters because of problems they’ve had with getting needed services.The report calls on city and state leaders to try to solve these problems, instead of continuing to be tangled in the charter vs. district debate.

5. A summer reading reminder … As part of former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s “Too Small to Fail” campaign, parents are being urged to read, talk and even sing to their babies to develop literacy habits early on. As part of that effort, the Illinois-based American Academy of Pediatrics has asked its members to talk with parents about the benefits of reading on early brain development and even to incorporate reading into office checkups. Dr. Pamela High, who wrote the Academy’s new policy, told the Hechinger Report that reading is so powerful because “ it’s often a one-on-one experience between parents and children where children have your full attention.” It can also be a language-enriching experience and a reassuring routine that nurtures the relationship between parents and children.

Some classrooms in Chicago, including Cardenas Elementary in Little Village,  got special federal funding starting in 2010 to improve literacy in the earliest grades. This is important because poor readers from poor families face among the worst educational outcomes. Overall, CPS officials have been working on a district-wide literacy initiative that has yet to be rolled out.

On a related note, the New York Times' Opinion section has dedicated a "Room for Debate" to whether children's books should address politics, race, gender, sexual orientation and other potentially controversial issues. What do you think?

 



Teachers need a “road test” to ensure good teaching

July 9, 2014 - 11:22am

The preparation of new teachers is receiving a lot of attention these days. Recently, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a review of educator preparation programs. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration recently announced its plan to renew efforts to develop a rating system for these programs.

As a nation, we need to be confident that new teachers are ready to take over a classroom, will have an impact on student learning and that their higher education programs prepared them well. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “We want to have a national conversation” about quality teacher preparation and teaching effectiveness.

Missing from both the NCTQ report and Duncan’s overture, however, is acknowledgement that teacher educators are already taking charge of improving teacher preparation. Illinois teacher educators and institutions, such as Illinois State University, the University of Illinois-Chicago, Illinois College, St. Francis University and National Louis University, among others, are leading the way. Illinois faculty and administrators have been essential contributors in designing and field testing a nationally available performance assessment that breaks new and essential ground: It requires aspiring teachers to demonstrate for independent review that have the skills that define effective beginning teaching.

This assessment, called the edTPA, is now producing telling data about how well our programs are performing. As a result, we are in a better position than ever to dispute this area of weakness cited by Secretary Duncan.

The focus on performance assessment represented by edTPA (which Illinois is phasing in statewide ) is significant and promising for teacher education here and nationally. Traditionally, our field used multiple-choice tests to measure a prospective teacher’s understanding of how to teach, subject matter, key legal requirements, etc. By contrast, a performance assessment uses materials from actual teaching practice, including lesson plans, student work and an unedited video of a teacher leading instruction. Think of it as the difference between a multiple-choice driver’s license test and the actual road test an aspiring driver must pass. Teaching needs this “road test.”

Defining effective classroom teaching

EdTPA helps determine if a candidate can perform at a professional level in 15 essential areas that contribute to effective instruction. Candidates demonstrate their skills in a portfolio they prepare for independent scoring. To pass, candidates must show they can plan classes, deliver instruction, assess student learning and analyze their own teaching effectiveness. It focuses on what is fundamentally necessary—competence in practices that will improve student learning.

With more states making edTPA a requirement for program completion or licensure, a growing network of teacher educators – led by the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity and the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education – is supporting educators and teacher candidates as they go through this challenging yet rewarding process of preparing to be classroom teachers.

The recent skepticism about teacher preparation will continue. The positive impact is that teacher education is focusing on the need to state clearly and precisely the essential features of effective instruction. Whether one completes a comprehensive teacher preparation program or an alternative route to licensure, we are converging on a common language that describes our expectations of beginning teachers. They must be able to demonstrate they can:

-        Teach toward a meaningful learning objective;

-        Plan instruction based on students’ strengths and needs;

-        Help students engage in and understand content; and

-        Assess if students are learning and include student feedback and results to plan further instruction.

The edTPA is one example of how the profession is defining effective classroom teaching. Educators from Illinois and nationwide are gaining unprecedented clarity on our expectations for professional practice. As in all professions, our aim is almost always truer when we have a clear sight of the target. Today, our aim is to make sure that beginning teachers are prepared to help all students learn from the first day they take over a classroom.

We extend an offer to the Department of Education and other skeptics to learn what we are learning about our candidates, their preparation, and our opportunities to improve.

Amee Adkins is associate dean of the College of Education at Illinois State University.

 

 

Teachers need a “road test” to ensure good teaching

July 9, 2014 - 11:22am

The preparation of new teachers is receiving a lot of attention these days. Recently, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a review of educator preparation programs. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration recently announced its plan to renew efforts to develop a rating system for these programs.

As a nation, we need to be confident that new teachers are ready to take over a classroom, will have an impact on student learning and that their higher education programs prepared them well. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “We want to have a national conversation” about quality teacher preparation and teaching effectiveness.

Missing from both the NCTQ report and Duncan’s overture, however, is acknowledgement that teacher educators are already taking charge of improving teacher preparation. Illinois teacher educators and institutions, such as Illinois State University, the University of Illinois-Chicago, Illinois College, St. Francis University and National Louis University, among others, are leading the way. Illinois faculty and administrators have been essential contributors in designing and field testing a nationally available performance assessment that breaks new and essential ground: It requires aspiring teachers to demonstrate for independent review that have the skills that define effective beginning teaching.

This assessment, called the edTPA, is now producing telling data about how well our programs are performing. As a result, we are in a better position than ever to dispute this area of weakness cited by Secretary Duncan.

The focus on performance assessment represented by edTPA (which Illinois is phasing in statewide ) is significant and promising for teacher education here and nationally. Traditionally, our field used multiple-choice tests to measure a prospective teacher’s understanding of how to teach, subject matter, key legal requirements, etc. By contrast, a performance assessment uses materials from actual teaching practice, including lesson plans, student work and an unedited video of a teacher leading instruction. Think of it as the difference between a multiple-choice driver’s license test and the actual road test an aspiring driver must pass. Teaching needs this “road test.”

Defining effective classroom teaching

EdTPA helps determine if a candidate can perform at a professional level in 15 essential areas that contribute to effective instruction. Candidates demonstrate their skills in a portfolio they prepare for independent scoring. To pass, candidates must show they can plan classes, deliver instruction, assess student learning and analyze their own teaching effectiveness. It focuses on what is fundamentally necessary—competence in practices that will improve student learning.

With more states making edTPA a requirement for program completion or licensure, a growing network of teacher educators – led by the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity and the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education – is supporting educators and teacher candidates as they go through this challenging yet rewarding process of preparing to be classroom teachers.

The recent skepticism about teacher preparation will continue. The positive impact is that teacher education is focusing on the need to state clearly and precisely the essential features of effective instruction. Whether one completes a comprehensive teacher preparation program or an alternative route to licensure, we are converging on a common language that describes our expectations of beginning teachers. They must be able to demonstrate they can:

-        Teach toward a meaningful learning objective;

-        Plan instruction based on students’ strengths and needs;

-        Help students engage in and understand content; and

-        Assess if students are learning and include student feedback and results to plan further instruction.

The edTPA is one example of how the profession is defining effective classroom teaching. Educators from Illinois and nationwide are gaining unprecedented clarity on our expectations for professional practice. As in all professions, our aim is almost always truer when we have a clear sight of the target. Today, our aim is to make sure that beginning teachers are prepared to help all students learn from the first day they take over a classroom.

We extend an offer to the Department of Education and other skeptics to learn what we are learning about our candidates, their preparation, and our opportunities to improve.

Amee Adkins is associate dean of the College of Education at Illinois State University.

 

 

Arts education report: More teachers and programs, but inequity remains

July 9, 2014 - 6:35am

Two years ago, when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled an arts plan for schools, it was unclear how much arts instruction was already being offered to students – either by certified teachers or through partnerships with community organizations.

Now, schools and arts leaders know the answer: There are more teachers than many would have guessed, but they are inequitably distributed across the city and the total is far below the goals.

“There are a lot of assumptions that people make about what is out there and what isn’t out there,” said Paul Sznewajs, executive director of the arts nonprofit organization, Ingenuity Inc. “What we found is that there are a lot of resources out there, maybe more than we anticipated, but there are still many gaps in the system. More teachers than we assumed there to be in the system, but underneath is the challenge of student access to those teachers and whether those teachers are distributed equitably across the system.”

Today, Ingenuity released a first-of-its kind analysis of arts offerings, staffing, partnerships and funding in CPS during the 2012-13 school year, when the Chicago Cultural Plan was unveiled. Among the findings in the report:

-- On average, elementary students received 99 minutes of arts instruction per week. As part of the district’s arts guidelines, elementary schools should provide at least 120 minutes per week of arts instruction. But, according to the self-reported data, only 40 percent of CPS elementary schools offered that much arts education during the 2012-13 school year.

-- The number of arts programs provided by partner organizations varied wildly from neighborhood to neighborhood. A striking map in the report shows how wealthier neighborhoods such as  Lincoln Park and Lake View have more than 50 arts partnerships in schools, while some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods in the South and West side have 10 or fewer.

-- More than 400 arts organizations had active partnerships to offer programming in CPS schools. Sznewajs said he thought the number was about half as many.

-- 95 percent of elementary/middle schools, and 88 percent of high schools, had at least one part- or full-time arts instructor. Most schools with arts instructors – 82 percent – also had community arts partners.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, CPS leaders said it wasn’t surprising that the district hadn’t met its goals during the 2012-13 school year; after all, that’s when they were created.

 "Are we anywhere near where we need to be? Of course not,” said CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. “This is a snapshot in the past that has now informed us.”

One way the information has already done so, she explained, was in the placement of 84 certified arts teachers who will be hired with $10.5 million in tax increment financing (TIF) dollars.  The vast majority, Byrd-Bennett said, will work in schools in the South and West sides “where there is the greatest need.” (Here's a list of where all the arts teachers will be heading next fall. Separately, CPS will hire an equal number of high school gym teachers with TIF dollars to comply with another mandate. Also, read a CPS fact sheet in response to the arts report.*)

The TIF money for new art teachers won’t be permanent, nor is it complete. Next year, schools must pay 25 percent of the cost of the teachers, and the district will pick up the remainder with the TIF money. The following year, schools must pay 50 percent of the cost.

And that, say CPS critics, is a problem.  Last year, a reported 100 arts teachers lost their jobs in budget cuts across the district.

“We’re either going to make a commitment to arts education or we’re not,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. “Relying on vanishing ways of paying things puts us in the same position we’re already in […]. I don’t think this is a sustainable plan.”

Too much attention to partnerships?

Ingenuity’s “State of the Arts” report was based on a variety of sources including the CPS Creative Schools Certification survey, which only 57 percent of schools completed. This fall, Ingenuity will publish a follow-up report using 2013-14 data, which is just now being analyzed.  The report promises to include better data, as this time around, 89 percent of schools completed the CPS survey.

“That’s a really positive sign to show both participation and movement forward,” said CPS arts director Mario Rossero.

Charter and contract schools, however, were the least likely to return surveys than traditional neighborhood schools both years.  Sznewajs said he expects that will change over the years, as all schools become more familiar with the annual survey.

The report provides data on a district-wide level, but not on individual schools. However, school-level data will be made available online later this year in a revamped version of Ingenuity’s interactive map of school arts offerings.

Ingenuity also issued a series of recommendations, starting with hiring more arts instructors. At a bare minimum, the report asks for at least one certified arts instructor per school; Rossero said he hoped the 84 additional arts teachers would ensure that all schools in Chicago had at least one arts teacher on staff but could not confirm whether that would be the case next fall. Other recommendations include increased training opportunities for principals and teachers; the creation of a system to measure arts instruction; and locating new public and private funding for the arts.

One key finding in the report is on the wide range in programs offered by arts partners that work in schools.  The majority of these programs are one-time field trips or performances that, “while valuable and may address an identified school need, signal little consistent or ongoing student access to partner programs,” according to the report.

Ingenuity points to art residency programs in schools as an alternative which provides “a deep arts learning opportunity” for students. Just over a quarter of schools reported having an art residency in 2012-13.

Sznewajs said outside arts partnerships make sense for schools in a city like Chicago, with its vast wealth of “cultural resources” that schools could tap into. He stressed that his group’s focus on schools partnering with outside arts organizations is in no ways meant to undermine the role of certified arts instructors in the classroom.

“If you want to grow the arts, it starts with having a certified arts instructor on staff. They’re the anchor of everything,” he said.

Still, the attention to partnerships has caused some concern among arts instructors in CPS. In late April, the CTU’s arts committee filed a grievance alleging that some schools were using outside arts partners to replace instruction by certified teachers, even though that instruction isn’t supposed to count toward the 120 minutes per week requirement.

John Perryman, who chairs the CTU arts committee, said some principals were leaving students alone with outside arts partners. CPS officials did not respond to questions about the grievance.

*This story was updated on July 10, 2014, to include a CPS-provided list of which schools will receive arts teachers next fall.

Arts education report: More teachers and programs, but inequity remains

July 9, 2014 - 6:35am

Two years ago, when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled an arts plan for schools, it was unclear how much arts instruction was already being offered to students – either by certified teachers or through partnerships with community organizations.

Now, schools and arts leaders know the answer: There are more teachers than many would have guessed, but they are inequitably distributed across the city and the total is far below the goals.

“There are a lot of assumptions that people make about what is out there and what isn’t out there,” said Paul Sznewajs, executive director of the arts nonprofit organization, Ingenuity Inc. “What we found is that there are a lot of resources out there, maybe more than we anticipated, but there are still many gaps in the system. More teachers than we assumed there to be in the system, but underneath is the challenge of student access to those teachers and whether those teachers are distributed equitably across the system.”

Today, Ingenuity released a first-of-its kind analysis of arts offerings, staffing, partnerships and funding in CPS during the 2012-13 school year, when the Chicago Cultural Plan was unveiled. Among the findings in the report:

-- On average, elementary students received 99 minutes of arts instruction per week. As part of the district’s arts guidelines, elementary schools should provide at least 120 minutes per week of arts instruction. But, according to the self-reported data, only 40 percent of CPS elementary schools offered that much arts education during the 2012-13 school year.

-- The number of arts programs provided by partner organizations varied wildly from neighborhood to neighborhood. A striking map in the report shows how wealthier neighborhoods such as  Lincoln Park and Lake View have more than 50 arts partnerships in schools, while some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods in the South and West side have 10 or fewer.

-- More than 400 arts organizations had active partnerships to offer programming in CPS schools. Sznewajs said he thought the number was about half as many.

-- 95 percent of elementary/middle schools, and 88 percent of high schools, had at least one part- or full-time arts instructor. Most schools with arts instructors – 82 percent – also had community arts partners.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, CPS leaders said it wasn’t surprising that the district hadn’t met its goals during the 2012-13 school year; after all, that’s when they were created.

 "Are we anywhere near where we need to be? Of course not,” said CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. “This is a snapshot in the past that has now informed us.”

One way the information has already done so, she explained, was in the placement of 84 certified arts teachers who will be hired with $10.5 million in tax increment financing (TIF) dollars.  The vast majority, Byrd-Bennett said, will work in schools in the South and West sides “where there is the greatest need.”

District officials failed to provide reporters with the names of schools that will hire new arts teachers, despite assuring they’d do so on Tuesday. CPS did provide a fact sheet in response to the arts report. (Separately, CPS will hire an equal number of high school gym teachers with TIF dollars to comply with another mandate.)

The TIF money for new art teachers won’t be permanent, nor is it complete. Next year, schools must pay 25 percent of the cost of the teachers, and the district will pick up the remainder with the TIF money. The following year, schools must pay 50 percent of the cost.

And that, say CPS critics, is a problem.  Last year, a reported 100 arts teachers lost their jobs in budget cuts across the district.

“We’re either going to make a commitment to arts education or we’re not,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. “Relying on vanishing ways of paying things puts us in the same position we’re already in […]. I don’t think this is a sustainable plan.”

Too much attention to partnerships?

Ingenuity’s “State of the Arts” report was based on a variety of sources including the CPS Creative Schools Certification survey, which only 57 percent of schools completed. This fall, Ingenuity will publish a follow-up report using 2013-14 data, which is just now being analyzed.  The report promises to include better data, as this time around, 89 percent of schools completed the CPS survey.

“That’s a really positive sign to show both participation and movement forward,” said CPS arts director Mario Rossero.

Charter and contract schools, however, were the least likely to return surveys than traditional neighborhood schools both years.  Sznewajs said he expects that will change over the years, as all schools become more familiar with the annual survey.

The report provides data on a district-wide level, but not on individual schools. However, school-level data will be made available online later this year in a revamped version of Ingenuity’s interactive map of school arts offerings.

Ingenuity also issued a series of recommendations, starting with hiring more arts instructors. At a bare minimum, the report asks for at least one certified arts instructor per school; Rossero said he hoped the 84 additional arts teachers would ensure that all schools in Chicago had at least one arts teacher on staff but could not confirm whether that would be the case next fall. Other recommendations include increased training opportunities for principals and teachers; the creation of a system to measure arts instruction; and locating new public and private funding for the arts.

One key finding in the report is on the wide range in programs offered by arts partners that work in schools.  The majority of these programs are one-time field trips or performances that, “while valuable and may address an identified school need, signal little consistent or ongoing student access to partner programs,” according to the report.

Ingenuity points to art residency programs in schools as an alternative which provides “a deep arts learning opportunity” for students. Just over a quarter of schools reported having an art residency in 2012-13.

Sznewajs said outside arts partnerships make sense for schools in a city like Chicago, with its vast wealth of “cultural resources” that schools could tap into. He stressed that his group’s focus on schools partnering with outside arts organizations is in no ways meant to undermine the role of certified arts instructors in the classroom.

“If you want to grow the arts, it starts with having a certified arts instructor on staff. They’re the anchor of everything,” he said.

Still, the attention to partnerships has caused some concern among arts instructors in CPS. In late April, the CTU’s arts committee filed a grievance alleging that some schools were using outside arts partners to replace instruction by certified teachers, even though that instruction isn’t supposed to count toward the 120 minutes per week requirement.

John Perryman, who chairs the CTU arts committee, said some principals were leaving students alone with outside arts partners. CPS officials did not respond to questions about the grievance.

Take 5: Victims of violence, “transparency” stats, Ventra misstep

July 7, 2014 - 10:18am

Connecting CPS to violence

 Apparently hoping to impress U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Mayor Rahm Emanuel last week announced that 49 fewer CPS students were shot and 12 percent fewer were victims of homicide. Up until the announcement, Chicago media had veered away from the previous common practice of identifying every young person killed by whether they went to Chicago Public Schools, a connection that led some folks to observe that the connection made it appear as though CPS were somehow responsible for the violence.


 With Emanuel making the connection again, the media followed suit. The Chicago Sun Times headlined a weekend story “3 CPS students accused of robbing, raping girl, 16, on the South Side.”

 But take note: Chicago police over the weekend police shot five people, including a 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old boy. Neither Emanuel, nor the media, mentioned whether the two young victims were CPS 

 Along the same lines…

 As Emanuel announced the “safest year since the city began tracking student safety data,” another “good news” statistic emerged: A drop in expulsions of 1300 students over the last three years. That didn’t sound right, as CPS typically expels only a few hundred students a year. Now CPS, which had repeated the number in its own documents, says that what the mayor meant to say is that expulsion referrals are down. But what does the decline mean? Not much, since most students never make it to hearings and even fewer are expelled.

A good high school…?

 …. Or maybe just a high school that attracts top students. In a short piece for The Chicago Reader, Steve Bogira makes the point that all the schools highly ranked by U.S. News and World Report are those that enroll high-achieving students--either through testing or by virtue of being located in a wealthy suburb. The two highest ranked Chicago high schools are Northside and Payton.

In Chicago, the path to these and other selective enrollment high schools starts well before eighth grade. A 2012 Catalyst Chicago analysis found that children living in high-income census tracts were four times more likely to take the test for gifted and classical schools than children in low-income areas—even though research has found that intellectually gifted children are no more likely to be rich than poor. By the time students go to high school, more lower-income students apply for selective schools—and there are more seats available—but the disparity continues: 31 of 77 community areas with low application and acceptance rates for selective enrollment elementary schools continued to have low rates for high schools.

Like pulling teeth…

Getting information out of CPS isn’t always easy. We here at Catalyst -- as well as other reporters in Chicago -- can attest to that, anecdotally. Now there’s official proof from the Illinois Office of the Attorney General.

 

The IAG’s public access counselor reviews complaints by citizens and reporters that a public body has the Freedom of Information or Open Meetings acts. As of late June, Chicago Public Schools ranked fourth among all public bodies for which the IAG received complaints—higher than last year, when CPS finished in fifth place.

So far this year, there have been 43 requests for review on CPS, including one from Catalyst that was eventually closed out when the district turned over school-level data on absences and truancy--more than two months after the initial request was made.

Top of the list: The Illinois Department of Corrections, which so far this year has received 246 requests for review (including hundreds from prisoners), followed by the Chicago Police Department (178) and the Illinois State Police (115).

No other school districts were in the top 10, and neither was the Illinois State Board of Education. One educational institution did stand out though: Chicago State University, with 41 requests for review.

A costly “Oops” for students… 

In the transition to the new Ventra cards, many young people participating in summer school or programs are being forced to pay full fares, WBEZ’s Linda Lutton reports. Reduced fare is 75 cents, compared to the full fare, which is $2.25. In the past, special summer reduced fare cards could be purchased for these students. Now, the student transit card ID number needs to be submitted to Ventra in order for the reduced fare to take affect.

One last note, next school year all students, even rich kids, will get free lunch as CPS takes advantage of a federal program, WBEZ reports. Under the program, the feds reimburse based on the percentage of low-income students, not on the specific number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. By making lunch free for everyone, CPS doesn’t have to deal with all the collecting of loose change every day and the worry that a clerk’s hands might be a little sticky.

Early childhood quality rating system comes online

July 3, 2014 - 12:55pm

Need help finding a quality early learning provider for your child? This week, a new web site based off the state’s updated quality rating system came online to do just that.

ExceleRate Illinois, which replaces the former Quality Counts rating system, separates licensed early care and education programs into four categories, or “circles,”  that range in quality from merely licensed to bronze, silver and gold. The higher ratings indicate that programs are moving toward improvement, including trainings for staff and use of research-based curriculum that’s aligned with state guidelines on early learning.

“It’s about engaging people in continuous improvement and giving them a road map to get there, rather than being any kind of punitive system at all,” said Theresa Hawley, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development.

All licensed programs in the state are included in the system, although not all are required to participate in the process of trying to improve their quality ratings. However, there is a benefit to those programs that earn silver or gold ratings: higher payments for those that benefit from the state’s child care assistance program.

“We recognize that it’s more expensive to provide these services,” Hawley said.

The online rating database allows users to type in a city or zip code to find licensed care in specific geographic areas. Apart from the rating description, users can also see program hours, ages served, a map and contact information.

The goal is to help parents think about quality -- and not just location and cost- - when deciding on early childhood programs.

Rated programs include school-based preschool, Head Start and center-based Early Head Start, child care centers, and private licensed preschool programs. Hawley explained that not all ratings are yet in the system, including many of Chicago’s school-based programs. It could take another six months to a year for it to be a “solid database,” she said.

Next year, ExceleRate Illinois will also include ratings for licensed family child care homes; a quality rating system for that category is currently being developed.

The new criteria used to rate early childhood programs was developed through a 16-month process with stakeholders from across the state. (For more on the standards, see this presentation.)

The Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies administers the site, under the direction of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois State Board of Education. The state updated its quality rating system in response to receiving federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants.

The ExceleRate Illinois site is separate from the City of Chicago’s own Early Learning site, which will be updated to include ExceleRate ratings.

Early childhood quality rating system comes online

July 3, 2014 - 12:55pm

Need help finding a quality early learning provider for your child? This week, a new web site based off the state’s updated quality rating system came online to do just that.

ExceleRate Illinois, which replaces the former Quality Counts rating system, separates licensed early care and education programs into four categories, or “circles,”  that range in quality from merely licensed to bronze, silver and gold. The higher ratings indicate that programs are moving toward improvement, including trainings for staff and use of research-based curriculum that’s aligned with state guidelines on early learning.

“It’s about engaging people in continuous improvement and giving them a road map to get there, rather than being any kind of punitive system at all,” said Theresa Hawley, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development.

All licensed programs in the state are included in the system, although not all are required to participate in the process of trying to improve their quality ratings. However, there is a benefit to those programs that earn silver or gold ratings: higher payments for those that benefit from the state’s child care assistance program.

“We recognize that it’s more expensive to provide these services,” Hawley said.

The online rating database allows users to type in a city or zip code to find licensed care in specific geographic areas. Apart from the rating description, users can also see program hours, ages served, a map and contact information.

The goal is to help parents think about quality -- and not just location and cost- - when deciding on early childhood programs.

Rated programs include school-based preschool, Head Start and center-based Early Head Start, child care centers, and private licensed preschool programs. Hawley explained that not all ratings are yet in the system, including many of Chicago’s school-based programs. It could take another six months to a year for it to be a “solid database,” she said.

Next year, ExceleRate Illinois will also include ratings for licensed family child care homes; a quality rating system for that category is currently being developed.

The new criteria used to rate early childhood programs was developed through a 16-month process with stakeholders from across the state. (For more on the standards, see this presentation.)

The Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies administers the site, under the direction of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois State Board of Education. The state updated its quality rating system in response to receiving federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants.

The ExceleRate Illinois site is separate from the City of Chicago’s own Early Learning site, which will be updated to include ExceleRate ratings.

Big budget cuts hit high schools, welcoming schools

July 3, 2014 - 10:09am

Last school year drew to a somber close as thousands of children said goodbye to familiar teachers and schools and looked toward a fall in an unfamiliar place.

Now, many of these students are facing uncertainty once again as their new schools grapple with steep budget cuts. Along with schools designated to take in students from closed schools—so-called “welcoming schools”--neighborhood high schools are also facing cuts, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of the district’s just-released budget for 2014-2015.

Here are the major points:

  • Once again, neighborhood high schools saw the biggest losses, driven by enrollment decline. On average, these schools experienced a 10 percent decrease in their budgets. A third lost more than $1 million. Though the cuts hit neighborhood high schools all over the city, nearly every such school on the South Side and Far South Side took a substantial hit.
  • Designated welcoming schools experienced an average 5 percent decrease in their budgets. And 80 percent of these schools lost more than $70,000—the average salary for one teacher. Only 20 percent of other neighborhood elementary schools did.
  • The district is expecting 3,400 more students in charter schools and to spend about $42 million more on charter schools next year. Nine new charter schools are expected to open in the fall and one is going to close.

 

Overall, school budgets last year were cut by about $100 million, generating a wave of complaints from parents and school leaders. This year, there was an increase of about $140 million, bringing funding to about the same level as the previous year, 2012-2013. But there’s a caveat: The increase might not feel like much to schools, which have to pay teachers a 2 percent raise this year.

Welcoming schools making adjustments

De Diego Elementary and other schools that took in children displaced by closings got an abundance of money and resources, like iPads, as the district sought to make good on its promise that children would be sent to better schools than the ones that shut down. Early on, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett made it clear that receiving schools would no longer receive the money that was given to them for extra staff and social-emotional programs. Welcoming schools were given between $80,000 and $326,000, depending on the size of the school. Now these welcoming schools will have to make adjustments, endangering any efforts to make academic gains.

De Diego Local School Council member Alyx Pattison said the extra money last year was critical for the school to have small class sizes that allowed teachers to pay more attention to students who might be struggling with the transition. Now, with a $1.2 million budget cut, the school will have to do with six fewer teachers. Of all the welcoming schools, De Diego lost the most money.

Pattison says she understands that the school budget had to be brought back down to a more normal level, but thinks the cuts should have been done gradually, not all at once.

“A school’s culture is a fragile thing, especially a school in a neighborhood where there are gang lines,” she says. Also, on Tuesday, CPS officials removed De Diego’s principal and assistant principal without explanation.

Mollison Principal Kim Henderson says her school’s budget is down by $248,000 from last year, forcing the layoffs of some supplemental teachers.  “I think our budget now is more realistic,” she says.

Another welcoming school principal says that he will have to reconfigure his staff and lay off a security guard to deal with his losses. “I think that it will destabilize the school,” says the principal, who did not want to be identified because CPS communications didn’t give him permission to speak.

A Catalyst Chicago analysis of class size data shows that welcoming schools had an average of 23.5 students in each class, compared to 26.5 in other elementary schools. And while principals from welcoming schools say they will still try to keep their class sizes small, it will be more of a challenge as extra money dries up.

Welcoming school enrollment projections way off

Stripping the extra resources from welcoming schools goes against one of the recommendations of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, which said in a report that welcoming schools should get extra support for a longer period.  “CPS should be required to provide 5 years of sustained, intensive academic and financial supports to current (and any future) non-Charter Designated Welcoming Schools and non-designated welcoming schools to benefit all impacted students,” according to the report.

Though welcoming schools were expected to get significant influxes of students, most received fewer students than expected and were in danger of losing money under the district’s new per-pupil budgeting strategy. Overall, projections were way off, with only 52 percent of students, or about 5,800 of 11,000 displaced students, went to their welcoming school, according to enrollment figures.

But last year, Byrd-Bennett held all schools harmless, allowing welcoming schools and neighborhood high schools to keep money even if fewer students showed up.

One example is De Diego, which got $392,000 in extra funds and was projected to get 1,120 students. Instead, just 934 showed up. This year, the school is projected to only get 856.

In some cases, students already in the welcoming school didn’t stay, especially those instances in which the district closed the building of the welcoming school and moved the students and staff into a closing school’s building that was renamed.

Take Stockton and Courtenay. According to the district, nearly 90 percent of Stockton students enrolled in the new Courtenay. However, on the 20th day, which is the day CPS audits enrollment, about 100 fewer students were in the school.

Katie Reed, whose children attended Courtenay last year, says that she and other parents pulled their children because they thought combining the two schools would deplete what made Courtenay special. Courtenay was a small, high-achieving, open enrollment school, while Stockton was a low-performing neighborhood school in Uptown.

While she says she and other parents found other good options for their children, the combining of Courtenay with Stockton has left them bitter.

Juggling extra resources

On top of the extra pot of cash, welcoming schools were renovated with new labs and libraries. They were also given iPads and computers for each student from third through eighth grade.

Wells Prep Principal Jeffrey White says he demanded that CPS give the school everything that was promised. When school opened, it was still missing four security cameras. But he e-mailed the chief and “raised hell” and those cameras showed up.

Overall, Wells’ budget is down by $368,000. White insists he will be able to make cuts that don’t impact the classroom and won’t make class sizes go up. He did not explain how, but the Wells budget shows the school will spend less money on support services and virtually nothing on community services, including parental involvement and after- school programs.

White says the school has more than enough computers and a media specialist. The school also has Promethean boards, which are interactive white boards, in every classroom.

But a report from the Chicago Teachers Union took CPS to task for not providing adequate training on the technology. Also, it said many of the schools did not have librarians or media specialists that would make the technology more useful.

Some principals say that even without staffing these positions, they have been able to make use of these spaces. Teachers bring multiple classes into libraries so they can co-teach and have students work on projects and check out books.

It remains to be seen what will happen with these spaces as time goes on and staff shrinks even more.

Further, budget cuts could threaten the specialty programs in receiving schools. Seventeen of the receiving schools were given money to launch STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or International Baccalaureate programs. They will continue to get two positions to support these programs.

Originally, district officials wanted these schools to bring in new, already-trained teachers to get the specialty programs off the ground. But now principals are being told to keep their existing teachers in place and to have them participate in training programs over the summer.

To Henderson, that is a good decision because she doesn’t think her school needs any more upheaval. “After such a year of change what the staff needs now is consistency.”  In the meantime, Henderson says the school has focused on being an international school. The school’s Spanish teacher often uses the library, which does not have a librarian.

Staff and budget won’t be the only factors that will test the impact of school closings. The schools have spent the year trying to meld children and families.

Wells Prep took in students from Mayo, which was literally 50 yards away. White says his staff did a great job of putting aside difference and getting the students to not bicker or fight with each other. The fact that the schools were in such close proximity meant that the students knew each other. “They live next door to one another,” he says.

But Angelique Harris, a Local School Council member at Wells, says at the beginning, it was tough and tense. “After the first week everything calmed down,” she says.

Still, Harris says getting parents from Mayo to come to meetings is hard. “Parents were invested in Mayo,” she says. “They have had a hands-off approach with Wells. We need to work on getting their trust back. We need to make sure they feel welcome.”

Henderson has also had trouble getting parents of Overton students to adjust to the new reality.  She says that anything bad that has happened in the school year was attributed to the fact that the school is a receiving school.

She says she’s glad the first year is over. She is ready for Mollison to become “just a regular school” rather than a “welcoming school.”

Big budget cuts hit high schools, welcoming schools

July 3, 2014 - 10:09am

Last school year drew to a somber close as thousands of children said goodbye to familiar teachers and schools and looked toward a fall in an unfamiliar place.

Now, many of these students are facing uncertainty once again as their new schools grapple with steep budget cuts. Along with schools designated to take in students from closed schools—so-called “welcoming schools”--neighborhood high schools are also facing cuts, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of the district’s just-released budget for 2014-2015.

Here are the major points:

  • Once again, neighborhood high schools saw the biggest losses, driven by enrollment decline. On average, these schools experienced a 10 percent decrease in their budgets. A third lost more than $1 million. Though the cuts hit neighborhood high schools all over the city, nearly every such school on the South Side and Far South Side took a substantial hit.
  • Designated welcoming schools experienced an average 5 percent decrease in their budgets. And 80 percent of these schools lost more than $70,000—the average salary for one teacher. Only 20 percent of other neighborhood elementary schools did.
  • The district is expecting 3,400 more students in charter schools and to spend about $42 million more on charter schools next year. Nine new charter schools are expected to open in the fall and one is going to close.

 

Overall, school budgets last year were cut by about $100 million, generating a wave of complaints from parents and school leaders. This year, there was an increase of about $40 million, bringing funding to about the same level as the previous year, 2012-2013. But there’s a caveat: The increase might not feel like much to schools, which have to pay teachers a 2 percent raise this year.

Welcoming schools making adjustments

De Diego Elementary and other schools that took in children displaced by closings got an abundance of money and resources, like iPads, as the district sought to make good on its promise that children would be sent to better schools than the ones that shut down. Early on, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett made it clear that receiving schools would no longer receive the money that was given to them for extra staff and social-emotional programs. Welcoming schools were given between $80,000 and $326,000, depending on the size of the school. Now these welcoming schools will have to make adjustments, endangering any efforts to make academic gains.

De Diego Local School Council member Alyx Pattison said the extra money last year was critical for the school to have small class sizes that allowed teachers to pay more attention to students who might be struggling with the transition. Now, with a $1.2 million budget cut, the school will have to do with six fewer teachers. Of all the welcoming schools, De Diego lost the most money.

Pattison says she understands that the school budget had to be brought back down to a more normal level, but thinks the cuts should have been done gradually, not all at once.

“A school’s culture is a fragile thing, especially a school in a neighborhood where there are gang lines,” she says. Also, on Tuesday, CPS officials removed De Diego’s principal and assistant principal without explanation.

Mollison Principal Kim Henderson says her school’s budget is down by $248,000 from last year, forcing the layoffs of some supplemental teachers.  “I think our budget now is more realistic,” she says.

Another welcoming school principal says that he will have to reconfigure his staff and lay off a security guard to deal with his losses. “I think that it will destabilize the school,” says the principal, who did not want to be identified because CPS communications didn’t give him permission to speak.

A Catalyst Chicago analysis of class size data shows that welcoming schools had an average of 23.5 students in each class, compared to 26.5 in other elementary schools. And while principals from welcoming schools say they will still try to keep their class sizes small, it will be more of a challenge as extra money dries up.

Welcoming school enrollment projections way off

Stripping the extra resources from welcoming schools goes against one of the recommendations of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, which said in a report that welcoming schools should get extra support for a longer period.  “CPS should be required to provide 5 years of sustained, intensive academic and financial supports to current (and any future) non-Charter Designated Welcoming Schools and non-designated welcoming schools to benefit all impacted students,” according to the report.

Though welcoming schools were expected to get significant influxes of students, most received fewer students than expected and were in danger of losing money under the district’s new per-pupil budgeting strategy. Overall, projections were way off, with only 52 percent of students, or about 5,800 of 11,000 displaced students, went to their welcoming school, according to enrollment figures.

But last year, Byrd-Bennett held all schools harmless, allowing welcoming schools and neighborhood high schools to keep money even if fewer students showed up.

One example is De Diego, which got $392,000 in extra funds and was projected to get 1,120 students. Instead, just 934 showed up. This year, the school is projected to only get 856.

In some cases, students already in the welcoming school didn’t stay, especially those instances in which the district closed the building of the welcoming school and moved the students and staff into a closing school’s building that was renamed.

Take Stockton and Courtenay. According to the district, nearly 90 percent of Stockton students enrolled in the new Courtenay. However, on the 20th day, which is the day CPS audits enrollment, about 100 fewer students were in the school.

Katie Reed, whose children attended Courtenay last year, says that she and other parents pulled their children because they thought combining the two schools would deplete what made Courtenay special. Courtenay was a small, high-achieving, open enrollment school, while Stockton was a low-performing neighborhood school in Uptown.

While she says she and other parents found other good options for their children, the combining of Courtenay with Stockton has left them bitter.

Juggling extra resources

On top of the extra pot of cash, welcoming schools were renovated with new labs and libraries. They were also given iPads and computers for each student from third through eighth grade.

Wells Prep Principal Jeffrey White says he demanded that CPS give the school everything that was promised. When school opened, it was still missing four security cameras. But he e-mailed the chief and “raised hell” and those cameras showed up.

Overall, Wells’ budget is down by $368,000. White insists he will be able to make cuts that don’t impact the classroom and won’t make class sizes go up. He did not explain how, but the Wells budget shows the school will spend less money on support services and virtually nothing on community services, including parental involvement and after- school programs.

White says the school has more than enough computers and a media specialist. The school also has Promethean boards, which are interactive white boards, in every classroom.

But a report from the Chicago Teachers Union took CPS to task for not providing adequate training on the technology. Also, it said many of the schools did not have librarians or media specialists that would make the technology more useful.

Some principals say that even without staffing these positions, they have been able to make use of these spaces. Teachers bring multiple classes into libraries so they can co-teach and have students work on projects and check out books.

It remains to be seen what will happen with these spaces as time goes on and staff shrinks even more.

Further, budget cuts could threaten the specialty programs in receiving schools. Seventeen of the receiving schools were given money to launch STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or International Baccalaureate programs. They will continue to get two positions to support these programs.

Originally, district officials wanted these schools to bring in new, already-trained teachers to get the specialty programs off the ground. But now principals are being told to keep their existing teachers in place and to have them participate in training programs over the summer.

To Henderson, that is a good decision because she doesn’t think her school needs any more upheaval. “After such a year of change what the staff needs now is consistency.”  In the meantime, Henderson says the school has focused on being an international school. The school’s Spanish teacher often uses the library, which does not have a librarian.

Staff and budget won’t be the only factors that will test the impact of school closings. The schools have spent the year trying to meld children and families.

Wells Prep took in students from Mayo, which was literally 50 yards away. White says his staff did a great job of putting aside difference and getting the students to not bicker or fight with each other. The fact that the schools were in such close proximity meant that the students knew each other. “They live next door to one another,” he says.

But Angelique Harris, a Local School Council member at Wells, says at the beginning, it was tough and tense. “After the first week everything calmed down,” she says.

Still, Harris says getting parents from Mayo to come to meetings is hard. “Parents were invested in Mayo,” she says. “They have had a hands-off approach with Wells. We need to work on getting their trust back. We need to make sure they feel welcome.”

Henderson has also had trouble getting parents of Overton students to adjust to the new reality.  She says that anything bad that has happened in the school year was attributed to the fact that the school is a receiving school.

She says she’s glad the first year is over. She is ready for Mollison to become “just a regular school” rather than a “welcoming school.”

Budget details still in short supply

July 2, 2014 - 5:44pm

CPS officials provided some details—though little new information--about next year’s budget on Wednesday afternoon, but have yet to release it. Sometime this evening, they say, it will be posted online.

The Board of Education will vote on the budget at its July 23 meeting, but officials did not announce any dates for public hearings on it. Once the actual budget is released, it will become clearer which schools will experience budget cuts and which departments the district will invest in most heavily. The $5.76 billion budget is slightly higher than last year's $5.69 billion budget.

Most of the new spending touted by officials on Wednesday has already been announced, such as $250 more in per-pupil spending for each student, the hiring of 84 art teachers and 84 gym teachers (with surpluse TIF funds in a district with more than 500 schools) and five new International Baccalaureate programs. The district also announced that it will spend $1 million to expand the Safe Passage program, but did not give details on where workers will be stationed and why the decision was made.

CPS is cutting $55 million from administration and operations, the smallest cut in at least five years. Central office will lose 20 staff positions, and the other cuts will be made by such moves as reducing “training vendors.”

Officials had warned that a pending $634 million required contribution to the teacher’s pension fund would mean a $1 billion deficit. (On June 27, the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund posted an announcement online that CPS had made a more than $585 million payment to the fund, completing its 2014 payment on time.)

Last year, CPS officials insisted that they were draining their reserves to zero and that they desperately needed pension reform in order to continue funding schools.

Technically, CPS’ expenditures next year are $870 million more than its revenues.

As previously announced, the district is avoiding making major budget cuts by using a budget maneuver that will extend the "revenue recognition period" for a property tax payment for 60 days, moving it from July 30 to September 1. Because the first installment of the property taxes usually arrives in August, this will allow the school district to count $650 million scheduled to come in August 2015 in the 2015 budget, rather than the 2016 budget.

In addition to the $650 million, Chief Financial Officer Ginger Ostro says that the district has some money in reserves to fill the $120 million hole and have another $150 million to put in savings.  “We have been fortunate in recent years that we got some extra money that there was no knowing we would get so we could not count it.”

Ostro said that this maneuver will only work once and that the district still has a structural deficit. She said the only way out is for pension reform. However, Ostro and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett admitted that the district has a history of finding one-time funding to save the day.

“We should worry about next time,” Byrd-Bennett said. “There isn’t another one-time thing that we can think of.”

Meanwhile, the Illinois State Board of Education released its own budget this week, after Gov. Pat Quinn signed off on the Legislature’s $33.7 billion spending plan.

 The state schools budget of nearly $10 billion – of which some $6.8 billion comes from the general fund – changes little from last year. Earlier this year, ISBE had asked the Legislature consider increasing the state’s appropriation by an additional $1 billion, but lawmakers kept spending on schools flat. 

 The budget includes an additional $17.2 million for assessments and $13.1 million for district interventions. ISBE had asked for increases in several categories, including early childhood, bilingual, and homeless education, but the state maintained spending at last year’s levels.

 

Budget details still in short supply

July 2, 2014 - 5:44pm

CPS officials provided some details—though little new information--about next year’s budget on Wednesday afternoon, but have yet to release it. Sometime this evening, they say, it will be posted online.

The Board of Education will vote on the budget at its July 23 meeting, but officials did not announce any dates for public hearings on it. Once the actual budget is released, it will become clearer which schools will experience budget cuts and which departments the district will invest in most heavily. The $5.76 billion budget is slightly higher than last year's $5.69 billion budget.

Most of the new spending touted by officials on Wednesday has already been announced, such as $250 more in per-pupil spending for each student, the hiring of 84 art teachers and 84 gym teachers (with surpluse TIF funds in a district with more than 500 schools) and five new International Baccalaureate programs. The district also announced that it will spend $1 million to expand the Safe Passage program, but did not give details on where workers will be stationed and why the decision was made.

CPS is cutting $55 million from administration and operations, the smallest cut in at least five years. Central office will lose 20 staff positions, and the other cuts will be made by such moves as reducing “training vendors.”

Officials had warned that a pending $634 million required contribution to the teacher’s pension fund would mean a $1 billion deficit. (On June 27, the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund posted an announcement online that CPS had made a more than $585 million payment to the fund, completing its 2014 payment on time.)

Last year, CPS officials insisted that they were draining their reserves to zero and that they desperately needed pension reform in order to continue funding schools.

Technically, CPS’ expenditures next year are $870 million more than its revenues.

As previously announced, the district is avoiding making major budget cuts by using a budget maneuver that will extend the "revenue recognition period" for a property tax payment for 60 days, moving it from July 30 to September 1. Because the first installment of the property taxes usually arrives in August, this will allow the school district to count $650 million scheduled to come in August 2015 in the 2015 budget, rather than the 2016 budget.

In addition to the $650 million, Chief Financial Officer Ginger Ostro says that the district has some money in reserves to fill the $120 million hole and have another $150 million to put in savings.  “We have been fortunate in recent years that we got some extra money that there was no knowing we would get so we could not count it.”

Ostro said that this maneuver will only work once and that the district still has a structural deficit. She said the only way out is for pension reform. However, Ostro and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett admitted that the district has a history of finding one-time funding to save the day.

“We should worry about next time,” Byrd-Bennett said. “There isn’t another one-time thing that we can think of.”

Meanwhile, the Illinois State Board of Education released its own budget this week, after Gov. Pat Quinn signed off on the Legislature’s $33.7 billion spending plan.

 The state schools budget of nearly $10 billion – of which some $6.8 billion comes from the general fund – changes little from last year. http://www.isbe.net/budget/fy15/fy15-budget.pdf Earlier this year, ISBE had asked the Legislature consider increasing the state’s appropriation by an additional $1 billion, but lawmakers kept spending on schools flat. http://www.isbe.net/budget/fy15/FY15-budget-book.pdf

 The budget includes an additional $17.2 million for assessments and $13.1 million for district interventions. ISBE had asked for increases in several categories, including early childhood, bilingual, and homeless education, but the state maintained spending at last year’s levels.

 

 

Coming July 7: Our take on the news

June 30, 2014 - 2:50pm

Next Monday, July 7, Catalyst Chicago will debut a renamed, revamped version of our daily “In the News” roundup. We’re calling it “Take 5,” and our goal is to give you a concise recap and analysis of the five news stories, opinion writing or other media coverage we think you will find most engaging, thought-provoking and useful. Check it out next week. Over the summer, we will publish on Monday and Thursday.; as the school year gets underway, we will publish daily. Meanwhile, follow us on Facebook and Twitter for news updates.

Coming July 7: Our take on the news

June 30, 2014 - 2:50pm

Next Monday, July 7, Catalyst Chicago will debut a renamed, revamped version of our daily “In the News” roundup. We’re calling it “Take 5,” and our goal is to give you a concise recap and analysis of the five news stories, opinion writing or other media coverage we think you will find most engaging, thought-provoking and useful. Check it out next week. Over the summer, we will publish on Monday and Thursday.; as the school year gets underway, we will publish daily. Meanwhile, follow us on Facebook and Twitter for news updates.

Comings and Goings: Easton, Fuller

June 30, 2014 - 2:06pm

John Q. Easton, director of the Institute of Education Sciences in Washington, D.C., will return to Chicago to take a position as Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Spencer Foundation. Easton, the former executive director and one of the founders of the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research, was nominated to head IES by President Barack Obama in 2009. At Spencer, Easton will play a lead role with the board and staff in developing a program of work on research-practice partnerships in education (similar to the Consortium, which works with Chicago Public Schools and is one of the nation’s leading research-practice partnerships). Easton will also serve as a collaborator in and advisor to various Spencer projects and activities. Easton has a doctorate from the University of Chicago.

Jerry Fuller, Executive Director of the Associated Colleges of Illinois, will join the James S. Kemper Foundation as its Executive Director on November 3. The Kemper Foundation promotes liberal arts education coupled with workplace experience as the basis for career preparation. Fuller served as head of ACI, a network of private colleges and universities that focuses on helping low-income, minority and first-generation students complete college, since 1995.

 

 

Comings and Goings: Easton, Fuller

June 30, 2014 - 2:06pm

John Q. Easton, director of the Institute of Education Sciences in Washington, D.C., will return to Chicago to take a position as Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Spencer Foundation. Easton, the former executive director and one of the founders of the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research, was nominated to head IES by President Barack Obama in 2009. At Spencer, Easton will play a lead role with the board and staff in developing a program of work on research-practice partnerships in education (similar to the Consortium, which works with Chicago Public Schools and is one of the nation’s leading research-practice partnerships). Easton will also serve as a collaborator in and advisor to various Spencer projects and activities. Easton has a doctorate from the University of Chicago.

Jerry Fuller, Executive Director of the Associated Colleges of Illinois, will join the James S. Kemper Foundation as its Executive Director on November 3. The Kemper Foundation promotes liberal arts education coupled with workplace experience as the basis for career preparation. Fuller served as head of ACI, a network of private colleges and universities that focuses on helping low-income, minority and first-generation students complete college, since 1995.

 

 

In the News: Karen Lewis "seriously thinking" of running for mayor

June 27, 2014 - 8:01am

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who blamed Mayor Rahm Emanuel for the more than 1,100 layoffs announced Thursday, said she is “seriously thinking” about mounting a mayoral run. A Sun-Times poll earlier this year put Lewis behind Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who is running for her own reelection. Emanuel, meanwhile, has raised more than $7.4 million in his campaign. (Sun-Times)

RAUNER REDUX: It appears gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner can't go too long without facing questions about how his daughter got into an elite Chicago school. After initially being rejected in 2008 to Walter Payton College Prep because she didn't meet attendance requirements, Rauner's daughter later got in. Rauner's foundation later gave $250,000 to a school initiative. The money and Rauner's conversations with officials have led to allegations of clout. Now an outgoing Chicago Public Schools official says Rauner's daughter's overall admission score wasn't high enough. (State Journal-Register)

AFFLUENT PARENTS VS CPS: The Chicago Board of Education sat through its monthly tongue-lashing Wednesday, listening to speaker after speaker denounce their decision-making processes. But one group stood out: Affluent parents from Lincoln Park saying that CPS spends money on schools that are not the most in need. Talk about a reality check. (WBEZ)

 

IN THE NATION
PARENTS SAY TESTING A TIME SUCK: A new survey says parents think their kids spend too much time preparing for and taking exams. The annual Schooling in America Survey, released today by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and Braun Research, shows that 44 percent of parents think test prep takes too much time. Twenty-two percent of parents say their children don't spend enough time and 30 percent say they spend the right amount of time. More than six in 10 Americans also support vouchers, the survey says, with the most support coming from black parents at 74 percent and Hispanic parents at 72 percent. The Friedman Foundation, a school choice proponent, also noted that support for vouchers grew. In 2012, 56 percent of parents supported vouchers compared to 63 percent this year. The American Enterprise Institute is hosting a talk about the survey starting at 3 p.m. Eastern Time.

D.C. CONSIDERS GUARANTEED PRESCHOOL: The District of Columbia proposed an idea that appears to have strong support: guaranteeing access to pre-kindergarten for students who live in-bounds for high-poverty schools. (The Washington Post)

STUDENT DEBT DEBATE: A debate is raging about whether rising student-loan debt constitutes an existential crisis in American higher education or the natural outcome of more Americans' pursuing a college degree. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

WHO'S AT THE CHALKBOARD: A recent New Orleans high school graduate says the school district hires too many white teachers. (The News Tribune)

In the News: Affluent group chides CPS on spending choices

June 27, 2014 - 8:01am

The Chicago Board of Education sat through its monthly tongue-lashing Wednesday, listening to speaker after speaker denounce their decision-making processes. But one group stood out: Affluent parents from Lincoln Park saying that CPS spends money on schools that are not the most in need. Talk about a reality check. (WBEZ)

RAUNER REDUX: It appears gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner can't go too long without facing questions about how his daughter got into an elite Chicago school. After initially being rejected in 2008 to Walter Payton College Prep because she didn't meet attendance requirements, Rauner's daughter later got in. Rauner's foundation later gave $250,000 to a school initiative. The money and Rauner's conversations with officials have led to allegations of clout. Now an outgoing Chicago Public Schools official says Rauner's daughter's overall admission score wasn't high enough. (State Journal-Register)

LEWIS CONSIDERS A RUN: Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who blamed Mayor Rahm Emanuel for the more than 1,100 layoffs announced Thursday, said she is “seriously thinking” about mounting a formal challenge to Emanuel.

IN THE NATION
PARENTS SAY TESTING A TIME SUCK: A new survey says parents think their kids spend too much time preparing for and taking exams. The annual Schooling in America Survey, released today by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and Braun Research, shows that 44 percent of parents think test prep takes too much time. Twenty-two percent of parents say their children don't spend enough time and 30 percent say they spend the right amount of time. More than six in 10 Americans also support vouchers, the survey says, with the most support coming from black parents at 74 percent and Hispanic parents at 72 percent. The Friedman Foundation, a school choice proponent, also noted that support for vouchers grew. In 2012, 56 percent of parents supported vouchers compared to 63 percent this year. The American Enterprise Institute is hosting a talk about the survey starting at 3 p.m. Eastern Time.

D.C. CONSIDERS GUARANTEED PRESCHOOL: The District of Columbia proposed an idea that appears to have strong support: guaranteeing access to pre-kindergarten for students who live in-bounds for high-poverty schools. (The Washington Post)

STUDENT DEBT DEBATE: A debate is raging about whether rising student-loan debt constitutes an existential crisis in American higher education or the natural outcome of more Americans' pursuing a college degree. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

WHO'S AT THE CHALKBOARD: A recent New Orleans high school graduate says the school district hires too many white teachers. (The News Tribune)

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