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Updated: 1 hour 28 min ago

Take 5: Principal stability; elementary school drain and teacher licenses

August 6, 2014 - 10:14pm

It looks like Earle Elementary School in Englewood--one of the schools designated to take in students from closed schools--is once again going to get a new principal. DNAinfo first reported that CPS officials said that Earle principal Demetrius Hobson was resigning and then reported that he said he hadn’t resigned. Hobson took over Earle in January after Ketesha Melendez was reassigned. As Catalyst reported in our fall issue of Catalyst in Depth, parents of the shuttered Goodlow, whose children were assigned to Earle, were having a difficult time adjusting to Earle.

And now Hobson has emerged on a list of eight principals CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has asked to reapply for their jobs, while opening those posts for other applicants. Except for Hobson, all the principals are at high schools: Julian, Tilden, Kelyvn Park, Chicago Vocational, Marshall, Hirsch and Corliss. CEO spokesman Joel Hood says the eight principals are not being targeted for disimissal but, rather, that Byrd-Bennett wants contract principals at the schools, in part for stability. “The other part of it is that she wants to make sure these schools are on the right track,” says Hood.

CPS has lots of interim principals. The most recent employee roster shows 68 interim principals, including almost all of those at the helm in AUSL-run schools.

At schools on probation, as all of these eight schools are, CPS administrators have the power not only to name but also to remove a contract principal. If administrators remove a contract principal, then the LSC loses the authority to select a new contract principal until the school is off of probation. Hood says district officials are keeping LSCs informed about what is going on. 

2. A striking map… WBEZ’s Linda Lutton offers up another interesting story on how the mix of schools in the city has changed. In early July, she reported that incoming freshman test scores reveal that few high schools have student bodies with a range of academic ability. This time, she looks at neighborhood elementary schools and finds that fewer students in their attendance boundaries go to them. This change is the result of the district opening up so many schools that enroll students from anywhere in the city, including charter and magnet schools. A decade ago, 74 percent of students attended their neighborhood school; now only 62 percent do. The map that accompanies the story paints a stark picture of what is happening to neighborhood schools. 

In some neighborhoods, the effect is much more dramatic. For the Spring 2013 issue of Catalyst in Depth, we looked at the same set of CPS data and found that in 14 predominantly black South Side and West Side communities that CPS defines as “underutilized,” an average of 54 percent of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. In other communities, two-thirds of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. Of the 10 neighborhoods with the most children attending their neighborhood school, six are well-to-do neighborhoods on the North Side or Northwest Side. The other four are Latino neighborhoods--two on the Far Southeast Side and two on the Southwest Side of the city.

3. Licensed to teach… A Chicago Tribune investigation found that hundreds of classrooms are lead by teachers without the proper credentials. The teachers were qualified to teach, just not in the subjects that they were teaching. For example, in Barrington, a math teacher was teaching science and a young teacher was teaching economics, though she had no background in the subject.

It is not entirely clear that a teacher must be licensed in a subject in order to be good at teaching it, according to experts. Sara Ray Stoelinga, senior director of the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, argues in the article that teacher assignment is complex and that administrators should be allowed some flexibility. Studies have shown that knowledge of content area is important for improving achievement.

The Tribune investigation did not look at CPS teachers, though the article notes that federal data show that 900 of 23,000 are not fully licensed to teach any subject.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers quickly posted a rebuttal to the Tribune investigation. In it, IFT points out that the Tribune supports charter schools, at which only 75 percent of teachers have to be licensed. Also, the union notes that the Tribune doesn't mention Teach For America, which allows teachers to be in front of classrooms for two years without a license. 

4. Raising high school grad requirements…. alone won't increase achievement. A new study by ACT Inc. looks at the effect of a 2005 Illinois law that required students to take at least three years of math and two years of science.The study finds it didn't result in students doing better on the ACT in either math or science. But students did take more science classes, and college enrollment increased due to the math requirement.

The study did not include CPS. But a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research found in 2010 that with the increased science requirements, more students took and passed science courses. However, 83 percent got a C or lower. Consortium researchers concluded that taking these classes might have hurt students ability to get into colleges.

5. Raising the bar earlier… The New York Times writes about the growing trend of holding back students who cannot read properly by third grade. In 2012, 14 states passed laws requiring that children pass reading tests to move on to fourth grade, and another two--Arizona and Colorado--offered summer school for struggling readers. One of the big criticisms of these laws is that third grade is too late to start remediating reading problems, according to the article.

These laws sound a lot like CPS’ policy that sets reading and math grade and standardized test thresholds for promotion in third, sixth and eighth grade. As you may recall, under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago was seen as a leader in “ending social promotion.” At one time, thousands of students in Chicago were forced to repeat a grade. But research showed that retained students were more likely to drop out. Also, sending a lot of students to summer school was expensive.

Over time, the promotion policy has been scaled back. In 2002, more than 30,000 CPS students were required to go to summer school and 11,000 were held back. This summer, only 10,000 students were required to go to summer school. And in recent years, less than 2 percent of students were retained in elementary school. 

 

 



 




Take 5: Principal stability; elementary school drain and teacher licenses

August 6, 2014 - 10:14pm

It looks like Earle Elementary School in Englewood--one of the schools designated to take in students from closed schools--is once again going to get a new principal. DNAinfo first reported that CPS officials said that Earle principal Demetrius Hobson was resigning and then reported that he said he hadn’t resigned. Hobson took over Earle in January after Ketesha Melendez was reassigned. As Catalyst reported in our fall issue of Catalyst in Depth, parents of the shuttered Goodlow, whose children were assigned to Earle, were having a difficult time adjusting to Earle.

And now Hobson has emerged on a list of eight principals CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has asked to reapply for their jobs, while opening those posts for other applicants. Except for Hobson, all the principals are at high schools: Julian, Tilden, Kelyvn Park, Chicago Vocational, Marshall, Hirsch and Corliss. CEO spokesman Joel Hood says the eight principals are not being targeted for disimissal but, rather, that Byrd-Bennett wants contract principals at the schools, in part for stability. “The other part of it is that she wants to make sure these schools are on the right track,” says Hood.

CPS has lots of interim principals. The most recent employee roster shows 68 interim principals, including almost all of those at the helm in AUSL-run schools.

At schools on probation, as all of these eight schools are, CPS administrators have the power not only to name but also to remove a contract principal. If administrators remove a contract principal, then the LSC loses the authority to select a new contract principal until the school is off of probation. Hood says district officials are keeping LSCs informed about what is going on. 

2. A striking map… WBEZ’s Linda Lutton offers up another interesting story on how the mix of schools in the city has changed. In early July, she reported that incoming freshman test scores reveal that few high schools have student bodies with a range of academic ability. This time, she looks at neighborhood elementary schools and finds that fewer students in their attendance boundaries go to them. This change is the result of the district opening up so many schools that enroll students from anywhere in the city, including charter and magnet schools. A decade ago, 74 percent of students attended their neighborhood school; now only 62 percent do. The map that accompanies the story paints a stark picture of what is happening to neighborhood schools. 

In some neighborhoods, the effect is much more dramatic. For the Spring 2013 issue of Catalyst in Depth, we looked at the same set of CPS data and found that in 14 predominantly black South Side and West Side communities that CPS defines as “underutilized,” an average of 54 percent of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. In other communities, two-thirds of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. Of the 10 neighborhoods with the most children attending their neighborhood school, six are well-to-do neighborhoods on the North Side or Northwest Side. The other four are Latino neighborhoods--two on the Far Southeast Side and two on the Southwest Side of the city.

3. Licensed to teach… A Chicago Tribune investigation found that hundreds of classrooms are lead by teachers without the proper credentials. The teachers were qualified to teach, just not in the subjects that they were teaching. For example, in Barrington, a math teacher was teaching science and a young teacher was teaching economics, though she had no background in the subject.

It is not entirely clear that a teacher must be licensed in a subject in order to be good at teaching it, according to experts. Sara Ray Stoelinga, senior director of the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, argues in the article that teacher assignment is complex and that administrators should be allowed some flexibility. Studies have shown that knowledge of content area is important for improving achievement.

The Tribune investigation did not look at CPS teachers, though the article notes that federal data show that 900 of 23,000 are not fully licensed to teach any subject.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers quickly posted a rebuttal to the Tribune investigation. In it, IFT points out that the Tribune supports charter schools, at which only 75 percent of teachers have to be licensed. Also, the union notes that the Tribune doesn't mention Teach For America, which allows teachers to be in front of classrooms for two years without a license. 

4. Raising high school grad requirements…. alone won't increase achievement. A new study by ACT Inc. looks at the effect of a 2005 Illinois law that required students to take at least three years of math and two years of science.The study finds it didn't result in students doing better on the ACT in either math or science. But students did take more science classes, and college enrollment increased due to the math requirement.

The study did not include CPS. But a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research found in 2010 that with the increased science requirements, more students took and passed science courses. However, 83 percent got a C or lower. Consortium researchers concluded that taking these classes might have hurt students ability to get into colleges.

5. Raising the bar earlier… The New York Times writes about the growing trend of holding back students who cannot read properly by third grade. In 2012, 14 states passed laws requiring that children pass reading tests to move on to fourth grade, and another two--Arizona and Colorado--offered summer school for struggling readers. One of the big criticisms of these laws is that third grade is too late to start remediating reading problems, according to the article.

These laws sound a lot like CPS’ policy that sets reading and math grade and standardized test thresholds for promotion in third, sixth and eighth grade. As you may recall, under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago was seen as a leader in “ending social promotion.” At one time, thousands of students in Chicago were forced to repeat a grade. But research showed that retained students were more likely to drop out. Also, sending a lot of students to summer school was expensive.

Over time, the promotion policy has been scaled back. In 2002, more than 30,000 CPS students were required to go to summer school and 11,000 were held back. This summer, only 10,000 students were required to go to summer school. And in recent years, less than 2 percent of students were retained in elementary school. 

 

 



 




Absenteeism and truancy down, but not at welcoming schools

August 6, 2014 - 1:36pm

The spike in chronic truancy and absenteeism that CPS elementary schools experienced in the 2012-2013 school year was somewhat reversed last year, new preliminary data show. But welcoming schools that took in most of the children displaced by school closings on average saw a slight increase in chronic truancy and held steady when it came to chronic absences.

And despite the overall year-to-year improvements, chronic truancy remains higher in every grade,  compared to the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years. Chronic absenteeism, meanwhile, has barely budged when compared to those two years. (Click here to see the data on chronic truancy and chronic absenteeism.)

Community activists said they weren’t surprised that welcoming schools didn’t see the same kinds of improvements as other schools.

“What do you expect, it’s the distance and the new environment,” said Gloria Harris, a parent trainer at Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI). “Somebody comes along and says, ‘we have to take your children and put them here.’ Your kids are not going to feel safe until they get used to that environment.”

CPS officials did not dispute Catalyst’s analysis, but said that it was unfair to compare welcoming schools with other district-run schools because the welcoming schools have substantially different student bodies. Further, most new students came from schools with higher-than-average rates of truancy and absences.

(See an accompanying story on what CPS is doing to reduce chronic truancy and absenteeism here.)

Chronic truancy is defined as missing nine or more days of school without a valid excuse; chronic absenteeism, meanwhile, means missing at least 18 school days with or without a valid excuse.

Catalyst’s findings come as a state-appointed task force last week issued a set of non-binding recommendations for how Chicago can fix its “epidemic” of empty desks in elementary schools. The task force, which was convened in response to a 2012 investigation into the issue, suggests a variety of solutions that range from improved data collection and the hiring of attendance coordinators at struggling schools, to a public awareness campaign and the creation of a permanent state-wide task force on truancy.

 “Chronic absenteeism and truancy have consequences of untold proportions,” according to the task force’s report. “Any student who is not in school is not learning. The kindergarten student who is not in school is acquiring a habit that will affect future school attendance.”

 CPS shared preliminary district-wide data from the 2013-14 school year at the final meeting, in July, of Task Force on Truancy in Chicago Public Schools. CPS has not responded to a Catalyst request for the corresponding school-level data, but a community organization that obtained it separately from the district provided a copy.

 Catalyst analyzed the date a variety of ways to see both what happened this past school year, and what could have caused the spike in truancy and absenteeism in 2012-2013:

At welcoming schools:

-- Those schools did not see the reductions in chronic truancy and absenteeism that were seen at other district-run schools last year.  In fact, from the 2012-13 school year to the 2013-14 school year, chronic truancy increased at welcoming schools, from about 24.6 percent to 25.4 percent. At all other schools, chronic truancy fell from about 16.8 percent to 14.3 percent.

-- Chronic absenteeism barely changed from one year to the next, dropping slightly from 15.9 percent to 15.3 percent. Chronic absenteeism fell more at non-welcoming schools, from 14.6 percent to 11.6 percent.

At schools threated with closure:

-- The data from 2012-2013 shows that schools that operated under the threat of closure that year saw higher increases on average than other schools – regardless of whether they ultimately shut down. Schools on a list of nearly 130 schools that CPS considered closing saw chronic truancy rates jump from about 20 percent to nearly 29 percent that year. Meanwhile, schools that were never on that list to begin with saw a smaller increase from about 10 percent to 15 percent.

The data are in line with findings from a 2009 study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research Consortium on how the most precarious time for students of closed schools.

“Announcements about upcoming CPS school closings typically were made in January—about six months prior to the actual closings of schools and a few months before students took annual achievement tests,” according to the report. “These announcements often caused significant angst for students, parents, teachers, and other community members, and the disruption may have hindered student learning.”

At schools with increases in suspensions:

While the district hasn’t completely pinpointed what triggered the increase in chronic truancy and absenteeism in the 2012-2013 school year, officials say a parallel increase in suspensions and expulsions could be partly to blame, since they take students out of school.

The data Catalyst analyzed shows that most of the 25 elementary schools with the biggest increases in out-of-school suspensions in the 2012-2013 school year also posted increases in chronic absenteeism and chronic truancy.

“The discipline issues were also getting worse at the elementary level in tandem with the [chronic truancy and absenteeism],” said Aarti Dhupelia, CPS’s chief officer of college and career success, who also oversees truancy and absenteeism issues, in a recent phone interview.

 CPS has not yet released complete discipline data from this past school year. Charter schools are not included in this analysis because the suspension data is incomplete.

At all schools:

Elementary schools with predominantly black and poor student populations continue to have the highest chronic truancy and absenteeism rates. On average, 23 percent of students were considered chronically truant at schools where most of the student body is black. Meanwhile, the overall average for all elementary schools was about 15 percent.

Schools where at least 90 percent of students qualified for free or reduced price lunch reported an average chronic truancy rate of nearly 19 percent. At schools with fewer than two-thirds of low-income students, only 6 percent were considered chronically truant.

The findings are in line with previous research by another Consortium study on chronic absences in preschool. The 2013 report found that African-American students were almost twice as likely to miss class as other students. The report cited children’s health as the biggest factor, followed by logistical obstacles such as limited transportation or a sick relative.

A better picture overall

Overall, the district did post improvements in chronic truancy and absenteeism at every grade level last year, when compared with the previous year.

“CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett really announced [improving attendance] as a key priority for the district going into this past school year,” Dhupelia said. “And it’s not just saying it’s a priority. There were some intentional strategies that that were piloted this past year, a few things we really made traction on."

District officials credited the improvements to a new emphasis on attendance and a series of strategies piloted in this past 2013-14 school year, including targeted funds for struggling schools, the production of monthly data reports tailored to individual schools, and an emphasis on restorative justice programs as an alternative to suspensions or expulsions.

CPS first shared details on some of the district’s pilot strategies during the truancy task force’s June meeting. The CPS draft strategic plan shared that day generated some skepticism among several task force members. (See a copy of the district's draft plan.)

 “I truly believe this plan was created only in relation to the task force,” said Sarah Hainds, a researcher for the Chicago Teachers Union who sits on the task force. “They want to look like they’re proactive, ahead of the game. They came up with this plan to kind of stave off any kind of mandated policies from the state level.”

Dhupelia, who also sits on the task force, said she and the district took the group’s work very seriously, and implemented some of the research and ideas that were generated during the monthly meetings into the district’s own strategic plan.

“It wasn’t something we popped up at the last minute and said, ‘Hey, we’re done,’” she said. “This is a continuously improving effort. We certainly have a long way to go. I know we can get better. But it would not have made sense to wait; our kids cannot wait.”

Absenteeism and truancy down, but not at welcoming schools

August 6, 2014 - 1:36pm

The spike in chronic truancy and absenteeism that CPS elementary schools experienced in the 2012-2013 school year was somewhat reversed last year, new preliminary data show. But welcoming schools that took in most of the children displaced by school closings on average saw a slight increase in chronic truancy and held steady when it came to chronic absences.

And despite the overall year-to-year improvements, chronic truancy remains higher in every grade,  compared to the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years. Chronic absenteeism, meanwhile, has barely budged when compared to those two years. (Click here to see the data on chronic truancy and chronic absenteeism.)

Community activists said they weren’t surprised that welcoming schools didn’t see the same kinds of improvements as other schools.

“What do you expect, it’s the distance and the new environment,” said Gloria Harris, a parent trainer at Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI). “Somebody comes along and says, ‘we have to take your children and put them here.’ Your kids are not going to feel safe until they get used to that environment.”

CPS officials did not dispute Catalyst’s analysis, but said that it was unfair to compare welcoming schools with other district-run schools because the welcoming schools have substantially different student bodies. Further, most new students came from schools with higher-than-average rates of truancy and absences.

(See an accompanying story on what CPS is doing to reduce chronic truancy and absenteeism here.)

Chronic truancy is defined as missing nine or more days of school without a valid excuse; chronic absenteeism, meanwhile, means missing at least 18 school days with or without a valid excuse.

Catalyst’s findings come as a state-appointed task force last week issued a set of non-binding recommendations for how Chicago can fix its “epidemic” of empty desks in elementary schools. The task force, which was convened in response to a 2012 investigation into the issue, suggests a variety of solutions that range from improved data collection and the hiring of attendance coordinators at struggling schools, to a public awareness campaign and the creation of a permanent state-wide task force on truancy.

 “Chronic absenteeism and truancy have consequences of untold proportions,” according to the task force’s report. “Any student who is not in school is not learning. The kindergarten student who is not in school is acquiring a habit that will affect future school attendance.”

 CPS shared preliminary district-wide data from the 2013-14 school year at the final meeting, in July, of Task Force on Truancy in Chicago Public Schools. CPS has not responded to a Catalyst request for the corresponding school-level data, but a community organization that obtained it separately from the district provided a copy.

 Catalyst analyzed the date a variety of ways to see both what happened this past school year, and what could have caused the spike in truancy and absenteeism in 2012-2013:

At welcoming schools:

-- Those schools did not see the reductions in chronic truancy and absenteeism that were seen at other district-run schools last year.  In fact, from the 2012-13 school year to the 2013-14 school year, chronic truancy increased at welcoming schools, from about 24.6 percent to 25.4 percent. At all other schools, chronic truancy fell from about 16.8 percent to 14.3 percent.

-- Chronic absenteeism barely changed from one year to the next, dropping slightly from 15.9 percent to 15.3 percent. Chronic absenteeism fell more at non-welcoming schools, from 14.6 percent to 11.6 percent.

At schools threated with closure:

-- The data from 2012-2013 shows that schools that operated under the threat of closure that year saw higher increases on average than other schools – regardless of whether they ultimately shut down. Schools on a list of nearly 130 schools that CPS considered closing saw chronic truancy rates jump from about 20 percent to nearly 29 percent that year. Meanwhile, schools that were never on that list to begin with saw a smaller increase from about 10 percent to 15 percent.

The data are in line with findings from a 2009 study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research Consortium on how the most precarious time for students of closed schools.

“Announcements about upcoming CPS school closings typically were made in January—about six months prior to the actual closings of schools and a few months before students took annual achievement tests,” according to the report. “These announcements often caused significant angst for students, parents, teachers, and other community members, and the disruption may have hindered student learning.”

At schools with increases in suspensions:

While the district hasn’t completely pinpointed what triggered the increase in chronic truancy and absenteeism in the 2012-2013 school year, officials say a parallel increase in suspensions and expulsions could be partly to blame, since they take students out of school.

The data Catalyst analyzed shows that most of the 25 elementary schools with the biggest increases in out-of-school suspensions in the 2012-2013 school year also posted increases in chronic absenteeism and chronic truancy.

“The discipline issues were also getting worse at the elementary level in tandem with the [chronic truancy and absenteeism],” said Aarti Dhupelia, CPS’s chief officer of college and career success, who also oversees truancy and absenteeism issues, in a recent phone interview.

 CPS has not yet released complete discipline data from this past school year. Charter schools are not included in this analysis because the suspension data is incomplete.

At all schools:

Elementary schools with predominantly black and poor student populations continue to have the highest chronic truancy and absenteeism rates. On average, 23 percent of students were considered chronically truant at schools where most of the student body is black. Meanwhile, the overall average for all elementary schools was about 15 percent.

Schools where at least 90 percent of students qualified for free or reduced price lunch reported an average chronic truancy rate of nearly 19 percent. At schools with fewer than two-thirds of low-income students, only 6 percent were considered chronically truant.

The findings are in line with previous research by another Consortium study on chronic absences in preschool. The 2013 report found that African-American students were almost twice as likely to miss class as other students. The report cited children’s health as the biggest factor, followed by logistical obstacles such as limited transportation or a sick relative.

A better picture overall

Overall, the district did post improvements in chronic truancy and absenteeism at every grade level last year, when compared with the previous year.

“CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett really announced [improving attendance] as a key priority for the district going into this past school year,” Dhupelia said. “And it’s not just saying it’s a priority. There were some intentional strategies that that were piloted this past year, a few things we really made traction on."

District officials credited the improvements to a new emphasis on attendance and a series of strategies piloted in this past 2013-14 school year, including targeted funds for struggling schools, the production of monthly data reports tailored to individual schools, and an emphasis on restorative justice programs as an alternative to suspensions or expulsions.

CPS first shared details on some of the district’s pilot strategies during the truancy task force’s June meeting. The CPS draft strategic plan shared that day generated some skepticism among several task force members. (See a copy of the district's draft plan.)

 “I truly believe this plan was created only in relation to the task force,” said Sarah Hainds, a researcher for the Chicago Teachers Union who sits on the task force. “They want to look like they’re proactive, ahead of the game. They came up with this plan to kind of stave off any kind of mandated policies from the state level.”

Dhupelia, who also sits on the task force, said she and the district took the group’s work very seriously, and implemented some of the research and ideas that were generated during the monthly meetings into the district’s own strategic plan.

“It wasn’t something we popped up at the last minute and said, ‘Hey, we’re done,’” she said. “This is a continuously improving effort. We certainly have a long way to go. I know we can get better. But it would not have made sense to wait; our kids cannot wait.”

How CPS is trying to improve attendance

August 6, 2014 - 1:35pm

Like many recent CPS strategies, data plays a big part in the district’s draft plan to reduce chronic absenteeism and absences. School administrators now receive monthly data reports that allow them to flag students who are off track early.

The district also wants to develop better data-sharing partnerships with the Archdiocese of Chicago, suburban districts and the Illinois State Board of Education to determine when CPS students transfer out.

“We don’t want to lose any children, right? When a student transfers out but we have no verification, we will spend resources trying to track them down,” said Aarti Dhupelia, CPS’s chief of college and career success, whose office also oversees attendance issues. “If they’ve already transferred, we obviously don’t need to spend those resources.”

(See accompanying story on how chronic truancy and absenteeism have changed at CPS elementary schools in recent years.)

Community organizers and advocates that work with schools, including members of the Truancy in Chicago Schools Task Force, have asked whether they too can access up-to-date information on chronic absences and truancy, in order to better target their own resources. Dhupelia said the district is looking into the possibility of sharing some data with outside groups, but has limitations because of laws protecting student privacy.

The task force recently issued its own set of broad recommendations to CPS. Those recommendations are non-binding. 

Last year the district also targeted about $3 million in funding at about 180 schools with the worst attendance problems, Dhupelia said. (Catalyst asked for a list of schools that received this targeted funding of about $16,000 per school.) Dhupelia said about the same amount of funding is budgeted to support schools with high truancy and absenteeism rates next year.

The money was used to develop tailored plans for each school. Some schools, for example, used the funds for training on restorative discipline practices or social-emotional supports for students.

“You have to look at the unique needs of each school,” Dhupelia said. “That’s why plans are tailored to each school […] There’s no cookie cutter requirement to do X, Y or Z.”

The CPS draft strategic plan for improving attendance notes how specific schools targeted the problem. At Armour Elementary, for example, missing students were “tracked in a Google spreadsheet by adults who followed up, documented their efforts and followed up again.” Parents of children with excessive absences were put on notice, and those with strong attendance received free tickets to a White Sox game. More difficult cases were referred to a case worker.

One strategy the district is also considering came from the task force’s review of best practices around the country. Officials in New York City started a city-wide marketing campaign to build awareness of the need for attendance improvement, even using “celebrity wakeup calls” to encourage good attendance.

“It’s something we’re still looking into,” Dhupelia said.

How CPS is trying to improve attendance

August 6, 2014 - 1:35pm

Like many recent CPS strategies, data plays a big part in the district’s draft plan to reduce chronic absenteeism and absences. School administrators now receive monthly data reports that allow them to flag students who are off track early.

The district also wants to develop better data-sharing partnerships with the Archdiocese of Chicago, suburban districts and the Illinois State Board of Education to determine when CPS students transfer out.

“We don’t want to lose any children, right? When a student transfers out but we have no verification, we will spend resources trying to track them down,” said Aarti Dhupelia, CPS’s chief of college and career success, whose office also oversees attendance issues. “If they’ve already transferred, we obviously don’t need to spend those resources.”

(See accompanying story on how chronic truancy and absenteeism have changed at CPS elementary schools in recent years.)

Community organizers and advocates that work with schools, including members of the Truancy in Chicago Schools Task Force, have asked whether they too can access up-to-date information on chronic absences and truancy, in order to better target their own resources. Dhupelia said the district is looking into the possibility of sharing some data with outside groups, but has limitations because of laws protecting student privacy.

The task force recently issued its own set of broad recommendations to CPS. Those recommendations are non-binding. 

Last year the district also targeted about $3 million in funding at about 180 schools with the worst attendance problems, Dhupelia said. (Catalyst asked for a list of schools that received this targeted funding of about $16,000 per school.) Dhupelia said about the same amount of funding is budgeted to support schools with high truancy and absenteeism rates next year.

The money was used to develop tailored plans for each school. Some schools, for example, used the funds for training on restorative discipline practices or social-emotional supports for students.

“You have to look at the unique needs of each school,” Dhupelia said. “That’s why plans are tailored to each school […] There’s no cookie cutter requirement to do X, Y or Z.”

The CPS draft strategic plan for improving attendance notes how specific schools targeted the problem. At Armour Elementary, for example, missing students were “tracked in a Google spreadsheet by adults who followed up, documented their efforts and followed up again.” Parents of children with excessive absences were put on notice, and those with strong attendance received free tickets to a White Sox game. More difficult cases were referred to a case worker.

One strategy the district is also considering came from the task force’s review of best practices around the country. Officials in New York City started a city-wide marketing campaign to build awareness of the need for attendance improvement, even using “celebrity wakeup calls” to encourage good attendance.

“It’s something we’re still looking into,” Dhupelia said.

New principals group to weigh in on policy

August 5, 2014 - 10:07am

Led by the two principals who wrote editorials critical of CPS administration, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association has formed a new committee aimed at advocating for policy and amplifying principal voice.

The committee is calling itself Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education or AAPPLE. 

The committee plans to hold monthly forums, issue white papers and keep members better informed about what the CPAA is working on. It also has a discussion board on its website.

Topics for the first four forums are: Defining a successful school system; high quality teacher training and professional development; economics, poverty, segregation and education systems, and the role of schools and government in addressing the effects of poverty on school systems; and how do we build sustainable cities?

The first forum will be held on Aug. 21 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion.

Michael Beyer, principal of Morrill Elementary, said the forums are intended to help change the conversation and get at some core questions about the future of the CPS and the city. Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere says he thinks it is important that the new committee broadens the conversation.

“On the surface, some of the forum topics don’t have anything to do with school, but they have everything to do with school,” LaRaviere says.

The moderators will include Terry Mazany, president of The Chicago Community Trust, and academics Charles Payne of the University of Chicago and David Stovall of University of Illinois – Chicago.  Mazany served for about a year and a half as interim chief executive officer of CPS, bridging the Richard Daley and Rahm Emanuel administrations, and Payne was his chief education officer.

Beyer says the forum panels will include charter-school advocates, and the panel for the forum on sustainable cities will include mayoral candidates. “We want to have a professional debate on solutions,” he says.

LaRaviere has been outspoken in his opposition to Emanuel, and it would run contrary to standard political practice for an incumbent mayor to participate in a panel with opponents, particularly if it includes Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, a frequent, harsh critic who is weighing a run.

LaRaviere and Beyer say they want the committee to be non-political and that inviting mayoral candidates is meant to influence them rather than give them a platform.

“Our contributions to policy discussions will come from the experiences of CPS principals and assistant principals as they provide feedback on the very real effects of district and state policies,” LaRaviere says.  “Our contributions will also derive from an already large body of research on what has been proven to work for great school systems.”

While principals tend to be extremely busy, Beyer says organizers are hopeful that they will see the value of carving out a few hours a month to attend the forums, which will be open to the public.

The committee’s leaders are also working on white papers that outline some of the issues they are concerned about. The first one will be on implementation of the new physical education policy, which requires daily PE, and the second one will be on student-based budgeting.

Beyer says the group is hopeful that CPS leaders will take heed of the positions advocated in the white papers and eventually see the value in gauging the committee’s opinion before moving forward on policy. He notes that currently the CPAA is often informed about decisions a week before they are announced and has little chance of changing them.

Working with CPAA

LaRaviere and Beyer say they and a group of about eight other principals considered forming a new entity, but met with CPAA president Clarice Berry and decided that it would be best to work with the existing organization. “We saw no reason not to work with CPAA,” LaRaviere says.

LaRaviere wrote an editorial in May, criticizing Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS leaders for not listening to teachers and principals and for forbidding them from talking to the press about what is going on in their schools.Then, in Catalyst, Beyer laid out the type of organization principals need to represent them.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood did not want to comment specifically on the creation of the new committee, but says CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has a principals’ advisory committee and listens intently to what those principals have to say. “We greatly value working with principals,” he says.

But LaRaviere says he does not think the advisory committee, chosen by Byrd-Bennett, can fully represent principals. He says the advisory committee’s function is to offer thoughts on subjects that Byrd-Bennett wants feedback on, not necessarily to look at issues that affect schooling or advocate for policies principals are concerned about.

Beyer also says CPS’ principal advisory committee is problematic as the only voice delivering the principal point of view to CPS. For one, no one knows who is on it, he says, so if a principal wants to communicate a concern, he or she doesn’t know whom to reach out to. Also, he says, those on it might be afraid to say what they really think.  

Berry, the CPAA president, says she has struggled to get principals to speak out on issues and welcomes the new committee. “First and foremost, the issue is fear. Principals are paralyzed,” she says.

Berry says she thinks the move to student-based budgeting sent principals “over the cliff.” “You have all these unfunded mandates and a mountain of accountability. It was like a volcano.”

 “Their colleagues see them as beacons,” Berry says. “They have confidence in them.”

LaRaviere says the feedback he has gotten from CPS principals is that they are hungry for such an entity. “I am hopeful,” he says.

 

 

New principals group to weigh in on policy

August 5, 2014 - 10:07am

Led by the two principals who wrote editorials critical of CPS administration, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association has formed a new committee aimed at advocating for policy and amplifying principal voice.

The committee is calling itself Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education or AAPPLE. 

The committee plans to hold monthly forums, issue white papers and keep members better informed about what the CPAA is working on. It also has a discussion board on its website.

Topics for the first four forums are: Defining a successful school system; high quality teacher training and professional development; economics, poverty, segregation and education systems, and the role of schools and government in addressing the effects of poverty on school systems; and how do we build sustainable cities?

The first forum will be held on Aug. 21 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion.

Michael Beyer, principal of Morrill Elementary, said the forums are intended to help change the conversation and get at some core questions about the future of the CPS and the city. Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere says he thinks it is important that the new committee broadens the conversation.

“On the surface, some of the forum topics don’t have anything to do with school, but they have everything to do with school,” LaRaviere says.

The moderators will include Terry Mazany, president of The Chicago Community Trust, and academics Charles Payne of the University of Chicago and David Stovall of University of Illinois – Chicago.  Mazany served for about a year and a half as interim chief executive officer of CPS, bridging the Richard Daley and Rahm Emanuel administrations, and Payne was his chief education officer.

Beyer says the forum panels will include charter-school advocates, and the panel for the forum on sustainable cities will include mayoral candidates. “We want to have a professional debate on solutions,” he says.

LaRaviere has been outspoken in his opposition to Emanuel, and it would run contrary to standard political practice for an incumbent mayor to participate in a panel with opponents, particularly if it includes Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, a frequent, harsh critic who is weighing a run.

LaRaviere and Beyer say they want the committee to be non-political and that inviting mayoral candidates is meant to influence them rather than give them a platform.

“Our contributions to policy discussions will come from the experiences of CPS principals and assistant principals as they provide feedback on the very real effects of district and state policies,” LaRaviere says.  “Our contributions will also derive from an already large body of research on what has been proven to work for great school systems.”

While principals tend to be extremely busy, Beyer says organizers are hopeful that they will see the value of carving out a few hours a month to attend the forums, which will be open to the public.

The committee’s leaders are also working on white papers that outline some of the issues they are concerned about. The first one will be on implementation of the new physical education policy, which requires daily PE, and the second one will be on student-based budgeting.

Beyer says the group is hopeful that CPS leaders will take heed of the positions advocated in the white papers and eventually see the value in gauging the committee’s opinion before moving forward on policy. He notes that currently the CPAA is often informed about decisions a week before they are announced and has little chance of changing them.

Working with CPAA

LaRaviere and Beyer say they and a group of about eight other principals considered forming a new entity, but met with CPAA president Clarice Berry and decided that it would be best to work with the existing organization. “We saw no reason not to work with CPAA,” LaRaviere says.

LaRaviere wrote an editorial in May, criticizing Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS leaders for not listening to teachers and principals and for forbidding them from talking to the press about what is going on in their schools.Then, in Catalyst, Beyer laid out the type of organization principals need to represent them.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood did not want to comment specifically on the creation of the new committee, but says CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has a principals’ advisory committee and listens intently to what those principals have to say. “We greatly value working with principals,” he says.

But LaRaviere says he does not think the advisory committee, chosen by Byrd-Bennett, can fully represent principals. He says the advisory committee’s function is to offer thoughts on subjects that Byrd-Bennett wants feedback on, not necessarily to look at issues that affect schooling or advocate for policies principals are concerned about.

Beyer also says CPS’ principal advisory committee is problematic as the only voice delivering the principal point of view to CPS. For one, no one knows who is on it, he says, so if a principal wants to communicate a concern, he or she doesn’t know whom to reach out to. Also, he says, those on it might be afraid to say what they really think.  

Berry, the CPAA president, says she has struggled to get principals to speak out on issues and welcomes the new committee. “First and foremost, the issue is fear. Principals are paralyzed,” she says.

Berry says she thinks the move to student-based budgeting sent principals “over the cliff.” “You have all these unfunded mandates and a mountain of accountability. It was like a volcano.”

 “Their colleagues see them as beacons,” Berry says. “They have confidence in them.”

LaRaviere says the feedback he has gotten from CPS principals is that they are hungry for such an entity. “I am hopeful,” he says.

 

 

Take 5: Absenteeism task force, principal eligibility and "lost" children

August 4, 2014 - 8:21am

The Chicago Tribune calls the reforms recommended by a state task force on absenteeism sweeping. The task force was created after a Tribune investigation found that about 13 percent of Chicago’s elementary school students miss more than a month of school or vanish without anyone in CPS knowing where they went. The recommendations include the return of truancy officers, changing the way districts report absenteeism and sharing real time information on absent students with other entities, like the Chicago Housing Authority.

But then, in the ninth paragraph, the story points out that since the series was published in November 2012 -- and based on data from the 2010-2011 school year -- chronic absenteeism has gotten worse in the elementary grades. As Catalyst reported in May, in every grade level during the 2012-2013 school year there was a substantial increase--an average of 5 percent. The Tribune notes that this past school year, the rates have gone down a bit, but are still higher than 2010-2011.

CPS officials say they do not know what caused the increase, according to the Tribune. One thing that was different in 2012-2013 was that school officials were threatening to close more than 100 schools, which caused some instability.  Ultimately, they closed 50.

2. Policy or political…. Despite failing the CPS’ principal eligibility test twice, Ald. Pat O’Connor’s sister Catherine Sugrue will serve as Gray’s interim principal, according to the Chicago Tribune. Many saw this coming when the agenda for the Board of Education included an item that gave CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett leverage to override the principal eligibility process. One change is that interim principals don’t have to meet the eligibility requirements, whereas before they did. Also, the CEO can now determine how long a candidate is excluded from consideration after failing twice; whereas the old policy called from them to be excluded for three years.

CPS officials say the policy change was not pushed specifically for Surgue and that her brother, the alderman, did not intervene on her behalf. In fact, CPS officials say that Sugure is the second principal appointed under the policy change, but the Tribune article does not name the second principal.

But the fact that leaders are willing to put more flexibility into the principal eligibility process is surprising. Making it harder to become a principal was one of the key provisions of the district’s “comprehensive, multi-tiered Principal Quality Strategy,” unveiled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett in February 2013. The new process includes a “Day in the Life” simulation and criteria for assessing how well candidates interact with parents and communities.

However, having a stringent principal eligibility process erodes the power of Local School Councils to choose whomever they want. In the case of Gray, the LSC chose Surgue. While not being specific, district officials told DNAinfo that Sugrue did not make it past the first stage of the process, which entails being interviewed by a two-person panel of experts.

3. Lost and found… Barbara Byrd-Bennett penned an op-ed for the Chicago Sun-Times patting herself and her administration on the back for locating the 847 students “identified by our critics as `lost.’”  Byrd-Bennett says that CPS found these students had transferred to the suburbs, out of state or to private schools. She writes that the location of these students was confirmed by ISBE, though ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus told Catalyst that she doesn’t know who at ISBE confirmed the information.

CTU President Karen Lewis raised the issue of "lost children" at the March board meeting, referencing the fact that CPS’ own information identified these students as “inactive.” At the time, CPS spokesman Joel Hood told Catalyst that CPS was working with ISBE to locate the students and that the information would be provided as soon as it was available. But rather than provide the data to Catalyst, CPS officials decided it would be better to write an editorial. Catalyst is still waiting for more detailed information, not only about where students went, but where the information came from.

4. Immigrant children and school districts... Children who have fled the violence in Central America are enrolling in Illinois public schools. Officials in Waukegan say 77 children from Honduras have enrolled as of the last week of July for the 2014-15 school year, bringing the total from the last two years to nearly 100, according to the Lake County News-Sun.

District officials here in Chicago can also expect to receive more of these students as Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently agreed to provide shelter to 1,000 children fleeing the gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

School districts from Miami to Houston are preparing for an influx of students, who frequently require special -- and expensive -- resources such as English language and mental health services. Obama administration officials recently reminded districts of a decades-old Supreme Court ruling that ensures all children the right to enroll in school, regardless of their immigration status.

5. As Chicago opens its doors… to children fleeing violence, the  city also is struggling to protect its own children from it. A Fenger Academy High School graduate featured on CNN’s“Chicagoland” was shot and wounded over the weekend. Lee McCollum Jr. was highligted as a young man who turned his life around. The 20-year-old was shot twice in the leg as he headed into work at a Wendy’s at 7:30 a.m. Saturday from his grandfather’s home in Roseland. He had graduated last year and was working to save money for college, family members said.

Fenger’s principal, Liz Dozier, who was also featured prominently in the CNN series, told the Tribune she’s kept in touch with McCollum since graduation, and hopes he enrolls in college this fall. "We are still trying to get him off to school … It's just better to get him out of the city," she said. "We're working on it for him."

 



Scalding school closing report unlikely to get a hearing

July 31, 2014 - 10:09pm

A scalding report that criticizes CPS for the way it handled the mass closing of schools last year likely will not get a public hearing as requested by state task force members. 

As for why, that’s in dispute. 

State Rep. Linda Chapa La Via, chair of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, said she requested a hearing but has little hope that it will ever be held. “Everything is politics,” she said with a sigh.

However, Steve Brown, House Speaker Mike Madigan’s spokesman, said that Chapa LaVia doesn’t need permission to hold a hearing. He was incredulous as to why she doesn’t just move forward.

Chapa Lavia did not respond when re-contacted. Also, representatives Cynthia Soto and Esther Golar, both of whom sit on the task force, did not respond to calls and emails on the subject.

Members of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force said they are convinced that Madigan’s office—with the encouragement of Mayor Rahm Emanuel—is preventing the hearing. They suspect that Emanuel wants to avoid a discussion on the school closing process during an election year. 

“It was shut down,” said Clarice Berry, a task force member and president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.  “There is tremendous political pressure not to hold a hearing.”

Cecile Carroll, chair of the task force, said she was told the request for a subject matter hearing was denied and was given the impression that it was over Chapa Lavia’s head. 

The final report criticizes CPS on a range of matters, from not announcing the school actions in time for students to apply to magnet or selective enrollment schools to not taking heed of the opinions of Independent hearing officers, some of whom recommended—to no avail—that a school not be closed. 

Mike Rendina, who at the time was CPS’ Chief of Policy, wrote a three-page rebuttal to the final report, accusing task force members of not consulting district officials as they were writing it. He said there are several instances where the report is inaccurate or misleading. 

One point of contention is that the report says CPS has not developed a defined system or policies to evaluate the school actions. Rendina notes in his letter that CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett issued a mid-year preliminary report that looks at attendance and other issues.  The task force report acknowledges Byrd-Bennett’s report, but notes that it is not online for the public to review. 

Catalyst reported that the gains touted by Byrd-Bennett in the mid-year report are minuscule. Catalyst also has asked for a final report now that the school year is over. 

The Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force was created after community activists, frustrated by earlier school closings made their case to state lawmakers. Based on the task force’s recommendations, state lawmakers passed a bill in 2011 that established a process for school actions as well as forced CPS to come up with a master facilities plan. Newly in office, Emanuel grudgingly supported the bill after getting a provision removed that would have allowed the task force to override school actions.

Ever since, the task force has been responsible for monitoring CPS’ implementation of the bill, and task force members have often grilled CPS officials. They also have drawn a lot of information out of CPS that had not been made public. Rendina, now in the mayor’s office, attended most of the meetings. 

What the task force’s next step is unclear, Berry said that even without a hearing, she is hopeful the task force’s report will send a lasting message.  “I am hoping to never see this kind of mass closings again,” she said. “It does not serve the children well.”

Take 5: CPS grads hiring preference, Common Core money and governor endorsements

July 31, 2014 - 7:19am

1. Touting it as a way to keep CPS students in school, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is defending a decision he made two years ago to give preference in firefighter hiring to Chicago Public School graduates. Now that the Chicago Fire Department has opened up hiring, writes Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown, several elected officials say they are getting complaints from families of private school students. And the fire chief says the hiring preference has caused an “outcry” among the rank-and-file, many of whom are second- and third-generation firefighters and would like their own children to have the same chance. About 12 percent of high schoolers in Chicago attend a private school, according to the U.S. Census.

Emanuel needs to make extra sure that the hiring process is fair for black candidates. When he came into office he settled a big lawsuit stemming from the city’s discriminatory handling of a 1995 firefighters entrance exam.

2. New standards, new market…. With schools adopting new standards and more of them buying smart tablets for students, there’s money to be made in education for technology developers. That’s what Phyllis Lockett told Technori Pitch, an event that showcases technology startups, according to an article on the Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation site. As you will remember, Lockett was founding president and CEO of New Schools for Chicago, which raised money to invest in charter schools. Lockett now runs LEAP Innovation which aims to connect tech companies and educators. "Common Core is huge,” she told the group. “It’s inherently nationalized standards. What that means for technology developers is that if you develop solutions that are tied to the Common Core — 46 states have adopted them throughout the country — you can sell anywhere.”


3. Speaking of the Common Core... WBEZ looked at how a variety of Chicago-area schools are implementing the new Common Core State Standards, a set of academic standards that most states have signed onto. Illinois is one of them.

The standards, which are supported by -- but did not arise from -- the federal government, are supposed to encourage critical thinking. But they've been heavily criticized in some states by both unions, who fear over testing, and conservative activists, who worry about the broad reach of the federal government. Though the Chicago Teachers Union voted symbolically against the standards earlier this summer, they’ve been less controversial here in Illinois than in other states, such as Louisiana, where the governor is now in a legal tiff with his own state school board over his attempt to scrap them.

The WBEZ story sheds some light on what classrooms sound like when teachers implement lessons guided by the new standards.

4. A teachers' governor?... The Illinois Federation of Teachers announced this week it'll support Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's reelection campaign. The state union (and parent organization pf the CTU) says Republican candidate Bruce Rauner is "out of touch” about “what’s best for education and Illinois families." The state's other major teachers union, Illinois Education Association, also announced it will back the incumbent.

Some of Quinn’s moves as governor have angered teacher unions, and his choice of former CPS CEO Paul Vallas, who supports charter schools and other so-called corporate reforms, have raised questions. But Rauner is an unabashed supporter of vouchers and charter schools.

"Don't compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the alternative," Quinn said in April at the IEA convention’s gubernatorial debate.

 

5. Beautiful old building …. That’s what the new buyer of CPS’s headquarters says about the 125 S. Clark St. office building.

Crain’s Chicago business reports that a venture of the local Blue Star Properties Inc. has a contract to buy the 20-story building, which it plans to redevelop into loft office space for tech startups and creative firms.

Blue Star’s founder, Craig Golden, didn’t say how much the company is paying, but Crain’s reports that it’s believed to be well below the $35 million CPS expected to get from a previous potential buyer, Marc Realty Residential LLC. The 1907 building was designed by famed architect Daniel Burnham’s firm.

CPS, which hadn’t been making full use of the building in recent years because of downsizing, is set to move its 1,000 or so downtown employees to the  former Sears store at 2 N. State St. this fall.




Take 5: Charter admission transparency; new political coalition and career ed

July 28, 2014 - 8:21am

Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday signed into law legislation intended to address some of the common complaints about charter schools, like that they are secretive or that they kick kids out and keep the money. HB3232 requires funding to follow students who transfer to and from charter schools throughout the school year. It also requires charter schools to video tape admission lotteries and turn over the video to the school district. In addition, charter schools will have to submit yearly audits and tax forms to ISBE. What is fascinating is the Illinois Network of Charter School write up of what compromises they won as the bill was being negotiated. For example, the bill originally called for charter schools to give back money only for students who transfer, while the new bill calls for charter schools to also get paid for students they allow to transfer in.

Also, the bill originally called for the school district to run admission lotteries. If this provision had stayed in the bill, it might have opened the door for a centralized admission process for all schools. For a number of years, CPS leaders tried to put in place a centralized admission process that would have included charter schools. In fact, INCS agreed to this in the the 2011 Gates Compact. Currently, the admissions process is centralized for all high schools except charter schools. But charter schools have resisted. Last year, WBEZ reported that because the charter school admission process is not centralized, it is unclear how much demand there is for them.

Meanwhile, the CTU… The Sun Times reports this morning that labor groups, including the Chicago Teachers Union, have formed a new political party, called United Working Families. The new group is not anti-Rahm per se, but might wind up helping CTU President Karen Lewis, should she decide to run. The executive director Kristen Crowell says that the three big issues the group will be addressing are the school closings, high unemployment and violence on the South and West sides.

About that violence… CPS students made the news this weekend in the disturbing way they often do. Sun Times reporter Becky Schlikerman writes a moving account of 11-year-old Shamiya Adams' funeral. Melody School Principal Tiffany Tillman captured the essence of the little girl when she described her as “a beautiful child, a cheerleader, bop queen, peacemaker, respectful to all and most remembered as a best friend,” according to Schlikerman’s article. 

Also, on Monday, the Tribune featured a short piece written by students at Bradwell School of Excellence in South Shore to try to counter the publicity that paints their neighborhood as violent. They write: “We want you to know us. We aren't afraid. We know that man on the corner. He works at the store and gives us free Lemonheads. Those girls jumping rope are Precious, Aniya and Nivia. The people in the suits are people not going to funerals, but to church.”

But being exposed to violence has residual effects. A growing body of research points to the lingering effect of trauma on the lives of children. Research has developed a clear link between trauma, acting out and academic failure. In the Summer 2012 issue of Catalyst in Depth, we reported that CPS leaders understand the effect of trauma but struggle to come up with the resources to provide the type of therapy that has been effective elsewhere.

Turning back time… New Haven Connecticut lengthened the school day for some of the same reasons Mayor Rahm Emanuel did it. Theythought it would be a way to close the achievement gap between their high poverty district and more well off suburbs. They also followed the lead of charter schools, which have long boasted longer school days and years as a way to boost achievement.

But one year later, they abandoned the experiment, reports The Hechinger Report. Why? Students and teachers were exhausted, and the intended results didn’t come to fruition. The principal decided to scrape the longer school day for students in order to give teachers more time to plan and collaborate. Every morning, teachers have an hour before students come in. This is especially interesting given that CPS teachers say that the new extended school day schedule gives them little time to meet and plan together. 


Keeping kids in college… Did you know that Illinois has a 10 year goal of getting 60 percent of adults a two or four year higher education degree or a postsecondary credential of “marketable value,” such as a certificate in welding or commercial truck driving? The Sun-Times reports that earlier this month community college and business leaders met to discuss how they could meet this goal, called the Illinois Public Agenda for College or Career Success. One of the problems is that only 20 percent of those who enroll in community colleges get a credential within three years. But the good news is that more companies are offering to pay for college courses or are creating apprenticeships, according to the article. 

In the winter issue of Catalyst in Depth, we reported that CPS’ Career and Technical Education program has changed focus in the past few years to concentrate more on careers that require college degrees. Yet many believe that more technical training should be available for students. This issue came up in the latest budget debate as it was revealed that Simeon was cancelling its electrician program. Another noteworthy fact: 36 percent of CPS graduates go to community colleges, so the success of community colleges is intrinsically tied to whether CPS students achieve their goals.

Life after being arrested at school

July 28, 2014 - 12:00am

It is a week and a half before school lets out for the summer, and though the weather is on the cool side, children are on the playground of Little Village Elementary School, shouting and running in the late afternoon. 

Anthony Martinez slides into the basement of an old building on the corner across the street. Several teenaged boys are slouched on a worn, weathered couch, playing video games in the dim light. Others are shooting pool. The young men are here as part of Urban Life Skills, a diversion program that allows young offenders to avoid the juvenile court system and a possible criminal record.

Anthony, who is the youngest in the room, sits by himself. He looks nervous in the way a 15-year-old might, staying quiet and biting his lip. Short and with a bit of a round face, Anthony sports a small gold earring in each ear, and today wears what is something of a uniform for teenage boys in the neighborhood—an oversized white t-shirt and too-baggy blue jeans.

Anthony is supposed to be getting ready for his eighth-grade graduation from Kanoon Magnet Elementary, but he is not sure that it will happen. His math teacher is threatening to fail him, and he could be forced to go to summer school.

If so, that would derail his high school plans: Anthony wants to go to Community Links High School, a year-round school that allows students to graduate in three years. It is smaller than most high schools and would give Anthony the individual attention and fresh start he so desperately wants. 

But Community Links requires students to be “in good standing” in order to enroll, so Anthony will lose his chance if he fails eighth grade. Instead, he would be stuck at Farragut, his neighborhood high school. Though Farragut’s dean of discipline says the school environment has become calmer and there is almost no gang-banging, Anthony says he knows too many other young men at the school and would come in with too much negative baggage.

“I am trying to have a better life, but if I went to Farragut, I would probably drop out,” he says. 

Anthony, the younger brother of a known Latin King gang member, says that the teachers at Kanoon never liked him, always thought he was a bad apple and for years considered him “at-risk.” Mostly, he maintains, the teachers dislike him because of the incident that led to his arrest and his eventual assignment to the Urban Life Skills program: a playground fight that he was accused of participating in and breaking a girl’s nose.

Anthony insists he had nothing to do with the fight. Initially, he was only suspended; it wasn’t until weeks later that police came to the school to arrest him. Fearing he would be found guilty of aggravated assault, Anthony pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was placed on two years’ probation and sent to the Urban Life Skills program.

Art Guerrero, who runs Urban Life Skills and has volunteered at Kanoon, says the arrest probably happened because the girl’s father insisted some action be taken. Guerrero adds that Anthony has had problems with teachers being wary of him and that the school does tend to call the police a lot. 

Like Anthony, many of the students arrested at schools are challenging and perhaps made bad decisions, but there are alternative ways to deal with them other than calling the police, says Joel Rodriguez, an organizer for the Southwest Organizing Project, which has worked with Voices of Youth in Chicago Education to advocate for a diminished police presence in schools. He notes that students are usually back in the school very soon after being arrested and nothing has changed about the circumstances surrounding the incident.

“Instead of dealing with human beings, we are just calling the police,” he says. “With all the stresses in schools, people have very little energy to deal with students.”

More so than in other large school districts, Chicago schools are quick to call in police to handle student misbehavior and conflict, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for the 2011-2012 school year (the most recent available).  In Chicago, police were called at a rate of nearly 18 cases for every 1,000 students, while New York City’s rate was 8 per 1,000 students and numbers in Los Angeles were 6 per 1,000. 

Overall, CPS referred 7,157 students to law enforcement, of whom 2,418 students were arrested, according to the federal data. As is the case with school discipline in general, black males are disproportionately targeted: They make up about 20 percent of CPS students, but 40 percent of those referred and arrested. Another 20 percent of students arrested or referred to law enforcement are Latino males—about the same percentage as Latino male enrollment. (Black and Latino girls are the vast majority of the other students who are referred or arrested.)

What’s more, these numbers likely underestimate the true number of arrests of young people in and around schools. The federal CPS data only includes incidents in which a school staff member calls police to the building. However, Chicago police track all arrests of those 17 or younger in a school building or on school grounds, regardless of how the arrest originated.

The Chicago Police Department reported 3,768 arrests of minors in schools and on school grounds during school hours in 2011-2012, according to data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.  

(In early July, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that 1,000 fewer students were arrested in the 2014 school year, but the police department did not confirm these figures.)  

Students are acutely aware of the heavy police presence in their schools, says Mathilda de Dios, program manager for Northwestern University’s Children and Family Justice Center. As part of her job, she leads Know Your Rights workshops at high schools and community centers.

At the start of workshops, she asks teens how many of them have been arrested at school or know someone who has been. More than 80 percent of them typically stand up.

Asked how many of them go to schools with restorative justice programs such as peace circles or peer juries, and about 30 percent stand up. 

De Dios says that police involvement rarely leads to a resolution of the conflict. And when police lead students out of school in handcuffs, it shapes how they view school and how school employees perceive them.

Jennifer Viets learned this the hard way when her son was taken by police out of a freshman summer program at Lane Tech High. Viets says the police were only trying to get information from her son about his friend, who was accused of throwing rocks. But her son told her that when he returned to Lane the next day, teachers commented to him that they didn’t think he would be back.

A few years later, Viets’ son and his friend were led away from school in handcuffs after being accused of stealing at a party. Viets notes that the two were the only young black men at the party. They were never charged, as the investigation eventually pointed to other culprits. Nevertheless, Viets says her son was scared.

“Everything went downhill after that,” Viets says. Her son wound up leaving Lane and completing high school with a virtual charter school. His friend transferred out too.

“It changes the way everyone perceives you when you are arrested, even if you are never charged,” she says. “How do you recover from that?”

At Kanoon, where Anthony attends, 13 students were referred to police or arrested in the 2011-2012 school year. That doesn’t sound like many, but it puts Kanoon at the higher end of the scale for elementary schools: 68 percent of elementary schools had fewer than five incidents of police involvement, and the vast majority did not lead to arrests, according to the federal data. 

Meanwhile, just 20 high schools accounted for half of all arrests —even though students in those schools made up less than a quarter of the high school population. 

Most incidents that lead to police involvement are simple battery or assault cases, theft cases or possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to a Catalyst analysis of Chicago police data.  

In June, CPS overhauled its student code of conduct and drastically cut the list of incidents that require police notification. The new code, which youth and parent advocacy groups had pushed for, now only requires police notification for drug or gun possession. In other cases, school officials can decide themselves whether or not to call police, depending on the severity of the crime and whether others were hurt or in danger of being hurt. Plus, principals must check with the Law Department before calling police on a student who is in fifth grade or younger.

In contrast, the previous code listed 27 categories of incidents that required a call to police, including battery and “any illegal activity which interferes with the school’s educational process.” 

Yet Chicago remains an outlier. A Catalyst review of discipline codes from suburban Chicago districts and other large urban school districts shows that many give principals full discretion to decide whether to call in police, even in drug and gun possession cases.

Cliff Nellis, lead attorney for the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, says that too many young people come to him after arrests for incidents that could easily be labeled a misdemeanor or dealt with through school discipline. “In mostly white suburbs, it is almost always misconduct, whereas here it is a crime,” says Nellis, referring to the rough West Side neighborhood. 

Nellis points to one case in which a client and his friend broke into their high school and played basketball in the gym. “It was basically a prank,” he says. The alarm was triggered and police wound up surrounding the school. The boys hid, but were eventually sniffed out by dogs. 

Nellis says the boys had nothing in their possession and the only things out of place in the school were basketballs. “They could have been charged with misdemeanor trespassing and the boys could have had a call home,” he says. “Instead, they were charged with a Class 2 felony burglary—breaking and entering with intent to steal. The intent is subjective.”

Schools are only part of it, says Nellis. Arrests on the streets and in the schools start young for many and this involvement follows them into adulthood. More than 57 percent of adults in North Lawndale have criminal convictions, according to a 2002 Center for Impact Research study, a mark that makes it more difficult to get a job and do other things necessary to change the direction of one’s life.

“This neighborhood is flat-out oppressed by the criminal justice system,” he says.

Cook County’s Juvenile Justice Division reports that about 75 percent of young people on probation re-enroll in school, but not necessarily the same school they attended at the time of arrest. (As part of juvenile probation, students must enroll in school.) Those on the ground say many are steered toward alternative schools. CPS is in the midst of a major expansion of alternative schools, many of them to be operated by for-profit companies.

Elvis Aguilera found out the hard way how difficult it can be to re-enroll. Elvis just turned 16 in January, but he has already been in and out of the detention center three times and in-patient drug rehab programs three times as well. The last time he got out of youth prison in St. Charles on parole in October 2013, Elvis went with his mother to get back into Farragut High School. School officials, he says, told him to just wait. Every two or three weeks, he and his mother went back and asked for him to be let back in, only to be turned down. 

Eventually, the staff at Urban Life Skills got involved and reached out to a re-enrollment specialist at CPS. (In 2013, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett hired these specialists to look for teenagers not in school.) According to Elvis and Art Guerrero, they were given some surprising news: Farragut still counted Elvis as enrolled.

The re-enrollment specialist told Guerrero that it is not unusual for schools to keep students enrolled, even though they are gone for months at a time. With high schools struggling to keep enrollment up because the district has switched to providing money on a per-pupil basis, it benefits schools to have these students on their rolls. But schools will quickly drop them when pressured to actually take them back, the re-enrollment specialist told Guerrero—schools don’t want teens perceived as problems or potential trouble. Elvis, in particular, has a tattoo that the principal didn’t like.

Elvis says that on his 16th birthday, he was officially unenrolled from Farragut. He says he was told he could try an alternative school or a GED program, but so far has turned down the idea. Now he spends his day helping walk the neighbor’s children to school and waiting for 4 p.m. when he can go to the diversion program. “I am so bored,” he says, noting that the last time he relapsed into drug use was because he was bored.

For Anthony, getting assigned to juvenile probation officer Elizabeth Marrero and placed in Guerrero’s diversion program felt eerily familiar. Both Marrero and Guerrero worked with Anthony’s older brother, Victor. Guerrero says he met Anthony when was he was about nine or 10 years old and would beg to tag along on field trips with the diversion program. Diversion programs often take their clients to ball games, museums or downtown.

Guerrero also volunteered at Kanoon, taking a group of “at-risk” sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders aside and talking to them about once a week. Anthony was part of that group. “I have known him since he was a shorty,” Guerrero says.

Guerrero’s life mission is to prevent others from following the same path he took. In his wallet, Guerrero, who is almost 50, has a picture of himself from 13 years ago. His face is sunken in, with deep wrinkles. His eyes have large swollen bags under them. He’s rail-thin. 

Guerrero says he was just like these boys at one time. He grew up in the neighborhood and his grandmother still lives in the same house just a few blocks from the diversion program. He gang-banged. He smoked weed. He got addicted to heroin. He overdosed six times.

On September 25, 2005, Guerrero was arrested and charged with dealing drugs near a school, a Class X Felony. He was 39 years old, and faced between six and 30 years behind bars. “In jail, I was saved,” he says. “I felt like God was telling me that I had a purpose and it is not to be a dealer or an addict.” 

After a year, he came out of prison and started volunteering with Urban Life Skills, which is connected to New Life Church, an evangelical church with several locations in Chicago. That is when Guerrero became involved in Anthony’s life. Guerrero’s face has filled out and now, he has a middle-aged pouch that makes him look healthy and normal. He likes taking Anthony and the other boys out to get something to eat. In the quietness of a car ride or over a taco or some ice cream, they’ll often talk to him about their fears and their hopes.

Guerrero says he gains the boys’ trust. Marrero says he plays good cop. “I play bad cop,” says the probation officer, a tall, thin striking woman. She says she has to be stern to let her clients know that she is about business. She is a mandated court reporter, so what she finds out she has to tell the judge. But she is also motherly.

Guerrero says that over time the drugs may have changed, but the cycle is much the same. Young teens, like Anthony, mostly smoke weed. But as they get deeper into the street life, they graduate to harder drugs. The addiction to drugs makes it more difficult to take a different path. 

When Anthony first started at the juvenile diversion program, some drug tests showed he was smoking marijuana. But lately, they have come out clean.   

Anthony is young enough and eager enough that he’s still got the potential to change his trajectory. That is why there was a palpable sense of relief on the Friday before graduation when he flew into the Urban Life Skills basement and announced that he was going to graduate. “The principal called me into the office and told me I could walk,” he says. “They gave me a gown.”

That evening the clients were treated to Mexican food, as well as a guest speaker to kick off the theme of the month: perseverance. One of the first things the speaker did was ask the young men if they knew the definition of the word. No one did. 

“It means doing something despite difficulty,” says Arnulfo Torres, a counselor for Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy, an alternative school in Humboldt Park. “What happens when you walk down the street and you get jumped and you go to the hospital? What happens when your brother gets shot up? What happens to you? You keep living. Life still goes on. You don’t stop being what you are. You have perseverance.”

A few days later, Guerrero and Marrero attend Anthony’s graduation. They stand in the back behind the parents and brothers and sisters. They each came with different messages that they wanted to get across to him. Marrero wanted this to be special for Anthony. She wanted him to savor the moment. She kept pointing out to him how so many people were proud. “Even the principal gave you a real honest hug,” she told him.

Marrero watched him closely. She noticed that when all the other graduates tossed their caps into the air, Anthony reached up and held his firm on his head.  Later, when she mentions it to Anthony, he says: “I didn’t want to lose it.”

Guerrero wasted so many years cycling in and out of prison and drug rehab and now spends his days trying to hold a life jacket out for young men, some of whom are destined to do the same. Guerrero knows that Anthony’s journey is not going to be easy. The message Guerrero had for Anthony is that he can overcome the assumptions and expectations that he won’t make it.

As he hugged him, over and over again as though repeating a prayer, he says, “This is just the beginning. This is just the beginning.” 

“I told the principal that in the end, Anthony is going to prove everyone wrong,” he says, looking straight at Anthony. “He is going to graduate from high school. He is going to make it.”

Quick to punish

July 28, 2014 - 12:00am

Cory Warren and a group of his classmates at Phillips Academy High School had a challenge: Work with a community organization to try to convince their peers that drinking and taking drugs are bad ideas. 

Alcohol and drug abuse are virtually never talked about in Chicago Public Schools, even in high schools, he says. Yet teens can be especially susceptible to peer pressure to drink and do drugs, and the consequences for drug-related offenses in CPS can be severe.

“I think in elementary school they told us not to smoke squares (slang for cigarettes), but no one said anything about marijuana,” Cory recalls. But pot-smoking and drinking are all around him, he says—on the street, in his home and in one particular hallway at school. As a football player, Cory stays away from it. And he desperately wants his younger brother to follow suit.

In this day and age, recreational marijuana use is legal in two states and technically only warrants a ticket in Chicago. So Cory and his classmates choose a nuanced message for their skit, one that focuses on the negative impact of coming to school high and getting drunk at prom. 

“Your eyes are super-red and you are going to be in space in class,” Cory says. “So even if you are going to do it, wait ’til after school.”

Getting caught on drugs or carrying drugs in CPS carries consequences beyond the academic that range from a short suspension to arrest; non-punitive or educational responses are outside the norm, especially for schools in poor communities. Though the district’s revised Student Code of Conduct is intended to make discipline more equitable and send the message that students should only be suspended if they are a danger to themselves and others, non-violent drug possession ranks as the second-most serious of infractions, and drug sales rank as the most serious, along with arson and rape. 

As a result, thousands of students face stiff consequences for drug violations that mostly involve less than 30 grams of marijuana—just over an ounce.  

Over the past two school years, 2,300 students were suspended for drug use, possession or sale; 527 had an expulsion hearing, though only 22 were eventually expelled; and 1,066 were arrested, according to data from the state’s School Incident Reporting System, CPS and the Chicago Police Department. (Expulsion data are through April 30.)

The numbers contribute to the district’s overall arrest rate, which is more than double the rate in New York City and Los Angeles, though Chicago has fewer than half the number of students (see story on page 8).

When police get involved in drug cases, 99 percent result in an arrest. Police are called to schools far more often for incidents of assault or battery, yet only about 25 percent of these incidents result in an arrest.  

While some schools are quick to mete out harsh punishment, other schools let small-scale drug offenses stay off the radar. 

One Gage Park High School student, an African-American girl, said she came to school high most of the time for many years. The security guard and some teachers and administrators knew she was smoking marijuana and commented on it to her. But there were no other consequences.

Eventually, she says her foster mother realized how bad the problem was and got her into a drug treatment program. “I just needed someone to talk to,” says the young woman, who cannot be identified because she is a ward of the state.

At Kelyvn Park High School, one young Latino man says the first time he was caught with some weed, his parents were called and that was that. The second time he was suspended. But his friend adds that students at the school get suspended for relatively minor offenses. 

In some schools, drugs, especially marijuana, are not a big deal given the other challenges in a community. “The students here have many problems,” says Ali Muhammad, principal of Austin Polytech, a small West Side High School.  “Drugs are just one of them.” 

Kathleen Kane-Willis, interim director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, notes that youth drug use is much more complicated than adult drug use. Even some who support legalizing marijuana think that young people should face some consequences when they come to school with it or on it. 

Yet Kane-Willis worries about policies that are not consistent. In a study the consortium released in the spring, she found that people in Chicago are far more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession while people outside the city are more likely to be ticketed—despite a Chicago ordinance that allows for such ticketing. 

These differences extend to schools and districts, something that worries Kane-Willis.

“If you don’t have a clear policy, then it is like the wild, wild West,” she says. “It is the variation in the system that makes it unjust.”

As the perceived risk of marijuana use goes down, its use among teenagers is on the rise, according to a recent survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  Surveys have shown that there’s little difference between city and suburban teens in the level of drug use, but young people with greater access to money and resources are more likely to use hard drugs like heroin and cocaine.

In many suburban school districts, officials have incorporated education and treatment programs into their response to the problem. Some Chicago schools refer teens to programs, but the district has no systemic approach to providing students with intervention services.

Still, it is impossible to get a comprehensive look at how school districts outside of Chicago approach drug use. State law requires that districts report drug-related incidents, as well as students caught with firearms and attacks on school personnel. But a 2012 Chicago Tribune investigation found that districts were ignoring the law, which was supposed to help parents determine the safety of schools.

Following the Tribune’s investigation, big school districts, such as Chicago, Naperville and Plainfield, started reporting incidents. But at this point, only about 16 percent of all public school districts in the state have met the mandate. The Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois State Police, which are in charge of collecting the data, say they don’t have the manpower to force compliance.

In the past two years, 139 school districts have reported more than than 3,000 drug-related cases. 

By and large, the most common punishment for students caught with drugs is suspension. And as in Chicago, disparities exist. School districts with more than half low-income students are much more likely to have students arrested than other schools, and slightly more likely to expel students. 

Though anecdotal, many suburban school officials say that they offer students treatment or education to keep suspensions down or in lieu of suspension altogether.

Just this year, Shepard High School in southwest suburban Palos Heights began contracting with Rosecrance Drug Rehab Center. A Rosecrance therapist comes to Shepard once a week to provide therapy for students who have been caught with drugs or who came to school high or under the influence. 

“We backed off of kicking kids out,” says Carleton Rolland, assistant principal at Shepard. “We want to help the kids. We want to get them on the right track.” If the student continues to show up drunk or high, administrators will encourage their parents to place them in an inpatient or outpatient treatment program, he says.

Rolland says he has never called the police to arrest a student for a drug offense, but he does call police to have them come to impound the drugs.

At Stevenson High School in the well-to-do suburb of Lincolnshire, the school district has a policy in place to handle drug use and possession, but it is “not a sweeping blanket approach,” says the school’s spokesman. The Stevenson guidebook says that officials may refer students to the school resource officer, the title that many suburbs use for the police officer stationed at their school.  It also says that school officials may suspend students or recommend them for expulsion.

But to lessen the punishment, students can agree to go to a program run by Omni Youth Services twice a week for about eight weeks. Cristina Cortesi, Stevenson’s first-ever substance abuse prevention coordinator, says the educational program, called Seven Challenges, aims to get students to think critically about their decisions.

In the past, a second offense could result in expulsion. But Cortesi, who was hired this year, says they are piloting a program in which second-time offenders are referred to a more intensive 12-week program, which can either be inpatient or outpatient. 

After completion of the program, school officials consider whether an expulsion is necessary, she says.

Cortesi also runs multiple voluntary support groups for students who are thinking about their drug use or who are currently enrolled in or have completed a treatment program. 

At Stevenson, every student with a first offense agreed to participate in the Omni program, Cortesi says. However, she reports that at another high school where she previously worked, some students would rather take a long suspension instead.

“That is frustrating,” she says. “We’re limited in the scope of what we can do at that point, other than enforce school discipline policy.”

She says that if students continue to get in trouble with drugs, they are told they will be expelled. “But at that point, consequences are not going to make the difference,” she says. “Treatment makes the difference.”

Gun and drug offenses are now the only two categories of offenses that require police notification under the new CPS Student Code of Conduct. Some suburban school districts leave it up to administrators, saying that police “may” be notified. 

Mathilda de Dios, an outreach worker for Northwestern University’s Children and Family Justice Center, says she would like to see student arrests for marijuana offenses become a non-option. “In a city willing to ticket adults, we have a double standard,” she says. “There is no reason why we should hold youth more accountable.”

It’s more important, she points out, for schools to address substance abuse problems with help.

Up until now, the only way a CPS student could be referred to the district’s discipline intervention program is to go through an expulsion hearing. The new code of conduct allows principals to ask for a referral directly.

Joel Rodriguez, an education organizer for the Southwest Organizing Project, says the option is a positive change. But the intervention program, called SMART, takes place on Saturdays at a downtown location and often students must wait for weeks to get admitted. 

Despite the code of conduct’s shift in policy, a critical missing piece remains, according to Rodriguez and other activists: Lack of money for social-emotional programs to help students deal with problems such as substance abuse. 

Some schools, on their own, develop relationships with outside organizations and then make their own stipulations for students. Farragut High School’s dean of discipline, Francisco Torres, says his school this year developed a relationship with a local health center that operates a counseling program for students. He referred 10 students to the program in lieu of suspending them. 

The end result: Only four students were suspended in 2014 for possession or sale of drugs, down from 17 in 2013, according to the state’s School Incident Reporting System.

Torres says that students don’t think that using marijuana is a problem. But from his point of view, drug use and gang activity are intertwined. “If we can stop them from using drugs, we can also stop them from gang-banging,” he says.

Other schools rely on parents. Lincoln Park High School reported 68 drug-related incidents in 2013 and 39 in 2014, according to the Reporting System. Of those, 56 were for drug use, 51 were for possession and selling. Most of the students who had drugs were suspended. But in 20 percent of the cases, 23 overall, school officials checked off the “other” box.

Dean Donovan Robinson says that in recent years, fewer students have been caught coming to school high on drugs or with drugs on them. 

“We can sit down and talk to them and get their parents on the phone,” says Robinson, who gives the confiscated drugs to police and throws paraphernalia in the garbage. 

Cecilia Farfan, assistant principal at World Language High School, says that students must be arrested if they are found in possession of drugs. But that doesn’t happen often; last school year, Farfan says, the school had only one drug possession case. The student brought three or four baggies of marijuana to school and was charged with possession with intent to distribute. 

“We were surprised it was him. He comes from an extremely good family,” Farfan says. 

She says she has had students suspected of being high or drunk. But it is tricky. “Sometimes we call the parent and tell them to pick the student up for a day because it is a liability.”

The school does not have money for prevention programs or for counseling, whether for substance abuse or other issues. Counselors try to help students who seem to have problems, but mostly by referring them to outside resources. 

“We have to concentrate on academics, test scores, reading, ACT preparation,” Farfan says. “Drug counseling and prevention is not something we spend money on.”

Rick Velasquez, executive director of Youth Outreach Services, says that he definitely sees a difference in how drug use in schools is viewed and handled in CPS versus the suburbs. Youth Outreach Services, which has a contract with Cook County to provide juvenile diversion programs in Chicago and throughout the suburbs, serves a mix of wealthy and poorer suburbs as well as the city. 

“Suburbs are more likely to take the health perspective,” he says. “They also are concerned about liability.” 

Velasquez says that at one point, his organization was hired to do programs in CPS, but that work has fallen by the wayside.

“The schools are so focused on performance and test-taking that they don’t look at the whole child,” he says. “They don’t look at them holistically.”

Tell us what you think. Leave a comment below, or email karp@catalyst-chicago.org.

 

Drug policy should focus on teaching, not punishment

July 28, 2014 - 12:00am

Jesus Velazquez got caught at school with a marijuana pipe in his backpack. What happened next is exactly what shouldn’t take place if a school district’s goal—or, from a larger perspective, a community’s goal—is to get kids who make dumb mistakes back on track. 

Jesus was suspended for 10 days. While out of school, he got behind in his classes and struggled to catch up when he returned. Nine months later, Jesus got an unexpected letter stating that he had to show up for an expulsion hearing. He accepted an offer to go to a diversion program instead of being expelled, but it took three months for him to land a spot. Jesus ended up failing most of his sophomore classes and is now facing a fifth year in high school. 

Obviously, schools cannot let students carry around drug paraphernalia or drugs without taking some swift action. Teenagers must be steered quickly away from substance abuse, even in this day and age, when recreational use of pot is legal in two states and being caught with an ounce or less warrants only a ticket and a fine in more than a dozen states. Even Jesus, who told his story to Deputy Editor Sarah Karp for this issue of Catalyst In Depth, admits that he was wrong. But no one was hurt in the incident. Jesus wasn’t accused of selling drugs. He didn’t have a gun or other weapon. Take him at his word that he is basically a good kid and was shocked to be threatened with expulsion months after the fact.

Surely this was a case in which a non-punitive response—mandatory drug education or participation in community service—made better sense. Too many students who have committed non-violent drug offenses end up like Jesus, the target of a heavy-handed approach that kicks them out of school—the very place that, with the right resources, could steer them in the right direction. Most often, students of color are the target. Schools with significant white enrollment, including those in the suburbs, are less likely to expel or arrest students for drug violations. 

We’re not talking about offenses involving heroin or cocaine or meth, hard drugs with more serious health risks than marijuana and that warrant felony charges outside schools. The majority of these incidents involve 30 grams (about an ounce) or less of marijuana. 

Under a 2012 Chicago decriminalization ordinance, Jesus, if he were older, might have gotten only a slap on the wrist. The ordinance allows police to issue tickets and fines to adults carrying small amounts of pot. But harsher penalties are still in place for juveniles: Offenders younger than 17 still face arrest in such cases.

These arrests help fuel the sky-high arrest rate in Chicago Public Schools, which dwarfs the rates for New York City and Los Angeles public schools, even though both districts are far larger. 

It’s appropriate to take a tough stand against drugs with teens. A ticket and a fine aren’t enough. Arrests and expulsions are too much. What’s needed is education and teaching.

One suburban principal put it best: “We backed off of kicking kids out. We want to help the kids. We want to get them on the right track.” 

This issue of Catalyst In Depth was written as part of a project headed by the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. The Social Justice News Nexus at Medill is wrapping up its inaugural fellowship cycle, with reporting fellows—Sarah Karp among them—and Medill graduate students completing reporting projects on drug policy and the impact of drugs on Chicago. Stories will be published on the Social Justice News Nexus website at sjnnchicago.org as well as by the project’s media partners, which include Catalyst and our sister publication, The Chicago Reporter. The stories will be showcased in a multi-media Pop-Up Magazine event scheduled for October.  A new fellowship cycle will also be announced in the fall, focusing on mental health care in the city. That’s a topic Catalyst covered in our award-winning summer 2012 issue of Catalyst In Depth on mental health trauma in schools. You can find the issue on catalyst-chicago.org.

Take 5: Charter admission transparency; new political coalition and career ed

July 27, 2014 - 8:21am

Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday signed into law legislation intended to address some of the common complaints about charter schools, like that they are secretive or that they kick kids out and keep the money. HB3232 requires funding to follow students who transfer to and from charter schools throughout the school year. It also requires charter schools to video tape admission lotteries and turn over the video to the school district. In addition, charter schools will have to submit yearly audits and tax forms to ISBE. What is fascinating is the Illinois Network of Charter School write up of what compromises they won as the bill was being negotiated. For example, the bill originally called for charter schools to give back money only for students who transfer, while the new bill calls for charter schools to also get paid for students they allow to transfer in.

Also, the bill originally called for the school district to run admission lotteries. If this provision had stayed in the bill, it might have opened the door for a centralized admission process for all schools. For a number of years, CPS leaders tried to put in place a centralized admission process that would have included charter schools. In fact, INCS agreed to this in the the 2011 Gates Compact. Currently, the admissions process is centralized for all high schools except charter schools. But charter schools have resisted. Last year, WBEZ reported that because the charter school admission process is not centralized, it is unclear how much demand there is for them.

Meanwhile, the CTU… The Sun Times reports this morning that labor groups, including the Chicago Teachers Union, have formed a new political party, called United Working Families. The new group is not anti-Rahm per se, but might wind up helping CTU President Karen Lewis, should she decide to run. The executive director Kristen Crowell says that the three big issues the group will be addressing are the school closings, high unemployment and violence on the South and West sides.

About that violence… CPS students made the news this weekend in the disturbing way they often do. Sun Times reporter Becky Schlikerman writes a moving account of 11-year-old Shamiya Adams' funeral. Melody School Principal Tiffany Tillman captured the essence of the little girl when she described her as “a beautiful child, a cheerleader, bop queen, peacemaker, respectful to all and most remembered as a best friend,” according to Schlikerman’s article. 

Also, on Monday, the Tribune featured a short piece written by students at Bradwell School of Excellence in South Shore to try to counter the publicity that paints their neighborhood as violent. They write: “We want you to know us. We aren't afraid. We know that man on the corner. He works at the store and gives us free Lemonheads. Those girls jumping rope are Precious, Aniya and Nivia. The people in the suits are people not going to funerals, but to church.”

But being exposed to violence has residual effects. A growing body of research points to the lingering effect of trauma on the lives of children. Research has developed a clear link between trauma, acting out and academic failure. In the Summer 2012 issue of Catalyst in Depth, we reported that CPS leaders understand the effect of trauma but struggle to come up with the resources to provide the type of therapy that has been effective elsewhere.

Turning back time… New Haven Connecticut lengthened the school day for some of the same reasons Mayor Rahm Emanuel did it. Theythought it would be a way to close the achievement gap between their high poverty district and more well off suburbs. They also followed the lead of charter schools, which have long boasted longer school days and years as a way to boost achievement.

But one year later, they abandoned the experiment, reports The Hechinger Report. Why? Students and teachers were exhausted, and the intended results didn’t come to fruition. The principal decided to scrape the longer school day for students in order to give teachers more time to plan and collaborate. Every morning, teachers have an hour before students come in. This is especially interesting given that CPS teachers say that the new extended school day schedule gives them little time to meet and plan together. 


Keeping kids in college… Did you know that Illinois has a 10 year goal of getting 60 percent of adults a two or four year higher education degree or a postsecondary credential of “marketable value,” such as a certificate in welding or commercial truck driving? The Sun-Times reports that earlier this month community college and business leaders met to discuss how they could meet this goal, called the Illinois Public Agenda for College or Career Success. One of the problems is that only 20 percent of those who enroll in community colleges get a credential within three years. But the good news is that more companies are offering to pay for college courses or are creating apprenticeships, according to the article. 

In the winter issue of Catalyst in Depth, we reported that CPS’ Career and Technical Education program has changed focus in the past few years to concentrate more on careers that require college degrees. Yet many believe that more technical training should be available for students. This issue came up in the latest budget debate as it was revealed that Simeon was cancelling its electrician program. Another noteworthy fact: 36 percent of CPS graduates go to community colleges, so the success of community colleges is intrinsically tied to whether CPS students achieve their goals.

Comings and Goings: Price, King, Okezie-Phillips, new principals

July 25, 2014 - 3:03pm

John Price, former chief of schools of Network 4 for Chicago Public Schools, has been named assistant superintendent of schools for Evanston/Skokie Elementary School District 65. No replacement has yet been named.

Tim King, founder and president of Urban Prep Academies, a network of all-male charter high schools in Chicago, has been appointed a commissioner of the Chicago Park District.

Erica Okezie-Phillips, former education program officer at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, has embarked on a new career as an Independent Consultant specializing in International teacher training and Early Childhood Education development. Ozekie-Phillips left the foundation in May.

These interim principals have become contract principals at their schools: Antonio Acevedo, Whittier Elementary; Femi Skanes, Al Raby High School; Adam Stich, Hitch Elementary.

The following have also become principals: LaMonica Clemons Williams, Dett Elementary, formerly acting principal at Haley; Laura LeMone, Von Steuben High School, formerly assistant principal at Juarez High School; Raynell Walls, Drummond Elementary, formerly assistant principal at Volta Elementary; Mary Kay Richardson, Thomas Early Childhood Center, formerly Everett Elementary.

Stop warring over fixed pie of education funding

July 24, 2014 - 5:37pm

This week, the Chicago Board of Education approved a $5.8 billion operating budget for the 2014-2015 school year. With a full year of student-based budgeting underway, this budget represents an effort to stabilize a challenged system and presents an opportunity to prioritize funding in the classroom.

Unfortunately, recent media reports on the subject have led to more confusion about what the budget actually does, particularly in the area of charter public schools and student-based budgeting. 

Several recent reports have characterized the CPS budget as one that invests in charter public schools at the expense of district-run schools. This same line of attack has been parroted by interest groups who have opposed any and all charter public schools, no matter their performance. Despite these attacks, the data reveal that charter public schools do not receive more funding than traditional district schools. Using CPS’ own enrollment projections, charter public schools will educate 14% of CPS students this year. They will do so on 11% of the overall budget. And on the capital side, this disparity is compounded by the fact that charter public school facilities costs continue to outpace facilities funding from CPS, an issue that does not affect traditional district schools.

Funding shift reflects enrollment shift

The related claim that charter public schools will receive more than $40M in “additional” funding has a basis in fact, though it is wildly misleading. Under the proposed budget, net operational funding for charter public schools will increase by a total of $41.6 million in FY15 compared to FY14.  This funding increase is simply due to increased enrollment at charter schools and the start-up funds provided to all new schools, including charter public schools. Enrollment at traditional district schools is projected to decline by 3,907 students, from 316,125 to 312,228. Enrollment at charters and contract schools is projected to increase by 3,416 students, from 57,244 to 60,660. Funding simply reflects this enrollment shift.

Those who oppose giving Chicago families school options frequently mischaracterize this as investing in charter public schools at the expense of district-run schools, but it is simply a rational way of distributing funds. If charter schools had lost students since last year, we certainly would expect their funding to be revised downward to reflect the enrollment shift.   

The idea of money being allocated for students is the core tenet of funding everywhere. It is how the federal government sends funding to states, how the State of Illinois distributes general state aid to districts, and how CPS distributes funding to schools. The alternative is that schools are funded for students they no longer educate, which is preposterous on its face.

In light of the recent controversy surrounding enrollment trends at selective enrollment high schools in Chicago, it is disappointing that some want to limit charter public school options. School choice is not just for affluent parents or for students whose test scores enable them to test into selective schools. Instead, school choice empowers families from all walks of life to find a school that best fits their needs. Charter public schools are also keeping families – and taxpayers – in the city. In fact, without charter growth over the past decade, Chicago’s declining enrollment (and subsequent loss of funding) would be much more severe.

Maximize spending to benefit students

The other misperception is that Chicago’s student-based budgeting (SBB) is causing funding cuts to schools. Most everyone agrees we should maximize spending at the school level so that it reaches individual teachers and students. Last year, CPS began a phase-in of a student-based funding model in which student need drives funding allocation, which is exactly what the model accomplished. Such weighted student funding models have been enacted elsewhere and ensure that funding arrives at the school as real dollars—not as teaching positions, ratios, or staffing norms—that can be spent flexibly.  In this model, accountability is focused more on results and less on inputs, programs, or activities. 

Student-based budgeting is a more fair and effective way to fund schools and the students they serve. It ensures schools do not retain tax dollars for students they no longer educate and that money meant for education follows the student to the school that their family chooses, whether it is a charter school, a contract school, or a district-run school. 

Why should the central office decide, for instance, whether a school on the Southwest Side of Chicago should allocate its funding for a program for English Language Learners or institute double periods of mathematics?  Or whether a school should use its professional development funding on literacy training for teachers or additional tutoring support for students? That choice should be left to decision-makers closest to the students – principals in consultation with teachers.  

Raise funding for all schools

Instead of warring over a fixed pie, education advocates should instead expend their energy to ensure that the State of Illinois invests in public education. Illinois is among the most regressive states in the country in equalizing resources among school districts, especially high-poverty districts, and has been ranked as the single most inequitable state in the country for education funding. We are seeing movement in Springfield to change that and a bill introduced by Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), Senate Bill 16, would ensure a more equitable distribution of state funding to districts. The key will always be money well spent on rational incentives and programs tied to student impact, but we also must change course on our state’s diminishing support for public education.

Andrew Broy is president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.

Take 5: Former CPS official's credentials in question, progressive politics, summer school

July 24, 2014 - 8:54am

Terrance Carter, who went from principal at Barton Elementary School to chief academic officer at Academy for Urban School Leadership, is having trouble getting his contract approved as superintendent of New London School District in Connecticut. At issue is whether he overstated his credentials by claiming he holds a doctorate, not only on his resume, but for years among colleagues in CPS and on professional documents. He is scheduled to get his doctorate from Lesley University on Aug. 25, but previously he listed a PhD on his resume and in professional documents from an unaccredited university in London with a questionable reputation. The Hartford Courant reports that in conversations he seemed to misstate what the degree was for and which university issued it.

2. Bound to happen…  DNAinfo reports that Kenwood’s Academic Center is moving into Canter Middle School, which was being phased out. Kenwood is overcrowded and the two schools are only separated by a parking lot, so logistically it makes sense. But Kenwood’s local school council said they were never presented with the plan, though Ald. Will Burns told CPS Board President David Vitale that it had broad community support. Canter was created to serve seventh and eighth grade students from Hyde Park elementary schools, but it never got the promised resources and neighborhood parents never bought into the school. Slowly, but surely, several schools closed last year are getting repurposed in moves like this.

3. We missed… This Sun-Times story from last week about a progressive movement called the Working Families Party coming to Chicago. The movement, which propelled New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio into office, has already been working in New York; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Jersey City, New Jersey; Oregon; and Seattle. According to the article, the Working Families Party has been working with Grassroots Illinois Action and the groups are looking to run a slate of candidates in upcoming elections. It is not clear if this coincides with the political work that CTU has already been doing. But it seems like the values of the Chicago Teachers Union align with the WFP, and already the head of that group is saying that Karen Lewis, should she run for mayor, is the type of candidate they would like to support.

4. Two-generation learning… A mother’s level of education has a strong impact on children’s school achievement, but few programs aim to increase learning for both moms and kids. Yet a new report  from the Foundation for Child Development says that these “dual-generation” strategies offer great promise for helping kids do better in school and raise families’ economic status. Based on an analysis of 13 economic, education and health indicators, the report found that children whose mothers had a college degree or some college fared far better than children whose mothers didn’t finish high school. That’s not surprising, but the disparities between the two groups are striking. One example: only four percent of families in which the mother had a college degree were living at the official federal poverty level, compared to 53 percent of families in which the mother didn’t have a high school diploma. (The report doesn’t include an analysis based on race or ethnicity, or distinguish between single mothers and those who are married.) Catalyst recently reported on a pilot two-generation program in Evanston.

5. Summer school--at a cost... Nonprofit foundations in California are stepping in to fill a gap left by public school districts that cannot afford to provide summer school--that is, if families have the money to pay, according to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times. Classes in history, Spanish and creative writing are among those offered, at price tags of $600 to $800. Critics say the courses contribute to inequity. Foundations get around a state law that prohibits charging for educational activities by staying independent of the district and leasing space in high schools.

CPS this year scaled back the number of students it serves in summer school, though mandatory summer school is one of the few ways that students are able to go to summer school for free. As every parent in Chicago knows, quality summer programs with an academic component are super-expensive. Another example of how children whose parents have money are at an advantage.

$5.8 billion schools budget gets final stamp of approval

July 23, 2014 - 4:24pm

Criticism from watchdog groups aside, School Board members on Wednesday unanimously approved a $5.8 billion budget while conceding that it was problematic to use a one-time accounting maneuver to erase a deficit.

The Civic Federation and Access Living, two groups that analyze the budget, did not support the budget's approval and slammed the maneuver, which allows the district to include property tax revenue that typically would count for the 2016 fiscal year in 2015 instead. 

Using this maneuver and adding in reserve cash gives CPS about $916 million in one-time money to balance the budget and funnel an additional $250 per student to schools.

Board member Henry Bienen said that he and his colleagues realize that the 2015 budget is a “stop gap budget. …It is being done in the absence of real [funding] reform." Board President David Vitale said the board moved forward because it couldn't justify not using the maneuver and then cutting school budgets, citing the possibility of something happening to change the district's fiscal situation next year. “We all approach it with the interest of our children in mind,” he said.

District leaders and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have been accused of using the maneuver to avoid making difficult financial decisions in an election year.

Chief Financial Officer Ginger Ostro admitted that the maneuver does little to solve the problem long-term, with state funding down and pension payments due after a pension "holiday" expired.

Access Living’s Rod Estvan told the board it should pursue a property tax cap increase.  “This is not a popular issue,” he said, noting his neighbors want to lynch him for bringing it up. “We need to begin to have that discussion.”

Simeon's electrician program and other cuts

Despite the additional money given to schools, speakers at the meeting reiterated complaints about budget cuts. Under student-based budgeting, schools that lose enrollment lose money, and principals and local school councils, instead of district officials, must make decisions about what programs and positions to keep and which to drop. 

One example is the electrician program at Simeon High, reportedly the last electrician program in the city. Chief of Networks Denise Little said it was cut because there was little interest in the program and few students earned credentials, prompting an angry response from Ald. Howard Brookins (21st Ward) and Michael Brunson, Chicago Teachers Union recording secretary. They said that there should be some comprehensive central decision making process when it comes to cutting or putting in place vocational programs.

“These decisions should not be made on the school level,” said Brookins. He noted that Simeon still has two barber classes and that electricians have the potential to earn far more money than barbers.

Brunson added that he believes that the city’s violence is connected to poverty and joblessness, noting that electrician jobs pay well and that getting young people into such jobs could help solve the problem.

Vitale said he plans to ask for a briefing on the district’s career and technical education programs.

Another recurring theme was charter funding vs. funding for traditional schools. Board member Andrea Zopp asked Ostro to explain that money follows students and that much of the issue has to do with enrollment. (Yet charters are getting other increases, in addition to the $250 per student, Catalyst found, with the district's goal of making charter funding equitable with funding to district schools.)

Roberta Salas, whose children attend Murphy Elementary, said that this year’s increase didn’t make up for the money the school lost last year. Enrollment has been stable in the past three years, yet Murphy lost $600,000 last year while receiving only a $150,000 increase this year. She said her school is still struggling to come up for money for fine arts teachers.

“We don’t have money to fund our wonderful and vibrant neighborhood school,” she said.

But INCS executive director Andrew Broy said that it makes complete sense that charter schools, which are getting more students, are also getting more money.

“This is not about disinvesting in one school over the other,” Broy said. “This is not about pitting one school against the other. We think the policy prioritizes parent demand. Student based budgeting puts decision making where it should be."

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