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Take 5: Dyett's future, summer of SUPES, Duncan re-thinks testing

August 25, 2014 - 8:16am

The Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization announced today that CPS officials called some of Dyett’s remaining students last week to encourage them to transfer to another school. During a press conference this morning, KOCO leader Jitu Brown said the move indicates CPS intends to close the school one year earlier than planned and that the students, all seniors, “are now being displaced for the last year of their high school.”

CPS officials confirmed late Monday afternoon that they "have contacted the remaining 21 students [...] to explore their interest in transferring" and said 12 of those students are in the process of transfering out. Though that leaves just nine students, CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the district does not intend to close the school: "If students want to stay at Dyett, they can stay at Dyett."

Since 2011, KOCO activists, students and parents have led a full scale effort to save the school, noting that it is the only neighborhood high school in the area. They came up with a plan called the Bronzeville Global Achievers Village, to align the curriculum of feeder schools with Dyett’s.

In recent months, Brown said, some students at a local alternative school called Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy had told him they were moving into Dyett. But then he said local officials told him that they wanted to keep a neighborhood school there.


2. Rare plaudits… What is ironic is that KOCO planned a press conference Monday for a rare move: applauding the U.S. Department of Education. KOCO and a national coalition of activists called the Journey for Justice Alliance are impressed with a new provision included in the application for federal School Improvement Grants for low-achieving schools.

Until now, the SIG program required one of four drastic actions that the Alliance has fought because they rely on private entities and mass firings: closure; restart, which means closure and re-opening as a charter; turnaround, which entails firing at least half of the staff, including the leadership; or transformation, under which an outside entity comes in to help improve the school and the principal must be relatively new. A fifth provision is being added this year: the “proven whole school reform model.” It will allow schools to keep their staff and adopt a strategy that has been proven to work in other similar schools.

In a press release, Brown, who is national director for Journey for Justice, said: “This is an opportunity for the U.S. Department of Education to begin to right a wrong.” The press conference will be at 11 a.m. Monday at City Hall, 121 N. Lasalle. At least 10 groups in other cities will also be holding actions.

3. Summer of SUPES… Principals, assistant principals and other network leaders have spent a lot of time this summer going to Chicago Executive Leadership Academy professional development, organized by SUPES Academy, according to an e-mail sent to principals and forwarded to Catalyst. The e-mail sent out last week boasts that 56 sessions were held over the summer with more than 600 participants and they are getting better ratings. It also says that 67 administrators have coaches and that they have “touched base” more than 2,000 times. The principal who forwarded the e-mail is skeptical, though, especially since the trainings she attended had low attendance that dwindled through the day.

Getting principals to buy into the expensive training has been difficult, especially as they have been struggling with tight budgets. SUPES is the Wilmette-based outfit that last year was given a $20 million, three-year no-bid contract to provide training and individualized coaching to principals and other administrators. The SUPES contract has been met with deep suspicion because Barbara Byrd-Bennett worked for SUPES prior to becoming CPS CEO, and it had contracts with her former school districts. What’s more, principals complained that the training was a waste of time and that their coaches did not have enough experience with urban schools to be helpful.

That the trainings and coaching are led by some current superintendents has also been controversial. These trainers and coaches are paid thousands of dollars, according to sources, though SUPES officials have refused to divulge the exact amounts. Some of the superintendents getting paid by SUPES run school districts that have awarded contracts to SUPES. This revelation has led to a world of trouble for Dallas Dance, the Baltimore County School superintendent. Dance’s consulting work with SUPES led to an ethics complaint. Also, it led to the state prosecutor announcing last week that he was investigating his school board for its contract with Dance, according to the Baltimore Sun.

4. Back to testing… U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is giving states the go ahead to delay for one year using test scores in teacher evaluations, the New York Times reports. But perhaps even bigger news is Duncan’s acknowledgement in his “Back-to School Conversation” blog post that testing has become a problem. “Testing---and test preparation---is taking up too much time,” he writes. Yet he also makes a case for why testing is important. Assessment plays an important role in learning and teaching, especially as it sheds light on students and groups of students who need help, he writes. But Duncan writes that as schools transition to more rigorous standards, called the Common Core Standards, testing is “sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools--oxygen that is needed for a healthy transition to higher standards, improved systems for data, better aligned assessments, teacher professional development, evaluation and support, and more.”

Getting Race to the Top federal grant money was predicated on having a law in place that, among other things, tied test scores to teacher performance evaluations. Forty states, including Illinois, passed such laws. In 2011, Illinois was awarded $42.8 million under the grant program. Catalyst will check with the state board to see if they plan to delay the use of test scores in teacher evaluation. However, CPS has already started the practice with probationary teachers and in the coming year all teachers will be partly evaluated based on test scores.

 

5. Grading private schools … For the parents who can afford it, Chicago Magazine has put together a guide of the area’s private high schools for its September issue. Here’s the story and a useful chart with data on tuition, average financial aid award, admission rates, teacher-student ratios and average ACT scores. The data isn’t perfect, largely because not all schools volunteered information to the magazine, including most schools that are part of the Archdiocese.

But the story does include a lot of interesting facts, including the fact that tuition at independent private schools has gone up by 3 to 5 percent each year since 2010, reaching an average of $19,898 last year. At the same time, enrollment at archdiocesan high schools has fallen during each of the past five years, from 26,333 in 2009–10 to 23,228 last year.



Take 5: Dyett's future, summer of SUPES, Duncan re-thinks testing

August 25, 2014 - 8:16am

The Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization announced this morning that they have been told that Dyett will be closed this year, rather than serve the last 28 seniors. CPS officials have not confirmed the announcement. CPS planned to spend $1.1 million at Dyett, or $41,000 per student, and a school that small can’t offer a range of classes.  

Since 2011, KOCO activists, students and parents have led a full scale effort to save the school, noting that it is the only neighborhood high school in the area. They came up with a plan called the Bronzeville Global Achievers Village, to align the curriculum of feeder schools with Dyett’s.

In recent months, KOCO leader Jitu Brown had said some students at a local alternative school called Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy told him they were moving into Dyett. But then he said local officials told him that they wanted to keep a neighborhood school there.


2. Rare plaudits… What is ironic is that KOCO planned a press conference Monday for a rare move: applauding the U.S. Department of Education. KOCO and a national coalition of activists called the Journey for Justice Alliance are impressed with a new provision included in the application for federal School Improvement Grants for low-achieving schools.

Until now, the SIG program required one of four drastic actions that the Alliance has fought because they rely on private entities and mass firings: closure; restart, which means closure and re-opening as a charter; turnaround, which entails firing at least half of the staff, including the leadership; or transformation, under which an outside entity comes in to help improve the school and the principal must be relatively new. A fifth provision is being added this year: the “proven whole school reform model.” It will allow schools to keep their staff and adopt a strategy that has been proven to work in other similar schools.

In a press release, Brown, who is national director for Journey for Justice, said: “This is an opportunity for the U.S. Department of Education to begin to right a wrong.” The press conference will be at 11 a.m. Monday at City Hall, 121 N. Lasalle. At least 10 groups in other cities will also be holding actions.

3. Summer of SUPES… Principals, assistant principals and other network leaders have spent a lot of time this summer going to Chicago Executive Leadership Academy professional development, organized by SUPES Academy, according to an e-mail sent to principals and forwarded to Catalyst. The e-mail sent out last week boasts that 56 sessions were held over the summer with more than 600 participants and they are getting better ratings. It also says that 67 administrators have coaches and that they have “touched base” more than 2,000 times. The principal who forwarded the e-mail is skeptical, though, especially since the trainings she attended had low attendance that dwindled through the day.

Getting principals to buy into the expensive training has been difficult, especially as they have struggling with tight budgets. SUPES is the Wilmette-based outfit that last year was given a $20 million, three-year no-bid contract to provide training and individualized coaching to principals and other administrators. The SUPES contract has been met with deep suspicion because Barbara Byrd-Bennett worked for SUPES prior to becoming CPS CEO and they had contracts with her former school districts. What’s more, principals complained that the training was a waste of time and that their coaches did not have enough experience with urban schools to be helpful.

That the trainings and coaching are led by some current superintendents has also been controversial. These trainers and coaches are paid thousands of dollars, according to sources, though SUPES officials have refused to divulge the exact amounts. Some of the superintendents getting paid by SUPES run school districts that have awarded contracts to SUPES. This revelation has led to a world of trouble for Dallas Dance, the Baltimore County School superintendent. Dance’s consulting work with SUPES led to an ethics complaint. Also, it led to the state prosecutor announcing last week that he was investigating his school board for its contract with Dance, according to the Baltimore Sun.

4. Back to testing… U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is giving states go ahead to delay for one year using test scores in teacher evaluations, the New York Times reports. But perhaps even bigger news is Duncan’s acknowledgement in his “Back-to School Conversation” blog post that testing has become a problem. “Testing---and test preparation---is taking up too much time,” he writes. Yet he also makes a case for why testing is important. Assessment plays an important role in learning and teaching, especially as it sheds light on students and groups of students who need help, he writes. But Duncan writes that as schools transition to more rigorous standards, called the Common Core Standards, testing is “sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools--oxygen that is needed for a healthy transition to higher standards, improved systems for data, better aligned assessments, teacher professional development, evaluation and support, and more.”

Getting Race to the Top federal grant money was predicated on having a law in place that, among other things, tied test scores to teacher performance evaluations. Forty states, including Illinois, passed such laws. In 2011, Illinois was awarded $42.8 million under the grant program. Catalyst will check with the state board to see if they plan to delay the use of test scores in teacher evaluation. However, CPS has already started the practice with probationary teachers and in the coming year all teachers will be partly evaluated based on test scores.

 

5. Grading private schools … For the parents who can afford it, Chicago Magazine has put together a guide of the area’s private high schools for its September issue. Here’s the story and a useful chart with data on tuition, average financial aid award, admission rates, teacher-student ratios and average ACT scores. The data isn’t perfect, largely because not all schools volunteered information to the magazine, including most schools that are part of the Archdiocese.

But the story does include a lot of interesting facts, including the fact that tuition at independent private schools has gone up by 3 to 5 percent each year since 2010, reaching an average of $19,898 last year. At the same time, enrollment at archdiocesan high schools has fallen during each of the past five years, from 26,333 in 2009–10 to 23,228 last year.



Keeping Simeon program only a start to improving career education

August 22, 2014 - 1:14pm

Brandon Davenport scored in the top 3.5 percent on the apprenticeship test he took this spring. Takaia Butler recently graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a B.A. in applied sciences. Timothy King was named valedictorian of his high school class, went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from Southern Illinois University and has been accepted to graduate school. Malcolm Zeno and Aaron Moore have just successfully completed their first year of apprenticeship school and are well on their way to good careers as union electricians.

They are all alumni of the electricity program at Simeon Career Academy, and theirs are just a few of its names and faces of hope. These young people, who hail from neighborhoods with some of the highest unemployment rates in the city and state, were trained, mentored and equipped for success in the only remaining electrical shop in the Chicago Public Schools. Last month, a decision was made to terminate this proven school-to-career pipeline and, with it, the hopes and dreams of the dozens of youths enrolled each year in Latisa Kindred’s classes.

As legislators proudly representing the communities Simeon serves, we were moved to raise our voices in opposition to the steady erosion of opportunities for our youth, and we were honored to stand alongside the students, families, advocates and community partners who refused to yield.

We thank Mayor Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett for listening to our concerns and responding appropriately, reinstating this vital program in time for the start of the new school year. And it is with tremendous gratitude and excitement for the future that we recognize Local #134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which has committed to offering jobs to students who complete the three-year program. Local #134, which has long partnered with Simeon and vocational education, will also begin an outreach campaign to make middle school students aware of career opportunities in electricity.

Expand career offerings

Now is not the time to rest. College is more expensive than ever, and America’s total student loan debt has supplanted its credit card debt as the heaviest millstone holding back the next generation from financial freedom. Many students in our public schools are not college-bound but deserve the chance to take pride in a trade, provide for themselves and their families, contribute to economic growth and give back to their communities. It is essential that CPS not only maintain its existing career and technical education programs but expand on them, forging new partnerships and reaching out to students in more effective ways.

We stand ready to continue working with CPS and, most importantly, the extraordinary citizens who cared enough about our youth and neighborhoods to get organized and achieve this victory for Simeon’s students.

State Sen. Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-Chicago 16th), State Sen. Donne E. Trotter (D-Chicago 17th), State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago 31st), State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago 8th)

Keeping Simeon program only a start to improving career education

August 22, 2014 - 1:14pm

Brandon Davenport scored in the top 3.5 percent on the apprenticeship test he took this spring. Takaia Butler recently graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a B.A. in applied sciences. Timothy King was named valedictorian of his high school class, went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from Southern Illinois University and has been accepted to graduate school. Malcolm Zeno and Aaron Moore have just successfully completed their first year of apprenticeship school and are well on their way to good careers as union electricians.

They are all alumni of the electricity program at Simeon Career Academy, and theirs are just a few of its names and faces of hope. These young people, who hail from neighborhoods with some of the highest unemployment rates in the city and state, were trained, mentored and equipped for success in the only remaining electrical shop in the Chicago Public Schools. Last month, a decision was made to terminate this proven school-to-career pipeline and, with it, the hopes and dreams of the dozens of youths enrolled each year in Latisa Kindred’s classes.

As legislators proudly representing the communities Simeon serves, we were moved to raise our voices in opposition to the steady erosion of opportunities for our youth, and we were honored to stand alongside the students, families, advocates and community partners who refused to yield.

We thank Mayor Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett for listening to our concerns and responding appropriately, reinstating this vital program in time for the start of the new school year. And it is with tremendous gratitude and excitement for the future that we recognize Local #134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which has committed to offering jobs to students who complete the three-year program. Local #134, which has long partnered with Simeon and vocational education, will also begin an outreach campaign to make middle school students aware of career opportunities in electricity.

Expand career offerings

Now is not the time to rest. College is more expensive than ever, and America’s total student loan debt has supplanted its credit card debt as the heaviest millstone holding back the next generation from financial freedom. Many students in our public schools are not college-bound but deserve the chance to take pride in a trade, provide for themselves and their families, contribute to economic growth and give back to their communities. It is essential that CPS not only maintain its existing career and technical education programs but expand on them, forging new partnerships and reaching out to students in more effective ways.

We stand ready to continue working with CPS and, most importantly, the extraordinary citizens who cared enough about our youth and neighborhoods to get organized and achieve this victory for Simeon’s students.

State Sen. Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-Chicago 16th), State Sen. Donne E. Trotter (D-Chicago 17th), State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago 31st), State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago 8th)

Concept Charter won’t open in Chatham this fall

August 21, 2014 - 4:26pm

With less than two weeks to go before the start of school, CPS leaders announced Thursday that Concept Charter Schools’ Chatham location will not be opening. The school had 400 elementary school students registered.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett says the only reason for the delay is the building has not met deadlines to be ready for the start of school on Sept. 2. “It is not a safe, viable facility,” she says.

Byrd-Bennett emphasized that the decision had nothing to do with recent news that the FBI raided Concept schools in Illinois and other Midwestern states.  Concept already runs three charter schools in Chicago and will still open a school in South Chicago this fall.

Byrd-Bennett says her staff is now calling each of the parents of the registered students, giving them the news and telling them about the options they have. In addition to neighborhood schools, some charter schools might still have space, she says.

The CEO also says she willing to consider raising a charter school’s enrollment cap if the operator agrees to take in more students. The only elementary charter schools near the Chatham site are the Loomis and Longwood campuses of Chicago International Charter School, at 95th Street and Throop Street.

History of setbacks, controversy

Concept’s Chatham location has seemed tangled in trouble since before it was approved. The original plan was for the location to rent space from politically-connected Rev. Charles Jenkins, who was building the Legacy Project, a megachurch connected to a community center in the area. Once the school was at full capacity, Concept planned to pay the church almost $1 million in rent. 

Then, many of Concept Charter’s campuses were raided. The spokeswoman for the megachurch said leaders wanted to see how the FBI’s issue with Concept was resolved before going forward and allowing the charter school move in. However, Jenkins has had his own personal problems that have aired publicly, and currently the project is on hold.

As a result, Concept’s leaders began looking for a new space and found an old building that once housed a Christian school. On Tuesday evening, CPS held a hearing for the location change and, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Concept brought about 40 parents out to support the new location.

Having an opening delayed so close to the start of the school year is unprecedented. However, including Concept, six of 11 charter schools approved to open in the fall will not do so.  In May, the board granted requests from the operators to push back the start dates of four schools to fall 2015. In addition, the developers of Orange Charter, which was supposed to be an arts-focused elementary school, already said they are not going forward with plans.

Concept Charter won’t open in Chatham this fall

August 21, 2014 - 4:26pm

With less than two weeks to go before the start of school, CPS leaders announced Thursday that Concept Charter Schools’ Chatham location will not be opening. The school had 400 elementary school students registered.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett says the only reason for the delay is the building has not met deadlines to be ready for the start of school on Sept. 2. “It is not a safe, viable facility,” she says.

Byrd-Bennett emphasized that the decision had nothing to do with recent news that the FBI raided Concept schools in Illinois and other Midwestern states.  Concept already runs three charter schools in Chicago and will still open a school in South Chicago this fall.

Byrd-Bennett says her staff is now calling each of the parents of the registered students, giving them the news and telling them about the options they have. In addition to neighborhood schools, some charter schools might still have space, she says.

The CEO also says she willing to consider raising a charter school’s enrollment cap if the operator agrees to take in more students. The only elementary charter schools near the Chatham site are the Loomis and Longwood campuses of Chicago International Charter School, at 95th Street and Throop Street.

History of setbacks, controversy

Concept’s Chatham location has seemed tangled in trouble since before it was approved. The original plan was for the location to rent space from politically-connected Rev. Charles Jenkins, who was building the Legacy Project, a megachurch connected to a community center in the area. Once the school was at full capacity, Concept planned to pay the church almost $1 million in rent. 

Then, many of Concept Charter’s campuses were raided. The spokeswoman for the megachurch said leaders wanted to see how the FBI’s issue with Concept was resolved before going forward and allowing the charter school move in. However, Jenkins has had his own personal problems that have aired publicly, and currently the project is on hold.

As a result, Concept’s leaders began looking for a new space and found an old building that once housed a Christian school. On Tuesday evening, CPS held a hearing for the location change and, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Concept brought about 40 parents out to support the new location.

Having an opening delayed so close to the start of the school year is unprecedented. However, including Concept, six of 11 charter schools approved to open in the fall will not do so.  In May, the board granted requests from the operators to push back the start dates of four schools to fall 2015. In addition, the developers of Orange Charter, which was supposed to be an arts-focused elementary school, already said they are not going forward with plans.

Take 5: Simeon electrician program, Lewis campaign, middle school dropouts

August 21, 2014 - 7:54am

Late Wednesday afternoon CPS announced that Simeon High School’s electricity program will be “reinstated” for the coming school year. In addition, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will offer jobs to students who complete the three-year program.

Teacher Latisa Kindred led the fight for the program, the only one in the district. Ald. Howard Brookins and activist Shoneice Reynolds, along with her son of CNN "Chicagoland" fame, Asean Johnson, joined in the fight. CPS officials said budget cuts and lack of interest were behind the shut-down, though Simeon kept its barber and cosmetology programs.

The cut shed light on the fact that, with student-based budgeting, CPS now allows principals to open and close Career and Technical Education Programs based on how they want to use their budgets and whether they think students are interested. The issue arose at the July board meeting and several members seemed surprised by it, saying they wanted more information about how Career and Technical Education offerings are decided.

2. Getting interesting… It is looking increasingly like CTU President Karen Lewis will jump into the mayoral race. More than 400 of her followers -- mostly teachers in tell-tale red union shirts -- packed the Beverly Woods Banquet Hall on Tuesday to hear her speak about what she'd do if she won. While Lewis hasn't said whether she'd resign from her CTU post, she indicated that she'd ask union members what they think first. In the meantime, she's created a committee to collect campaign contributions, according to the Sun-Times. And the American Federation of Teachers has pledged $1 million to a potential bid.

Lewis didn't have clear answers to some questions during Tuesday's event, but said she'd surround herself with competent people who could help her figure it out. She said she'd like to put more cops on the street but didn't know how she'd pay for them. When asked about the controversial red-light cameras, Lewis said she thinks a serious audit of the program is a good place to start. On schools, Lewis said she'd scrap the "CEO" title and replace it with "superintendent," and would avoid closing charter schools but look into folding them back in with the rest of CPS schools.

The Caucus of Rank and File Educators, which lifted Lewis to power, has always had grander ideas than just working on the teachers’ contract. “One of our primary objectives is to start making proposals for school reform,” said CORE’s Jackson Potter in January of 2010. But Lewis will not be running for mayor of schools. Therefore, it will be interesting to see if she and the activists who back her can develop a solid plan for reforming the city.

3. Small improvement …Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced that attendance was up from the 2012-2013 school year, but movement was less than 1 percent, from 92.5 percent to 93.2 percent. Though used by many school district, the attendance rate, which measures the average percent of days students attend school, has been criticized as misleading. A school could look like it has high attendance, but have cohorts of students who miss weeks, even months of school. The school-level data can be found here

Catalyst reported that chronic absenteeism, which is the percent of students who miss 5 percent or more of the school year, spiked in 2012-2013. While officials say they don’t know why the jump occurred, during that year the district officials announced after a labored process that they were going to close 50-some schools. The biggest jump was at elementary schools. The chronic absenteeism rate went down a bit during the last school year, but is still higher than in 2010-2011, according to Catalyst’s findings. Further, schools that took in students from closed schools didn’t see a decrease in chronic absenteeism in the 2013-2014 school year.

4. Even smaller improvement… Another CPS press release came out this week touting that city students scored the highest on record on the ACT. But it was only a 0.1 scale score increase from 2013. The current CPS ACT average composite score is 18, according to the press release. To be fair, making gains on the ACT is difficult and scores tend to inch up slowly. CPS’ composite ACT scores have gone up every year, except for 2006 and 2009, for the past decade. In 2003, the average composite score was 16.4.

This is the last year in which all high school students in Illinois will take the series of tests, called the PSAE, which culminated in juniors taking the ACT. Next year, Illinois will administer the PARCC, an exam that is supposed to be aligned with the new Common Core standards. However, at the moment, CPS’ accountability rating system for high schools is tied to the PSAE so the district will likely keep giving it.

5. Middle school dropouts… California state education data shows that more than 6,400 students dropped out of middle school in the 2012-2013 school year, according to the Hechinger Report, which is a not-for-profit education news service. The story points out that most of the focus is on high school dropouts and many time statistics don’t even include students who leave 7th or 8th grade and don’t come back. In addition, students often start exhibiting the behavior that leads to dropping out in middle school, though they don’t formally do it until high school.

A 2001 Catalyst article looked at the issue of middle school dropouts. The article found that there were 5,600 middle school students who were unverified transfers. Had they been in high school, they would have been counted as dropouts. Students who exit in middle school are still absent from the main dropout number CPS uses. These days, CPS uses a five-year cohort dropout rate that looks at how many students who start in ninth grade make it to graduation within five years. The figure, however, says nothing about those who never make it to ninth grade.

Oh, and one more thing ... CPS rolled out a new website last night, complete with a new logo designed by students. The content looks to be pretty similar to what was up previously, including some out-of-date information on programs that no longer exist. Still, district officials say it's a more user-friendly site and easier to view on a mobile device.

State delays requirement for teachers of preschool English learners

August 20, 2014 - 2:19pm

The Illinois State Board of Education voted on Wednesday to delay a requirement for preschool teachers to obtain additional qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English.

The decision comes three months after ISBE first put the proposed delay to public comment. The requirement was supposed to kick in on July 1, but now teachers of preschool students who are learning English will have until July 2016 to get endorsed in either bilingual education or English as a Second Language instruction.

ISBE asked for the delay because school districts were simply unable to find enough fully qualified staff for their preschool programs to work with English language learners (ELLs).

“A lot of personnel don’t have that endorsement,” said Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education during Wednesday’s board meeting. “At the very minimum we need these to be adopted to give schools more flexibility [in meeting the requirement].”

Most of the 23 public comments on the proposed rule change agreed with the delay, although many commenters “pointed out that it is cost-prohibitive for currently employed early childhood teachers or bilingual education teachers to complete preparation programs for the endorsement that they lack.”

The board also took a step on Wednesday toward creating a set of standards for the state’s “seal of bi-literacy” for graduating high school students who attain a high level of proficiency in a language other than English. After California and New York, Illinois became the third state in the nation to approve such a program last year.

Starting this fall, districts that opt into the program will certify graduates’ diplomas and transcripts if they attain “intermediate high” proficiency or better on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages assessment.

“This is a great way to support bilingualism and multiculturalism in the state,” Koch explained. “This is starting to see dual language as a valuable thing.”

The proposal now goes to a public comment period before the board takes a final vote.

State delays requirement for teachers of preschool English learners

August 20, 2014 - 2:19pm

The Illinois State Board of Education voted on Wednesday to delay a requirement for preschool teachers to obtain additional qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English.

The decision comes three months after ISBE first put the proposed delay to public comment. The requirement was supposed to kick in on July 1, but now teachers of preschool students who are learning English will have until July 2016 to get endorsed in either bilingual education or English as a Second Language instruction.

ISBE asked for the delay because school districts were simply unable to find enough fully qualified staff for their preschool programs to work with English language learners (ELLs).

“A lot of personnel don’t have that endorsement,” said Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education during Wednesday’s board meeting. “At the very minimum we need these to be adopted to give schools more flexibility [in meeting the requirement].”

Most of the 23 public comments on the proposed rule change agreed with the delay, although many commenters “pointed out that it is cost-prohibitive for currently employed early childhood teachers or bilingual education teachers to complete preparation programs for the endorsement that they lack.”

The board also took a step on Wednesday toward creating a set of standards for the state’s “seal of bi-literacy” for graduating high school students who attain a high level of proficiency in a language other than English. After California and New York, Illinois became the third state in the nation to approve such a program last year.

Starting this fall, districts that opt into the program will certify graduates’ diplomas and transcripts if they attain “intermediate high” proficiency or better on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages assessment.

“This is a great way to support bilingualism and multiculturalism in the state,” Koch explained. “This is starting to see dual language as a valuable thing.”

The proposal now goes to a public comment period before the board takes a final vote.

State delays requirement for teaching preschool English learners

August 20, 2014 - 2:19pm

The Illinois State Board of Education voted on Wednesday to delay a requirement for preschool teachers to obtain additional qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English.

The decision comes three months after ISBE first put the proposed delay to public comment. The requirement was supposed to kick in on July 1, but now teachers of preschool students who are learning English will have until July 2016 to get endorsed in either bilingual education or English as a Second Language instruction.

ISBE asked for the delay because school districts were simply unable to find enough fully qualified staff for their preschool programs to work with English language learners (ELLs).

“A lot of personnel don’t have that endorsement,” said Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education during Wednesday’s board meeting. “At the very minimum we need these to be adopted to give schools more flexibility [in meeting the requirement].”

Most of the 23 public comments on the proposed rule change agreed with the delay, although many commenters “pointed out that it is cost-prohibitive for currently employed early childhood teachers or bilingual education teachers to complete preparation programs for the endorsement that they lack.”

The board also took a step on Wednesday toward creating a set of standards for the state’s “seal of bi-literacy” for graduating high school students who attain a high level of proficiency in a language other than English. After California and New York, Illinois became the third state in the nation to approve such a program last year.

Starting this fall, districts that opt into the program will certify graduates’ diplomas and transcripts if they attain “intermediate high” proficiency or better on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages assessment.

“This is a great way to support bilingualism and multiculturalism in the state,” Koch explained. “This is starting to see dual language as a valuable thing.”

The proposal now goes to a public comment period before the board takes a final vote.

Comings and Goings: Torres

August 19, 2014 - 12:32pm

Jose Torres has been named president of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, succeeding Catherine Veal, who served as interim president after Dr. Glenn W. “Max” McGee retired last summer. Torres is leaving his position of the past 6 years as superintendent of the U-46 Elgin School District.  Previously he was regional superintendent for Area 14 in the Chicago Public Schools, where he oversaw 25 schools with more than 14,000 students.

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

Comings and Goings: Torres

August 19, 2014 - 12:32pm

Jose Torres has been named president of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, succeeding Catherine Veal, who served as interim president after Dr. Glenn W. “Max” McGee retired last summer. Torres is leaving his position of the past 6 years as superintendent of the U-46 Elgin School District.  Previously he was regional superintendent for Area 14 in the Chicago Public Schools, where he oversaw 25 schools with more than 14,000 students.

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

Take 5: Safe Passage expansion, closed, vacant buildings and more on Concept

August 18, 2014 - 7:55am

A meeting of parents and community members about a shooting in North Lawndale spurred CPS officials to finally divulge some information about how they plan to expand the Safe Passage program. In presenting the 2014-15 budget in July, officials said they would expand Safe Passage by $1 million to $10 million, but they did not say where the new routes would be. The Sun-Times now reports that a big part of the expansion will go to schools that received a lot of students from closed schools even though they were not officially designated as so-called welcoming schools. Four of the new schools getting new routes are, indeed, in North Lawndale. They are Penn, Crown, Mason and Lawndale. The other two are Langford in West Englewood and Metcalfe in West Pullman.

The Safe Passage program pays community organizations and churches to hire workers to stand along blocks where children walk to and from school to make sure they are safe. The program was started in 2009 by former CPS CEO Ron Huberman as part of his big safety initiative called Culture of Calm. For the first few year, the routes were only to and from high schools. The Safe Passage program was expanded last year to watch over students as they went from closed schools to new ones. There were no major incidents along the routes last year, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS officials credit the program.

About 60 percent of students from closed schools went to welcoming schools, which recieved extra resources. Parents in North Lawndale spurned welcoming schools more than parents in other communities, especially in the case of Paderewski, whose students were directed to two predominantly Latino schools in Little Village but chose predominantly black schools in North Lawndale instead.

2. About those closed schools… Fox News has a story about the condition of the schools closed last year. One of the big concerns when the closings were announced was that they would leave more eyesores in neighborhoods that already had too many. Also, neighbors worried that they would attract trouble. It seems like these fears are coming  true. King Elementary has become a hang out, Armstrong has broken windows, the playground at Henson is littered with a decaying mattress, and Paderewski was tagged with graffiti. Chief Operating Officer Tom Tyrrell says CPS has a roving group of engineers and custodians checking on the closed buildings.

Meanwhile, The Chicago Tribune weighs in with a story on CPS efforts to unload the schools. At least 57 buildings sit vacant--36 from 2013 closings and 21 of 29 that were put on the market in 2012. The article notes that CPS has asked aldermen to hold meetings to take the pulse of the community, but scheduling those meetings can be difficult. So far, community members have resisted bringing charter or alternative schools into vacant buildings.

DNAinfo has a story about Peabody in gentrifyng West Town.  There are more than 20 bidders for the school, including a tech firm and a developer interested in putting condos in it. However, the community would like to see the building taken over by the Northwestern Settlement House, a 120-year-old social service organization.

3. Also on school closings… The Chicago Students Union, a group that emerged last year in response to the mass school closings, is holding a press conference and protest march on Monday. The students are demanding an elected school board. They are also are working with ChicagoVotes to get students registered to vote.

Students from Whitney Young, Payton and Prosser are among the leaders of the group. In their press release, they say they met with CPS board member Jesse Ruiz to tell him that Prosser students were using 20-year-old books, though $100,000 was left in discretionary funds. They also met with CPS’ official Student Advisory Board to propose a system for students to communicate their concerns to district officials.

Catalyst will be live tweeting the press conference and march. Follow us at @CatalystChicago

4. More on Concept Charter schools… The Chicago Sun Times has a story about the FBI’s investigation into Concept Charter Schools. That’s the charter network whose Chicago and other Midwestern locations were raided earlier this year by the FBI. Concept runs three schools in Chicago and is set to open another two this year. A location change hearing for one of the schools will be held Tuesday evening.

When Concept was raided, its officials said the feds were investigating the federal e-rate program, which helps schools pay for Internet access and computers. The program requires competitive bidding, but, according to records, Concept funneled almost $1 million to three businesses run by men who had previous relationships with Concept. For example, Core Group Inc. got $550,000. Core Group Inc. in Mt. Prospect was started by a founding board member of Concept.

Concept Schools is run by Turkish immigrants and connected to the Turkish Gulen movement. An artcile in the Atlantic argues that the problems with the 120-some charter schools connected to the Turkish Gulen movement in the United States stem from the transparency problems with charter schools in general. (Many have run into issues around how they award contracts and use the public money.)

The Concept schools also have been sharply criticized for spending money to pay the immigration costs to bring Turkish teachers to teach at their schools. The article notes that some of this criticism smacks of xenophobia. The Turkish Gulen movement has been praised for providing schools around the world that focus on academics and not religious ideology--a rare institution in places like Pakistan. Quoting Diane Ravitch, a prominent educaiton researcher who is critical of chartes, the article notes that the charter school movement has fought to keep its books and dealings under cover. “In other words, it isn’t the Gülen movement that makes Gülen charter schools so secretive. It’s the charter school movement itself,” it says.  


5. By now… Most people have taken in the Chicago Tribune poll the gave Mayor Rahm Emanuel dismal ratings on his school performance. It showed that two-thirds of respondents side with the Chicago Teachers Union in how to improve schools and disapprove of Emanuel’s handling of CPS. What’s more, most respondents--poor or rich, black or white--are not keen on the idea of neighborhood schools being stripped of money, while charter schools get more.

The poll is interesting because respondents have a such a negative reaction to Emanuel doing exactly what he said he would do. Read an education questionnaire Emanuel filled out when he was still a candidate. He says he would lengthen the school day and, in response to a question about whether he would close schools, he says that he would take “drastic measures… to ensure our children are getting the education they deserve.” In so many words, he also says he would replicate charter schools that are working.

State preschool gains “erode” to 2005 levels

August 15, 2014 - 11:05am

After years of budget cuts, enrollment in state-funded preschool programs in Illinois has fallen to levels not seen in nearly a decade – before the state rolled out its ambitious Preschool for All initiative, according to a new report by Voices for Illinois Children.

Since 2009, state funding for preschool programs has dropped by more than 25 percent. In the same period, enrollment decreased from an all-time high of 95,000 to 70,000.

“Illinois has been a leader in early childhood education in the past, and after a long period of progress we’ve been watching these gains erode,” said Lisa Christensen Gee, a policy analyst for Voices for Illinois Children and co-author of the report. “We need to ensure that the General Assembly understands the significance and importance of making these investments, both in good and bad economic times.”

While the state kept funding for early childhood program steady for the 2015 fiscal year, it’s unclear how a projected $2 billion decline in income tax revenues set to take place in January would affect these and other programs.

Theresa  Hawley, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Education, said the report reflects the fact there is far greater need for services than there are resources in Illinois.

“I think it is a budget issue,” she said. “We have many people on both sides of the aisle who are committed to early childhood education who understand its importance […].For sure, the governor has expressed his support and understanding that it’s a critical issue.”

While state funds are limited, Hawley’s office has successfully pursued other federal grant opportunities, including millions of dollars in Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants, to expand early childhood education opportunities in the state. She said Illinois will also be preparing an application for a new $250 million preschool development grant competition that was announced earlier this week.

The Voices report, titled “Disparities in Access to Preschool in Illinois,” also uses American Community Survey (ACS) data to analyze enrollment in all kinds of programs -- both public and private. Overall enrollment went up from 49 percent in 2005 to 56 percent in 2008, but has since remained steady at about 54 percent.

However, significant gaps exist between racial groups. About 58 percent of white children and 55 percent of black children attend some sort of preschool, yet only 40 percent of Hispanic children are enrolled. Research has suggested that the lower enrollment rates among Latino children can be partially attributed to income, language barriers and distrust of government programs. In addition, available preschool slots in Latino neighborhoods have simply not kept up with the growth of the population. Hawley said that’s one reason the state has made grants available in recent years to build or expand early childhood facilities in the communities that most need them.

Still, says Martin Torres, policy analyst for the Latino Forum, the state Legislature needs to reexamine its priorities in order to ensure that the highest-need communities are getting the limited resources that are out there.

“Latino children continue to be underrepresented and underserved in the state’s Preschool for All programs,” he said. “We need to look at different policies and solutions to address that disparity, both when resources are available for new slots and when they aren’t.”

The report goes on to note disparities in preschool enrollment based on family income and parental education levels. Children at the poverty level, for example, accounted for 23.4 percent of the population under age 5 but only 18.7 percent of those enrolled in preschool. “The decline in state preschool funding, which has coincided with rising child poverty rates, has exacerbated the situation,” the report notes.

In the City of Chicago, preschool participation rates vary widely, with the highest participation on the more affluent North Side, and the lowest in the Northwest and Southwest sides – both heavily Latino communities. Similarly, some of the communities with the lowest preschool participation rates in Cook County have high concentrations of poverty and Latino children.

Despite the enrollment decline in state-funded programs, preschool-aged children in Illinois are still more likely to be enrolled in some sort of early education program than their counterparts in other states, according to the ACS data. While the Illinois enrollment rate is 54 percent, nationally just 48 percent of children are enrolled in some sort of preschool.

Take 5: UNO making a break; Karen Lewis' loot and preschool information

August 14, 2014 - 10:02am

After this school year, the UNO Charter School Network will no longer be managed by the United Neighborhood Organization, the community organization that started it all, according to The Chicago Tribune. It is unclear what this will mean for the beleaguered charter school network, which runs 16 schools, mostly in Latino neighborhoods across Chicago. UNO and its charter school network have been embroiled in scandals over the past few years, with accusations of engaging in improper financial deals -- the organization recently settled an SEC investigation by agreeing to have an outside monitor.

The relationship between the charter school network and the community organization and the money that flowed between them has been questionable. Technically, the network was separate from the community organization, but the two shared the same CEO, Juan Rangel, and some of the same board members. Between 2009 and 2012, the network paid the parent organization $17 million, though it was unclear what the parent organization did for the network, according Chicago Magazine. Typically, charter school management companies take care of things like payroll and maintenance. In Spring of 2013, the charter school network’s board was overhauled as the group tried to convince the state to continue to provide funding. In a release sent to the Tribune, the UNO Charter School Network said parents and students will not be affected by a change in management.

2. Union salaries… Despite a promise that as the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, she would make no more than the highest paid teacher, Karen Lewis is roping in more than $200,000 a year, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Her Chicago Teachers Union salary of $136,890 is boosted by an additional $64,157 that she gets for being vice president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. Lewis makes the argument that her CTU salary is based on a 12-month, 50-hour work week; whereas teacher salaries are based on a 208-day school year and a 6.5 hour workday, exclusive of lunch. (Under the union contract, some teachers, such as lead teachers, are paid for a slightly longer workday). An IFT spokeswoman says it is typical for the CTU president to hold an officer position in the statewide union and Lewis’ predecessor, Marilyn Stewart, also did. According to the CPS employee roster, the highest-paid CPS teacher is a special education teacher with a doctorate who works at Nancy Jefferson School, which is located inside the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. She is paid $112,756.54 annually.

The issue came up because Lewis says she is considering running for mayor against Rahm Emanuel. (She’ll have to get used to her every step being news.) In related news, Lewis is starting a series of conversations on the state of the city. Her first will be moderated by journalist Walter Jacobson and will be at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 19, at the Beverly Woods Banquet Hall, 11532 S. Western Ave.

3. A little victory…Bronzeville activists are celebrating the word they got last week that the  Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into Mollison Elementary School and Dyett High School. In a complaint filed earlier this year, the activists charged that students’ civil rights were violated when Mollison became overcrowded because of a school closing and when Dyett students were forced to take physical education and art via online courses. The Sun Times quotes an Office of Civil Rights spokeswoman as saying that the announcement of an investigation only means that the department has determined it has jurisdiction and the allegations were filed in a timely manner.

This is just another chapter in the ongoing fight by Bronzeville activists against school closings. The Greater Bronzeville neighborhood has had the most schools closed over the past decade as public housing projects were taken down. Though the activists point to specific problems at Dyett and Mollison, they are generally against the movement to close schools and open new ones, mostly charter schools. What has happened to Dyett is particularly disturbing to them. Once a school seen to be on the upswing, Dyett’s phase out was announced in 2011. Dyett was the area’s last high school open to all students in an attendance boundary; unde the phase out, new students have had to travel to Phillips High School. Dyett is projected to have only 28 seniors next year, according to CPS. As the number of students has dwindled, it has become more difficult for the school to offer basic high school courses.

4. More information, please… Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett recently announced that  last year’s kindergartners had higher reading scores than the previous year’s kindergartners. They credited the improvements to the city’s improved and expanded pre-K programs under the mayor’s signature Ready to Learn! early childhood education initiative. The mayor says his next goal is to offer pre-K to 1,500 additional low-income 4-year-olds next year.

Ready to Learn! was announced in 2012 and didn’t really get off the ground until 2013, which means last year’s kindergartners wouldn’t have been affected by the changes. Also, fewer 4-year-olds were in CPS preschools last year than the previous year. The drop in enrollment was attributed to a new centralized enrollment process, which parents said they had trouble navigating, Catalyst reported. (Catalyst has requested additional data that would paint a clearer picture of the test-score increase.)

5. All charters…. NPR reports on the first day of school this week in New Orleans, the first district in the country to become all charter schools. Test scores are up and Kenneth Campbell, the president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, says that is extraordinary. Schools “were in, in many ways, an academic wasteland prior to Katrina. ... there was no accountability,” he says. About 20 percent of charter schools in New Orleans are rated a D or an F, among the worst schools in the state, according to the NPR report. Physics teacher Davina Allen argues that it is a false system because schools are competing for students.

Only about 14 percent of CPS students attend charter schools currently, but more charters are coming on line. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others no doubt will be watching New Orleans closely.

 

 




CPS principals: The voice you’ve been waiting for

August 12, 2014 - 10:05am

A few months ago, a group of CPS principals began work on what would become the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education (AAPPLE).  AAPPLE—pronounced “apple”—is a member-driven arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA).  Since introducing AAPPLE to school leaders two weeks ago, nearly every CPS principal we’ve talked to told us CPAA is not taking a strong enough stance on behalf of principals and their schools.  They want the organization to stand against policies and practices that are crippling the ability of principals to provide their students with the education they deserve; policies and practices that send throngs of talented principals, assistant principals and even network administrators limping away from the district each year.  

In surveys and conversations, principals voiced concerns about a lack of autonomy and an “endless daily barrage of direct orders, mandates, and deadlines” that hurt students by focusing principal time on activities that have no bearing on improving teaching and learning. In survey responses they protested “overbearing” network chiefs and their staff, whom principals felt were nothing more than “glorified compliance clerks” too busy with central office projects to offer schools any real support (Networks 1 and 11 were often cited as exceptions to this rule).  In addition, CPS passes on the work of understaffed central office departments to principals so that school leaders end up “working for departments that are supposed to work for us.” Principals also voiced strong concerns about CPS’s new budgeting system and its detrimental effects on their ability to provide students with the instructional resources and support they need.

Perhaps the loudest message was that principals and assistant principals wanted CPAA to be a “strong voice” for them and their schools.  They wanted CPAA to be an organization that is “at the table and in the press.” They want an advocate that “publicly vocalizes the many concerns of school leaders,” works to resolve them, and campaigns for effective policies that assist principals in their efforts to facilitate and support student learning.  The following comment is illustrative:

“I have often thought about quitting because I could not see the organization standing up against many of the outrageous backward policies put forth by Central Office Officials and the mayor’s office. CPAA needs to be more vocal.“

The clear message they sent us is that CPAA isn’t doing enough.  Their concerns are legitimate.  Not long ago, I had those same concerns.  In fact AAPPLE got its start when a group of principals went into CPAA and approached President Clarice Berry with these exact issues.  We asked the question, “What is CPAA doing?  What impact is it having?” We learned that CPAA has made significant accomplishments; that--as bad as things have gotten--they would be worse without CPAA’s efforts on behalf of school leaders.  The organization fought battles in the areas of administrator long-term illness policies, state legislation, salary, principal eligibility, and network abuse and harassment of school leaders.  CPAA fought some—but not all—of our battles. It won some and lost others.  Some fell through the cracks, and this must be addressed.  However, it is certain that CPAA was at the table fighting and winning victories for principals and their schools.

None of us knew anything about these accomplishments before that meeting. So we focused our frustrations on what we perceived as CPAA’s lack of communication with its members.  President Berry told us that she puts everything in the bi-montly newsletter.  We said this was not enough and began peppering the president with questions and ideas about how she can communicate better with CPAA members.  One idea that surfaced was for CPAA to send out regular short messages focused on one or two current issues it is working on, in addition to the lengthy bi-monthly newsletter.  Like all of us, she had quite a bit on her plate, and—like CPS does to us—we were asking her to pile even more on it without any additional resources or support.

At that point, I stepped back for a moment and listened to the president respond to our ideas about what she should be doing for principals through CPAA. After a few moments the words, “I’ll do it” came out of my mouth.

“I will do it,” I repeated.

There is a quotation from President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address.  All of us have heard it, but until that moment I had not thought so deeply about its meaning to my own life and work.

“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

With those words, President Kennedy encapsulated the idea that our nation is only as great as the dedication, passion, ideas, and sweat that “we the people” put into it. We must be a citizen-driven nation.

As I listened to the CPAA president respond to our complaints about what the organization hasn’t done, it became obvious that Kennedy’s principle must be put to work in our organization.  CPAA must be a member-driven organization.  It is our work--the work of on-the-ground school leaders--that will make CPAA a powerful force for positive change in our schools.

“I’ll do it.  I’ll write the bi-weekly update,” I said.

“I’ll help,” said another principal.  He continued, “Clarice, just give us a time that we can sit down with you and hammer out the first one.”  Other principals then stepped up to help implement various ideas that had been put on the table, including an idea for a citywide education forum that one principal had been working on with community members and university faculty.  Two principals stepped up to lead the work on a series of surveys and interviews that led to the current inquiry into CPS’s Student Based Budgeting.  Yet another principal stepped up to do the research for a framework for effective education policy—an evidence-based framework for AAPPLE’s policy advocacy work.

President Berry supported every one of those initiatives and even commissioned an official CPAA committee to help implement them.  We decided to focus our work on policies that affect our ability to provide our students with the instruction, learning climate, and resources they need and deserve (e.g., budget, autonomy, school closings, REACH, custodial privatization [Aramark], testing, etc.).  We gave the committee the name, “Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education” (AAPPLE) and moved forward with its work.

 We talked to—and surveyed—scores of principals and we believe their concerns about CPAA’s power to counter negative district policies and practices are legitimate. CPAA lost some of its strength over the years and there is certainly more it can do to advocate for principals as well as put principals in a position to advocate effectively for their schools, their students, and for each other.  However, in order to make that happen we must realize the depth of President Kennedy’s words.  More importantly we must come face-to-face with the truth of a statement our current President made famous:

 “We are the people we’ve been waiting for.”

 Troy Anthony LaRaviere is the principal of Blaine Elementary School, a parent at Kellogg Elementary School, chairperson of the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education and president of Auxiliary II - Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

CPS Principals: The Voice You’ve Been Waiting For

August 12, 2014 - 10:05am

A few months ago, a group of CPS principals began work on what would become the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education (AAPPLE).  AAPPLE—pronounced “apple”—is a member-driven arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA).  Since introducing AAPPLE to school leaders two weeks ago, nearly every CPS principal we’ve talked to told us CPAA is not taking a strong enough stance on behalf of principals and their schools.  They want the organization to stand against policies and practices that are crippling the ability of principals to provide their students with the education they deserve; policies and practices that send throngs of talented principals, assistant principals and even network administrators limping away from the district each year.  

In surveys and conversations, principals voiced concerns about a lack of autonomy and an “endless daily barrage of direct orders, mandates, and deadlines” that hurt students by focusing principal time on activities that have no bearing on improving teaching and learning. In survey responses they protested “overbearing” network chiefs and their staff, whom principals felt were nothing more than “glorified compliance clerks” too busy with central office projects to offer schools any real support (Networks 1 and 11 were often cited as exceptions to this rule).  In addition, CPS passes on the work of understaffed central office departments to principals so that school leaders end up “working for departments that are supposed to work for us.” Principals also voiced strong concerns about CPS’s new budgeting system and its detrimental effects on their ability to provide students with the instructional resources and support they need.

Perhaps the loudest message was that principals and assistant principals wanted CPAA to be a “strong voice” for them and their schools.  They wanted CPAA to be an organization that is “at the table and in the press.” They want an advocate that “publicly vocalizes the many concerns of school leaders,” works to resolve them, and campaigns for effective policies that assist principals in their efforts to facilitate and support student learning.  The following comment is illustrative:

“I have often thought about quitting because I could not see the organization standing up against many of the outrageous backward policies put forth by Central Office Officials and the mayor’s office. CPAA needs to be more vocal.“

The clear message they sent us is that CPAA isn’t doing enough.  Their concerns are legitimate.  Not long ago, I had those same concerns.  In fact AAPPLE got its start when a group of principals went into CPAA and approached President Clarice Berry with these exact issues.  We asked the question, “What is CPAA doing?  What impact is it having?” We learned that CPAA has made significant accomplishments; that--as bad as things have gotten--they would be worse without CPAA’s efforts on behalf of school leaders.  The organization fought battles in the areas of administrator long-term illness policies, state legislation, salary, principal eligibility, and network abuse and harassment of school leaders.  CPAA fought some—but not all—of our battles. It won some and lost others.  Some fell through the cracks, and this must be addressed.  However, it is certain that CPAA was at the table fighting and winning victories for principals and their schools.

None of us knew anything about these accomplishments before that meeting. So we focused our frustrations on what we perceived as CPAA’s lack of communication with its members.  President Berry told us that she puts everything in the bi-montly newsletter.  We said this was not enough and began peppering the president with questions and ideas about how she can communicate better with CPAA members.  One idea that surfaced was for CPAA to send out regular short messages focused on one or two current issues it is working on, in addition to the lengthy bi-monthly newsletter.  Like all of us, she had quite a bit on her plate, and—like CPS does to us—we were asking her to pile even more on it without any additional resources or support.

At that point, I stepped back for a moment and listened to the president respond to our ideas about what she should be doing for principals through CPAA. After a few moments the words, “I’ll do it” came out of my mouth.

“I will do it,” I repeated.

There is a quotation from President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address.  All of us have heard it, but until that moment I had not thought so deeply about its meaning to my own life and work.

“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

With those words, President Kennedy encapsulated the idea that our nation is only as great as the dedication, passion, ideas, and sweat that “we the people” put into it. We must be a citizen-driven nation.

As I listened to the CPAA president respond to our complaints about what the organization hasn’t done, it became obvious that Kennedy’s principle must be put to work in our organization.  CPAA must be a member-driven organization.  It is our work--the work of on-the-ground school leaders--that will make CPAA a powerful force for positive change in our schools.

“I’ll do it.  I’ll write the bi-weekly update,” I said.

“I’ll help,” said another principal.  He continued, “Clarice, just give us a time that we can sit down with you and hammer out the first one.”  Other principals then stepped up to help implement various ideas that had been put on the table, including an idea for a citywide education forum that one principal had been working on with community members and university faculty.  Two principals stepped up to lead the work on a series of surveys and interviews that led to the current inquiry into CPS’s Student Based Budgeting.  Yet another principal stepped up to do the research for a framework for effective education policy—an evidence-based framework for AAPPLE’s policy advocacy work.

President Berry supported every one of those initiatives and even commissioned an official CPAA committee to help implement them.  We decided to focus our work on policies that affect our ability to provide our students with the instruction, learning climate, and resources they need and deserve (e.g., budget, autonomy, school closings, REACH, custodial privatization [Aramark], testing, etc.).  We gave the committee the name, “Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education” (AAPPLE) and moved forward with its work.

 We talked to—and surveyed—scores of principals and we believe their concerns about CPAA’s power to counter negative district policies and practices are legitimate. CPAA lost some of its strength over the years and there is certainly more it can do to advocate for principals as well as put principals in a position to advocate effectively for their schools, their students, and for each other.  However, in order to make that happen we must realize the depth of President Kennedy’s words.  More importantly we must come face-to-face with the truth of a statement our current President made famous:

 “We are the people we’ve been waiting for.”

 Troy Anthony LaRaviere is the principal of Blaine Elementary School, a parent at Kellogg Elementary School, chairperson of the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education and president of Auxiliary II - Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

Take 5: Concept Schools Chatham location, healthy food and standardized testing

August 11, 2014 - 8:46am

Concept Schools just can’t catch a break. The Chicago Sun Times reports that the building they are trying to rent for their Chatham location is being foreclosed on by the bank run by CPS board president David Vitale.

Originally, Concept planned to rent space from a megachurch being built by the Rev. Charles Jenkins, pastor of Missionary Fellowship Baptist Church in Bronzeville and a close ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Concept had agreed to pay the church $528,000 in rent annually. Then, after the FBI raided its charter school locations in Illinois and other places, church leaders said they weren’t so sure that they wanted to rent to Concept.

But Concept leaders say they already have students signed up for the new school, set to open this Fall. They then announced they were eyeing a location at 9130 S. Vincennes, an old Christian school building. Concept leaders say they are planning to pay $210,000 to rent the property on a one-year lease, with options to extend the lease for another year or two, according to the Sun-Times. The Sun-Times says the building is in foreclosure proceedings with Urban Partnership Bank of which Vitale is the president. So, according to the Sun Times, Vitale’s bank will benefit from having the building rented. CPS officials and Concept deny Vitale had any knowledge of the connections. Vitale did not comment for the story.

Also, on Saturday, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that Concept hired an Ohio-based public relations firm, Communications Counsel Inc,. that worked for the campaigns of Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and has been a spokesman for gambling interests and electric utilities, according to the newspaper.

2. Healthy snacks… As Catalyst reported in June, for the first time, new federal nutritional standards are being extended to all food sold in schools during the school day, including in vending machines and fundraisers. The Chicago Tribune writes about how suburban schools are approaching these new rules, while pointing out that Illinois has been quick to dole out exceptions to federal nutritional standards. With 36 high schools and nine elementary schools being allowed exceptions, Illinois is one of only four states that together allow more than 21 school districts to bypass the guidelines. CPS’ guidelines for fundraisers are more restrictive than the state's guidelines, allowing only two food fundraisers every year. Considering CPS schools are underfunded compared to some suburbs, it will be interesting to see whether these strict guidelines turn out to be another way city schools are at a disadvantage.

3. Protesting Pearson… As part of the “Public Education, Not Private Profits” campaign, New York union leaders plan to shred standardized tests in Albany Monday night to protest the dominance of textbook and test publisher Pearson, which develops tests for students and teachers. Last year, a television station in New York did an investigation into Pearson and found that the London-based company has a lock on administering tests in that state.

Illinois also funnels a lot of money toward Pearson, which created and administered both the standardized tests that the state is phasing out (the ISAT) and those it is putting in thier place (PARCC). Pearson also administers the test and performance assessment required for teacher certification in Illinois. The performance assessment is a new requirement and, earlier this year, some University of Illinois-Chicago students questioned why Pearson was awarded the single-source contract to administer it. They said they would rather have university professors grade them.

4. Speaking of testing … Jury selection begins today in one of the nation’s biggest school cheating scandals. Twelve former educators are on trial in Atlanta in connection with a 2011 state investigation that accused them of conspiracy to alter students’ standardized test scores to make it seem as though the students were meeting academic benchmarks.

The case raised questions nationally about what role standardized tests should play in education reform. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, “the pain has been felt particularly keenly among African-Americans, who make up 54 percent of Atlanta’s population,” the New York Times reports. “It is largely black educators who have been accused, and largely black students who have been harmed by bogus evaluations of their educational progress.” In a recent essay, the New Yorker magazine profiled one middle school caught in the investigation.

Such scandals have added fuel to campaigns in Chicago and elsewhere against high-stakes testing. Earlier this year, a group of teachers at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy and Drummond Montessori refused to administer the   standardized test the state is phasing out.

5. Libraries matter… The Atlantic Education channel has a moving video chronicling a day in the life of New York City libraries. The first image is a video of people lined up outside the library in the morning. Among the stories told are a shut-in who calls into a book club, a young mother using library computers to look for a job and a little boy who goes to the library for a quiet place to do his homework after school. Also, there are stories of immigrants who go to the library to learn English.

The video ends with the statement that the hours at the New York libraries have been cut and only eight are open on Sundays. Sound familiar? As you will remember, in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shortened the number of hours libraries are open.  He did this to save $11 million to help make up a budget deficit. These days only four Chicago libraries are open on Sunday and less than half have any hours beyond 6 p.m.

Take 5: Concept Schools Chatham location, healthy food and standardized testing

August 11, 2014 - 8:46am

Concept Schools just can’t catch a break. The Chicago Sun Times reports that the building they are trying to rent for their Chatham location is being foreclosed on by the bank run by CPS board president David Vitale.

Originally, Concept planned to rent space from a megachurch being built by the Rev. Charles Jenkins, pastor of Missionary Fellowship Baptist Church in Bronzeville and a close ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Concept had agreed to pay the church $528,000 in rent annually. Then, after the FBI raided its charter school locations in Illinois and other places, church leaders said they weren’t so sure that they wanted to rent to Concept.

But Concept leaders say they already have students signed up for the new school, set to open this Fall. They then announced they were eyeing a location at 9130 S. Vincennes, an old Christian school building. Concept leaders say they are planning to pay $210,000 to rent the property on a one-year lease, with options to extend the lease for another year or two, according to the Sun-Times. The Sun-Times says the building is in foreclosure proceedings with Urban Partnership Bank of which Vitale is the president. So, according to the Sun Times, Vitale’s bank will benefit from having the building rented. CPS officials and Concept deny Vitale had any knowledge of the connections. Vitale did not comment for the story.

Also, on Saturday, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that Concept hired an Ohio-based public relations firm, Communications Counsel Inc,. that worked for the campaigns of Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and has been a spokesman for gambling interests and electric utilities, according to the newspaper.

2. Healthy snacks… As Catalyst reported in June, for the first time, new federal nutritional standards are being extended to all food sold in schools during the school day, including in vending machines and fundraisers. The Chicago Tribune writes about how suburban schools are approaching these new rules, while pointing out that Illinois has been quick to dole out exceptions to federal nutritional standards. With 36 high schools and nine elementary schools being allowed exceptions, Illinois is one of only four states that together allow more than 21 school districts to bypass the guidelines. CPS’ guidelines for fundraisers are more restrictive than the state's guidelines, allowing only two food fundraisers every year. Considering CPS schools are underfunded compared to some suburbs, it will be interesting to see whether these strict guidelines turn out to be another way city schools are at a disadvantage.

3. Protesting Pearson… As part of the “Public Education, Not Private Profits” campaign, New York union leaders plan to shredd standardized tests in Albany Monday night to protest the dominance of textbook and test publisher Pearson, which develops tests for students and teachers. Last year, a television station in New York did an investigation into Pearson and found that the London-based company has a lock on administering tests in that state.

Illinois also funnels a lot of money toward Pearson, which created and administered boththe standardized tests that the state is phasing out (the ISAT) and those it is putting in its place (PARCC). Pearson also administers the test and performance assessment required for teacher certification in Illinois. The performance assessment is a new requirement and, earlier this year, some University of Illinois-Chicago students questioned why Pearson was awarded the single source contract to administer it. They said they would rather have university professors grade them.

4. Speaking of testing … Jury selection begins today in one of the nation’s biggest school cheating scandals. Twelve former educators are on trial in Atlanta in connection with a 2011 state investigation that accused them of conspiracy to alter students’ standardized test scores to make it seem as though the students were meeting academic benchmarks.

The case raised questions natinally about what role standardized tests should play in education reform. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, “the pain has been felt particularly keenly among African-Americans, who make up 54 percent of Atlanta’s population,” the New York Times reports. “It is largely black educators who have been accused, and largely black students who have been harmed by bogus evaluations of their educational progress.” In a recent essay, the New Yorker magazine recently profiled one middle school caught in the investigation.

Such scandals have added fuel to campaigns in Chicago and elsewhere against high-stakes testing. Earlier this year, a group of teachers at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy and Drummond Montessori refused to administer the   standardized test the state is phasing out.

5. Libraries matter… The Atlantic Education channel has a moving video chronicling a day in the life of New York City libraries. The first image is a video of people lined up outside the library in the morning. Among the stories told are a shut-in who calls into a book club, a young mother using library computers to look for a job and a little boy who goes to the library for a quiet place to do his homework after school. Also, there are stories of immigrants who go to the library to learn English.

The video ends with the statement that the hours at the New York libraries have been cut and only eight are open on Sundays. Sound familiar? As you will remember, in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shortened the number of hours libraries are open.  He did this to save $11 million to help make up a budget deficit. These days only four Chicago libraries are open on Sunday and less than half have any hours beyond 6 p.m.

Comings and Goings: Lyons

August 8, 2014 - 11:30am

Matt Lyons, deputy chief in the Office of Strategic School Support Services (OS4) at CPS, is joining the Chicago Public Education Fund as chief operating officer. He is stepping into the post that Arnaldo Rivera left to become deputy chief of staff for education for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Lyons holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from The Broad Center and a master’s degree in urban education policy from Brown University.

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

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