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In the News: Gresham principal locked out

May 22, 2014 - 9:40pm

At a Local School Council meeting this week at Walter Gresham Elementary School Principal Diedrus Brown told parents Chicago Public Schools officials changed the door locks and did not give her keys. (DNAInfo)

FUNDING TO FOLLOW STUDENTS: State Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-Chicago 16th) secured passage Wednesday of legislation ensuring that when a student transfers from a charter school to a traditional public school — or vice versa — the funding needed to educate the child moves with the child. (Press release)

WAITING FOR ANSWERS: Parents and officials at a Bucktown Montessori school failed to pass a budget this week, saying that in order to do so, they need Chicago Public Schools to answer questions about enrollment numbers. (DNAinfo)

IN THE NATION
TABLETS AND OTHER TECHNOLOGY: The rush for schools to buy tablets and other computers comes ahead of a deadline for new online standardized tests, scheduled to be introduced next year in 45 states and the District that signed on to the new national Common Core learning standards. But many advocates for education reform, including U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, see the scaling up of classroom technology as a much bigger opportunity to rethink schools, to untether them from a calendar designed in an agrarian era, a bell schedule that tells students when and where to go, and a teacher in the middle of the classroom who is considered the source of all knowledge. (The Washington Post)

TEXTING A NEW STRATEGY: To keep seniors on track for college and to avoid the "summer melt" that leads some astray after graduation, some educators are texting them reminders and information. (Education Week)

UNSAFE STADIUM: After opening a $60 million high school football stadium in  Allen, Texas, less than two years ago, the facility closed indefinitely because of "extensive cracking...in the concrete of the stadium's concourse." (Education Week)

In the News: Apartments proposed for old CPS headquarters

May 22, 2014 - 6:57am

A Chicago developer has emerged as the buyer of the Chicago Public Schools' former Loop headquarters, with plans to covert the vintage building into apartments. (Crain's)

PRINCIPALLY SPEAKING: Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky looks at Mayor Rahm Emanuel's treatment of Chicago Public Schools principals and that now widely read letter to the editor written by Troy LaRaviere, principal of Blaine Elementary, and the insurrection that may be brewing.

GRESHMAN FIGHT GOES ON: At a Walter Q. Gresham Elementary Local School Council meeting this week, community members, parents and others pledged to keep the fight alive to save the Chicago public school from having its entire staff fired and replaced. (Progress Illinois)

SPRINGFIELD PROPOSES CHANGES: Legislation that would allow schools to opt out of teaching mandatory topics like drivers' education, anti-bullying and black history has received backing from an Illinois Senate Education Committee, according to the Sun-Times.

IN THE STATE
FIGHT AGAINST CHARTER: Woodland Elementary District 50's board president says potential financial gain will outweigh legal bills from a lawsuit challenging a state agency's recent decision allowing Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake to stay open for another five years. (Daily Herald)

IN THE NATION
UNDERSTANDING SCHOOL PROGRESS: Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature made numerous changes to the state's public school evaluation system and should make it easier for parents to see how their children's schools and districts are doing compared to others in Florida, experts say. New standardized tests will align with the education standards known as the Common Core. (Associated Press)

A COURT RULING'S LEGACY: As the nation recognized last week the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Education Week asked teachers across the nation to weigh in on the landmark ruling that declared segregated schools unconstitutional. " How can it be that segregated schools were a reality 15 years ago—and remain a reality 60 years after the Brown decision?," one teacher writes.

In the News: Apartments proposed for old CPS headquarters

May 22, 2014 - 6:57am

A Chicago developer has emerged as the buyer of the Chicago Public Schools' former Loop headquarters, with plans to covert the vintage building into apartments. (Crain's)

PRINCIPALLY SPEAKING: Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky looks at Mayor Rahm Emanuel's treatment of Chicago Public Schools principals and that now widely read letter to the editor written by Troy LaRaviere, principal of Blaine Elementary, and the insurrection that may be brewing.

GRESHMAN FIGHT GOES ON: At a Walter Q. Gresham Elementary Local School Council meeting this week, community members, parents and others pledged to keep the fight alive to save the Chicago public school from having its entire staff fired and replaced. (Progress Illinois)

SPRINGFIELD PROPOSES CHANGES: Legislation that would allow schools to opt out of teaching mandatory topics like drivers' education, anti-bullying and black history has received backing from an Illinois Senate Education Committee, according to the Sun-Times.

IN THE STATE
FIGHT AGAINST CHARTER: Woodland Elementary District 50's board president says potential financial gain will outweigh legal bills from a lawsuit challenging a state agency's recent decision allowing Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake to stay open for another five years. (Daily Herald)

IN THE NATION
UNDERSTANDING SCHOOL PROGRESS: Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature made numerous changes to the state's public school evaluation system and should make it easier for parents to see how their children's schools and districts are doing compared to others in Florida, experts say. New standardized tests will align with the education standards known as the Common Core. (Associated Press)

A COURT RULING'S LEGACY: As the nation recognized last week the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Education Week asked teachers across the nation to weigh in on the landmark ruling that declared segregated schools unconstitutional. " How can it be that segregated schools were a reality 15 years ago—and remain a reality 60 years after the Brown decision?," one teacher writes.

For the Record: Turnarounds and no-bid contracts

May 21, 2014 - 2:57pm

Concerns about conflicts of interest with the Academy for Urban School Leadership and CPS were raised once again in recent letters to the inspectors general of CPS and the U.S. Department of Education. But one point raised by critics has not been explored much, even though it is central to the question of potential conflicts.

“Why are these [contracts] put out on a no-bid basis?” asked Austin community activist Dwayne Truss at a Monday press conference held in front of the building that houses the regional offices of the U.S. Department of Education. “AUSL has an exclusive, no-bid contract with CPS. Competing organizations are not taken seriously.”

This year, three schools are slated to be turned around, a process that entails firing the entire staff and replacing them. AUSL, which will handle the turnarounds, is a non-profit teacher training program and receives $300,000 in upfront funding as well as an additional $420 a year per student for five years.

AUSL is awarded turnarounds through a “School Management Consulting Agreement.” Such an agreement is unique and CPS officials say they are not legally compelled to put out a Request for Proposals (nor does anything prevent them from seeking multiple proposals).

Board member Jesse Ruiz says CPS “should always critically review all of our contracts… We should always be reviewing alternatives to make sure we provide the best for children and the City of Chicago.”

No way to benefit financially 

According to district officials, AUSL’s big selling point this year was that 13 of the 16 turnarounds that the organization has managed for more than a year posted higher-than-average academic growth. Yet Valerie Leonard, another West Side activist fighting against the turnarounds, notes that many non-turnaround schools have shown similar progress.

Further, under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the ties between CPS and AUSL have become stronger, which may be another good reason to make sure the process of awarding the contract is competitive and fair. Emanuel appointed former top AUSL officials David Vitale as board president and hired Tim Cawley as chief administrative officer.

Hood notes that Vitale and Cawley have no way to financially benefit from the contract.   

The letters also say that board member Carlos Azcoitia might have the most to gain from CPS contracting with AUSL. He is a professor at National-Louis University, a college that trains teachers working in AUSL-managed schools. However, Azcoitia recused himself from the vote to give control of the three schools to AUSL, though he did vote separately in favor of the turnaround in general.

Truss also alleges that campaign contributions from AUSL board members and their partners totaling more than $60,000 might be influencing Emanuel. AUSL has 33 board members that range from a managing director of the Boston Consulting Group to the vice president of personal wealth management at Goldman Sachs.

Not the only group

Though it seems like a given these days, AUSL was not always seen as the preferred turnaround provider.

In 2006, AUSL was one of five vendors given pre-approved status to undertake “new school models.” Three of the vendors, including AUSL, were supposed to do a mix of turnarounds and “new starts,” while two were just to do “new starts.” AUSL was supposed to have 2,000 students in the schools it managed. Today, some 19,000 are in AUSL schools.

The other vendors were charter school operators. None of them ever took over schools. CPS tried in 2008 to get charter operators to handle turnarounds. But the operators were concerned that they couldn’t be successful without the autonomy of being a charter school, and the plans never went through.

The landscape has changed since then. Under the federal School Improvement Grant program, school districts had to find outside partners to work with to improve schools. More groups stepped up and Illinois now has 13 approved vendors.

One of the vendors, Atlantic Research Partners, might be open to doing turnarounds in CPS but has never been given a chance to bid, says Atlantic’s Todd Zoellick, who works with schools elsewhere in Illinois.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood says the district would have to look carefully at other groups that purport to be able to do turnarounds, and that CPS is happy with AUSL’s results.

Though he has been impressed with AUSL’s results at Marquette Elementary, Azcoitia says he would like for CPS to develop its internal capacity to overhaul struggling schools. He notes that with budget constraints, the district’s new Office of Strategic School Support Services, known as OS4, is less expensive than contracting out the service.

OS4, Strategic Learning Initiatives

Rather than firing an entire school staff and starting from scratch, OS4 offers professional development and training for existing employees and oversees school improvement funds at these “reinvestment schools.” It also oversees the implementation of the federal School Improvement Grant program.

Another alternative is Strategic Learning Initiatives, which also works with existing teachers and staff. SLI’s model costs less than $200,000 per year and includes a school leadership team and on-site coaching for teachers and principals.

Last week, parents, faculty and community members from four schools slated for turnaround assembled at AUSL headquarters to ask CPS to approve the SLI School Transformation Process instead. Faculties at Barton, Carter, Dewey and Louis elementary schools have voted overwhelmingly to use SLI instead.

“CPS has already invested in a transformation plan developed by Strategic Learning Initiatives,” said Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, in a press release. “It is highly effective, already proven in CPS schools, and can save an enormous amount of money. We urge CPS to embrace this option.”

John Simmons, president of SLI, says his group wants to work with CPS but would resist doing turnarounds in which the entire staff are to be replaced. Turnarounds are “not a cost effective model for transforming a whole set of schools,” Simmons says.

He notes that across the country few school districts are using the turnaround model and instead are now pursuing the less-drastic transformation model, bringing in outside partners to help a school improve.

For the Record: Turnarounds and no-bid contracts

May 21, 2014 - 2:57pm

Concerns about conflicts of interest with the Academy for Urban School Leadership and CPS were raised once again in recent letters to the inspectors general of CPS and the U.S. Department of Education. But one point raised by critics has not been explored much, even though it is central to the question of potential conflicts.

“Why are these [contracts] put out on a no-bid basis?” asked Austin community activist Dwayne Truss at a Monday press conference held in front of the building that houses the regional offices of the U.S. Department of Education. “AUSL has an exclusive, no-bid contract with CPS. Competing organizations are not taken seriously.”

This year, three schools are slated to be turned around, a process that entails firing the entire staff and replacing them. AUSL, which will handle the turnarounds, is a non-profit teacher training program and receives $300,000 in upfront funding as well as an additional $420 a year per student for five years.

AUSL is awarded turnarounds through a “School Management Consulting Agreement.” Such an agreement is unique and CPS officials say they are not legally compelled to put out a Request for Proposals (nor does anything prevent them from seeking multiple proposals).

Board member Jesse Ruiz says CPS “should always critically review all of our contracts… We should always be reviewing alternatives to make sure we provide the best for children and the City of Chicago.”

No way to benefit financially 

According to district officials, AUSL’s big selling point this year was that 13 of the 16 turnarounds that the organization has managed for more than a year posted higher-than-average academic growth. Yet Valerie Leonard, another West Side activist fighting against the turnarounds, notes that many non-turnaround schools have shown similar progress.

Further, under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the ties between CPS and AUSL have become stronger, which may be another good reason to make sure the process of awarding the contract is competitive and fair. Emanuel appointed former top AUSL officials David Vitale as board president and hired Tim Cawley as chief administrative officer.

Hood notes that Vitale and Cawley have no way to financially benefit from the contract.   

The letters also say that board member Carlos Azcoitia might have the most to gain from CPS contracting with AUSL. He is a professor at National-Louis University, a college that trains teachers working in AUSL-managed schools. However, Azcoitia recused himself from the vote to give control of the three schools to AUSL, though he did vote separately in favor of the turnaround in general.

Truss also alleges that campaign contributions from AUSL board members and their partners totaling more than $60,000 might be influencing Emanuel. AUSL has 33 board members that range from a managing director of the Boston Consulting Group to the vice president of personal wealth management at Goldman Sachs.

Not the only group

Though it seems like a given these days, AUSL was not always seen as the preferred turnaround provider.

In 2006, AUSL was one of five vendors given pre-approved status to undertake “new school models.” Three of the vendors, including AUSL, were supposed to do a mix of turnarounds and “new starts,” while two were just to do “new starts.” AUSL was supposed to have 2,000 students in the schools it managed. Today, some 19,000 are in AUSL schools.

The other vendors were charter school operators. None of them ever took over schools. CPS tried in 2008 to get charter operators to handle turnarounds. But the operators were concerned that they couldn’t be successful without the autonomy of being a charter school, and the plans never went through.

The landscape has changed since then. Under the federal School Improvement Grant program, school districts had to find outside partners to work with to improve schools. More groups stepped up and Illinois now has 13 approved vendors.

One of the vendors, Atlantic Research Partners, might be open to doing turnarounds in CPS but has never been given a chance to bid, says Atlantic’s Todd Zoellick, who works with schools elsewhere in Illinois.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood says the district would have to look carefully at other groups that purport to be able to do turnarounds, and that CPS is happy with AUSL’s results.

Though he has been impressed with AUSL’s results at Marquette Elementary, Azcoitia says he would like for CPS to develop its internal capacity to overhaul struggling schools. He notes that with budget constraints, the district’s new Office of Strategic School Support Services, known as OS4, is less expensive than contracting out the service.

OS4, Strategic Learning Initiatives

Rather than firing an entire school staff and starting from scratch, OS4 offers professional development and training for existing employees and oversees school improvement funds at these “reinvestment schools.” It also oversees the implementation of the federal School Improvement Grant program.

Another alternative is Strategic Learning Initiatives, which also works with existing teachers and staff. SLI’s model costs less than $200,000 per year and includes a school leadership team and on-site coaching for teachers and principals.

Last week, parents, faculty and community members from four schools slated for turnaround assembled at AUSL headquarters to ask CPS to approve the SLI School Transformation Process instead. Faculties at Barton, Carter, Dewey and Louis elementary schools have voted overwhelmingly to use SLI instead.

“CPS has already invested in a transformation plan developed by Strategic Learning Initiatives,” said Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, in a press release. “It is highly effective, already proven in CPS schools, and can save an enormous amount of money. We urge CPS to embrace this option.”

John Simmons, president of SLI, says his group wants to work with CPS but would resist doing turnarounds in which the entire staff are to be replaced. Turnarounds are “not a cost effective model for transforming a whole set of schools,” Simmons says.

He notes that across the country few school districts are using the turnaround model and instead are now pursuing the less-drastic transformation model, bringing in outside partners to help a school improve.

Lessons for Chicago schools from Finland and Mission Hill

May 21, 2014 - 10:29am

Recently, over 400 people attended events in Chicago that were focused on the critical question of what a quality education should look like. Teachers, parents, teacher educators, students and community members came together, to discuss a bold vision for classrooms, schools and larger education systems.

The discussions yielded a wealth of ideas but one strong conclusion: A high-quality education has little resemblance to the “reforms” being carried out in Chicago and elsewhere in the U.S.

As part of a research project, the parent group Raise Your Hand brought in Finnish educator and policy expert Pasi Sahlberg to talk about what the world’s highest-achieving education systems do to reach that success. Raise Your Hand is creating a research-informed framework for parents so they can better understand what education professionals say is important for school improvement, and give them ammunition to better advocate for change.

Sahlberg said that the policies that have currently shaped education in the U.S. are part of a global education reform movement, or GERM, that “behaves like a virus” and in fact, weakens education systems. The main drivers of GERM are a focus on competition, high-stakes testing, standardization, narrow definitions of accountability, choice and privatization, an overemphasis on basic numeracy and literacy as a means to improve test scores, and fast-track teacher programs. Sahlberg, who is well-respected around the world, said no high-performing education systems follow these practices.

Equity and solutions to broader problems

 Instead, excellent systems like Finland’s focus on equity and well-funded schools for all kids. Finland emphasizes teacher collaboration, not competition, and has policies to insure that all teachers are highly qualified and well trained. The public has a strong respect for and trust in the teaching profession.

In his talk, Sahlberg advocated for a rich curriculum that integrates arts throughout each subject and pointed out the necessity of giving children time to play. By law, 15 minutes of every hour of instruction is devoted to recess or a time for students to choose what they want to do.  Every classroom has a piano, and all teachers are trained in at least one musical instrument.

Sahlberg feels the U.S. is obsessed with getting children "ready for school."  In contrast, the focus in Finland is to "get schools ready for children, to meet their needs wherever they're at."  The goal of Finnish schools is to prepare children to be "innovation-ready and ready for life."

It's interesting to note Sahlberg’s point that equality and a sense of social responsibility are important values in Finland and these inform the mission of education. Another point is that Finland has virtually no private schools, and even a university education is free.

Sahlberg argues that we can't discuss education reform without addressing the  broader problems that impact children:  child poverty, income inequality, and lack of access to equal resources.

When Finland decided to reform its education system over 50 years ago, they looked to U.S. education research.  Many teachers in Finland will tell you that their leadership models, teaching methods and assessment practices came from established research.  America has the information and solutions, Sahlberg said, but we have gone in the wrong direction with GERM.

Parents at Raise Your Hand have asked ourselves: how do we know if an educational practice or policy is high quality. We have some beginning answers in this document for parents that can be accessed on our website.

Mission Hill’s mission

Earlier in the week of Sahlberg’s visit, a two-day series of events was held, called Promoting Progressive Democratic Education in an Era of Standardization. The events featured Principal Ayla Gavins and seventh- and eighth-grade teacher Ann Ruggiero of Mission Hill public school in Boston. Mission Hill is an elementary school created and opened over 17 years ago by the progressive educator Deborah Meier.

Many of the educational practices at Mission Hill echo the ideas of Sahlberg. The school has a broad mission: "The task of public education is to help parents raise youngsters who will maintain and nurture the best habits of a democratic society: to be smart, caring, strong, resilient, imaginative and thoughtful."

Based on the vision, Mission Hill’s curriculum is deep and relevant and is meant to foster the academic, intellectual, artistic, social, emotional and civic growth of each student. School -wide themes are woven into social studies, reading, science and the arts. An assessment process that uses multiple measures (observations of students and student work) is ongoing, diagnostic and based on a portfolio approach. Graduation is via a portfolio review. Instruction is child-centered and project-based, using active inquiry that stresses the development of "habits of mind" and "habits of work." 

A central feature of Mission Hill is its professional learning community, in which teachers develop relationships of trust and work together on curricula and planning. These and other approaches contribute to a powerful learning environment for children and adults.

While Mission Hill must comply with district and state-mandated testing, it is part of a group of Boston “pilot schools” and so has considerable autonomy over its budget, staffing, curriculum development and instructional practices.

The educators from Mission Hill spoke at a forum at the College of Education at DePaul University, showed the new film “Good Morning Mission Hill” at Francis Parker School and met separately with a group of teachers and a group of principals to explore how these approaches could be used in their own practice.

Suggestions for deep change

 We brought the Mission Hill educators to Chicago to spark discussion about a student-centered education philosophy. And spark discussion it did!  Most who attended the events were inspired. But questions were raised about the possibility of instituting democratic practices in a non-democratic system. 

Some said that the hopeful vision and child-centered schooling that was offered by Mission Hill felt like another language, far removed from current policies in Chicago. Others grappled with ways to find space - perhaps within the "cracks" of existing mandates, prescriptive policies, testing schedules, and narrow measures of accountability - to enact and grow some of the progressive practices and ideas embodied in the Mission Hill School.

We find that in our conversations with teachers, parents and students, we are all searching for alternatives to today's current "reform" strategies. We were inspired by the discussions that took place recently and by the hunger we saw—hunger to provide children with an educational experience that is grounded in child development theory, informed by expert research, and with a vision of teaching children to be active participants in a democratic society.  We have also noted with great interest the recent call by principals for increased attention to education that is evidence-based and collaborative.

It's an exciting time as parents, teachers, and principals are speaking out about the need for change. We encourage people to learn about Mission Hill, to get Sahlberg's book Finnish Lessons and start conversations with parents at schools and local school council meetings as well as among teachers, sharing their ideas of what a truly high-quality education would look like.

Chicago isn't Finland, and we don't think that with the prevailing mindset, we are going to get Mission Hills in our neighborhood schools anytime soon. These are simply examples, suggestions for deep change, a possible starting point for discussion--much as they were for the over 400 people who gathered in Chicago last month, eager to change the conversation about education policy.

Diane Horwitz is an adjunct instructor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Research at the College of Education, DePaul University and is the coordinator of quarterly education issues forums for the college.

Wendy Katten is a parent of a fifth-grader in CPS and the director of the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education. She worked in social services prior to forming the group.

 

 

Lessons for Chicago schools from Finland and Mission Hill

May 21, 2014 - 10:29am

Recently, over 400 people attended events in Chicago that were focused on the critical question of what a quality education should look like. Teachers, parents, teacher educators, students and community members came together, to discuss a bold vision for classrooms, schools and larger education systems.

The discussions yielded a wealth of ideas but one strong conclusion: A high-quality education has little resemblance to the “reforms” being carried out in Chicago and elsewhere in the U.S.

As part of a research project, the parent group Raise Your Hand brought in Finnish educator and policy expert Pasi Sahlberg to talk about what the world’s highest-achieving education systems do to reach that success. Raise Your Hand is creating a research-informed framework for parents so they can better understand what education professionals say is important for school improvement, and give them ammunition to better advocate for change.

Sahlberg said that the policies that have currently shaped education in the U.S. are part of a global education reform movement, or GERM, that “behaves like a virus” and in fact, weakens education systems. The main drivers of GERM are a focus on competition, high-stakes testing, standardization, narrow definitions of accountability, choice and privatization, an overemphasis on basic numeracy and literacy as a means to improve test scores, and fast-track teacher programs. Sahlberg, who is well-respected around the world, said no high-performing education systems follow these practices.

Equity and solutions to broader problems

 Instead, excellent systems like Finland’s focus on equity and well-funded schools for all kids. Finland emphasizes teacher collaboration, not competition, and has policies to insure that all teachers are highly qualified and well trained. The public has a strong respect for and trust in the teaching profession.

In his talk, Sahlberg advocated for a rich curriculum that integrates arts throughout each subject and pointed out the necessity of giving children time to play. By law, 15 minutes of every hour of instruction is devoted to recess or a time for students to choose what they want to do.  Every classroom has a piano, and all teachers are trained in at least one musical instrument.

Sahlberg feels the U.S. is obsessed with getting children "ready for school."  In contrast, the focus in Finland is to "get schools ready for children, to meet their needs wherever they're at."  The goal of Finnish schools is to prepare children to be "innovation-ready and ready for life."

It's interesting to note Sahlberg’s point that equality and a sense of social responsibility are important values in Finland and these inform the mission of education. Another point is that Finland has virtually no private schools, and even a university education is free.

Sahlberg argues that we can't discuss education reform without addressing the  broader problems that impact children:  child poverty, income inequality, and lack of access to equal resources.

When Finland decided to reform its education system over 50 years ago, they looked to U.S. education research.  Many teachers in Finland will tell you that their leadership models, teaching methods and assessment practices came from established research.  America has the information and solutions, Sahlberg said, but we have gone in the wrong direction with GERM.

Parents at Raise Your Hand have asked ourselves: how do we know if an educational practice or policy is high quality. We have some beginning answers in this document for parents that can be accessed on our website.

Mission Hill’s mission

Earlier in the week of Sahlberg’s visit, a two-day series of events was held, called Promoting Progressive Democratic Education in an Era of Standardization. The events featured Principal Ayla Gavins and seventh- and eighth-grade teacher Ann Ruggiero of Mission Hill public school in Boston. Mission Hill is an elementary school created and opened over 17 years ago by the progressive educator Deborah Meier.

Many of the educational practices at Mission Hill echo the ideas of Sahlberg. The school has a broad mission: "The task of public education is to help parents raise youngsters who will maintain and nurture the best habits of a democratic society: to be smart, caring, strong, resilient, imaginative and thoughtful."

Based on the vision, Mission Hill’s curriculum is deep and relevant and is meant to foster the academic, intellectual, artistic, social, emotional and civic growth of each student. School -wide themes are woven into social studies, reading, science and the arts. An assessment process that uses multiple measures (observations of students and student work) is ongoing, diagnostic and based on a portfolio approach. Graduation is via a portfolio review. Instruction is child-centered and project-based, using active inquiry that stresses the development of "habits of mind" and "habits of work." 

A central feature of Mission Hill is its professional learning community, in which teachers develop relationships of trust and work together on curricula and planning. These and other approaches contribute to a powerful learning environment for children and adults.

While Mission Hill must comply with district and state-mandated testing, it is part of a group of Boston “pilot schools” and so has considerable autonomy over its budget, staffing, curriculum development and instructional practices.

The educators from Mission Hill spoke at a forum at the College of Education at DePaul University, showed the new film “Good Morning Mission Hill” at Francis Parker School and met separately with a group of teachers and a group of principals to explore how these approaches could be used in their own practice.

Suggestions for deep change

 We brought the Mission Hill educators to Chicago to spark discussion about a student-centered education philosophy. And spark discussion it did!  Most who attended the events were inspired. But questions were raised about the possibility of instituting democratic practices in a non-democratic system. 

Some said that the hopeful vision and child-centered schooling that was offered by Mission Hill felt like another language, far removed from current policies in Chicago. Others grappled with ways to find space - perhaps within the "cracks" of existing mandates, prescriptive policies, testing schedules, and narrow measures of accountability - to enact and grow some of the progressive practices and ideas embodied in the Mission Hill School.

We find that in our conversations with teachers, parents and students, we are all searching for alternatives to today's current "reform" strategies. We were inspired by the discussions that took place recently and by the hunger we saw—hunger to provide children with an educational experience that is grounded in child development theory, informed by expert research, and with a vision of teaching children to be active participants in a democratic society.  We have also noted with great interest the recent call by principals for increased attention to education that is evidence-based and collaborative.

It's an exciting time as parents, teachers, and principals are speaking out about the need for change. We encourage people to learn about Mission Hill, to get Sahlberg's book Finnish Lessons and start conversations with parents at schools and local school council meetings as well as among teachers, sharing their ideas of what a truly high-quality education would look like.

Chicago isn't Finland, and we don't think that with the prevailing mindset, we are going to get Mission Hills in our neighborhood schools anytime soon. These are simply examples, suggestions for deep change, a possible starting point for discussion--much as they were for the over 400 people who gathered in Chicago last month, eager to change the conversation about education policy.

Diane Horwitz is an adjunct instructor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Research at the College of Education, DePaul University and is the coordinator of quarterly education issues forums for the college.

Wendy Katten is a parent of a fifth-grader in CPS and the director of the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education. She worked in social services prior to forming the group.

 

 

In the News: CTU report cites CPS' broken promises

May 21, 2014 - 8:04am

Despite promises by Chicago Public Schools to reinvest in classrooms the money saved by closing a historic number of schools one year ago, the Chicago Teachers Union says that the district spent most of those millions elsewhere. Of course, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett disagreed with the union's findings. (Sun-Times)

The union’s report, released Wednesday, says that contradicts the victory speech Byrd-Bennett made in March, when she told the Board of Education that the closings made the district stronger.

REJECTED BY CPS: Catherine Sugrue, the sister of Ald. Pat O'Connor (40th), who oversaw the closure of dozens of schools failed the Chicago Public Schools' principal selection test twice and is not eligible for the top job at Gray Elementary School in Portage Park, despite the support of its Local School Council, district officials said Tuesday. (DNAinfo)

CHARTER TEACHERS UNIONIZE: In a nearly unanimous vote, teachers at ChicagoQuest Charter School on Tuesday joined a union.  Ninety-six percent of the staff at the West Side voted in favor of  a union, joining educators at the three other CICS schools. They will become members of the Local 4343 of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers. Most teachers and staff at ChicagoQuest, a Chicago International Charter School middle and high school that opened in 2011, had voted in favor of union representation during an informal election held in December. (Catalyst Chicago)

TEACHING FINANCIAL LITERACY: Chicago Treasurer Stephanie Neely recently launched a push to make financial literacy a regular piece of the curriculum for Chicago's grade schoolers. She has imported a program created by the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education in partnership with BMO Financial Group called Talk With Our Kids About Money Day, or “Two-Kam,” as Neely and her staff call it. On April 30, Chicago became the first U.S. city to implement the program, which is starting in about 100 city schools. (Governing)

GROWING SCHOOL GARDENS: Two Teach for America alums have founded Gardeneers, an effort to identify and train others to create and maintain school gardens and lead lessons on nutrition, connect students with their community, and help them become stewards of the environment. The Gardeneers are working in three schools around Chicago, financing their gardens through grant funding, individual donors, and school budgets. They plan to expand to 50 schools within the next five years, and make it a priority to work with schools where more than 90 percent of students receive free and reduced lunches. (Christian Science Monitor)

IN THE NATION AND WORLD
PENSION BAILOUT: California's public school districts could face difficult cutbacks if state officials move forward with a plan to bail out the California State Teachers' Retirement System, officials and educators say. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a way to begin closing an estimated $74 billion shortfall. (Los Angeles Times)

LUNCH AROUND THE WORLD: Associated Press photographers captured the lunch fare for students in several countries earlier this month, showing a range of foods, customs, and nutritional standards. In France, for example, a meal might include rice, salmon, ratatouille, a slice of bread, a salad with celery and carrots, and an orange and donut. (Education Week)

In the News: The race factor in school reform

May 20, 2014 - 7:39am

Sixty years after the landmark Brown vs Board of Education decision, proponents of the current brand of school reform often call education the “civil rights issue of our time.” But ironically, most of those championing these reforms are white and “face the complexities of using civil rights rhetoric to boost [their] agenda,” writes Joy Resmovits of the Huffington Post. 

Meanwhile, opponents of today’s brand of reform say segregation and inequality remain problems today, cite a lack of diversity in the reform community and argue for more focus on equity and funding rather than an emphasis on school choice, privatization, accountability via test scores and the like.

A CRITICAL VISIT: National teachers union leader Randi Weingarten blasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday, saying "it feels that the Chicago mayor wants to kick the public [school] system in the teeth at every opportunity." Weingarten said she toured a school recently with Chicago Teachers Union head Karen Lewis and concluded that CTU members are feeling "total and complete despair." (Sun-Times)

PREPPING FOR CHINA TRIP: The Confucius Institute in Chicago, housed at Walter Payton College Prep, is preparing to send 24 CPS students to China, where they will study at Hangzhou Wanxiang Polytechnic School. (China Daily)

IN THE NATION
TENURE HEARINGS: A majority of tenure charges filed by school boards against teachers in New Jersey since a new tenure law took effect in 2012 have been upheld by state arbitrators assigned to hear them. But in almost a third of the cases, following hearings, the arbitrators said the employee should not be fired and charges were instead downgraded to a suspension rather than termination. Education officials on both sides said the new system has expedited the process while still protecting teachers. (Press of Atlantic City)

In the News: CPS called 'still separate, still unequal'

May 19, 2014 - 7:50am

On the 60th anniversary of the famed Brown v. Board of Education ruling, a group gathered Saturday outside a shuttered Chicago public school said the CPS system is "still separate, still unequal." Chicago Teachers Union members and community groups representing the South and West Sides spoke against handing over public school buildings to private operators, and school closings in general. (DNAinfo)

NAEP RESULTS: Only 39 percent of 12th–grade students have the mathematics skills and 38 percent the reading skills needed for entry–level college courses, according to results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. (Press release)

IN THE NATION
GROWING DIVERSITY: The nation's rural schools are growing in enrollment and serving increasing numbers of low-income, minority, and special education students, according to a new report released Monday. (Education Week)

60 YEARS LATER: Speaking on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, first lady Michelle Obama challenged high school seniors Friday to stand up to prejudice when they see it and not be afraid to talk about race. Obama also warned students that race-based inequality and racism still exist and said school districts have "pulled back" on efforts to integrate even as schools are becoming less diverse. (Tribune)

THE NEW JIM CROW?: Arguing that school closures in cities across the country disproportionately affect African American students, community activists filed three federal civil rights complaints last week challenging closures in Newark, New Orleans and Chicago and called on the Obama administration to halt similar efforts elsewhere. (The Washington Post)

OPPOSING APPROACHES: The two front-runners in the contest to lead California public schools represent opposing forces over how best to improve student achievement. Tom Torlakson, the Democratic incumbent, champions teachers and their unions, which dislike the nation's growing reliance on standardized tests.Marshall Tuck, also a Democrat and the favorite of a core of philanthropists and activists, wants more limited job security for instructors as a way to weed out weak performers and improve the teaching corps. Before raising new revenue, he said, he would spend existing dollars more effectively. (Los Angeles Times)

In the News: Teachers should approve merit pay, Tribune

May 16, 2014 - 9:21am

A Chicago Tribune editorial recommends Chicago teachers should consider approving merit pay as they renegotiate their contract this year. The editorial points out that teachers in New York are on the verge of okaying a contract that would give superior teachers bonuses of $7,500 to $20,000 for taking on extra work, including sharing their knowledge and classroom experience by mentoring other teachers. In New York, standardized tests will likely not play a major role in ratings, according to the New York Times.  

But studies on merit pay in teaching, even one on a federally-funded pilot program in Chicago, have shown mixed results and are certainly not a silver bullet.  Another thing to take note of, new teacher evaluations, required by state law, are based partly on test scores and teachers are concerned about how these evaluations will effect those teaching at schools serving low-income students.

SORRY. Mayor Emanuel’s political consultant John Kupper apologized to Chicago Principals and Administrators Association President Clarice Berry for calling her a “shill” for the Chicago Teachers Union. In a Catalyst opinion piece, Morrill principal Michael Beyer suggest a structure for the association to become more powerful. 

CONTINUED SEGREGATION. Marking the anniversary of Brown vs Board of Education, the Civil Rights Project released on Thursday a report entitled, “Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat and an Uncertain Future.” Segregation is most serious in the central cities of the largest metropolitan areas. Illinois with Chicago, as well we New York and California, are the top three worst for isolating black students. Also, as their population grows, Latino students are now significantly more segregated than black students.

COLLEGE PERSISTANCE. In the New York Times Magazine, Paul Tough has a piece entitle “Who gets to graduate?” College graduation data reveals that only 40 percent of students graduate within six year and “rich kids graduate, poor and working-class kids don’t,” according to the article. Very telling facts considering college persistence will be one of the measures in new CPS school ratings coming out this Fall.

SUMMER LEARNING. With private donations, Los Angeles is launching a major initiative to offer free classes in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Students who complete classes will get “digital badges.” Chicago has a similar initiative, only, instead of classes, children are directed toward activities, like visiting a museusm. 

A proposal to give school principals a voice

May 15, 2014 - 4:37pm

Having less than three full years under my belt as a principal, and at a neighborhood public school that has been on “probation” since the inception of No Child Left Behind, I’m probably not one who should speak out on the issues raised this week by my colleagues at Blaine and Peterson schools.  Without getting into the politics of these issues, I do see a potential solution that could help improve the Chicago Public Schools. 

Principals are the primary lever tasked to implement every policy CPS devises.  We are the critical link between Central Office and the classrooms.  What we want is a voice and a seat at the table when policies are designed and implementations are planned.  

In the public debate that has developed in response to op-eds by Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere and Peterson Principal Adam Parrot-Sheffer, Bateman Principal Pat Baccellieri mentioned that CPS has advisory panels in place to collect principal feedback. Unfortunately, few of us know which of our colleagues are on these advisory panels, when they meet, what they address, or that they even exist.  With more than 600 schools in CPS, there are many unique situations we encounter.  Having a handful of principals speak on everyone’s behalf and without our knowledge isn’t the most effective way to gather input on policies.  

Our only recourse for addressing ineffective policies is to follow our chain of command and inform our Chief, who then may or may not inform those above them.  I can’t entirely blame CPS for this; bureaucracies tend to have an inability to create internal structures that lead to thoughtful and honest dialogue.  Creating authentic feedback loops is difficult with a system so large.  We do, however, have an existing outside organization that could accomplish this for us.

The Chicago Principals & Administrators Association has been in existence for many years.  They aren’t a union but will offer assistance if a principal runs into legal trouble.  It costs nearly $1,000 a year to be a member.  In my three years as an administrator I have never bothered to join because I don’t see the cost-benefit of it.  If I get into legal trouble and I can’t sort it out on my own, I probably deserve whatever punishment is coming my way.  

Yet the CPAA claims to offer far more.  On their website they state they offer “leadership … in policy formation” and that they influence legislation.   If this is true, I am ignorant of what policies and legislation they have affected.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not a member, but I have spoken with CPAA members and they don’t know either.  This indicates that if the CPAA does have sway with policymakers, they aren’t gathering input from their membership.

We need a more effective CPAA.  We need an organization that speaks for us and that CPS takes seriously.  We don’t need a union or an organization that sides with the CTU on every issue.  We simply need an organization that can be a thought-partner with CPS to help guide policy design and implementation so that when the time comes for us to introduce the policies at our schools that we aren’t left bewildered how to accomplish whatever CPS has decided is necessary.  

The CPAA could be the most affordable and effective consultant CPS uses.  It doesn’t have to be an antagonistic partnership, and it will lead to a more effective school system.   Like any organization, the chain-of-command in CPS can dissuade people from speaking up when a policy or an implementation has flaws.  It’s much easier to blame those lower along the chain, rather than point the blame back up to those making the policy.  This is why teachers, and not politicians, have falsely suffered the largess of the blame in the ongoing debate over education reform.

As an organization not beholden to CPS, the CPAA could serve the role to help advocate for more intelligent policies, but it has to do so through a democratic process.  We need a CPAA leader that ensures all voices are heard prior to engaging in advocacy with CPS. The CPAA should have subcommittees of principals focused on various aspects of our job, from literacy to special education to budget.  

Every administrator, whether they are a member or not, should know who serves on the subcommittees.  The subcommittees could directly partner with CPS and devise policy, or make recommendations to revise existing policy.  The entire CPAA membership could then vote on whether to support the subcommittee’s recommendations.  If the recommendations are approved, the CPAA’s leadership would advocate at CPS on our behalf.  

Ideally their advocacy would be behind closed doors to maintain professionalism, but if need be, the CPAA could advocate publicly.  This would prevent principals from having to go rogue and endanger their own careers or reputations.  Ideally the CPAA could offer two membership choices, one that includes insurance if a principal feels the need for legal protection, and the second for those that just want to help shape policy.  The CPAA could even publish their own quarterly newsletter or website so that principals wouldn’t have to resort to advocating with colleagues via the press.  This is a CPAA I would readily join and support.

Like my colleagues, I have been extremely frustrated and disheartened by policy decisions in CPS.  I’ve heard teachers and even colleagues state their suspicion that CPS is intentionally causing havoc so that more schools can be closed and turned charter.  That’s not a healthy environment for our children.  

I have more than once considered quitting and fleeing for the greener pastures of the suburbs, where many perceive there are fewer issues.  Despite interview offers, I’m staying in CPS, and next school year I’m requesting a contract renewal because I believe in my school and the community we have developed.  I also firmly believe in CPS and the City of Chicago.   We have much to be proud of.  

Unlike the “higher performing” schools in the suburbs and even here in the City, many of our neighborhood “low performing” schools have authentic learning happening and we aren’t simply sorting students, resting on the laurels of serving a population of higher socio-economic status.  I have a mission to accomplish, which is to work with our community to make our school one of the best in the City.  All I want is an organization that will advocate on our behalf and help CPS become the best it can be.  

Michael Beyer is the principal of Morrill School in Gage Park 

 

A proposal to give school principals a voice

May 15, 2014 - 4:37pm

Having less than three full years under my belt as a principal, and at a neighborhood public school that has been on “probation” since the inception of No Child Left Behind, I’m probably not one who should speak out on the issues raised this week by my colleagues at Blaine and Peterson schools.  Without getting into the politics of these issues, I do see a potential solution that could help improve the Chicago Public Schools. 

Principals are the primary lever tasked to implement every policy CPS devises.  We are the critical link between Central Office and the classrooms.  What we want is a voice and a seat at the table when policies are designed and implementations are planned.  

In the public debate that has developed in response to op-eds by Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere and Peterson Principal Adam Parrot-Sheffer, Bateman Principal Pat Baccellieri mentioned that CPS has advisory panels in place to collect principal feedback. Unfortunately, few of us know which of our colleagues are on these advisory panels, when they meet, what they address, or that they even exist.  With more than 600 schools in CPS, there are many unique situations we encounter.  Having a handful of principals speak on everyone’s behalf and without our knowledge isn’t the most effective way to gather input on policies.  

Our only recourse for addressing ineffective policies is to follow our chain of command and inform our Chief, who then may or may not inform those above them.  I can’t entirely blame CPS for this; bureaucracies tend to have an inability to create internal structures that lead to thoughtful and honest dialogue.  Creating authentic feedback loops is difficult with a system so large.  We do, however, have an existing outside organization that could accomplish this for us.

The Chicago Principals & Administrators Association has been in existence for many years.  They aren’t a union but will offer assistance if a principal runs into legal trouble.  It costs nearly $1,000 a year to be a member.  In my three years as an administrator I have never bothered to join because I don’t see the cost-benefit of it.  If I get into legal trouble and I can’t sort it out on my own, I probably deserve whatever punishment is coming my way.  

Yet the CPAA claims to offer far more.  On their website they state they offer “leadership … in policy formation” and that they influence legislation.   If this is true, I am ignorant of what policies and legislation they have affected.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not a member, but I have spoken with CPAA members and they don’t know either.  This indicates that if the CPAA does have sway with policymakers, they aren’t gathering input from their membership.

We need a more effective CPAA.  We need an organization that speaks for us and that CPS takes seriously.  We don’t need a union or an organization that sides with the CTU on every issue.  We simply need an organization that can be a thought-partner with CPS to help guide policy design and implementation so that when the time comes for us to introduce the policies at our schools that we aren’t left bewildered how to accomplish whatever CPS has decided is necessary.  

The CPAA could be the most affordable and effective consultant CPS uses.  It doesn’t have to be an antagonistic partnership, and it will lead to a more effective school system.   Like any organization, the chain-of-command in CPS can dissuade people from speaking up when a policy or an implementation has flaws.  It’s much easier to blame those lower along the chain, rather than point the blame back up to those making the policy.  This is why teachers, and not politicians, have falsely suffered the largess of the blame in the ongoing debate over education reform.

As an organization not beholden to CPS, the CPAA could serve the role to help advocate for more intelligent policies, but it has to do so through a democratic process.  We need a CPAA leader that ensures all voices are heard prior to engaging in advocacy with CPS. The CPAA should have subcommittees of principals focused on various aspects of our job, from literacy to special education to budget.  

Every administrator, whether they are a member or not, should know who serves on the subcommittees.  The subcommittees could directly partner with CPS and devise policy, or make recommendations to revise existing policy.  The entire CPAA membership could then vote on whether to support the subcommittee’s recommendations.  If the recommendations are approved, the CPAA’s leadership would advocate at CPS on our behalf.  

Ideally their advocacy would be behind closed doors to maintain professionalism, but if need be, the CPAA could advocate publicly.  This would prevent principals from having to go rogue and endanger their own careers or reputations.  Ideally the CPAA could offer two membership choices, one that includes insurance if a principal feels the need for legal protection, and the second for those that just want to help shape policy.  The CPAA could even publish their own quarterly newsletter or website so that principals wouldn’t have to resort to advocating with colleagues via the press.  This is a CPAA I would readily join and support.

Like my colleagues, I have been extremely frustrated and disheartened by policy decisions in CPS.  I’ve heard teachers and even colleagues state their suspicion that CPS is intentionally causing havoc so that more schools can be closed and turned charter.  That’s not a healthy environment for our children.  

I have more than once considered quitting and fleeing for the greener pastures of the suburbs, where many perceive there are fewer issues.  Despite interview offers, I’m staying in CPS, and next school year I’m requesting a contract renewal because I believe in my school and the community we have developed.  I also firmly believe in CPS and the City of Chicago.   We have much to be proud of.  

Unlike the “higher performing” schools in the suburbs and even here in the City, many of our neighborhood “low performing” schools have authentic learning happening and we aren’t simply sorting students, resting on the laurels of serving a population of higher socio-economic status.  I have a mission to accomplish, which is to work with our community to make our school one of the best in the City.  All I want is an organization that will advocate on our behalf and help CPS become the best it can be.  

Michael Beyer is the principal of Morrill School in Gage Park 

 

Comings & Goings: Okezie-Phillips, principals

May 15, 2014 - 1:12pm

Erica Okezie-Phillips, an education program officer at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, is leaving the foundation at the end of May.  Okezie-Phillips, who has been with the foundation for the past seven years, is heading off to Grenada “for a brief adventure before she decides on a new path in her professional career,” reports Sara Slaughter, director of the foundation’s education program. 

Oak Park Elementary School District 97 has tapped Keshia Warner, currently the principal of Drake Elementary, to head up one of its elementary schools – which one has yet to be decided. (From Wednesday Journal via District 299.)

New principals: Ryan Belville, the assistant principal at McAuliffe, has been named the school’s principal.  Augusta Smith, the assistant principal at Mireles, has been named principal at Barton. 

Two Chicago Public School teachers have been named 2014 Golden Apple Award winners:  Anand Sukumaran, a music teacher at Peterson Elementary, and Rozy Patel, a middle school teacher at Edgebrook.   Sukumaran created a thriving music program, which includes a keyboard lab with a live video feed of the teacher’s keyboard, so students can visualize instructions.  Patel used his four years in medical school to share and guide her students to probe deeply into their scientific inquiry, which promotes higher-order thinking.   

Joseph Casanovas (8th grade Science/Math) from Peirce in Edgewater, and Luke Albrecht (Middle School Math) from Crown in North Lawndale, also received the award.

Ray Salazar, a Chicago Public School teacher who is the White Rhino blogger, has been nominated for a 2014 Bammy Award, which is presented by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences to people working in education.

Comings & Goings: Okezie-Phillips, principals

May 15, 2014 - 1:12pm

Erica Okezie-Phillips, an education program officer at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, is leaving the foundation at the end of May.  Okezie-Phillips, who has been with the foundation for the past seven years, is heading off to Grenada “for a brief adventure before she decides on a new path in her professional career,” reports Sara Slaughter, director of the foundation’s education program. 

Oak Park Elementary School District 97 has tapped Keshia Warner, currently the principal of Drake Elementary, to head up one of its elementary schools – which one has yet to be decided. (From Wednesday Journal via District 299.)

New principals: Ryan Belville, the assistant principal at McAuliffe, has been named the school’s principal.  Augusta Smith, the assistant principal at Mireles, has been named principal at Barton. 

Two Chicago Public School teachers have been named 2014 Golden Apple Award winners:  Anand Sukumaran, a music teacher at Peterson Elementary, and Rozy Patel, a middle school teacher at Edgebrook.   Sukumaran created a thriving music program, which includes a keyboard lab with a live video feed of the teacher’s keyboard, so students can visualize instructions.  Patel used his four years in medical school to share and guide her students to probe deeply into their scientific inquiry, which promotes higher-order thinking.   

Ray Salazar, a Chicago Public School teacher who is the White Rhino blogger, has been nominated for a 2014 Bammy Award, which is presented by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences to people working in education.

Preschool teachers may get more time to meet bilingual requirements

May 15, 2014 - 10:55am

Preschool teachers in Illinois may get two more years to obtain the required qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English. 

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) voted on Wednesday to seek public comment on a proposal to delay a requirement that kicks in on July 1 for pre-school English language learners to be taught by educators endorsed in bilingual or English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction.

The proposed delay is a direct response to school district officials and early childhood advocates from across the state who anticipate staff shortages for the coming school year due to the requirements. According to ISBE, just 10.3 percent of early childhood teachers in Illinois are endorsed in bilingual or English as a Second Language instruction, even though more than 20 percent of preschool children are considered English learners.

In an effort to close achievement gaps between native English speakers and those who grew up speaking another language at home, Illinois became the first state in the nation to require bilingual education services for English learners in state-funded preschools in 2010. As part of the measure, the state set the July 2014 deadline for requirements for instructors at preschools with English language learners, which vary depending on the number of students who need instruction.

Joyce Weiner, policy advisor for the Ounce of Prevention Fund, said she and other advocates who supported the move toward bilingual instruction recognized there would be many challenges along the way – such as changing curriculum in teacher preparation programs to include pedagogy on language acquisition for the youngest learners.

“This has been system building at its finest, in terms of incorporating both government agencies and community partners and higher education institutions,” she said.” Did we really think we were going to be able to do this in time? Well you can always shoot for the pie in the sky. But I’m not surprised an additional two years is being recommended because of the complexity of having this all come together.”

Under the proposed modifications, ISBE has included an interim measure that requires school districts unable to meet the staffing requirements to submit an annual staffing plan that includes a description of how the needs of English learners will be met.

The public comment period on the proposed delay ends on July 14. 

Preschool teachers may get more time to meet bilingual requirements

May 15, 2014 - 10:55am

Preschool teachers in Illinois may get two more years to obtain the required qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English. 

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) voted on Wednesday to seek public comment on a proposal to delay a requirement that kicks in on July 1 for pre-school English language learners to be taught by educators endorsed in bilingual or English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction.

The proposed delay is a direct response to school district officials and early childhood advocates from across the state who anticipate staff shortages for the coming school year due to the requirements. According to ISBE, just 10.3 percent of early childhood teachers in Illinois are endorsed in bilingual or English as a Second Language instruction, even though more than 20 percent of preschool children are considered English learners.

In an effort to close achievement gaps between native English speakers and those who grew up speaking another language at home, Illinois became the first state in the nation to require bilingual education services for English learners in state-funded preschools in 2010. As part of the measure, the state set the July 2014 deadline for requirements for instructors at preschools with English language learners, which vary depending on the number of students who need instruction.

Joyce Weiner, policy advisor for the Ounce of Prevention Fund, said she and other advocates who supported the move toward bilingual instruction recognized there would be many challenges along the way – such as changing curriculum in teacher preparation programs to include pedagogy on language acquisition for the youngest learners.

“This has been system building at its finest, in terms of incorporating both government agencies and community partners and higher education institutions,” she said.” Did we really think we were going to be able to do this in time? Well you can always shoot for the pie in the sky. But I’m not surprised an additional two years is being recommended because of the complexity of having this all come together.”

Under the proposed modifications, ISBE has included an interim measure that requires school districts unable to meet the staffing requirements to submit an annual staffing plan that includes a description of how the needs of English learners will be met.

The public comment period on the proposed delay ends on July 14. 

In the News: Mayor Emanuel welcomes principals' ideas

May 15, 2014 - 10:17am

In response to principals' concerns about district policy and the ability to speak publicly aired this week in blogs and opinion pieces,  Mayor Rahm Emanuel says that he “welcomes the concerns of principals.” In fact, he told the Sun-Times, the expansion of the International Baccalaureate program into elementary schools was the idea of principals. Who knew?

PUBLIC SERVICE WORKERS VICTORY. A Sangamon County Circuit Court judge granted a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that will prevent pension law from being implemented, for now. A coalition of unions is arguing that the law is unconstitutional because it scales back benefits and raises retirement ages. The case is expected to reach the Illinois Supreme Court. (Chicago Tribune)

A STANDOFF. On Wednesday, a house committee approved a $13 billion education budget that is partly dependent on the income tax increase staying in place, reports WUIS.org. Democrats, of course, support keeping the 5 percent income tax and not letting it roll back to the pre-2011 level of 3.75 percent. Democrat House Speaker Mike Madigan says the spending plans for the departments “set the bar.” But Republicans are dead set against it. 

JUST A REMINDER: civil rights laws also apply to charters, writes a U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in a letter released Wednesday. The letter includes guidance for charter schools on issues related to admissions, students with disabilities, discipline and English language learners.

Along those same lines, a bill that is moving along in the Illinois legislature requires that charters follow the law as it pertains to students with disabilities and English language learners.  In 2012, Catalyst wrote about charter schools being the subject of a number of civil rights complaints stemming from alleged violations of the rights of special education students.

SPEAKING OF CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) took a step on Wednesday toward establishing the official rules on what information charter school authorizers must report to the state, as well as a process to sanction authorizers that don’t comply with the law. ISBE voted to seek public comment through July 14 on the proposed amendments to the rules that govern charter school authorizers, which already provide most of the information to the state. The new rules follow a 2011 law on charter schools. (Catalyst)

CONTINUED TESTING PUSHBACK. Finally, the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet points to a roundup by FairTest.org of all the pushback against standardized tests. While here in Chicago parents and teachers protested the ISAT earlier this year, over the past month, students have been quietly been taking the NWEA. Yet the NWEA is tied to grade promotion and admission to selective enrollment high schools, so few parents will mess with that. 

In the News: Byrd-Bennett 'surprised' by principals' complaints

May 14, 2014 - 7:53am

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett vowed Monday to get to the bottom of a respected principal’s complaints — first voiced in an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times — that CPS bullies its principals, leaving them “paralyzed by fear.” In a telephone call Monday, Byrd-Bennett said she was surprised to read the op-ed by Troy LaRaviere, principal at Blaine Elementary School in Lake View, whom she called “clearly one of our most distinguished.”

CPS SUSPENSIONS: More than 50,000 Chicago Public Schools students got out-of-school suspensions last year, according to a WBEZ analysis of state and district data. That’s about 13 percent of the district's population. At about a dozen high schools, more than half of the students enrolled served at least one out-of-school suspension. All of those schools are majority African American and only a few are charter schools.

IN THE NATION
GOOD TEACHING, POOR TEST SCORES: In the first large-scale analysis of new systems that evaluate teachers based partly on student test scores, two researchers found little or no correlation between quality teaching and the appraisals teachers received. The study, published Tuesday in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, is the latest in a growing body of research that has cast doubt on whether it is possible for states to use empirical data in identifying good and bad teachers. (The Washington Post)

PRINCIPALS AND URBAN SCHOOLS: A seven-year study of a national principal-preparation program called New Leaders finds that urban schools where principals received rigorous leadership training and support experienced larger gains in student achievement than schools led by principals who did not participate in the program, according to a new RAND Corporation report. (Press release)

TAILORING THEIR TEACHING: More teachers nationwide have adopted blended learning — an instructional method that, in some cases, allows them to flip their classrooms, tailoring lessons to students' individual needs. (Christian Science Monitor)

In the News: CPS principals speak of 'air of repression'

May 13, 2014 - 8:38am

Since a Chicago Public School principal wrote about what many say is a code of silence imposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s image-conscious schools administration, other principals have joined the chorus, WBEZ's Linda Lutton reports. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett calls it all a "perception" of retribution.

UNO SETTLES WITH FIRED TEACHER: Documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show that the taxpayer-funded charter-school network run by the clout-heavy United Neighborhood Organization paid a gym teacher $150,000 to settle a wrongful firing case.

DIFFERENT PERFORMANCE STANDARDS: Under a dramatic new approach to rating public schools, Illinois students of different backgrounds no longer will be held to the same standards—with Latinos and blacks, low-income children and other groups having lower targets than whites for passing state exams, the Chicago Tribune has found. In reading, for example, 85 percent of white third- through eighth-grade students statewide will be expected to pass state tests by 2019, compared with about 73 percent for Latinos and 70 percent for black students, an analysis of state and federal records shows. (Education Week)

OPPOSING TESTING CHANGES: Rebellion is brewing in the suburbs over Illinois' new school testing program. More than 30 high school and K-12 districts in DuPage, Cook, Kane and Lake counties have joined in opposition to testing changes next spring, when the state plans to launch a new exam called PARCC and expand the grades tested from third through 11th. (Tribune)

IN THE NATION
BIAS IN CLASSROOM OBSERVATIONS: New research illuminates a troubling source of bias. School principals—when conducting classroom observations—appear to give some teachers an unfair boost based on the students they’re assigned to teach, rather than based on their own instructional savvy. (Education Week)

PUBLIC, CHARTER CHASM: Two decades since charter schools began to appear, educators from both systems concede that very little of what has worked for charter schools has found its way into regular classrooms. (The New York Times)

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