Special education advocates are up in arms about a state proposal to eliminate class size caps for special education rooms and let districts decide what percentage of a “general education” class can be students with disabilities.The rule changes would leave the state without maximum class sizes based on a child’s disability for the first time since 1975. CPS district spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler says that “we recently learned of this proposal and are currently reviewing it so that we understand its potential implications.”
The question of class sizes and special education classrooms is intertwined with the school closings issue in CPS.
The proposal was given preliminary approval at last week’s Illinois State Board of Education meeting, will go out for a 45-day public comment period in the coming weeks, then would be voted on by a legislative committee before becoming law.
The state is proposing rule changes partly because of unintended negative consequences of the mandates, as well as “the difficulty school districts have reported complying with the standard, as the state’s – and, by extension, many school districts’ – fiscal condition has worsened in the past several years,” according to the Illinois State Board of Education agenda packet.
Currently, class sizes are limited based on the percentage of time a student spends receiving special education services.
Students with mild disabilities who spend less than 20 percent of their time in special ed must be in pull-out classes with 15 or fewer students (or 17 with a paraprofessional), while those with more severe disabilities who receive special education classes at least 60 percent of the time must be in classes with no more than eight students (13 with a paraprofessional). In preschool, special education classes are limited to five students, or 10 with a paraprofessional.
ISBE says it is finding that class size limits “can diminish the ability of the school districts to make decisions based on the needs of each student with a disability” and make it harder to implement co-teaching (where general education and special education teachers work side by side.) Lifting the caps, Wednesday’s agenda packet notes, could allow special needs students to enroll in a greater variety of course offerings.
The Illinois State Advisory Council on the Education of Children with Disabilities opposes the rule changes, the packet notes, but the Illinois Principals Association, Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators and Illinois Association of School Business Officials support them.
Kristine Mayle, financial secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union and a former special education teacher, testified against the proposed changes. She says she is concerned because even now, class size limits “are never really upheld in CPS.” Recently, she says, the union filed a grievance on behalf of a teacher who has 24 students in her self-contained classroom, when by law she should have eight.
Mayle worries that if the rules change, CPS could “stack all of our rooms with 25 kids, and save a ton of money that way.”
What is more, the union’s recent contract includes for the first time the right to file a grievance when special education class sizes are bigger than state law allows. If the law is changed, that right could become meaningless.
Letting districts define “general education”
The state also wants to eliminate the requirement for a general education classroom to be at least 70 percent students without disabilities – known as the “70/30 rule” – due to concerns that some school districts were increasing their general education class sizes to meet it. An earlier attempt to change this rule, in 2006, was stopped by a public outcry.
At the moment, CPS would not be affected by the change in the definition of because it still remains under the decree, which allows general education classes in Chicago to include up 40 percent special ed students. However, CPS would like to get released from the decree and could be within the year.
Gineen O’Neil, president of the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education, says her organization supports eliminating the definition of a general education classroom. “Is a general education class defined by who is sitting in it? Or is it defined by what curriculum is taught, the rigor in it?” she asks.
But Margie Wakelin, a staff attorney for the disability rights organization Equip for Equality, is concerned that general education teachers won’t be able to faithfully implement students’ Individualized Education Programs if they have too many students with disabilities in a class.
“There is a significant body of research about the benefits of inclusive education in a general education setting,” Wakelin says. “If there no longer is a rule such as 70-30 there is a fear that those experiences won’t be available for a lot of students.”
Schools are too quick to suspend or expel students and need to take a hard look at these "drastic" and "superficial" policies, the American Academy of Pediatrics said this week, adding to an earlier position published six years ago questioning zero-tolerance school discipline policies.
FACEBOOK FACEOFF: The Chicago Teachers Union is comparing Chicago to Detroit in a Facebook post that shows a photo of the inside of a dirty, deteriorating public school in the Motor City and warns "This cannot be our legacy!" The caption next to the photo asked viewers to tell Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett: "THIS IS NOT DETROIT!" More than 260 people had "liked" the image as of Wednesday morning and shared it 394 times. Many of the comments seemed to come from people who live in Detroit and Cleveland. (DNAInfo)
EARLY SEX ED: Chicago public schools are pushing to teach kids sex education as early as kindergarten. Currently, students get their sex education in fifth grade, as most children do in the US. Officials say the curriculum will conform to each age group. (KPLR11.com)
INVENTORY TRACKING: Chicago Public Schools has selected Radiant RFID, LLC to implement Virtual Asset Tracker, the company’s enterprise asset management solution that will manage the school district’s highly diverse and mobile inventory of more than $450 million in capital and controlled assets. (Virtual Strategy Magazine)
IN THE NATION
FAMILY-STYLE LUNCH: Some Philadelphia schools are bidding farewell to long lunch lines in favor of family-style eating. It's part of a program that aims to provide nutritious, low-cost lunches in a setting that reinforces social niceties and communication skills. (USAToday)
EARLY LEARNING GAPS: African American public school students in Los Angeles County demonstrate significant learning gaps by second grade; those gaps widen with age and lead to the highest school dropout rate among all races, according to a report released Monday. (Los Angeles Times)
Even as CPS announced last week that it was phasing out ASPIRA’s Mirta Ramirez Computer Science High School campus for poor performance, plans were under way to approve a new campus for the charter operator.
The campus had not been previously approved by the district; spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus says it was discussed at the Feb. 21 charter school renewal hearing. However, the school’s construction has been in the works for years and was approved by a city zoning board in March 2012.
Sainvilus wrote in an email that “In the last year, ASPIRA has taken important steps to improve overall performance. They chose to change leadership both in reconstituting their board and in replacing school leaders. “
“The decision to recommend ASPIRA’s expansion by opening a new campus was made based on these recent changes, ASPIRA’s expressed desire to operate in a neighborhood that is experiencing overcrowding, and the additional steps that will be taken to add annual academic benchmarks to their accountability framework,” Sainvilus wrote. “These benchmarks will allow CPS to take more immediate action should the schools not meet expectations.”
Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said he also did not see a contradiction between ASPIRA’s expansion and the closure of one campus. “Some of their schools have relatively strong performance (and certainly better than Mirta Ramirez),” he wrote in an email.
He added: “We are pleased to see Chicago take charter accountability seriously. The charter movement is about better outcomes for students, not merely about expansion for expansion's sake… We have very few high-quality schools of any type in Chicago and our focus is on changing that through high-quality charter expansion.”
ASPIRA’s school for dropouts, Antonia Pantoja, is not part of its charter. The organization's other two campuses are Haugan Campus, a middle school which has a Level 3 rating – the lowest rating the district gives schools—and Early College High School, which has not been around long enough to have a performance rating.
Early College does have some promising initial statistics: a 94 percent attendance rate, which is markedly above the 86 percent CPS average and a freshman on-track rate of 80 percent in 2011, which is somewhat higher than average.
However, in 2012, just 21 percent of students met state standards on the Prairie State exam, compared to the CPS average of 32 percent; and just 15 percent of students earned scores of 20 or higher on the ACT college admissions test, compared to the district average of 29 percent.
The mayor and schools chief announced on Monday, that for the first time, every CPS school will offer full-day kindergarten starting next school year. CPS has increased access to full-day kindergarten by 50 percent since 2011 and now all incoming students will have access to full-day kindergarten, according to a mayor's office news release.
TRIMMING CENTRAL OFFICE: The mayor plans to pay for the kindergarten extension by trimming $15 million from the central office budget. The plan will provide full-day kindergarten to 4,200 more CPS students. (Sun-Times)
EDUCATION CUTS: Illinois stands to lose $33 million in federal education funds, plus an additional $25 million for educating children with disabilities, unless Congress comes to an agreement by March 1 on how to handle the federal deficit. Other potential cuts: eliminating Head Start and Early Head Start services for 2,700 children across the state, plus the loss of college financial aid and work-study jobs for 5,900 college students. (Press release)
IN THE NATION
REMEDIATION UNNEEDED: At a time when more high schools are looking to their graduates' college-remediation rates as a clue to how well they prepare students for college and careers, new research findings suggest a significant portion of students who test into remedial classes don't actually need them. (Education Week)
STUDENT SUPPORTS: A report to be released next week as part of the Grad Nation Summit in Washington, D.C., highlights the role that nonprofit groups, community volunteers, and full-time national service members can play in the efforts to overcome the challenges faced by students in poverty. The report, sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies and authored by Bob Balfanz, co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, argues that in order to overcome the educational impacts of poverty, high-need schools must provide direct, evidence-based supports for students. (Press release)
Substance News has obtained a document through a Freedom of Information Act request that shows CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has "secondary employment" with The Broad Superintendent Academy as an Executive Coach, a contract she entered into before assuming her appointment as CPS chief.
CPS Board president David Vitale approved Byrd-Bennett's request in November to fulfill her Broad obligation, which ends April 30. Also, according to Substance, the Broad website had a copy of its "Handbook on School Closings" available.
CLOSINGS AND SECURITY: As Chicago Public Schools gets ready to close an unknown number of schools across the city this year, officials acknowledge it's possible that more neighborhood schools could wind up sharing space with privately run charters, which in most cases have greater resources—and that could pose a security challenge, according to the Tribune.
MILITARY MOVE: Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), who wants the Marine Math and Science Academy to move into the spacious newish building constructed for the Ames Middle School, approached CPS with the plan to give Logan Square a military school from grades seven to 12. (Sun-Times)
IN THE NATION
WELL BELOW AVERAGE: Texas has dropped closer to the bottom in spending per pupil in the U.S. and is now more than $3,000 below the national average – about $66,000 less per elementary classroom – according to new comparisons by the National Education Association. (Dallas Morning News)
CURSIVE CURRICULUM: A bill introduced in the North Carolina House this week would once again make cursive handwriting a part of the curriculum in state elementary schools. The “Back to Basics” bill also would require elementary students to memorize multiplication tables, though state education officials say that’s already part of the curriculum. (News & Observer)
FUNDING DISPARITY: California Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing to give all public school districts a base grant, then add an extra 35 percent of that for each student who is low-income, struggling with English or in foster care. If such students make up more than 50 percent of a district's population, another 35 percent supplement would be given. (Los Angeles Times)
Hispanic eighth-graders in Illinois have higher reading scores than the rest of the nation’s big states, but the state’s African-American children still struggle mightily with reading, math and science, according to a new report — “Mega-states: An Analysis of Student Performance in the Five Most Heavily Populated States” — published Thursday that examines test scores in the country’s five largest states, the Sun-Times reports.
In fact, black fourth-graders in Illinois scored worst of the states in reading, and black students in fourth and eighth grade scored well below the national average and the lowest of the “mega states.”
CLOSINGS AND CIVIL RIGHTS: A Bronzeville community group on Thursday called school closings not only dangerous but a violation of children’s civil rights. Members of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and of local school councils, who’ve filed Title VI civil rights complaints about previous school closures with the U.S. Justice Department, said that last year’s displacement of Price Elementary School students has resulted in numerous problems, including attacks on former Price kids around their new school. (Sun-Times)
PENSION HOLE: A report, released Thursday, disclosed that the Chicago Public Schools will have to come up with an extra $400 million next year — $70 million more than had been expected — to pay teacher pensions unless something changes. (Crains)
CHARTER CLOSINGS: Chicago Public Schools officials will recommend that two charter high schools be closed this year because of poor performance, officials said Thursday. (Tribune)
CPS has announced that it plans to close two charter high school campuses. In November, the district had promised to get tough on charters, perhaps because of the number of neighborhood schools officials plan to close. (Catalyst)
IN THE NATION
PRINCIPAL DISSATISFACTION: Three out of four public school principals believe their job has become "too complex," and about a third say they are likely to go into a different occupation within five years, according to a new MetLife national survey. (Education Week)
EVAL FAIL: State officials, for now, cannot stop $260 million in aid from flowing into New York City’s schools as a penalty for the city’s failure to iron out a plan for evaluating public school teachers, a state judge ruled this week. (The New York Times)
HISPANIC PERFORMANCE: A new analysis released Thursday of nationwide test results in the five most populous states — California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas — shows that depending on where they live, Hispanic students’ academic performance varies widely. (The New York Times)
SHADOW SCHOOL: Carpe Diem charter school appears to have no local student or parent interest, but it does have a plan to collect as much as $550,000 a year in rent from Indiana taxpayers. With three Fort Wayne charter schools set to close, efforts are under way to keep the money flowing to schools promising more than they so far have delivered. (Journal Gazette)
UPDATED--CPS has announced that it plans to close two charter high school campuses. In November, the district had promised to get tough on charters, perhaps because of the number of neighborhood schools officials plan to close.
The school board will make an official decision on the fate of Mirta Ramirez Computer Science High School, run by ASPIRA, and DuSable Leadership Academy, run by Betty Shabazz International Charter School, at its Wednesday meeting. Both schools are affiliated with community organizations that have deep roots in Chicago.
Due to poor performance, the district also plans to put other campuses run by those schools on a shorter leash, requiring them to meet annual academic benchmarks that have not yet been determined. Those schools comprise ASPIRA’s Haugan Middle School, Antonia Pantoja High School, and Early College High School, as well as Betty Shabazz International Charter School and the school’s Barbara A. Sizemore Academy. (This is the second year that some charter schools have had their contracts renewed for shorter periods of time.)
Ten other charter operators will also have their contracts renewed – two for 3 years, and the rest for 5 years. In addition to the two campuses that are being recommended for closure, six of the 27 schools run by those 12 operators are level 3 schools--the worst possible rating by CPS. Six were Level 1 schools, the best possible. Eight were not given performance ratings.
Less than a handful of charter schools have been closed by CPS. Only two have closed in the past 6 years. Choir Academy decided to shut itself down for financial and performance issues. ACT Charter’s board of directors was pressured to close the low-scoring school, but the school’s charter remained active and was given to KIPP to open a junior high school this year.
District officials announced their recommendations for charter renewals at 5 p.m. Thursday. At the same time, a public hearing on charter renewals was starting. About 45 minutes before the hearing began, the principal at DuSable Leadership Academy said that she was not aware of the district’s recommendation to close the school.
The hearing was attended by about 150 people and 72 people signed up to speak. Among them were the leaders of Shabazz and Aspira. Both argued that, although test scores are low, they do well in other areas. The Aspira official said that 93 percent of their students are accepted into college.
Carol Lee, who founded Shabazz, said the network runs award-winning schools that have good attendance, low drop out rates and good acceptance into colleges.
Fernando Grillo, chair of the board of ASPIRA of Illinois, said Thursday night that "we certainly understand the challenges we have (and) we are committed to accountability."
He also said that in the last year the entire ASPIRA organization has been "on a self-imposed turnaround" with a new board and new staff in its corporate offices as well as at the schools. "We are holding ourselves to much higher standards," Grillo said.
Last March, the organization's board fired CEO Jose Rodriguez, likely due to the poor performance.
CPS said in a press release that it reviewed charter operators’ records in terms of contract compliance, charter governance, fiscal management, academic growth, test scores and parent input.
Some charters get shorter renewals
The two charter schools that are being renewed for just 3 years are ACE Tech and Community Services West Charter School.
Last year, ACE Tech had a 1-year contract but the district says it “is showing early signs of performance progress.” Community Services West “is moving to restructure its organization to better serve a distinct alternative student population,” the district noted. In recent years, several charter schools have undergone restructuring or "turnaround" in an effort to boost performance.
In a story headlined "Teach for America's hidden curriculum," Salon says the history of the prototypical liberal reform organization "reveals the ironies of contemporary education reform.
In its mission to deliver justice to underprivileged children, TFA and the liberal education reform movement have advanced an agenda that advances conservative attempts to undercut teacher’s unions. More broadly, TFA has been in the vanguard in forming a neoliberal consensus about the role of public education—and the role of public school teachers—in a deeply unequal society.
VIOLENCE AND PRIVACY: Chicago Public School officials are refusing to say whether kids gunned down in the city are public school students. For years, school officials deliberately collected and shared information about whether or not homicide victims also attended a public school in the city. But CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus said they’re trying to protect parents and students privacy. (WBEZ)
IN THE NATION
CHARTER DISCIPLINE: In a few urban districts where high discipline rates at charter schools have drawn scrutiny, school officials have recently taken steps aimed at ensuring that students in both charter and other public schools are treated fairly. School officials in Newark, N.J., New Orleans, and San Diego have made such policy changes, and officials in other cities, such as the District of Columbia, are considering similar shifts, according to Education Week.
RHEE FUNDS: Former District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, a controversial figure in education reform, said Wednesday that her organization has made a substantial donation to the contests for seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education. (Los Angeles Times)
YOGA FOE: A San Diego family has sued a public school district, saying its yoga program violates religious freedoms. (The Denver Channel)
EVALUATION CONTENTION: Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy announced last week that as much as 30 percent of a teacher's evaluation will be based on student test scores, setting off more contention in the nation's second-largest school system in the weeks before a critical Board of Education election. (Los Angeles Times)
CHARTER EXPANSION: Eva Moskowitz's controversial Success Academy charter school chain could expand with an extra six new schools throughout New York City in the fall of 2014, including two potentially on the Lower East Side. (DNAinfo)
A group of Chicago Teachers Union members said current President Karen Lewis didn't leverage the strike to get enough from the district — including a guarantee not to close schools — and announced a slate of candidates that will try to unseat Lewis and her team in a regular election set for May 17. (Tribune)
OPPOSING LEWIS: A coalition of candidates, including the party that ran the CTU for decades before Lewis, said Tuesday they seek the leadership posts, criticizing Lewis and other union leaders for failing to combat school closings “in which teachers and staff have had no voice.” (Sun-Times)
“We did our part. We spent weeks on the street, rallied and gave Lewis all the power she needed,” said Tanya Saunders-Wolffe, potential candidate for union president. “What did we get? Firings, closings, lower pay; her leadership is one without backbone or foresight. It’s time for a change. Our leadership is one that cannot only get headlines but results.”
CHARTING CHARTERS: Chicago Magazine's Whet Moser finds that although the city's charter school enrollment climbed in recent years, it still lags behind many other major cities, except for New York, San Francisco and Atlanta.
TURNAROUND A PROCESS: A new report from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research on school turnarounds reiterates findings from the Consortium’s initial turnaround study released last year: Schools that underwent one of four intervention strategies made academic gains that were considered statistically significant—albeit modest in real-world terms. According to the study, the results “suggest that turning around chronically low-performing schools is a process rather than an event.” The new report includes more school-level data on changes in teacher and student demographics—the teaching force became younger and whiter, and most schools continued to enroll a similar student body—and in student outcomes. Schools that were closed and then re-opened attracted students with higher incoming achievement. A separate section of the study, on schools that were closed for underutilization, states that many closed schools later reopened as magnets or charters that enrolled few students from the shuttered school. The findings are similar to those reported by Catalyst Chicago and WBEZ in an analysis of a decade of school closings.
CLOSING DEBATE: Catalyst's Rebecca Harris appeared on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" Tuesday to talk about the current debate on school closings.
IN THE NATION
PHILLY FIGHT: Although some Philadelphia students and communities were glad to have a reprieve and felt that their voices were heard, supporters of a moratorium on school closings said that they hadn’t changed their minds as a result of Superintendent William Hite’s revised recommendations that would shutter 29 instead of 37 schools. (The Notebook)
CLOSING PLAN: Ten schools that the Philadelphia School District had recommended for closure will now remain open if the new closings plan is approved by the School Reform Commission next month. (The Notebook)
CHARTER SCREENING: Reuters has found that across the United States, charters aggressively screen student applicants, assessing their academic records, parental support, disciplinary history, motivation, special needs and even their citizenship, sometimes in violation of state and federal law. (Tribune)
Chicago principals say they are struggling with a severe lack of substitute teachers, spending hours a day finding substitutes or teaching themselves – even having to leave aides in charge of classes.
Several principals contacted by Catalyst Chicago say the district’s substitute center rarely, if ever, provides them with substitutes, even when requests are sent in several days in advance. The problems started in spring 2012, principals say, but got worse during this winter’s massive flu outbreak.
In November, Catalyst filed an open records law request with CPS for data including teacher absences, substitute teacher spending by school, and the steps the district is taking to reduce teacher absences. Last Thursday, the district said it could not fulfill the request because it was “unduly burdensome” and would require more than 40 hours of work to collect the data.
Another factor contributing to the shortage could be new restrictions on teachers’ ability to get paid for unused sick days. That could mean more teachers who are sick are staying home, rather than coming to work in hopes of getting money for unused sick days later.
“Every day we are without subs and we are plugging the holes [by] pulling people off schedules,” said another principal, Tamara Witzl of Telpochcalli Elementary. When the special education teacher must cover classes, students do not get their mandated services. When the world language teacher gets sub duty, students skip that class.
Witzl says she tries to book substitutes she knows in advance, but that it’s hard because they are in such great demand.
“The amount of time I am spending either plugging the holes or tag-teaming can be between an hour and two hours, almost every single day,” Witzl says. “It is extremely stressful. Day-to-day operations are being disrupted. We don’t have any subs coming out to the schools, and we don’t know why.”
One issue could be a district rule that, starting in 2010, required substitute teachers to have teaching certificates “to alleviate concerns from principals regarding sub quality,” says CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler. But, she says, existing subs were grandfathered in.
The district has roughly 3,000 substitutes, Ziegler says, including 600 that were hired in August – but CPS is trying to find “several hundred more” through job fairs and outreach to retirees.
Chicago’s substitutes are spread more thinly than those in Los Angeles, another large urban district. According to state teacher service records, Chicago has roughly 17,500 classroom teachers, or about 5.8 teachers for every substitute. Los Angeles, by comparison, has 4.6 classroom teachers per sub.
Several studies done in the 1990s and early 2000s suggest that nationally, about 5 percent of teachers are absent each school day. This would suggest CPS would need at least 1,260 substitutes each day, but that number doesn’t include substitutes who are used when teachers are released from class due to professional development and testing.
Also, teacher absenteeism can be higher in high-poverty schools like many of those in CPS. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, 15.5 percent of CPS teachers missed 10 or more school days in 2008-09, the most recent year for which data was available.
“We hope that as the flu outbreak diminishes, absenteeism due to illness will also diminish,” Ziegler says.
Head teacher Marta Moya-Leang, the only administrator at Belmont Cragin Early Childhood Center, said the shortage has been particularly hard on her school.
“There was one time we had four teachers out. I can only go into one classroom [at a time],” she points out. “We have relied on the teacher assistants and the parents to help, and that’s not good.”
But Peck Elementary Principal Okab Hassan, a veteran, says that he has learned he has to fend for himself as far as substitutes are concerned.
“If I waited for the district, they would never do anything,” Hassan says. “When we have a sub that is good, we keep them in the file. I am not going to depend on anybody to make my school run.”
Using state prison data, the Tribune calculated figures that it says serve as a grim reminder that absence from school in the early grades is often the first warning of criminal misconduct that can destroy young lives as well as burden society with the costs of street violence, welfare and prison.
10 QUESTIONS FOR CPS: Former education blogger Seth Lavin posed 10 questions to Chicago Public Schools officials about the school closing plan, asking "What data exist that shows closing underperforming schools results in academic gains for students?" Lavin shared his answers with Tribune columnist Eric Zorn.
DATA + EMOTIONS: School communities across the city are pulling out all the stops to make their case as the district prepares to make a final decision, due by the end of March, on what schools will be shuttered. Parents, teachers and community leaders are bringing healthy amounts of data and emotion to the meetings in their effort to convince district officials which schools should stay open. (Tribune)
NAVY BACKS STEM: The U.S. Department of the Navy on Friday disclosed plans to make a five-year, $2 million investment in students at Chicago’s Rickover Naval Academy and at five schools specializing in science, technology, engineering and math — known as STEM. (Sun-Times)
PRESCHOOL SPENDING LAG: In 2011, Illinois ranked tops in the nation for its attention to 3-year-olds. But in the decade between 2002 and 2011, it cut its per-child preschool spending from $4,394 to $3,449, less than the national $4,151 per child average. (Sun-Times)
VIOLENCE RECOVERY: The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Safe and Healthy Students has awarded Chicago Public Schools an Immediate Project School Emergency Response to Violence grant totaling nearly $50,000. The grant will provide assistance for recovery efforts following 35 shootings this past year at four high schools in the Greater Englewood community. (Campus Safety)
IN THE NATION
CHARTER CONFLICT: Michele Pastorello, the executive chef for the LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden, N.J., will make $95,000 this school year—a $24,000 raise from last year. His contract is drawing scrutiny because he's the live-in boyfriend of the founder and board chair of the charter school, Gloria Bonilla-Santiago. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
BUS DRIVERS BACK TO WORK: The main union for New York City’s school bus drivers ended its monthlong strike Friday, handing a victory to the Bloomberg administration, which had refused to give in to the union’s demands for job protections. (The New York Times)
United Neighborhood Organization officials said Thursday they have hired former U.S. District Judge Wayne Andersen to conduct a review of how their charter-school network selected companies to build new schools with state grant money, the Sun-Times reports.
AN IVY LEAGUE CRITIC: A Yale University freshman from Chicago addresses what has become known as the "UNO scandal" in the Yale Daily News, writing: "UNO is shady and possibly participating in illegal activities, but gets away with it because its charter school network status allows it to avoid following the same financial standards that public schools do."
CEO'S STATEMENT: Juan Rangel, UNO chief executive, issued a statement on his organization's "procurement processes related to the $98 million school construction state grant."
MAPPING CLOSINGS: This Tribune map gives a clear view of the Chicago neighborhoods where most of the potential school closings would be concentrated—Austin, West Englewood, West Pullman and North Lawndale.
IN THE NATION
PRESCHOOL SKEPTICS: President Obama’s plan to expand preschool for the nation’s children faces deep skepticism among Republicans, who fear the creation of another federal entitlement program that they say could add to the nation’s deficit and swell the ranks of the teachers’ unions. (The New York Times)
TEACHER PREP PROPOSAL: A set of proposed standards for teacher-preparation programs unveiled Friday by the Washington-based Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation is leaner, more specific, and more outcomes-focused than any prior set in the 60-year history of national teacher-college accreditation. (Education Week)
PAPER TO DIGITAL: The push continues for school districts to move away from paper textbooks and toward digital curricula and e-textbooks. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged educators last year to move quickly to adopt digital textbooks and materials. (Education Week)
A group of aldermen is calling for a moratorium on new charter schools starting in 2014 in Chicago, arguing it doesn't make sense to add new charter seats at a time the city is considering closing public schools that don't have enough students, the Tribune reports.
TARGETED FOR CLOSURE: The Chicago Teachers Union called the 129 schools still on the list for possible closure an "unprecedented attack [that] targets only schools in Black and Latino neighborhoods—especially the ones in which resources are few."
PARING DOWN: Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, announcing that she has officially shaved the school closing list by agreeing to some of the recommendations of the Commission on School Utilization and taking heed of the feedback at community meetings, said she used nine criteria to remove schools, including ones that are high-achieving, have more than 600 students and are more than a mile from another school that can accept them. (Catalyst)
CLEVELAND AND CHICAGO: "The entire Cleveland school district, which Barbara Byrd-Bennett led, is smaller than the CPS closings list." (@SethLevin)
CONFLICT OF INTEREST: The day before Chicago Public Schools was set to release the list of schools in danger of closing, a group of parents asked the CPS Inspector General of Chicago Public Schools to investigate the district’s closing process. Parents 4 Teachers, which has strong ties to the Chicago Teachers Union, filed a complaint alleging conflict of interest, saying the district is motivated to close schools not by a budget deficit but by a desire to expand charter schools. (ctu.net)
WEST SIDE VOWS TO FIGHT: Residents of the West Side, where 16 elementary schools now must make the case they should not be closed in June, vowed not to give up the fight. “No schools closing,” “save our schools,” shouted folks from the Austin-North Lawndale network who were crowded into the House of Prayer Church of God in Christ. (Sun-Times)
FINES FOR CHARTERS: The Chicago Teachers Pension Fund is seeking a change in state law that would expand the number of charter school teachers who are required to participate, and also allow the fund to levy steep fines on charter schools that are late in handing over teachers’ payments toward pension savings. (Catalyst)
LIFE AND DEATH AT HARPER HIGH: This weekend and next, Feb. 15-17 and Feb. 22-24, the public radio show "This American Life" will devote two full episodes to the violence affecting Harper High School in Chicago. Last school year, 29 current and recent Harper students were shot. Twenty-one were wounded; eight died. The special episodes begin airing the same day President Obama travels to Chicago to talk about urban gun violence. (thisamericanlife.org)
IN THE NATION
VOCABULARY REQUIREMENTS: Children who enter kindergarten with a small vocabulary don't get taught enough words—particularly, sophisticated academic words—to close the gap, according to the latest in a series of studies by Michigan early-learning experts. (Education Week)
PRESCHOOL CRITICS: While supporters herald President Obama’s plan to extend preschool, critics argue that providing universal access could result in federal money being squandered on ineffective programs. (The New York Times)
Now, 129 elementary schools are on the possible closure list.
Late Wednesday afternoon, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced that she has officially shaved the list by agreeing to some of the recommendations of the Commission on School Utilization and taking heed of the feedback at community meetings.
She used nine criteria to remove schools, including ones that are high-achieving, have more than 600 students and are more than a mile from another school that can accept them.
Eight of the 129 schools have been turnarounds in previous years, a process in which the principal and most of the staff are replaced and the school receives a significant financial investment. Six of them are run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a not-for-profit that has done much of the turnaround work.
Initially, CPS officials said that all underutilized schools were in danger of being closed and they identified 330 as underutilized.
“This will alleviate the tension the tension for 200 schools,” Byrd-Bennett said.
The new list is the last before Byrd-Bennett publishes her final closing recommendations to be voted on by the Board of Education. By state law, she must do this before March 31. Byrd-Bennett insisted again on Wednesday that she does not know how many schools will be on the final proposed list.
A second round of community hearings is starting Wednesday night in a church in Austin. Austin has seven schools still on the list and North Lawndale, which is in the same network, has nine.
The communities that stand to be hardest hit are the same neighborhoods that have experienced a lot of closings previously. Englewood has 19 schools still on the list, Grand Boulevard has 15 and the Far South Side and West Humboldt Park each have 14.
Byrd-Bennett said she now will be looking for the parents, school staff and community members to explain to her why the remaining schools are in the predicament they are in—underutilized and low-achieving. She would like to hear about issues of school leadership, teacher turnover and professional development.
“I want to know, how do they expect to address these issues?” Byrd-Bennett said. “I do not want to be interpreted as saying they are at fault. I just want them to explain their current situation.”
Byrd-Bennett said she also wants information on the dangers that children from a school could be subjected to, should it close. She said she will not close a school if she believes there are safety issues.
However, she disagreed with the not on that the criteria for determining the final list will be subjective. Byrd-Bennett said she is using “stacks of data” to make her final decision.
HOW SCHOOLS WERE REMOVED
Most of the reasons used to whittle down the list, Byrd-Bennett had already agreed to, such as not closing high schools or high-achieving elementary schools. But she reiterated Wednesday that, if schools in those categories are in disrepair, she still might relocate or close them.
The Commission on School Utilization also recommended that Byrd-Bennett remove schools that have more than 600 students, those that are close to their capacity and those that are trending upward. Byrd-Bennett also accepted these recommendations and she had her staff work on definitions for “trending upward” and “close to efficiency.”
Adam Anderson, chief of the office of portfolio, planning and strategy, said that additional criteria were added specifically because of what people said during community meetings. Many told CPS officials that their schools were far from other schools. Others said nearby schools were at capacity.
“What we said is that if you are isolated by more than a mile or [there is] no school nearby had space, we want to give parents assurance that we will not close that school,” he said.
Anderson and Byrd-Bennett also insisted that students from closed schools will be given the option to enroll in a higher-performing school.
School Name Geographic Area COOK Auburn Gresham GRESHAM Auburn Gresham JACKSON, M Auburn Gresham MORGAN Auburn Gresham RYDER Auburn Gresham GREEN Auburn Gresham ARMSTRONG, L Austin DE PRIEST Austin EMMET Austin KEY Austin LEWIS Austin MAY Austin MCNAIR Austin GRAHAM Bridgeport - Chinatown MCCLELLAN Bridgeport - Chinatown ATTUCKS Bronzeville BURKE Bronzeville CARTER Bronzeville DRAKE Bronzeville FULLER Bronzeville MAYO Bronzeville MOLLISON Bronzeville OVERTON Bronzeville PERSHING MIDDLE Bronzeville ROBINSON Bronzeville WELLS, I Bronzeville WILIAMS MIDDLE Bronzeville WILLIAMS ES Bronzeville WOODSON Bronzeville HENDRICKS Bronzeville ASHE Chatham CLAREMONT Chicago Lawn ALTGELD Englewood BANNEKER Englewood BONTEMPS Englewood DAVIS, M Englewood EARLE Englewood GOODLOW Englewood HENDERSON Englewood HINTON Englewood HOLMES Englewood LANGFORD Englewood MAYS Englewood O'TOOLE Englewood STAGG Englewood WOODS Englewood DEWEY Englewood LIBBY Englewood PARKMAN Englewood SHERMAN Englewood YALE Englewood LAWRENCE Far East Side ALDRIDGE Far South Side CARVER , G Far South Side GOMPERS Far South Side METCALFE Far South Side OWENS Far South Side PULLMAN Far South Side SONGHAI Far South Side WEST PULLMAN Far South Side WHISTLER Far South Side FERNWOOD Far South Side GARVEY Far South Side HUGHES, L Far South Side KOHN Far South Side SHOOP Far South Side BEIDLER Garfield - West Humboldt BETHUNE Garfield - West Humboldt CALHOUN Garfield - West Humboldt DELANO Garfield - West Humboldt ERICSON Garfield - West Humboldt GARFIELD PARK Garfield - West Humboldt GOLDBLATT Garfield - West Humboldt MARCONI Garfield - West Humboldt MELODY Garfield - West Humboldt PICCOLO Garfield - West Humboldt RYERSON Garfield - West Humboldt TILTON Garfield - West Humboldt WARD, L Garfield - West Humboldt WEBSTER Garfield - West Humboldt DUPREY Humboldt Park LAFAYETTE Humboldt Park VON HUMBOLDT Humboldt Park CANTER Hyde Park KOZMINSKI Hyde Park REAVIS Hyde Park MANIERRE Lincoln Park BRENTANO Logan JENNER Loop LOZANO Near North NEAR NORTH Near North PEABODY Near North BROWN, W Near West DETT Near West HERBERT Near West KING Near West MONTEFIORE Near West SMYTH Near West CHALMERS North Lawndale CROWN North Lawndale HENSON North Lawndale HERZL North Lawndale HUGHES, C North Lawndale LAWNDALE North Lawndale MASON North Lawndale PENN North Lawndale POPE North Lawndale JUNGMAN Pilsen - Little Village PADEREWSKI Pilsen - Little Village PILSEN Pilsen - Little Village BRENNEMANN Ravenswood STEWART Ravenswood STOCKTON Ravenswood TRUMBULL Ravenswood BUCKINGHAM South Shore MADISON South Shore NEW SULLIVAN South Shore O'KEEFFE South Shore PARKSIDE South Shore POWELL South Shore REVERE South Shore WARREN South Shore DUMAS TECH ACAD Woodlawn FERMI Woodlawn FISKE Woodlawn ROSS Woodlawn SEXTON Woodlawn TILL Woodlawn WADSWORTH Woodlawn
The Chicago Teachers Pension Fund is seeking a change in state law that would expand the number of charter school teachers who are required to participate, and also allow the fund to levy steep fines on charter schools that are late in handing over teachers’ payments toward pension savings.
Charter school teachers belong to the same pension system as teachers at neighborhood schools, but each charter school determines whether teachers’ pension contributions are taken from their pay or covered by the charter.
Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, doesn’t think the fines will cause problems for charter schools because they should be paying on time anyway.
But expanding the number of teachers required to participate in the pension system could be controversial, he says, because charter schools don’t want more restrictions on how teachers are compensated.
“There are uncertified teachers in charter schools who aren’t part of the pension system and that’s okay,” Broy says. “We don’t see that as something wrong. Our focus should be on whether the teachers are effective. We already have a huge funding challenge with charter teachers who wind up not receiving the same salary as traditional teachers do, and this has the potential to exacerbate that problem” –because a portion of those teachers’ salaries would now go toward pensions.
Fines, late fees
Under the proposed change in state law, the fund wants to be able to charge charter schools 8 percent interest on back payments plus a fine of $100 per day for late payments, up to 20 percent of the amount a school owes.
However, the money typically owed by chronically late charter schools – which during an end-of- November pension fund audit was $360,000, according to the pension fund – is just a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of state and CPS dollars the pension funds have missed out on due to recent “pension holidays” and cuts in state contributions.
The proposed bill would also amend the law to require all charter schools to put someone in charge of tracking pension fund payments, and broaden the fund to include all hourly and salaried charter school staff unless the charter school establishes they are not working as teachers or administrators. Currently, the pension fund only includes certified teachers who are working in salaried positions, but some charter schools pay teachers hourly or hire teachers who aren’t certified.
The pension fund has not yet found legislators to sponsor the bill.
A third of charters “chronically late”
A spot-check of charter contributions last fall showed that a third of charter schools were “chronically late” reporting and making payments, according to fund officials. That includes four schools that submitted nearly $31,000 in payments that the fund said it could not credit to anyone because the schools haven’t sent in teacher payroll information.
Charter schools included in the audit say that in many cases, logistical problems caused the delays--staff were out of the office or switched jobs, employees were learning a new payroll system, or the fund’s website had technical problems. Some were not aware the fund considered their payments late and said no one had tried to address the issue with them.
“We make payments regularly, generally every 2 to 4 pay periods. We have never been told that a problem exists,” notes Kelly Dickens of Urban Prep. “We are current on all payments. As far as we know, there has been no problem.”
But because the school had not paid in three pay periods at the time of the audit, it was listed in CTPF’s analysis as owing a total of $46,500 among three campuses. Kevin Huber, executive director of the pension fund, says all payments must be received by the 10th day after the end of a school’s pay period.
Youth Connections Charter School Comptroller Hope Mueller says at least two of the three affected campuses, which were listed as owing over $48,000, made all their payments for November on time.
Mueller says that Youth Connections, too, has been allowed by CTPF to file its payroll monthly, rather than after every pay period.
The No. 2 executive of the United Neighborhood Organization quit Tuesday, eight days after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the politically influential charter school operator paid state grant money to companies owned by two of his brothers.
PARENTS HIT BACK: The group Parents 4 Teachers said Tuesday it has filed a complaint against Chicago Public Schools administrators to determine a preliminary list of school closings, according to WBEZ.
PARENTAL PRESSURE: A coalition of parent and community groups called on outside help Tuesday to try to put the brakes on massive school closings, which they fear even large, well-organized opposition won’t be able to stop. (Catalyst)
BRACING FOR 'HIT LIST': In a 1:16-minute video message, CTU President Karen Lewis tells union members to "stand strong" and organize even if their schools aren't on the preliminary closing list—or "hit list" as Lewis calls it— due out this week.
URBAN TARGETS: As community battles against proposed school closings in Chicago continue, the Chicago Teachers Union has issued a press release noting that the pattern of attacks on urban public schools is showing up across the U.S. "The majority of these schools are in cities with large minority populations such as Philadelphia, Detroit, New Orleans, Oakland and Washington, D.C. — part of a damaging trend in the targeting of African-Americans and other students and teachers of color," the release said. (Substance News)
IN THE NATION
EDUCATION AGENDA: President Barack Obama called on Congress in his State of the Union address to significantly expand access to preschool to all 4-year-olds from moderate- and low-income families, and to create a new spin-off of his Race to the Top program aimed at pushing high schools to adopt curricula that better prepare students for the jobs of the future. (Education Week)
TWEETING SOTU: A sampling of tweets shows how President Obama's State of the Union address went over with educators and education activists. (The Washington Post)
A coalition of parent and community groups called on outside help Tuesday to try to put the brakes on massive school closings, which they fear even large, well-organized opposition won’t be able to stop.
In a complaint to the CPS Inspector General and cc’d to the Illinois Attorney General, Parents 4 Teachers (a group that CPS says has been organized by the Chicago Teachers Union, which is adamantly opposed to closings) charged that the school closing process is wrought with “employee misconduct,” conflicts of interest and misinformation.
“We want CPS to be held [accountable by] an independent body, to shine a light on what is going on,” said Erica Clark, a member of the coalition. It is unclear whether the Inspector General would launch an investigation.
CPS has said that school closings are necessary because the district “has too many empty classrooms and too few students to fill them,” spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said in a statement. “This is stretching our limited resources too thin and depriving children of critical investments such as air conditioning, playgrounds, technology and computers, library, art and music.” Closing schools would give the district more resources to provide a better education at the remaining schools, CPS says.
The complaint charges that CPS is closing traditional neighborhood schools in order to privatize public education by expanding charter schools. “We have come to the conclusion that it is the motive,” Clark said.
At a press conference on Tuesday, parents and community activists from several organizations stood together to announce the filing of the complaint. Clark pointed out that many came from schools that are not in danger of being closed. “Everyone understands that what everyone wants is a good neighborhood school,” she said.
CPS recently approved four charters, but CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has sought to separate the two issues. She promised that this year, unlike previous years, vacant CPS buildings would not be converted to charter schools.
Nationally, a new Pew Charitable Trust study found that about 40 percent of closed schools in 12 cities were later converted to charters.
On Wednesday, Byrd-Bennett is expected to release a more finite list of schools she is looking at closing. Her final recommendations must be published by March 31, after which official public hearings will be held. Then, at the April Board of Education meeting, members will vote on Byrd-Bennett’s recommendations.
Suspicions of political, charter ties
CPS has embarked on a community engagement process that entails meetings held by the district’s hand-picked School Utilization Commission; 28 more will be conducted by CPS. At meetings already held, hundreds, and sometimes close to a thousand, parents and community activists have shown up to voice their opposition to closing neighborhood schools. Meetings have been moved to bigger venues and CPS officials have in some cases abandoned their agenda so that everyone could speak.
Some activists are suspicious of the School Utilization Commission because it is staffed by the Civic Consulting Alliance, a politically-connected group that brings business expertise to government and is housed in the same office as New Schools for Chicago, which provides start-up funds for charter schools and has some of the same board members as the Alliance.
Also, CPS got a $478,000 grant from the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation to undertake the community engagement process—a move that CPS is quick to note was meant to save costs.
According to Ziegler, the Walton grant “allowed CPS to avoid using any taxpayer dollars in order to engage parents in this conversation at the front end of this process and allow them to have a voice in the critical decisions that need to be made to address this crisis.”
The complaint also makes note of the district’s school utilization formula, which has come under fire from schools and parents. In the fall, Raise Your Hand, a parent organization, came out with a study that claimed the district’s utilization formula is inaccurate and exaggerates the number of empty schools.
According to CPS, some 330 schools are underutilized and about 140 are half empty.
The complaint says that Byrd-Bennett and School Utilization Commission Chairman Frank Clark have acknowledged that the CPS formula is faulty. “At recent CPS public hearings, district personnel have distributed charts, by network area, reporting the utilization rates of each school based on the original, unchanged CPS formula, which the CEO noted was flawed nearly three months ago,” according to the complaint.
At the community meetings, CPS officials emphasize that CPS is facing a projected $1 billion budget deficit, implying that the shortfall is the reason schools must be closed. Yet, the complaint says that an internal memo proves that district officials know that cost savings could be minimal, if any. Another national Pew study found minimal savings for closing schools.
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford has introduced legislation to lower Illinois' compulsory school age from 7 to 5, a move aimed at countering Chicago's crisis in K-8 truancy and absenteeism, the Tribune reports.
SITTING EMPTY: A study released Monday concluded that Chicago is already awash in vacant school property for sale, with 24 shuttered CPS sites on the market plus about as many old Catholic schools for sale or lease. Most of Chicago’s vacant schools have been so for more than 10 years. (Sun-Times)
CLOSING IN ON CLOSINGS: Another round of community meetings on public school closings in Chicago will begin Wednesday after the district releases a preliminary list of schools that could be shut down. (Tribune)
ON TO ROUND TWO: CPS begins a second round of 14 community meetings Wed., Feb. 13 on what it is calls the district's "utilization crisis." The first round of was expected to collect feedback from more than 7,500 parents and community members around the city, CPS announced in a press release. Community meetings being held this week are:
IN THE STATE
Shifting decision-making from the district level to school principals is one of the details that have emerged on how Round Lake Area Unit District 116 intends to change how education is delivered to students to boost academic achievement. (Daily Herald)
IN THE NATION
GROWING INVENTORY: As student enrollment steadily declines in many urban districts, school leaders across the country are struggling to manage a growing inventory of empty and shuttered buildings that are difficult to sell, lease, or otherwise repurpose, a new study finds. The Pew Charitable Trusts examined those three city districts, along with Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, the District of Columbia, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Tulsa, in a report that found that the impact of large-scale public school closures reverberate for years after the buildings are shut down. (Education Week)
BUILD NOW, PAY LATER: Since 2007, hundreds of school districts and community colleges across California have used capital appreciation bonds to raise nearly $7 billion for various construction projects, according to data from the state treasurer’s office. The bonds have allowed school districts that are short on cash to finance classroom renovations and new athletic facilities while delaying payment for years, or even decades. (The New York Times)
OUTSIDE INFLUENCE: Outside groups are mounting campaigns to influence the outcome of three races for seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education. The Coalition for School Reform has raised more than $1.5 million, mostly from a small group of wealthy donors who helped fund past campaigns. (Los Angeles Times)
As CPS prepares to start a second round of community meetings on Wednesday, hundreds of parents showed up to a community meeting Monday and voiced their opposition to school closings. Because of the large crowds being drawn for these community meetings, the one planned for Wednesday is being moved to a bigger location—House of Prayer Church of God in Christ, 3535 W. Roosevelt Road.
The parents and other supporters, including Chicago Teachers Union members, rallied against school closings at Logan Square Auditorium and then marched to the Fullerton Network meeting on closings at Armitage Baptist Church.
They represented schools from Logan Square and Belmont Cragin, as well as Near North Side schools like Jenner and Manierre. Some grew agitated when security guards would only let in meeting attendees a handful at a time, but all were eventually let inside.
On Wednesday, CPS is expected to release a list of schools that could potentially be targeted for closure.
Photos by Jonathan Gibby
Facing mounting criticism for paying insiders with state construction grant money, United Neighborhood Organization CEO Juan Rangel said Sunday the charter school network would at least temporarily stop doing business with a brother of UNO’s No. 2 executive, according to the Sun-Times.
SAVING A SCHOOL: Parents of students at Brentano Elementary Math and Science Academy in Logan Square knocked on doors and collected signatures in an effort to keep their school open. The parents don't know if the school will be among those targeted for closing when Chicago Public Schools releases its final list in March. But they've decided not to wait, creating one of the best-organized fronts in a battle being waged across the city by parents trying to save their local schools. (Tribune)
INVESTING IN BAM: Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Thursday he is tripling the city’s investment in a mentoring program for at-risk boys. The program, called Becoming a Man, includes tutoring, mentoring, character development and counseling sessions that take place at schools and are provided by the nonprofit Youth Guidance. (WBEZ)
TURKEY BOLOGNA AND A FRESH APPLE: Chicago Public Schools are now releasing school menus each month. Here's an example of what's being served in schools in the southwest neighborhoods, thanks to the Sun-Times Community Network.
IN THE NATION
RHEE-FORM: Former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and a self-titled “radical” reformer for education has been making the rounds lately to discuss her views on education and advocate for standardized testing as a basis for evaluation. Watch video clips of her recent interviews on "NOW with Alex Wagner" and "The Daily Show." (MSNBC)
ACADEMICS AND ACCOUNTABILITY: As Congress contemplates rewriting No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s signature education law, legislators will tussle over a vision of how the federal government should hold states and schools accountable for students’ academic progress. (The New York Times)