Catalyst Chicago

Subscribe to Catalyst Chicago feed
Stories and items from the Catalyst Chicago Front Page
Updated: 21 min 25 sec ago

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

July 31, 2014 - 7:19am

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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




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

July 28, 2014 - 8:21am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Life after being arrested at school

July 28, 2014 - 12:00am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick to punish

July 28, 2014 - 12:00am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Drug policy should focus on teaching, not punishment

July 28, 2014 - 12:00am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 27, 2014 - 8:21am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

July 25, 2014 - 3:03pm

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

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

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

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

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

Stop warring over fixed pie of education funding

July 24, 2014 - 5:37pm

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

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

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

Funding shift reflects enrollment shift

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

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

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

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

Maximize spending to benefit students

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

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

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

Raise funding for all schools

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

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

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

July 24, 2014 - 8:54am

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

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

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

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

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

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

$5.8 billion schools budget gets final stamp of approval

July 23, 2014 - 4:24pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simeon's electrician program and other cuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charter school funding changes budget landscape

July 22, 2014 - 3:45pm

In the past, charter school parents were a regular presence at CPS board meetings, carrying signs demanding that their schools get equal funding. But lately, these parents are nowhere to be found.

One reason for their absence is likely the negative publicity generated by the UNO Charter School Network, which sent busloads of parents but is now under federal investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. But another probable reason is the fact that charter school funding has increased substantially over the past three years.  Even leaders in the charter sector acknowledge that Chicago’s funding is close to equitable with the money given to district-run schools.

“We are substantially better off on the operating side,” says Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. Broy and others, however, still believe that money for charter facilities remains inequitable.

Yet charter funding remains hotly contested, with advocates for neighborhood schools pointing out that district schools lost $67 million in budget cuts—a figure that is close to the $62 million increase for charter schools, which are expected to get thousands more students. On Wednesday, the School Board is expected to approve a $5.7 billion budget.  

While the Chicago Teachers Union and the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand angrily accuse CPS of disinvesting in traditional schools, charter supporters insist they get no funding advantage and have gotten far less money in the past.  

“In the last two years, we have taken great steps forward,” says Beth Purvis, chief executive officer of Chicago International Charter School.

More or less?

Since fiscal year 2012, per-pupil funding for elementary charter schools has jumped 22 percent, to $7,166 from $5,873; and has risen 8 percent for charter high schools, to $8,194 from $7,188.

This year, all schools—traditional and charter alike—will receive $250 more per student. (Traditional schools say their budgets have been cut, though CPS maintains that custodians and building engineers now work under a centralized system and are no longer part of school-level budgets.) In addition to that $250, charter schools will receive another $250 for each elementary student and $50 more per high school student. 

CPS spokesman Joel Hood admits that the district made budget adjustments that benefit charters above and beyond the $250 per student increase. Some charter schools are getting miscellaneous extra funding, such as for summer school, that charter schools have never been given before. 

Plus, one of the biggest “adjustments” is the additional federal grant money that will now be funneled to charters. District officials say it is the same share of federal grant money as district-run schools receive.

The federal money will include not just money for this year, but retroactive funding: Officials calculated an amount they believe charters should have been given last year and added it on to this year’s amount.

“We are really excited that charter students are now receiving their fair share of [federal] money,” Purvis says.

Finally, CPS officials made a change in how the district reports an administrative fee charged to charters. In previous years, the published per-pupil amount did not include that fee. This year, officials say they will publish the entire gross per-pupil figure, but will stipulate that the district will subtract a 3 percent administrative fee from that.

“This had the result of simplifying and making the fee more transparent, but also reduced the fee amount,” Hood says.

State funding task force convinced

CPS faced pressure to make adjustments to charter budgets from the state’s Charter School Funding Task Force. Made up of lawmakers, charter school operators and a representative from INCS, the task force was charged with making sure that district and charter schools are funded equally. Originally, the task force was focused on the provision in the Illinois law that calls for charter schools to be funded at 75 percent to 125 percent of the district’s per capita tuition, which is the amount a district would charge a non-resident to attend a school.    

Chicago’s per-capita tuition is $13,790, and the district has never come close to providing even 75 percent of that to charter schools.

After much discussion, CPS officials were able to convince the task force that per capita tuition was the wrong measure.

The task force’s final report recommended that student-based, or per-pupil, budgeting be used instead, with the range between 97 percent and 103 percent. (Districts that do not use per-pupil budgeting would use a different formula called the Charter Funding Calculation).

Though none of the task force’s recommendations have been incorporated into law, CPS officials write in the budget book that they had to make adjustments to satisfy the task force. As a result, CPS convinced the task force that its model “provides equity for operating funds," according to the budget book.

Purvis says that while charter schools are grateful for the additional money, they, like district-run schools, suffer because Illinois continues to under-fund education. The lack of money prevents some higher-performing charter networks from opening schools in Chicago, she says..

Purvis says that she and other operators are concerned about next year. It’s estimated that the district will once again have a big budget deficit, but that Mayor Rahm Emanuel (should he win re-election) and district leaders won’t be as quick to use one-time accounting tricks to close a budget hole, as happened this year.  

“It is a scary time,” Purvis says.  

 

 

YMCA child care workers back at negotiating table on pay, health care

July 21, 2014 - 10:31am

More than a year and a half after voting to unionize, YMCA child care workers in Chicago have yet to agree on a contract with the large, not-for-profit organization.

Workers and management went back to the bargaining table two weeks ago, but have not yet reached an agreement on issues such as pay increases or reduced health insurance costs.

Now, organizers say they are seriously considering a strike vote, which could temporarily cripple early childhood programs at the 12 YMCA of Metro Chicago sites, with about 160 workers who joined the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in November 2012.

“The pay is really, really low,” said Aurora Cavazos, who holds a master’s degree in early childhood education yet makes just $15 per hour as an Early Head Start teacher at the North Lawndale YMCA. “Some of the people who work there have gotten degrees and have gone elsewhere. I believe children need quality education, but they’re not paying me quality wages.”

YMCA spokeswoman Sherrie Medina said she couldn’t comment publicly on ongoing union negotiations.

“We’ve exchanged proposals, and have had thoughtful and energetic conversations,” she said. “We respect the collective bargaining process and can’t comment further.”

SEIU organizers say they empathize with smaller community agencies that administer Chicago’s Head Start and other early childhood programs, and whose budgets rely mostly on government funds. Instead of taking an antagonistic approach with management, workers at three other unionized sites in Chicago advocate for increased government resources alongside their bosses.

But it’s another story with the YMCA of Metro Chicago, which in 2012 reported annual revenues of more than $100 million plus some $276 million in assets, according to public records. There, workers have taken a more aggressive tone in their campaign for higher wages and lower health care costs.  SEIU organizers said workers want the YMCA to supplement Head Start and preschool workers’ pay with funding from donations to the YMCA and gym membership fees.

Low wages are a long-standing problem for Illinois’ childcare workers, even as the educational requirements for the job have steadily increased in recent years. A 2013 salary and staffing survey prepared on behalf of the Illinois Department of Human Services found that the median hourly wage for Chicago’s early child care teachers was $14.27; that is, just under $30,000 per year. Assistant teachers, on average, make just $10 per hour.

Other unionized child care workers

Workers at the other three unionized Chicago child care sites -- Ada S. McKinley Community Services, Centers for New Horizons, and Mary Crane Center – do not have contracts either. A fourth unionized child care site, Marcy Newberry Association, closed last year.

SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana also represents some 28,000 home-based workers who provide care to children from needy families through the state’s Child Care Assistance Program. In exchange for dues, SEIU represents these workers in negotiations with the State of Illinois.

It’s unclear whether that representation would be affected by this month’s Supreme Court decision that ended mandatory union dues for Illinois’ home-based health care workers who are also paid by the state. The decision could open the door to challenges to union requirements for other categories of home-based workers, including those in child care. No such challenges have been filed.

Illinois is one of 14 states where home-based child care workers that receive state funding have the right to unionize, according to a recent study by the Washington-based National Women’s Law Center.

Take 5: Noble Charter changes, TIFs and teacher turnover

July 21, 2014 - 9:17am

Noble Street Charter School Network often boasts that its schools are the highest-achieving non-selective schools in the city. And, while it is true, Noble does not have students test in, critics have charged that its admissions and discipline policy keeps out unmotivated students and pushes out unruly students. But this year, under pressure, Noble has abandoned big parts of both policies. In its renewed contract with CPS, Noble agreed to stop requiring students to go to an “information session” before applying. Also, they have to make clear that the essay is optional. State law states charter school admission should be decided through lottery. This comes on the heels of Noble announcing in April that it will stop charging students $5 for a detention. Noble founder Mike Milkie defended the discipline policy, which is still stricter than CPS, in a Catalyst Chicago op-ed. It will be interesting to see if the charter school operator can maintain its academic status without these policies.

Will we find out more?….We’ve heard repeatedly that charter schools push out problem students. We reported in 2010 that one in ten charter school students transfers out, even though there is supposedly a waiting list for the coveted seats. An upcoming report from a researcher who worked on the well-known CREDO (Center for Research on Educational Outcomees) charter studies out of Stanford University will take a look at push-outs from charters in dozens of cities, according to Chalkbeat New York. The researcher says there’s no evidence New York City’s charters are guilty of the practice, but that other districts are. No word in this article on whether Chicago will be part of the new report, but previous CREDO studies have included Illinois and Chicago.

On its way… DNAinfo reports that the city's planning commission has approved Walter Payton’s annex. The annex will expand enrollment by between 300 and 400 students. Currently, the school has about 940 students. The project will be paid for with $17 million in tax incremement financing money. The TIF money was one of the justifications Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave for building the addition, even as other schools are overcrowded and desperately could use the addition. 

It is worth repeating that deciding which capital projects will get the go-ahead based on how much they can collect is a losing proposition for poor neighborhoods. In a nutshell, TIFS allows cities to to use new tax dollars in specific geographic areas to fund economic development (as property values -- and taxes -- rise after the TIF district is created) .

So how much is being collected in TIFS? ... Cook County Clerk David Orr has made it easier for the public to see how much tax money is being collected in these controversial entities.   Orr says that  “”it’s very hard to find the necessary information to make a good judgment about what’s the purpose of this enormous expansion. Clearly there’s still a lot of work to be done to make it easier to follow the TIF money trail.” Orr has a primer on TIFs here  and a video here. When talking about schools, TIFs are important because tax money that otherwise would have gone into the public coffers instead is diverted into these special pots. As a result, TIFs have many critics, including the CTU and the Chicago Reader columnist Ben Joravsky. 

The high cost of losing teachers... Illinois spends up to $71.7 million per year replacing teachers who quit, according to a new analysis from the Alliance for Excellent Education that pegs the national cost at $2.2 billion a year and reiterates the well-known and distressing fact that poor students of color are most likely to attend schools with the worst turnover. That’s about the same price tag for replacing the 4000 Chicago Public Schools teachers who left in 2011 and 2012, according to cost estimates from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future that we reported In our spring issue of Catalyst In Depth on teacher turnover.  Turnaround schools posted the highest attrition, even after the initial firings that are part of the turnaround model. In other words, the teachers who were brought in to be part of the turnaround--most of whom were rookies--swiftly quit, often citing the long hours, tough environment and the pressure to quickly raise test scores.



Budget critics air laundry list of school cuts

July 17, 2014 - 9:57am

With a new mandate that students have daily gym class and a policy calling for more arts instruction, school librarians are becoming increasingly rare, speakers charged at hearings on the district’s budget. At the Kennedy-King College hearing, one of three held late Wednesday, speakers also criticized cuts to Simeon High’s career education programs, cuts to welcoming schools that took in students displaced by closings, the additional money being funneled to charters and a plan to save $6 million by reorganizing bus aides for disabled students.

Rhonda McLeod worries that aides will be shuffled around and children won’t get to know them. “They need to feel safe,” said McLeod, who noted that there is already a long delay in getting bus routes set up and that she has had children get lost.

In previous years CPS officials sat stone-faced at hearings, but this year, they tried to answer questions when they could. In regard to chartersm Chief Financial Officer Ginger Ostro told the audience that money follows students and CPS is funding charters because students are choosing to go to them.

Asean Johnson, the student who was featured in CNN’s “Chicagoland” speaking out against the closure of his South Side school, asked the panel whether the continued opening of charter schools puts CPS on the right side of history or on the wrong side.

“That is a question,” he said.

“We will have to reflect on that,” Ostro answered.

A number of speakers were upset that district officials blamed a big pension payment for budget problems and one CTU member pointed out previous long pension holidays, even in good years when the district could have afforded to make their entire contribution.

“Saying you don’t have money is like a gambler saying that they went to Horseshoe [casino] and then telling the landlord they have no money to pay the rent,” she said. 

More librarians lost

CPS schools are getting a $250 per pupil increase, but must pay teachers raises and are pressed to make difficult decisions—including, the speakers pointed out, to librarian positions.

Megan Cusick, who leads the CTU’s librarian task force, said last year, 140 schools lost their librarians and another 60 schools laid off their librarians this year. That means that more than half of CPS schools do not have librarians. Yet CPS promised that schools would be better resourced after the closing of 50 schools last year, she said.

Cusick was followed by Marie Szyman, president of the Chicago Teacher-Librarians, who took issue with a claim that CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett made at the last board meeting that there was a shortage of available librarians. She said she knows of 200 of them ready to go work today.  

“With the Common Core emphasis on literacy, I am mystified that libraries are closing,” she said. “How can our students become “college ready” without adequate instruction in research and exposure to literature which librarians provide?”

Figuring out exactly how many librarians are budgeted for next year is difficult. The budget only lists 21 librarians, though there are likely more. Under student-based budgeting, in which schools are given money for each student, not for specific positions, there is no money provided specifically for a librarian. Principals, along with LSCs, must decide if they want a librarian and weigh the decision against other positions they might need or want—and now the district has new policies calling for daily gym class and 120 hours of arts instruction per week.

Under the old system, schools were given one physical education teacher or librarian for every 600 students. Schools with fewer students got money for half-time positions.

“I stand before you today to ask you to prevent principals from having to make the dreaded decision ‘Do I need to close the library to hire another PE teacher?’” Syzman said.

Simeon’s career education loses out

Another principal decision that came under fire was the decision to close the electrician program at Simeon Vocational High School. Latisa Kindred said she was laid off after the principal and the network office decided the school could no longer afford the program, and that an automotive teacher was laid off as well.

Simeon’s enrollment is projected to drop by about 60 students and its budget is down by about $200,000.

Kindred told the budget panel that she had been able to get students certified as well as into a union. “Working with their hands gives students hope,” she said. “I want to know how [career education] decisions are made? What guidelines are principals given when they make these autonomous decisions?”

Asean Johnson’s mother Shoneice Reynolds said she was at a meeting at Simeon about these cuts on Tuesday night and many students came out to speak about the importance of the programs. “It was a beautiful meeting and we invited CPS and the fact that you did not come shows you do not care about our children,” she said.

Also, an older gentleman spoke about being able to make a living based on his participation with the electrician program at Simeon.

International Baccalaureate threat?

The schools that were designated to receive students from closed schools were also dealt big budget blows this year as they lost the extra transition funds and got less than the expected number of students.

Ald. Pat Dowell said two welcoming schools—Mollison and Wells Prep--are supposed to become International Baccalaureate schools, but will struggle to meet the requirements because of the cuts. Other schools have higher than average rates of homeless and special education students, she said.

“Teachers, parents and myself are worried that the loss of these resources will be another disruption for these students,” she said.

Given these cuts, parents and teachers struggled to understand why CPS keeps opening charter schools. Concept Charter School came under particular fire. Concept, which has more than a dozen campuses throughout the Midwest including three in Chicago and two more planned, was recently raided by the federal government’s Securities and Exchange Commission and is under investigation by the state board in Ohio.

One of the planned new campuses is supposed to be located in Chatham in a megachurch development, but the church’s spokeswoman has reportedly said they are not going forward until Concept works out its problems. Concept officials said 250 students have registered for the school and they are now looking for a new location.

CPS Chief Innovation Officer Jack Easley, who was part of the panel at the South Side hearing, said the district is monitoring the situation closely and will soon reveal how the situation will be handled.

Take 5: Academic tracking and choice, selective enrollment, Concept Schools

July 17, 2014 - 9:31am

WBEZ releases a big package this morning that proves what many have long charged: The opening of new charter high schools and selective enrollment schools--becoming a district focused on school choice or a “portfolio” district--has resulted in pronounced academic tracking between schools. Nearly all the high performers are in a select few schools, while charters attract average achievers and neighborhood schools now almost exclusively serve low-performers. Very few schools serve students with a wide range of academic abilities.

Education Reporter Linda Lutton looked at more than 26,000 incoming test scores for freshmen from the fall of 2012. That year and only that year, the district mandated that every high school give students an “EXPLORE” exam about a month into the school year. Check out the cool interactive graphic that allows you to check out what type of student each school attracted.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she was troubled by the findings, but did not think they made the argument that choice should be abandoned. Instead, the emphasis needs to be on improving neighborhood schools so they can attract a wider range of students, she said.

But is Byrd-Bennett’s vision realistic? One consequence of this academic sorting is that neighborhood schools have little reason to offer honors classes. Not only does the lack of accelerated classes make the school less attractive, but it also means that students have little to aspire to and might not be challenged in particular subjects they do well in. A 2011 Catalyst In Depth looked at Marshall High School on the West Side, which faced this challenge as the school had a difficult time offering honors classes, a big disappointment for the few students who qualified for them. 

Not to mention the budget… The parent advocacy group, Raise Your Hand, this week put out an analysis that they say shows CPS is spreading itself too thin by opening charter schools, while taking money from CPS-run schools. The biggest losers: Those very neighborhood high schools that are only attracting the lowest performers.

The dichotomy between charter schools and neighborhood schools was one of the many issues brought up by speakers at three budget hearings held Wednesday night. The Chicago Sun Times reported from the hearing at Malcolm X where the closings of 50 neighborhood schools hung over the discussion.  Catalyst went to the one at the South Side’s Kennedy-King College

Race is also an issue… This week, Ald. Latasha Harris, chairwoman of the City Council’s Education Committee, held a hearing on the dwindling number of black students at selective enrollment high schools, the Sun-Times reports. After the announcement of the planned Obama Prep on the Near North Side, attention was called to the increasing white enrollment at the top North Side selective schools and the dwindling black enrollment. CPS officials told the aldermen that when looking at all 10 selective enrollment high schools, including those on the South and West sides, the number of black students is actually rising. CPS officials also said they were having lawyers look at whether the district can legally insert race back into the admissions’ process. 

A little-known fact is that CPS does give extra help to some black and Latino students from the worst-performing elementary schools. CEO Ron Huberman used a provision of No Child Left Behind to open up 100 seats in the top performing schools to students from the worst performing elementary schools. As far as we know, this provision is still being used and Catalyst reported on the students who got into top schools under this program, many of whom struggled at first but eventually did well. 

WBEZ’s freshman test score analysis adds a wrinkle to this discussion. Of the 40 most academically narrow schools in Chicago, 34 of them are predominantly black.

And a pink slip goes to … the computer teacher at Benito Juarez High School who alleged that attendance records and grades were altered in order to boost the school’s ratings. DNAinfo Chicago reported that veteran teacher Manuel Bermudez got the boot, and that he believes it was done in retaliation.

CPS officials say the layoff was connected to budget cuts. Juarez is projected to get 100 fewer students next year and its budget is down by about $1 million. The principal is laying off 11 teachers, according to CPS’ proposed budget. Across the district, 550 teachers are being laid off. Meanwhile, CPS’s inspector general,is investigating the allegations into that high school administrators were cooking the books.

Troubles continue at Concept … This week, Ohio’s State Board of Education ordered an investigation into the Des Plaines-based charter school chain in response to allegations that range from attendance tampering and cheating on tests to a failure to tell parents about sexual acts performed by students in front of their classmates at a Dayton school.

Federal authorities, are conducting their own white-collar investigation into the chain of 30 schools in the Midwest, including three in Chicago. In addition, one recent news report recently detailed how the charter school chain obtained hundreds of visas for Turkish citizens to teach, while also providing trips to Turkey to state, local and federal lawmakers. The Sun-Times wrote about the chain’s political connections in December.



Finding solutions to curb chronic truancy, absenteeism in earliest grades

July 16, 2014 - 12:43pm

One of the most important factors that's keeping many of Chicago's youngest children from learning is poor attendance. On Wednesday, educators, parents and community organizers talked about how to address the problem during a special forum that's part of our Catalyst Conversations series.

Speakers included: Stacy Ehrlich, the lead author of a recent pre-school attendance study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research; Cecelia Leong, deputy director of the nonprofit Attendance Works, which promotes better policy and practices around school attendance; and Janet Vargas, Rosazlia Griller and Adela Pedroza, who are parents and organizers from COFI / Power PAC, a local non-profit that has worked on this issue for years. Catalyst Editor in Chief Lorraine Forte moderated the discussion.

Catalyst Conversations are a benefit of membership in Catalyst. Become a member to join in on discussions like this one, and to support our journalism and analysis of Chicago school policy.

See a storified version of the tweets from this morning's forum below.

 

[View the story "Finding solutions for chronic truancy and absenteeism" on Storify]

Summer school enrollment down under new promotion policy

July 14, 2014 - 4:38pm

CPS students scored better than predicted this past year on the new and tougher statewide tests used to decide promotion, schools officials said.

But that news, coupled with a revised district promotion policy, means that far fewer students are in now summer school than last year.

“This is interesting in a good way,” said Annette Gurley, CPS’s chief of teaching and learning, in a phone interview Wednesday. “The NWEA is a much more rigorous assessment than the ISAT […]. We actually thought we’d have fewer students scoring at or above the 24th percentile.”

With that predicted decline in mind, last fall CPS officials unveiled a new system that uses test cut scores and grades to determine promotions for third-, sixth- and eighth-grade students. They expected that enrollment in the district’s Summer Bridge program wouldn’t change much under the redesigned promotion policy.

Instead, enrollment fell from some 14,000 last summer to about 10,000 today – a nearly 29-percent drop from one year to the next.

The enrollment drop also means big savings for CPS. Last year the district spent about $12.3 million on Summer Bridge. This year, it’ll spend an estimated $10.7 million.

Gurley credited schools’ use of web-based assessment programs for the better-than-expected scores. Most schools have purchased at least one a variety of expensive data-driven programs that allow teachers to monitor students’ grasp of content in real time – and focus attention on those who most need the help.

Catalyst Chicago learned of the decline in summer school enrollment from principals, teachers and counselors who said they were surprised by the low number of students required to attend summer school. One educator even said that for the first time in at least six years, none of her school’s students went to summer school.

The drop in enrollment caused some concern that students are missing out on extra help they need, although district officials assure that targeted supports are on the way for students who would have gone to summer school under last year’s policy.

Meanwhile, opponents of high-stakes testing criticized the new policy for depending too much on the results of a single test to decide something as critical as promotion.

“The exact numbers of how many kids they sent off to summer school isn’t the big issue,” says Cassie Cresswell, who leads the anti-testing group, More Than a Score. “Our issue is with using a test score to determine everything. We’re concerned with how they make the decision about whether a kid should or shouldn’t go to summer school.”

Shift to new tests aligned to Common Core

Last fall, the Board of Education changed its promotion policy as part of the district’s shift from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) to the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) assessments, which are aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Charter schools are not required to follow the district's promotion policy, unlike neighborhood and contract schools, officials said.

Previously, students needed to score at or above the 24th national percentile on the portion of the ISAT known as the SAT10, in addition to getting a C or above in reading and math, in order to get promoted. Last year, Gurley said, 80.1 percent of students met both requirements and moved onto the next grade without going to the district’s Summer Bridge program.

Under the new policy, students who score at the 24th national percentile or higher on the NWEA are promoted automatically – unless they’re outright failing reading or math. This means students who got Ds in those subject areas but fared well enough on the test can move on to the next grade without summer school. This year, 80.1 percent of students fell into this category – exactly the same as last year despite the different test and lower grade requirements.

On Wednesday afternoon, district officials could not provide Catalyst with the percentage of students who scored at or above the 24th national percentile on the NWEA this year, regardless of their grades, or comparable statistics from last year.

One eighth-grade math teacher who asked not to be identified told Catalyst she had a handful of students who earned Ds in her class but scored just above the 24th percentile cut score.

 “I told them they should consider themselves very lucky because they tested well,” she said. “Even though they got Ds they are now going to high school, though in previous years these same students would have had to go to summer school.”

Meanwhile, students who scored between the 11th and 23rd percentile on the test avoid summer school if they have a C or higher in reading and math. Gurley said an additional 5.6 percent of students were in this group.

The only students automatically sent to summer school, regardless of their grades, are those who score at or below the 10th percentile on the NWEA.

One principal who asked not to be identified said he was not expecting the drop in summer school enrollment he saw this year and worries about some of his struggling students. Part of the reason is because he didn’t realize that students’ scores on the NWEA from the 2012-13 school year – which Gurley said students took even though the test wasn’t used for promoting purposes that year -- could also be used to determine promotion this year. Under both the new and old promotion policies, CPS uses students’ best test scores from the previous two years in determining whether they move on to the next grade.

“Are they missing out? Yeah, I think so,” the principal said. “All of our kids need the extra support.”

Gurley said targeted help is on the way for students who, for different reasons, avoided summer school under the new district policy. This summer, CPS will send letters to principals that identify both the students who got Ds but scored at or above the 24th percentile on the NWEA – and those with good grades but lower scores.

Principals will be asked to provide social-emotional support for those in the first group, such as special one-on-one attention from an adult. Those in the second group might get more traditional academic support, such as tutoring, Gurley explained.

Summer school on the decline nationally

Enrollment in the Summer Bridge program has been falling steadily since 1996, when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley instituted a tough promotion policy as a way to end social promotion. (Catalyst reported on the topic of social promotion in 2011).

At first, the district sent more than 20,000 students to required summer school each year. But due to outside pressure, including a major 2004 study by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research that showed the harmful effects of retention, CPS began adjusting the policy to make it easier for students to pass through to the next grade.

Chicago isn’t the only city that saw a significant drop in summer school enrollment due to a change in the promotion policy. In New York City, some 25 percent fewer students were sent to summer school this year after the district banned the use of state test scores as a major factor in promotion decisions, according to a recent Chalkbeat New York report. The new policy gives principals more discretion about who should go to summer school.

At the time the city changed its promotion policy, NYC officials said they didn’t think enrollment figures would change. Their projections, it turned out, were simply wrong.

Cresswell and other anti-testing advocates say they wish the district had also placed less emphasis on tests when developing the promotion policy last year. Instead, said Julie Woestethoff, who heads the organization Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), they want CPS to better identify struggling students during the school year to give them the additional support they need, rather than telling them at year’s end that they must go to summer school or else be held back.

“Our proposal has been to go back to using the report card,” Woestehoff said. “If we continue to not trust teachers’ grades, then why do we continue to waste people’s time with report cards?” 

Comings and Goings: new principals

July 14, 2014 - 12:48pm

These interim principals have become contract principals at their schools:  David Narain, King High School; Carlos Patino, New Field Elementary; Frederick Williams, Chopin Elementary.

The following also have become principals: Stephen Fabiyi, Metcalfe Community Academy, formerly assistant principal at Bass Elementary;  John Fitzpatrick, Locke Elementary, formerly acting principal at Locke; and Eric Steinmiller, Sutherland Elementary, formerly resident principal in CPS’ Talent Office.

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

July 14, 2014 - 10:44am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Pages

Subscribe to CRS Main Feed