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Teachers get creative to find time for professional development

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:37

On a sunny August morning, several dozen teachers from a range of schools crowded into the cafeteria of Prieto Math and Science Academy in Belmont-Cragin. No children were in the room. On this day, teachers were the students, and the class was the Lesson Study Alliance’s summer institute.

In one corner, teachers from South Shore Fine Arts Elementary School presented their plans for teaching two-step word problems involving addition and subtraction to third-graders. Over several days, they explained, one teacher would go over addition and subtraction problems separately. On the sixth and final day, she’d combine both concepts into a single word problem about someone collecting and discarding rocks while on a nature walk.

The other teachers in the cafeteria asked how they thought students would respond, including the kinds of wrong answers they might offer. They also discussed the best order in which to write out students’ answers on the board, and how that might be important for future lessons on the order of math operations.

“When you’re working with a team, you think of things you wouldn’t have thought of on your own,” says Kelly Miller, one of the South Shore teachers. “We’ve all been to PD where it’s just a waste of time. This isn’t like that.”

Teachers and CPS leaders say workshops like those offered by Lesson Study Alliance are an example of quality professional development that both improves their teaching and fulfills requirements for state certification renewal and salary advancement.

But with limited time and resources, many teachers say it’s harder to get access to good PD during the school year. Even though 10 days for PD are built into the calendar year, teachers say it’s simply not enough.  In some cases, time is eaten away by administrative announcements or other school business – especially at schools that have cut support staff that used to handle those duties.

That means educators have to be creative to find and take advantage of opportunities, by applying for them over the summer and sharing with colleagues who don’t get to attend.

Mariel Laureano, the principal at Prieto, for example, offered to host the summer Lesson Study institute in exchange for allowing teachers from her school participate for free.

“It’s a win-win for everybody, as it really deepens their understanding of learning overall so that they want to be here,” she says.

Teacher-led trainings

In the meantime, CPS is trying to improve in-school opportunities by using a model of teacher-led PD. The district says the shift, which began two years ago, has less to do with saving money than it does taking advantage of the trust teachers have in their own colleagues.

The district trains so-called “teacher leaders” from each school on specific skills or curricula, and the teacher leaders are then expected to go back to their schools and share what they’ve learned, explains Susan Kajiwara-Ansai, executive director of Professional Learning at CPS.

The model has its pros and cons, teachers say. On the one hand, teachers can learn more from colleagues than outside providers because they have an intimate understanding of the local context and student body.

“It can be a powerful thing because of the local knowledge and relationships,” says Mark Sidarous, a biology and chemistry teacher who has done trainings for his colleagues at Community Links High School.

But on the other hand, many teachers said trainings are limited to what people in the building already know or happen to learn at one of the district’s trainings. And it’s extra work for which teachers don’t get paid.

To avoid burdening the same teachers repeatedly with extra work, CPS asked principals to develop plans for one of the district’s learning priorities, the Common Core, during a three-day summer training.  Annette Gurley, chief of the Office of Teaching and Learning, says this should have a positive impact on the overall professional development of teachers.

“We asked, ‘Who are you counting on to help you do this in your building,  to make sure we are not pulling on the same people all the time?’” she says. “It’s a rare opportunity to stop and really reflect on who we’re using without overloading them.”

Building trust, camaraderie

At Wadsworth Elementary, administrators and staff spent part of the summer developing a plan to encourage more teachers to lead trainings among their colleagues, especially on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subject areas. The idea is not only to spread knowledge, but to build camaraderie and trust in a school that has had a tumultuous past year. Wadsworth was recently designated a STEM school and last year welcomed students from closed schools, at the same time making a move to the former Dumas Elementary building when a charter high school took over the former Wadsworth building.

Many teachers seemed disinterested last year in learning more about STEM. “But when teachers were motivated and [got the chance to] train others, they would come in and share their personal narratives, and that was really the key that broke down some of the walls,” says Michelle Warden, the school’s STEM technology specialist.

The Wadsworth group worked on the plan to promote teacher-led training during the recent Summer Design Program, a project of The Chicago Public Education Fund. The Summer Design Program brought teams of teachers and principals from 40 schools together to find solutions for specific school challenges.

About 80 schools applied for the free summer program, which itself was a form of professional development that can count toward teachers’ requirements for certification renewal. Heather Anichini, president and CEO of The Fund, says she was pleased at the level of interest even though the program is only in its second year.

“People are really hungry for professional development that takes into account what teachers know and experience in schools,” she says. “So much of the professional development that’s out there is lecture-driven, non-engaging, kind of rooted in the idea that someone has one solution and it’s going to work in all schools.”

On their own time, educators are also seeking professional learning opportunities around the Common Core State Standards and the Framework for Teaching, on which teachers are now being evaluated, says Lynn Cherkasky-Davis, who heads the Chicago Teachers Union Quest Center.

“We are seeing a lot more people attending the study sessions we’ve developed around the Framework for Teaching,” she says. “Ratings are coming up this year and teachers want to know what they need to do to improve.”

Menu for principals

Meanwhile, the district is trying to make it easier for networks and schools to vet outside professional development providers.  Earlier this summer, CPS issued a broad request for proposals from PD providers that could support the implementation of some of the district’s top priorities, including the Common Core and Framework for Teaching. Principals and network chiefs will be encouraged – though not required – to use the approved vendors.

Last year, CPS issued a similar but more narrow RFP. Lesson Study Alliance, which offered the summer institute at Prieto earlier this month, was one of 19 providers that made the cut. Thomas McDougal, executive director of the organization and a former teacher himself, says what makes the “lesson study” model so useful to other educators is the opportunity to practice lessons in a controlled setting before taking them into the classroom.

 “Imagine a soccer player watching a video of a new move. That’s a helpful start, but does that mean he’s ready to go out and play?” McDougal says. “That’s how most American professional development is structured. You learn about ‘unpacking’ the Common Core or talking about ‘differentiated instruction.’ But does this mean teachers are ready to go out and teach this stuff?”

The RFPs also help the district itself to know what kinds of professional development opportunities are offered across CPS and how much is being spent, which is a challenge for any school district. In addition, district officials say the process will ensure providers charge schools the same rate for the same trainings.

Gurley says giving principals a go-to “menu” of pre-approved PD providers should save them from wasting time doing their own research.

“As the instructional leaders in a building, principals are very busy. We really want them to spend the time in the classroom monitoring and supporting instruction,” she said. “Whatever we can do to take something off their plate that is the focus of Central Office.”

Categories: Urban School News

Latino Youth Alternative School teachers to vote on union contract

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:22

Nearly five years after they started organizing to form a union, teachers at the alternative Latino Youth High School in Pilsen say they’re preparing to vote on their first labor contract.

Organizers said they are still finalizing the details on the tentative agreement with the school’s operator, Pilsen Wellness Center. The 12 teachers included in the contract won’t vote on it until after school begins in September, and the school’s board also has to ratify the contract.

The tentative agreement includes language on due process and the formation of committees for teachers to participate in making decisions about the school, including on social-emotional and academic issues. Teachers will also work with management to develop the process and tools to be used in their own evaluations.

The tentative agreement also creates a step and lane system for salary increases, a first in any union contract for charter teachers in Chicago.

“This makes it more attractive to teachers with advanced degrees to work for the school, and encourages people who are already there to continue their educations,” said Chris Baehrend, an English teacher at Latino Youth and the vice president of Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS). “Overall, we’re satisfied with the contract.”

Administrators of Pilsen Wellness Center and an attorney representing the non-profit organization did not respond to requests seeking comment on the negotiations.

Teachers at Latino Youth had voted to unionize under state labor law in 2010, but the school appealed to the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that the state’s education labor laws didn’t apply because it was a charter school. After a protracted fight, teachers again voted under federal labor law last fall, and have been negotiating their first contract ever since.

Baehrend said the process helped rebuild the relationship between teachers and management.

“Sitting down with that board and having discussions really created trust in that we all want to do what’s in students’ best interest,” he said.

Latino Youth is one of 20 alternative schools that operate under the umbrella of Youth Connection Charter Schools (YCCS), the non-profit organization that hold the charter with Chicago Public Schools. Last year Latino Youth reported an enrollment of about 200 students, grades 10 through 12.

It’s one of 29 unionized charter schools in Chicago, representing about a quarter of all charter schools in the city. Apart from Latino Youth, the only other school that lacks a contract is Chicago International Charter School (CICS) ChicagoQuest.

Teachers there voted to unionize in May after a months-long standoff with CICS. Those teachers are currently in contract negotiations with the school’s management group, ChicagoQuest Schools. Another three CICS schools managed by a separate management group already have a contract.

Categories: Urban School News

Latino Youth Alternative School teachers to vote on union contract

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:22

Nearly five years after they started organizing to form a union, teachers at the alternative Latino Youth High School in Pilsen say they’re preparing to vote on their first labor contract.

Organizers said they are still finalizing the details on the tentative agreement with the school’s operator, Pilsen Wellness Center. The 12 teachers included in the contract won’t vote on it until after school begins in September, and the school’s board also has to ratify the contract.

The tentative agreement includes language on due process and the formation of committees for teachers to participate in making decisions about the school, including on social-emotional and academic issues. Teachers will also work with management to develop the process and tools to be used in their own evaluations.

The tentative agreement also creates a step and lane system for salary increases, a first in any union contract for charter teachers in Chicago.

“This makes it more attractive to teachers with advanced degrees to work for the school, and encourages people who are already there to continue their educations,” said Chris Baehrend, an English teacher at Latino Youth and the vice president of Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS). “Overall, we’re satisfied with the contract.”

Administrators of Pilsen Wellness Center and an attorney representing the non-profit organization did not respond to requests seeking comment on the negotiations.

Teachers at Latino Youth had voted to unionize under state labor law in 2010, but the school appealed to the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that the state’s education labor laws didn’t apply because it was a charter school. After a protracted fight, teachers again voted under federal labor law last fall, and have been negotiating their first contract ever since.

Baehrend said the process helped rebuild the relationship between teachers and management.

“Sitting down with that board and having discussions really created trust in that we all want to do what’s in students’ best interest,” he said.

Latino Youth is one of 20 alternative schools that operate under the umbrella of Youth Connection Charter Schools (YCCS), the non-profit organization that hold the charter with Chicago Public Schools. Last year Latino Youth reported an enrollment of about 200 students, grades 10 through 12.

It’s one of 29 unionized charter schools in Chicago, representing about a quarter of all charter schools in the city. Apart from Latino Youth, the only other school that lacks a contract is Chicago International Charter School (CICS) ChicagoQuest.

Teachers there voted to unionize in May after a months-long standoff with CICS. Those teachers are currently in contract negotiations with the school’s management group, ChicagoQuest Schools. Another three CICS schools managed by a separate management group already have a contract.

Categories: Urban School News

Boasberg: Despite controversies, push for equity, diversity in schools will continue

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 09:52

As the 2013-14 school year ended in May, a number of Denver Public Schools communities were roiled by impending changes or rumors of changes that could fundamentally alter the education landscape at those schools.

In particular, a move to open the exclusive 30-year-old International Baccalaureate program at George Washington High School to more students, and rumors about a possible shared ninth-grade academy for East and Manual high school students created uproars. It wasn’t the only change Denver school officials are pushing as an effort to increase equity and diversity in its flagship schools. In 2013, the DPS board decided to move the popular and successful McAuliffe International School from the predominantly white and affluent Stapleton neighborhood to Smiley Middle School in a more racially and socioeconomically diverse section of the Park Hill neighborhood. That move takes effect with the start of the 2014-15 school year.

Historically, DPS leadership has been reluctant to cross swords with the powerful parent constituencies at places like Stapleton, East and George Washington, let alone come into conflict with multiple groups simultaneously. But with Superintendent Tom Boasberg entering his sixth year on the job, backed by a school board more unified than in recent years, could it be that district leadership decided that now was an opportune time to fight some tough battles?

Chalkbeat sat down with Boasberg this summer to discuss these moves, and the guiding principles that underlie them. This Q&A has been edited for length.

Can you talk about the core beliefs or grand vision that underlie some of these moves?

These issues are the most emotional and some of the most important in our society, around race and class and neighborhood, and they all get played out around the schools. The first core belief in play here is quality. Our goal first and foremost is to have our schools be quality schools that deliver quality education for kids; rich or poor, brown black or white. [This means] they have good teachers and strong  leaders and rich course offerings and strong collaborations that challenge kids. Because unless your schools are high quality, nothing else matters, right? Everyone is going to try to go to a place where they perceive that they can get a higher quality education and that is true for affluent folks, it is true for folks  in poverty, it is true regardless of the color of your skin.

Paired with that is a core belief in equity and diversity. It is a publicly stated core belief. The new revised Denver Plan starts with our core beliefs around students, around equity being at the core of our mission, and diversity being a real gift. Our kids tell us how much they want to be in schools that reflect the diversity  of the commuity they’re a part of. Most of our parents support that, some with greater degrees of enthusiasm  than others.

Many families live in Denver because of the diversity. Kids want to be in schools and want to be in programs that are diverse. It doesn’t mean there aren’t tensions. Yes, of course there are. It doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of long held suspicions and biases and mistrusts and fears. Yes, there are. But ours is a society that has centuries of issues and concerns around issues of race. So I think we start with those core beliefs in quality, core beliefs in diversity, and a real belief that those two go hand in hand. They are not in any way opposed to each other or inimical to each other, but that they go hand and hand and that’s what our kids want and  our families want. They want high quality schools that are diverse schools.

Some would argue that the best way to get high quality is through diversity.

It is not the sole way; there are absolutely schools [whose students] are overwhelmingly low-income kids, kids of color that are very high quality schools. But I do think there is a lot of research that shows that low-income kids do better generally in mixed-income schools and higher income kids do very well in mixed income schools. That evidence is compelling.

In recent months, you’ve made decisions around boundaries for the new Stapleton High School that include a lower-income community. You’ve moved McAuliffe to Smiley. Now you’re taking on IB at George Washington and possibly East/Manual. Why now? Why all of these almost simultaneously?

Actually, we have been taking very significant steps toward this for multiple years…We took two years in conversation with Stapleton and Park Hill over removing Quebec Street as a boundary line between [the two neighborhoods] and having the community enrollment zone. This has been a pretty constant and consistent thread that we’ve had. And as we go into each of these, we ask how do we structure enrollment systems and boundaries in a way to promote diversity as opposed to lessen diversity?

What prompted the effort to open up the IB program at George Washington, which has been highly successful for 30 years as an exclusive offering to top students?

I tremendously admire the strength of the IB program. I think it is an extraordinary program and absolutely I am 100 percent committed to continue having a wonderful, first-class rigorous IB program at George. But I think it’s fair to say [its lack of diversity] has been a question and concern that has been going on for quite some time. We thought it was important that we be willing to work with the community and try and bring  forward the changes we are proposing. We are committed to change and absolutely to working with the community on the changes. We are very committed to making the changes real.

There have been several attempts in the past to make changes to this program, and they’ve always failed. Why is it different this time?

I think we all know some of the political pressures and political opposition on this particular issue. Why now? We have very strong feeder patterns for the school. You see real strength in the elementary schools; the middle schools are significantly stronger too. This gives us confidence. We have a lot of families who want a really, really good high school and have said to us that [George Washington] as it currently exists isn’t right for my kid. My kid is not an IB kid and the tradiitonal program is not as strong as it needs to be and I have concerns about going to a high school with the degree of  separation that we have. So we’ve  got a lot of families knocking on our door saying we want the change.

Are there families that are opposed to the change? Yes, there are. And I respect and understand their concerns and I think  we are going to be extremely strong in continuing to emphasize and reemphasize that we will continue to have an extraordinarily rigorous IB program at GW. I had the remarkable opportunity to go to a very rigorous school [the private St. Albans school in Washington D.C.] and it gave me incredible opportunities in terms of the kind of college I could go to and then opportunities later in life. I want our kids to have exactly that kind of extremely rigorous and challenging opportunity that I had and that kids in IB at GW have benefitted from.

How significant will the changes to IB be?

I believe we can have the IB program at GW look like every other IB program in every other high quality IB school in the state that I’m aware of. That means don’t put all ninth and 10th-graders into an all-or-nothing choice, where you have to take all IB courses or you take none, and you separate the kids from the moment  they even seek to come to the school. Sometimes we try to play these issues of quality and diversity against each other and say these are opposing values. I don’t think they are. Will every kid in George Washington go into the IB Diploma Program? Absolutely not. That’s not true at any other high quality IB program. Those  ninth and 10th grade courses, they will be equally as rigouous as they are today; more kids will access them, that is great. Many kids won’t be prepared for them, and they won’t be in those courses.

At George, we’ve had a program for 30 years, and while it has had wonderful, wonderful aspects, the degree of separation is too high. There is a large degree of support and consensus around that. we need to work very closely and carefully with the school and parent community on what this transition will look like. For example: What are the  sequence of courses to go into the AP program? Wha are the right set of standards to make sure the kids who  take the pre-IB courses are absolutely prepared and supported in taking those courses? We’re really committed to having those conversations and at the same time committed that the level of separation that currently exists needs to go down.

You stirred up the hornet’s nest with talk about a East-Manual ninth-grade academy. Where does that stand?

The proposal on the partnership between East and Manual has been something East has been considering for a long time, that long predated [current principal] Andy Mendelsberg. I do think we have heard loudly and clearly the questions  and concerns there. From the beginning we’ve said in that conversation we should start with the basic question of should there be some form of partnership between East and Manual. Then if the answer is yes, what  are the diffeent partnership structures?  What could they potentially look like? This was one where some of the folks in the advisory groups had said ‘stop talking philosophically and give us  an example and let us comment on an example.’ And in retrospect we probably would have been better off saying no to that. We need to have the broader conversation first. That’s where  we’re going to go back and start in August.

One of the never-ending debates concerns neighborhood schools vs. diverse schools. In a largely segregated city, how can you have both?

We deeply believe in neighborhood schools and deeply believe in having good schools in communities for kids to be able to go to. That’s the overarching goal of the new draft Denver Plan, great schools in every community. At the same time we have worked, particularly at the secondary level, to examine creations of community enrollment zones. Instead of having for example one middle school in a boundary, having a somehwat larger boundary and having multiple  choices for families in that community to go to.

Historical and current patterns of housing segregation are very real. At the same  time Denver is going through significant demographic changes. In Denver in many neighborhoods if you put a compass point down on the map and draw a very small radius out from it a half mile, you will often find within that circle you draw, not a lot of racial and economic diversity. But if you take that compass and `draw it out a little further, maybe a mile, mile and a half, so you have a three-mile diameter circle, there are many, many places that are very richly diverse.

What does success in this regard look like 10, 15 years down the road?

Success looks like more and more families insisting and demanding that their schools be high quality and diverse. That we’re able to make significant progress from some of the conversations we’ve been having for the last several decades: that quality and diversity somehow can’t go hand in hand. So what I would like to see 10 years from now is high quality and diverse schools; schools that look more like our community.

Categories: Urban School News

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

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 09:16

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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



Categories: Urban School News

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

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 09:16

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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



Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: State’s student homeless population has tripled in last decade

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 08:47

Fact check

Chalkbeat breaks down fact from fiction in a new string of ads that support a ballot initiative that if approved by voters would expand casino gambling in the state. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Trying to live, trying to learn

The state's homeless student population has tripled in the last decade. In a special report, The Denver Post shares the stories of two families struggling with homelessness and what impact it has on their students' education. ( Denver Post )

Testing madness

The superintendent of District 11 in Colorado Springs planned to ask his school board to seek a waiver from state mandated testing. Instead, the district will end mandatory progress monitoring assessments. ( Gazette )

Our bad

Denver Public School admitted it was a mistake to wait until Friday to notify parents school at one elementary school would be delayed until later. ( 9News )

breakfast after the bell

More Aurora Public Schools students will be provided breakfast this year. A new law implemented this year requires districts to provide free breakfast to all students at schools where 80 percent or more of the students are eligible for a free or reduced price lunch. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Denver Plan

The Denver Post editorial board praised DPS's new streamlined strategic plan. ( Denver Post )

Locked and loaded

The Centennial Gun Club is offering Colorado teachers a free concealed carry classes. Many disagree with the policy of arming teachers in order to keep classrooms safe. ( 9News )

Helping hand

A federal grant will help low-income students in Pueblo take International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement assessments. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Honesty is the best policy

A Puebloan has lost his teaching licenses after lying to the state about his criminal record. ( Pueblo Chiefain )

Inside the classroom

As part of its plans to implement the state's new standards, STRIVE Prep is asking students to discuss nonfiction texts. ( Denver Post )

Boulder County students partnered with Homes of Living Hope, a Louisville non-profit, to build and ship a mini medical and dental clinic with solar panels to Mexico. ( Daily Camera )

Pencil it in

A Douglas County high school is adding classroom time and cutting its lunch period after a routine audit by the state. The high school utilizes a controversial bloc schedule that was adopted in 2012 to save money and decrease class size. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Categories: Urban School News

What We’re Reading: What does Ferguson mean for schools?

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/22/2014 - 16:52

The turmoil in Ferguson has spread from the streets to schools in town — and across the country.

  • With classes cancelled in two separate districts, Ferguson area teachers used the days off to send a message about civic responsibility. (NPR)
  • An Alabama teacher is out of the classroom (most likely temporarily) after students reenacted the shooting that sparked unrest in Ferguson. (EdWeek)
  • Don’t be fooled, says an educator. Preschool and early childhood reform won’t fix the systemic issues that led to the shooting of Michael Brown. (Dissent Magazine)

And the release of last year’s test scores around the country raised questions about what, if anything, we can learn from them.

  • What is a statistician’s responsibility when people criticize tests? A metaphor. (Grand Rounds)
  • Absolute measurements of performance — like proficiency rates — don’t say anything about a school’s quality — just where its students came in. (Shanker Blog)
  • For schools with high test scores, how to share what they’re doing well — and to make sure they really are. (Ecoschools)

What else?

  • A study following Baltimore students from first grade until their late 20s finds that, in many cases, fate is fixed at birth. (NPR)
  • A new survey shows opinion of the Common Core standards — which once received bipartisan support — becoming increasingly politically polarized. (Education Next)
  • White students will no longer make up the majority in American schools this fall. (Atlantic)
  • A back-to-school take on Sir Mix-A-Lot’s classic “Baby Got Back.” (Huffington Post)
  • Philadelphia’s union head held open office hours in outside to allow members to air concerns. (The Notebook)
  • What’s wrong with the Common Core math standards? A diagnosis. (Curriculum Matters)
  • Thousands of California middle schoolers never make it out of middle school. But you won’t see that in the state’s dropout numbers. (Hechinger Report)
  • A retiring first grade teacher got a sendoff that included one of her very first students, from 41 years ago. (IJReview)
  • Why is teacher turnover so high in charter schools? What do schools do about it? (City Limits)
  • How to bridge the divide between scrappy edtech innovators and educators. (EdSurge)
  • What do education reporters have to say about the districts they cover? Chicago reporters spill. (Chicago Reader)
Categories: Urban School News

Keeping Simeon program only a start to improving career education

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 08/22/2014 - 14:14

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

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

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

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

Expand career offerings

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Keeping Simeon program only a start to improving career education

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 08/22/2014 - 14:14

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

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

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

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

Expand career offerings

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

War of words ratchets up in casino expansion campaign

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/22/2014 - 10:15

The launch of five video ads by supporters of Amendment 68 has kicked off the 10-week media battle over expansion of casino gambling in exchange for providing extra funding to the state’s schools.

The proposed constitutional amendment will be on the Nov. 4 statewide ballot. If passed it would allow opening of a full casino at the Arapahoe Park racetrack in the southeast suburbs, with a portion of the revenues devoted to K-12 funding.

The campaign pits the Rhode Island casino company that owns Arapahoe Park against the gambling corporations that own existing casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek, the only places casinos currently are allowed by the state constitution. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for background on the amendment.)

As with almost all ballot measure ads, the pro-A68 spots produced by Coloradans for Better Schools reduce complicated policy issues to quick sound bites – there’s only so much one can or wants to say in a 30-second spot.

Here’s Chalkbeat Colorado’s analysis of the assertions made in the five ads. (Some claims are repeated in multiple ads; others are made in only one or two.)

Schools are underfunded – The adequacy of school funding can be a subjective issue. Most people in the Colorado education world agree that schools are underfunded compared to what other states spend, to past per-pupil funding rates or compared to actual costs. But a few in conservative circles dissent from that view and think Colorado schools have plenty of money.

Colorado school funding 40th in U.S. – The ad doesn’t cite the source of this stat. The never-ending funding adequacy debate — even among people who support higher funding — is complicated because different groups use different figures and grounds for comparison. You can see a variety of funding comparisons linked from this page on the Colorado School Finance Project’s website. (That group generally favors higher spending.)

How much K-12 revenue – The ads variously refer to “more than” $100 million or $114 million in annual revenue for schools. Legislative analysts who study ballot measures have estimated $114 million could be generated — but not until 2016-17. Analysts also readily acknowledge the difficulty of predicting revenues from taxes on businesses that don’t exist now. State ballot measure projections have been wrong in the past, and “sin taxes” have been an unsteady revenue source for education in the past. (See this detailed Chalkbeat analysis for more information on that history.)

“A huge investment” – The definition of “huge” may depend on whom you ask. The $100 million or so in new revenue would equal about 1.7 percent of the current $5.9 billion in basic school support provided by state and local taxes.

How many new casinos – The amendment would allow casinos in Arapahoe, Mesa and Pueblo counties. The ads say it “permits expanded gaming at no more than three horse race tracks that already have wagering.” The phrase “already have wagering” may sound like there’s more than one, but Arapahoe Park is the only track that currently meets the amendment’s requirements. No horse tracks with wagering currently operate in Mesa and Pueblo counties, and tracks in those counties would have to operate for five years before they’d be eligible to open casinos.

Carpetbaggers – One ad warns that “out-of-state Nevada and Missouri gambling companies” are opposing A68 to “protect their monopoly.” Several casinos in the three mountain towns are owned by out-of-state companies, and they have contributed heavily to Don’t Turn Racetracks into Casinos, the opposition committee. As noted above, Arapahoe Park is owned by an out-of-state gaming firm, and opponents are targeting that company in their advertising. As for monopoly, the three towns have a geographical monopoly on casinos, but the existing gaming halls don’t have a business monopoly. Any company that wants to open a casino in those towns can do so — if it meets state and local regulatory requirements.

The tax bite – The pro-A68 campaign ads emphasize that schools will get additional revenues “without costing taxpayers one penny.” It’s true that the amendment does not propose any increases in income or sales taxes. But opponents jumped on this claim with both feet, issuing a news release that argues passage of A68 could create new costs for taxpayers in Arapahoe County and would cut into gambling business in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek, thereby reducing tax revenues that now go to local governments, historic preservation and community colleges. The opposition statement hinted that taxpayers might have to backfill those losses. Those opposition claims are speculative about what might happen in the future, but the legislative staff analysts do project an Arapahoe Park casino would cannibalize revenues from the three mountain towns.

Coloradans for Better Schools launched the ads this week on network stations in Denver, Colorado Springs-Pueblo and Grand Junction this week, according to a spokeswoman. The opposition group hasn’t announced its TV ad plans, but opposition mailers already are landing in mailboxes.

Two of the new ads feature a teacher and a former administrator, but education groups traditionally have been lukewarm or hostile to such sin-tax proposals, which usually have been developed without consulting the education community. On Thursday evening, the Denver school board passed a resolution opposing A68.

Read the full text of A68 here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: DPS outfits schools with new security technology

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/22/2014 - 09:57

Hold up, wait a minute

Arne Duncan's announcement that states receiving waivers from the No Child Left Behind Law can ease their way into using test scores for teacher evaluations means little to Colorado's system. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The announcement was an attempt at a compromise, the Huffington Post reports, between the Obama administration's top education priority and frustrated teachers and parents. ( Huffington Post )

Safety first

Denver Public Schools got a security makeover this summer thanks to the 2012 voter-approved bond issue. The new technology allows school officials to put campuses on lockdown with a touch of a button. ( 9News )

But the district isn't providing specifics on how its plans to improve its reporting process of the state after students are involved in violent incidents. ( 7News )

Thanks, but no thanks

The Boulder Valley School District is opting-out of a state-backed campaign that discourages students to smoke pot. School officials don't find the campaign positive or intelligent. ( Boulder Weekly )

Zero-tolerance for zero-tolerance

Local advocacy organization Padres y Jovénes Unides and their national partner the Advancement Project detailed their work in a report about breaking apart the school-to-prison pipeline. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

mapping it out

The DPS Board of Education next month is expected to approve new boundary lines for its five districts. About 93 percent of families will continue to be represented by the same seat on the board. ( Denver Post )

Welcome home

Jamestown Elementary, Boulder County's school most impacted by last year's floods, re-opened this week. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Fresh meat

Broomfield freshman were welcomed at their new high school Thursday. Among their concerns: finding their way around the new building. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline in Denver schools

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 17:31
We learned that zero-tolerance discipline was being used to push students out of school en masse, the majority of which were young boys of color. Also, with police being called almost daily to deal with discipline issues, the school’s excessive disciplinary practices were creating a toxic school climate that was directly undermining academic achievement.
– Report on discipline reforms at Denver's Cole Middle School

In a new report, local advocacy organization Padres y Jovénes Unides and their national partner the Advancement Project detail their work fighting to reform how students are disciplined in Denver and elsewhere. It focuses on the racial disparities in Denver and Colorado discipline practices and the two organizations’ advocacy for changes to how students are disciplined – some quite basic.

For example, at Cole, the organizations successfully got all disciplinary proceedings and communications translated into community members’ native languages.

Still, according to a series published earlier this year in the Denver Post, the difference in how minority and white students are disciplined remains stark. Minority students still bear the brunt of the most punitive discipline strategies, and the state has made little progress changing that fact.

Read the full report here.

Categories: Urban School News

Concept Charter won’t open in Chatham this fall

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 17:26

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

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

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

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

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

History of setbacks, controversy

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Concept Charter won’t open in Chatham this fall

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 17:26

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

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

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

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

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

History of setbacks, controversy

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Duncan announces flexibility in use of tests for evaluations

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 17:22

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan set the education world a-Twitter Thursday morning with the announcement that his department would consider state requests to delay use of test results in teacher evaluations during the “transition” to new standards and tests in many states.

The announcement is no major news for Colorado, where the 2014 legislative passed a law allowing pretty much what Duncan is proposing.

Janelle Asmus of the Colorado Department of Education said, “Colorado has already moved in this direction. SB 165 provided this flexibility and matches what the U.S. Department of Education is providing. The secretary’s letter affirms the direction that Colorado has taken.” Asmus said Colorado doesn’t need formal federal signoff to implement the new law.

Senate Bill 14-165 requires districts to gather student growth data on teachers during this school year, but districts can choose whether or not to use it in evaluations. Districts can weight growth data anywhere from 0 to 50 percent of evaluations.

Under Colorado’s educator effectiveness law, growth is tracked by multiple measures, not just statewide tests. A low evaluation rating in 2014-15 will count toward possible future loss of non-probationary status. In 2015-16 and subsequent years evaluations would be based half on student growth and half on professional practice.

In his blog post (read it here), Duncan wrote that in talking with teachers, “Increasingly, in those conversations, I hear concerns about standardized testing. … I share these concerns.”

Duncan continued, “Assessment needs to be done wisely. No school or teacher should look bad because they took on kids with greater challenges. Growth is what matters. … The larger issue is, testing should never be the main focus of our schools. … It’s simply one measure of one kind of progress.”

The key to Duncan’s announcement was this statement: “States will have the opportunity to request a delay in when test results matter for teacher evaluation during this transition.”

That set off a flurry of comment in the education media and online. See this Huffington Post story for the national background.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: First racetrack casino ads focus on education

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 10:52

through the loophole

A struggling rural district nearing the end of the state's accountability clock is righting its status and getting more funding through a little known change in state finance law. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

more from manual

The ousted former principal and assistant principal of Manual High School say that in light of the school's improved state test scores this year, they should get their jobs back. ( 9News )

opt out optics

The Denver Post editorial board argues that low numbers of families opting-out of state tests shows that Coloradans know the value of standardized exams. ( Denver Post )

a new home

A new charter school for pregnant teenagers and young parents has found its location in Aurora. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

looking forward to November

Stand for Children released its endorsements in 18 races that voters will decide in November. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

back to school readiness

Denver Public Schools is implementing new security measures when students return to school next week. ( The Denver Channel )

the rhetoric war begins

The first ads for a measure that would allow a casino to be built at a racing track de-emphasizes gambling and focuses on the benefit for schools. ( KDVR )

Categories: Urban School News

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

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 08:54

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Stand for Children makes 2014 endorsements

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 18:40

The education advocacy group Stand for Children-Colorado has announced its endorsements in 18 races on the November ballot. The list is primarily Democratic, but the group did endorse three Republican legislative candidates.

The group endorsed 17 legislative candidates and a candidate in one State Board of Education race. No statewide or federal candidates were endorsed.

Ten of the endorsed candidates also have received financial contributions from the Public Education Committee, a group associated with the Colorado Education Association. Stand and CEA sometimes are at odds on policy issues.

The group endorsed four candidates in open seats where no incumbents are on the ballot. In Senate District 5 Stand endorsed rancher Kerry Donovan. The House candidates include legislative staff member Susan Lontine in District 1, former Democratic Party official Alex Garrett in District 2 and lawyer Jon Keyser in District 25.

Stand didn’t endorse any candidates who are running against incumbents, but it did endorse two legislators who are running unopposed. Endorsements were made based on a variety of information, including questionnaires, interviews and review of voting records, according to the group. Candidates were judged based their alignment with Stand priorities, including “high academic expectations and quality instruction, quality and transparent investments, effective teachers and principals, and effective oversight of low-performing schools.”

Senate races of interest to education where Stand didn’t endorse include District 11, where retired teacher and former representative Mike Merrifield is the Democratic candidate; District 24, where Democratic former representative Judy Solano is seeking an open seat, and District 30, where Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, is seeking to switch chambers. He’s been a member of the House Education Committee.

Stand also didn’t endorse in three races involving other incumbent members of House Education, Republicans Justin Everett of Littleton and Jim Wilson of Salida and Democrat Dave Young of Greeley.

No endorsements were made either in SBE races in District 1, where Democrat Val Flores is the only candidate, and in District 3, where incumbent Republican Marcia Neal faces Democrat Henry Roman of Pueblo.

Stand endorsed three losing candidates in the June primary – Flores’ Democratic opponent Taggart Hansen; Republican Loren Bauman, who unsuccessfully challenged Everett, and Republican Michael Fields in a suburban House district. The group endorsed Democratic winner Alex Garrett in House District 2 during the primary and has endorsed him again in the general election.

See the chart below for the full list of endorsements and other information about the races. Members of the House and Senate education committees are noted in dark letters. “CEA donation” notes campaign contributions by the Public Education Committee. Races with Libertarian Party candidates are noted because Libertarians generally are considered to divert some votes from GOP candidates.

Categories: Urban School News

For a rural district facing potential state intervention, an unexpected rescue

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 17:55

One of the first two districts to potentially face state sanctions for low performance may have just reversed its academic fortunes, thanks to a virtually unnoticed shift in state law.

Karval School District is a rural district of roughly 90 students in southeastern Colorado. Roughly two-thirds of the district’s students attend its online school, whose performance lagged sufficiently to place the entire district on the state’s watch list for lowest performing districts.

But when the school board voted to close the school in mid-June, observers were surprised to discover that the decision wasn’t tied to the school’s academics at all. Instead, district officials unearthed a small provision in last year’s school finance law that, finally, spelled the end for the faltering school.

The option to close Karval’s online school has been on the table since Todd Werner joined the district as superintendent two years ago. In addition to its perilous position on the state accountability clock, Karval’s online school had been shrinking for several years, falling to about 60 students in the fall of 2013 from nearly twice that much two years early.

“I was looking at those numbers from the day I walked into the district,” said Werner, who left the district this summer for a teaching job at Cheraw School District, 70 miles to the south. But the district was committed to keeping the online school open and pulling up its scores.

“We made some significant changes and we felt we were going in the right direction,” said Werner.

But even if Werner and his staff had wanted to close the school, both Karval and Vilas, the other district facing the end of the clock, were in a tight spot. The underperforming online schools bankrolled the districts’ brick and mortar operations.

As the state’s education commisioner Robert Hammond put it in a state board meeting with the two districts this spring, “If [your online schools] were out, you’d be in a good category.” But, he said, “without online, [I'm] not sure how you’d survive financially.”

But when Hammond made that statement, their situation had already changed. It was just that no one had caught on.

In spring of 2013, school finance was a central concern for Colorado state legislators. The topic of a total overhaul of Colorado’s school finance law, Senate Bill 213, dominated the conversation and shaped last year’s session. Less attention-getting was a provision introduced in a separate bill that required all districts receive funding for at least 50 students, even if they enroll fewer. That bill language quietly wound its way through the tense session to the final bill that determined funding for the 2013-14 school year.

When it went into effect, only two districts saw their financial situation immediately change: Agate, a 12-student district east of Denver, and Pritchett, near the Oklahoma border.

But there were three more districts could have seen their finances improve, if they closed their online schools. That list included Karval, Vilas and Branson, which runs a higher performing online school. Without their online schools, all three would fall below the 50-student line and paradoxically begin receiving more state money per pupil.

Vilas officials did not respond to requests for comment about whether or not they were considering closing the school.

The change was a potential lifeline for Karval, which has been spending more than its annual state budget for years. In 2013, the district spent roughly $100,000 of its savings and was on track to nearly double that this year.

“We had to get to a point where we were going to balance the budget,” said Werner.

Even though the district’s potential lifeline went into effect last May, Werner remained unaware of it until this spring. When he asked the state’s finance office to run projections without the online school last year, the projections did not include the 50-student provision.

“One of those projections should have picked up that [our enrollment] fell below 50 and bumped it up,” said Werner. “It just fell through the system.”

Mary Lynn Christal, the state official in charge of running financial projections for districts, told Chalkbeat that it was possible she didn’t include the 50-student minimum in her projections this spring, although it was in the official school finance formula. But she doesn’t remember speaking with Werner specifically and wasn’t able to find when she added it.

The only other potential source of information for districts, without reading the often-stultifying text of the original bill, is the Colorado Department of Education’s legislative updates. Werner said that provision wasn’t mentioned to him and it isn’t present in the general legislative summary produced by the department. But it is mentioned in the school finance summary, which is available through the department’s website.

But whatever the manner in which the information got lost, Werner said if he had known about the provision earlier, it could have significantly altered the district’s direction.

“If I would have known about the minimum 50, we would have started having those discussions in November or December,” he said. Closing earlier would have meant that the online school’s performance would not have been included in its state ranking this fall, which will determine whether the state intervenes.

Even so, state officials said that that is unlikely to result in sanctions. Peter Sherman, the state’s chief of school improvement, said the district will have an opportunity to request to be ranked without their online school. If they do, he signaled they might receive a positive reception.

“That would be a good reason to request,” said Sherman. And Marcia Neal, Karval’s representative at the state board, where the final decision would be made, said she’d likely “look favorably on such a request.”

Categories: Urban School News

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