The City Council voted on Wednesday to approve Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to borrow $17 million from investors to pay for a temporary expansion of a high-quality preschool program. Under the so-called “social impact bond,” the city and CPS will only repay the money if fewer children need expensive special education services and have high academic achievement. But as we reported earlier this week, banks face little risk in the complex financial agreement.
That's due largely to the fact that the chosen program -- child-parent centers, which enroll children through third grade -- are backed by decades of research proving their long-term savings. If the program is very successful, Goldman Sachs and other investors stand to double their money. Only five aldermen voted against the proposal, including Northwest Side Ald. John Arena, who said that if he “was at Goldman Sachs, I would be doing this, too,” according to a Sun-Times story. Critics from the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Healthcare Illinois, meanwhile, called it “another parking meter deal.”
During a finance committee meeting on Monday, Lois Scott, the city’s chief financial officer, threw a lot of numbers at aldermen to convince them it was a good idea. At one point, she even said the city could save up to $300 million over the duration of the students’ K-12 education if all of them avoided special ed. The Chicago Tribune parroted this claim without questioning why Scott would ever suggest that 100 percent of any preschool class would need special ed services to begin with, whether they attended preschool or not, since district data show that about 12.6 percent of CPS students need the services. In addition, children with severe disabilities, who are part of that total, won’t be included in the program.
2. Expected endorsement… The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates voted Wednesday to endorse Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for mayor. CTU President Karen Lewis had already said she backed him and he was the keynote speaker at the union’s legislative dinner on Friday.
The fact that union leadership had seemingly already thrown their support behind Garcia, before the vote, frustrated some delegates. But delegates said that inside the meeting, they were told the endorsement shouldn’t wait. An activist teacher questioned on Facebook who Garcia was and why he had seemingly come out of nowhere. Lewis, who has a brain tumor and had to bow out of the mayoral race, responded: “Point of personal privilege: I endorsed Chuy because many of my non-CTU supporters wanted to know what to do once it became clear I could not continue my mayoral bid. Chuy was an invaluable advisor to me in terms of building coalitions throughout the city.”
As the Tribune article pointed out, the other main mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti was not happy with the union for so quickly running to Garcia’s camp. "Bob has been in the trenches fighting with parents and educators from the start and will continue that fight as mayor," campaign spokesman Michael Kolenc said. "He has been there for educators over the years, and we know a lot of them are with us now."
3. More principal training... This week the district quietly announced a three-year partnership with Northwestern University to provide professional development, executive coaching and other leadership opportunities to at least 20 principals each year. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett called it an “unparalleled opportunity” for principals.
Sound familiar? You may recall that CPS awarded a $20 million no-bid contract last year for another principal training program, the for-profit SUPES Academy, run by a private operator. A Catalyst investigation revealed questionable ties between Byrd-Bennett and the founders of the business, while many principals still complain about the quality of the training. The CPS Inspector General is investigating the contract.
The 21 fellows chosen under this program won’t have to attend SUPES trainings. Under the new Chicago Public Schools Principal Fellowship program, Northwestern faculty will provide participating principals six days of academic training, a 360-degree assessment -- which involves feedback from coworkers, not just superiors -- and group and individual coaching from Northwestern experts.
“We recognize that principals may need different types of support or different experiences to grow professionally, depending on their individual strengths and weaknesses,” said a spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Education Fund, which has committed $500,000 to fund the new training program and had previously funded SUPES Academy before it became a district program. Catalyst has written about Chicago’s efforts to better prepare and retain principals.
4. Getting poorer… WBEZ offers up a rather academic discussion on what it means for the state to have more than half of its students identified as low-income. Michael Rebell, the head of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University, says that the trend has “tremendous” implications because poor students need more services, such as before-and-after school programs.
But the president of the Fordham Institute notes that the numbers may be inflated and points out that the number of students identified by schools as low-income has grown more than the official numbers of children in poverty. He says that not many low-income students make it through college and that the nation might need to rethink the idea that college is the path to the middle class.
In Illinois, the child poverty rate went from 15 percent in 2000 to about 21 percent in 2012, according to Voices for Illinois Children. For schools, the definition of low-income includes students whose families have incomes just above the poverty line as well as those below it. WBEZ's Linda Lutton points out that two-thirds of low-income children live outside of Chicago and all of the increase occurred in the suburbs or downstate.
A Catalyst analysis of state data shows that 24 school districts had increases of more than 20 percent. On average, 64 percent of the students in these school districts are white, 15 percent are Latino and 11 percent are black.
Karen Triezenberg, principal of Willow Spring School District 108, says her low-income numbers jumped by more than 30 percent as student population in the one-school district went up. The mobile home park in the area offers specials to families, she says, and some of the houses vacated during the housing crisis are now being rented to low-income families.
5. Middle-school intervention… Thirty-four CPS schools will get extra help to make sure sixth- through eighth-grade students are on track to graduate.The new initiative, called The Success Project, will also use a program called 6to16, designed at the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute to help middle-schoolers set and reach goals for high school and beyond. The Lefkofsky Family Foundation is funding the project.
John Gasko of the Urban Education Institute called the initiative a “compelling answer to what research says matters.” A new study released today by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research shows that middle-grades performance is strongly connected with both high school and college success.
Ten neighborhood schools will gain a full-time “success coordinator” and 23 Academy for Urban School Leadership turnaround schools will receive training and professional development. A final school, Cesar Chavez Multicultural Academic Center, which already has a strong focus on high school preparation, will also use the curriculum.
“We feel there’s inconsistency across the country, especially here in Chicago, in terms of trying to get students to pay more attention to the choices they make in high school,” Gasko said.
Board of Education member Henry Bienen took an unusual step at last month’s meeting: He voted against a plan that came down from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.
Bienen, a former president Northwestern University, said he was “very uneasy” with a proposal to borrow nearly $17 million from investors in a so-called “social impact bond” (SIB) to pay for a four-year preschool expansion.
“I’m not against social investments,” he said during the meeting. “And I don’t question the good motives of the people who are putting up the money. I think the measurement issue is very difficult, and I think the rate of return, or interest rate, is high.”
Social impact bonds haven’t been around long enough for researchers to have a consensus on the benefits to local governments, which must pay significant start-up costs and set aside money in escrow to make projected repayments. As a result, it's too early to tell whether Bienen is right.
But a review of the loan agreement and related contracts – which were approved by the CPS board and still must go through the City Council -- shows that the deal relies on a complicated formula that poses little risk to investors. That’s due largely to the proven track record of the project’s chosen preschool program, child-parent centers. In addition, investors gain good will and publicity in the deal.
The review of the documents found that:
--Nearly $1.3 million of the $16.6 million loan will never reach CPS. That money will go to pay a third-party project manager, audits, additional social services, and legal fees – including up to $250,000 for the investors’ own legal costs.
--In addition, the city must pay $319,000 for an outside group to evaluate the project in the third and fourth years.
--According to the city’s projections, CPS would pay about $21.5 million over the life of the 16-year program in payments for “savings” from fewer special ed services. However, if the program is more successful than expected, CPS will have to pay more, up to a maximum of $30 million.
--The city expects to kick in an additional $4.4 million in “success payments” based on children’s performance on kindergarten readiness and third-grade literacy tests.
This means that if it's very successful, investors could get back more than double their money over the life of the progam.
City officials have not said how much– if anything – they expect to save. But Emanuel and his supporters have pointed to research on the benefits and long-term cost savings from good early childhood education.
“Each dollar invested is returned to society sevenfold,” said CPS board member Jesse Ruiz during a press conference announcing the project in October. “Because we can’t afford to wait for better fiscal climates, we’ve been searching for every possible dollar to expand high-quality early learning programs. This new initiative is an innovative public-partnership to bring the high-quality child-parent model to more children across Chicago.”
Low risk for high quality
Over four years, the money will pay for slots about 2,600 low-income 4-year-olds to attend child-parent centers that provide preschool, support services, and require strong parent engagement.
A 2002 cost-benefit analysis showed many long-term positive benefits to the centers -- ranging from a 41-percent reduction in special education placement and a 40-percent drop in retention. While child-parent centers serve children up to third grade, the research has found that the preschool participation alone saves taxpayers more than $7 for every $1 spent.
Experts who have tracked their success said it was easy to see why Chicago officials and the lenders zeroed in on the program.
“Most other [social impact bonds] that have been done are treatment programs that don’t have a record that the CPC program has. It’s already a renowned model, by far the most evidence-based program out there,” says Arthur Reynolds, a professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied Chicago’s child-parent centers for nearly three decades and co-authored the 2002 cost-benefit analysis.
“The risk for investors to come in to fund it is much, much lower,” Reynolds added. “It’s a great way to take a creative financing mechanism and take advantage of the fact there needs to be a larger greater access to high-quality preschool expansion – and really fast-track the expansion of a very strong program that was showing strong evidence […] that things were working well.”
Even before Emanuel announced the expansion, CPCs were already growing in Chicago as a result of an Investing in Innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Preschool enrollment has doubled since the 2011-2012 school year, Reynolds said, and many programs offer a full day of preschool. The social impact bond will only cover a half-day of services.
Reynolds said he’s been helping the mayor’s office on the proposal since last fall, when the city won technical assistance from the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government’s Social Impact Bond Technical Assistance Lab. The lab provides pro bono full-time fellows to governments implementing “pay-for-success” contracts.
Understanding the loan
If approved by City Council, the bond program would become the fifth in the country.
As in the other programs, Chicago would not borrow the money directly from the lenders – which include the Goldman Sachs Social Impact Fund, Northern Trust and the Pritzker Family Foundation. The foundation is serving as the subordinate lender, meaning it’ll take any financial hits before the banks -- which reduces the banks' risk. The Pritzker family has been a longtime advocate of early chidlhood education.
As an added bonus, banks can use the social-impact bonds to boost their ratings under the federal Community Reinvestment Act, which encourages lending in low-income communities.
The preschool loan money goes to an intermediary project coordinator, IFF Pay For Success I, LLC, a limited liability company set up by IFF, a lender and consultant to non-profits.
IFF then loans the money to the city, which will in turn disperses most of the funds to CPS.
However, a portion of the loan goes toward other costs. These include $470,000 for IFF’s services; $200,000 for Metropolitan Family Services for parent support and training; $170,000 in audit fees; $75,000 for IFF’s legal fees; and $100,000 for the city’s and CPS’s legal fees.
IFF is responsible for hiring an evaluator, whose fees are paid during the first two years by the Finnegan Family Foundation. The city must come up with $319,000 to pay its fees during the last two years of the loan disbursement.
As students in each cohort take kindergarten readiness and third-grade literacy tests, IFF will take money out of the $4.4 million that the city must put into escrow to pay back the investors according to the evaluator’s findings.
In addition, next year CPS must begin to budget for its own projected payments for special education requirements; some years, CPS expects to set aside as much as $1.9 million to make the payments.
Those who are skeptical of social impact bonds have said that the escrow payments and administrative costs to government make them tough to justify on economic terms. At the end of the day, they say, governments are simply kicking the can down the road instead of paying to provide services up front.
In a 2013 report on a Massachusetts proposal to use SIBs for a prisoner re-entry program, Kyle McKay, who was then a policy analyst for the state’s Department of Legislative Services, said that a direct government investment was likely to have a greater impact and pose less risk than SIB financing.
“Given the difficulty of linking the evaluation of a social program to a highly complex contract centered on an outcome payment, the government may actually increase its operational risks in undertaking a SIB,” McKay wrote. “The government would also need to budget upfront for the contingent liabilities of outcome payments. As a result, a SIB program would increase both budgetary pressure and operational risks.”
Calculating “success” payments
Under the Chicago proposal, the loan will pay for 374 half-day slots in the first year; 782 slots in both the second and third years; and 680 slots in the fourth and final year. Six sites have already been chosen to receive funding this year: De Diego, Melody, Peck, Thomas, Wadsworth and Hanson Park elementary schools; two additional sites will be added next year.
According to the city’s evaluation plan, students in the “treatment group” will be compared to students from similar low-income neighborhoods who did not attend preschool at any CPS site or at any Head Start site that’s overseen by the city.
City officials did not explain how the control group of children would be identified, considering Emanuel’s goal of providing preschool to all low-income 4-year-olds by next year.
The biggest loan repayments come from the expectation that the children who attend preschool at child-parent centers will be less likely to use special education services for mild disabilities than those who never went to preschool at all -- a projection based on the earlier cost-benefit analyses.
“Without additional support, many of these children may end up being diagnosed with a mild learning disability, emotional disturbance, or developmental delay including speech and language impairment,” according to the evaluation plan. “For these children, additional support in the classroom and at home can help ensure that they stay on track developmentally with their peers, avoiding the need for years of special education purposes.”
Children with severe disabilities, including autism or deafness, will be excluded from the study group.
When the first cohort of students enters kindergarten, CPS will begin paying the lenders for each fewer child who needs special education services when compared to the control group. CPS will pay $9,100 per child annually, an amount that increases by 1 percent each year.
The city did not provide Catalyst with a breakdown of how it calculated the $9,100 figure, but said it was “based on the time that teachers spend with children with specific learning disability types and the cost associated with that time per student.”
Other measurements, PARCC concerns
The evaluator will measure “kindergarten readiness” through an assessment that’s already used in CPS preschools. For each child in the “treatment group” who performs at or above the national average on at least five of the six sections of the assessment, the city will repay lenders $2,900. The city projects half of the children will score high enough to trigger the payments.
Meanwhile, third-grade literacy will be measured using the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a new test to which CPS is transitioning this year. The new assessment is aligned to the controversial Common Core State Standards and is considered more rigorous than current state tests.
The projections indicate that half of third-graders will be at “grade level,” meaning they score at or above the 25th national percentile on reading portions of the PARCC. Under the agreement, the city will pay lenders $750 for each child that meets that benchmark.
But the city and lenders have agreed to reconsider using this test if CPS students don’t do as well as expected.
“At the time of drafting this analysis, the PARCC test has yet to be officially implemented in CPS schools,” according to the documents. “Given the uncertainty of performance on this test and how its outcomes will compare to past tests taken by CPS students, the evaluator may suggest amendments to the definition of reading ‘on grade level’ that could include utilizing a different test or metric.”
Parents who have been protesting the PARCC and the use of other high-stakes tests in CPS said they were surprised to know the scores wouldn’t necessarily be used to determine payment to investors.
“It’s really concerning to have financial deals based on test scores. You’re going to get paid back on how kids score, compounding the fact things are already too high stakes,” says Cassie Cresswell, of the group More Than A Score. “Why not gather some political will to really fund these programs that work?”
CPS did not have a major announcement about this year's state test scores--and it turns out the scores remain exactly the same as last year's, with 52.5 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards. Whatever the caveats, the figures and the lack of upward movement don't look good, especially with the district about to move to a new, more difficult exam aligned to the tougher Common Core standards.Also, the achievement gap widened: average scores for black and Latino students fell slightly, while white and Asian students posted tiny gains.
With the state officially releasing report cards on Friday, CPS finally posted ISAT information on district and individual school performance on its website. Historically, CPS would release the scores some time over the summer.
Scores on the NWEA, another test that CPS students must also take, have not been released by race.
2. Welcoming schools worse off... Catalyst’s analysis shows that 35 of 52 schools, or more than two-thirds of the official welcoming schools that took in children displaced by closings, posted decreases in ISAT scores. Perhaps the most disturbing part is that the highest-performing welcoming schools saw the biggest drops. The top 10 welcoming schools in 2012-2013--the year before the closings--saw an average of a 17 percentage point decrease on the ISAT. Only one--Hefferan--did not have a significant decrease.
For example, Leland, a small kindergarten through third-grade school in Austin, had nearly 80 percent of third-graders meeting or exceeding standards in 2012-2013. Last year, only 33 percent of third graders met or exceeded standards. Another school, Courtenay, was a small school where more than 70 percent of students met or exceeded standards. It was combined with Stockton, a poor-performing school. Many Courtenay parents were outraged and took their children out. The result was that Courtenay was no longer the same school--and scores dropped 20 percent in just one year.
The Chicago Sun-Times concludes that, when using ISAT data as a barometer, the performance of welcoming schools was a mixed bag at best. Six of the eight CPS schools that saw the biggest decreases in meeting/exceeding on the ISAT were welcoming schools. However, some (about 10) official welcoming schools saw increases in ISAT scores.
The Sun-Times points out that one of Byrd-Bennett’s promises was that students would wind up in better schools. Confronted with the analysis, CPS officials just e-mailed a statement, saying that the district “continues to work to offer all students a high-quality education.”
The results are especially disappointing considering the district spent $285 million at welcoming schools. This money paid for iPADs, computers, long-needed renovations and labs for schools that were designated as International Baccalaureate or STEM, as well as extra staff and resources to help with the transition.
3. Opt-out info… That students were forced to take the ISAT, even though it won't be used for accountability purposes, sparked a big, embarrassing opt-out push. CPS officials downplayed the number of students who opted out, but activist parents say they think about 2,000 students sat out the test.
This is important for the upcoming year when CPS students will again be forced to take two standardized tests in the spring. The state will be using the PARCC for accountability purposes and the district will use the NWEA. Byrd-Bennett says she wants to delay districtwide implementation of the PARCC, perhaps in hopes of avoiding another opt-out push.
Activists hoped to use the ISAT information posted Friday to prove their point that a lot of students opted out. Overall, about 5,000 fewer students took the ISAT in 2013 than did in 2014, while only 1,800 fewer third to eighth graders were enrolled in CPS schools. Yet there could be many reasons for the number of ISAT test takers to be low, such as more students taking the alternative test for disabled students. More Than A Score leader Cassie Creswell says she will submit a Freedom of Information Act to request for the actual numbers.
The numbers indicate that at some schools the push to have students opt-out was successful. At Saucedo, where teachers took a stand against the ISAT, the number of students who took the ISAT dropped from 765 to 247, though the school had more third to eighth grade students. Also at Drummond, a Montessori magnet school on the North Side, so few students took the ISAT that CPS did not post detailed information about performance following a policy that the district shields categories of less than 10 students. Though about 176 students were enrolled in third through eighth grade at Drummond, only 31 students took the ISAT.
4. College disconnect… The Chicago Tribune focused their coverage of the school report card release on the disconnect between the number of students who are college-ready. Statewide, within 16 months of graduating from high school, 70 percent of students enrolled in college. Yet only 25 percent of students were college-ready according to the ACT definition, and only 46 percent according to the state’s definition. The Tribune quotes Elaine Allensworth from the Consortium on Chicago School Research who notes that high-stakes tests are not the only factor that determine whether someone does well in college. The report cards do not include information on college persistence, but studies have shown that grades, not test scores, are a better predictor of whether students stay in college.
The Tribune also points out CPS had a below-average college-going rate of 67 percent, but that the selective enrollment schools had some of the highest rates in the state. On average, only 27 percent of CPS students were deemed college- ready. The highest college-going rate was at Catlin High School in Vermilion County, east of Champaign. However, most students are not "college ready" and go to the local community college. Glenbrook South is one of the few districts that doesn't have a disparity in college-readiness and college-going.
5. Clout consultants… The Sun-Times reports this morning about dozens of high paid, politically connected consultants working as employees or subcontractors with CPS contracts to manage “small renovation projects” done by other contractors. Among two examples are former CPS COO Sean Murphy and former CTA Chief Operating Officer Richard Rodriguez. Murphy gets paid a whopping $388,000 as the subcontractor to URS Corporation. That is a good deal more than he made while working for CPS and more than Byrd-Bennett makes. Rodriquez, who currently serves as chairman for the UNO Charter School Network, works for Lend Lease, which has been paid $10.9 million by CPS since 2012.
While the fact that these guys are politically connected is worrisome, the story also begs the question of whether the district could get this work done for far less than it is paying. It also reminds us that CPS still only has an interim inspector general, even though it has four months since the former inspector general resigned.
The announcement last week that CPS reversed course and now plans to reopen Dyett High, set to close at the end of the school year, was a hard-won battle for community activists. But the war is not over.
Members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School and Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization gathered this week at City Hall to issue a no-confidence vote – symbolized by slips of yellow paper – for the reelection of 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns. The Washington Park school is in Burns’ ward and has been a flashpoint in the alderman’s relationship with some in the community.
KOCO’s Jitu Brown said the demonstration was a result of Burns’ recent comments on WVON-AM Radio, which Brown called a “smack in the face” that would lead to Burns’ “political death.”
On WVON’s Matt McGill Show earlier this week, Burns discussed the recent developments regarding Dyett. He explained that the request-for-proposals CPS will issue for the school as it seeks a new operator for it will make it “very clear” that Dyett will not be a charter or alternative school and would be an open-enrollment, neighborhood high school.
“If there are groups in the community that have an idea and have the extra piece,” Burns said on the show, “it’s their opportunity to come forward with a plan to run Dyett and bring it to the Board of Education.”
Burns made no mention of the coalition’s existing plan to turn Dyett into a school whose curriculum would be based on teaching “global leadership and green technology.” The academic plan was developed over several years, Brown said, and has the partnership of several outside institutions as well as the input and support of more than 2,000 Bronzeville community members.
“Thousands of people in the ward have said what they want,” Brown said. “This is not some cockamamie plan. We’ve been dreaming about what should be happening in this community [since 2008], so we are not going to let some [private] contract operators go into these schools.”
Other speakers talked about mobilizing voters to elect a new alderman in the 4th Ward and pressuring CPS officials to skip the RFP process in favor of the full proposal from the coalition.
At the end of the press conference, the activists relocated to the City Council Chambers, calling out Ald. Burns in the middle of a budget hearing and chanting, before being escorted out by security.
Preschool enrollment in CPS is down again this year. The district’s 20th day enrollment data show a drop of about 800 children, with 4-year-olds accounting for the entire decline.The downward trend continues even as Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised to expand access to high-quality preschool for all low-income 4-year-olds in the city. Early childhood education advocates and parents have blamed the drop on his administration’s decision to centralize the application process for preschool enrollment last year. (Enrollment fell by about 950 among 4-year-olds last year.) Parents say the new process is harder to navigate, and that their children often get placed at schools that are too far away.
The centralization process -- which was one component of the mayor’s Ready to Learn! initiative -- was meant to ensure the neediest children got priority. In a statement, CPS officials acknowledged the drop but noted that enrollment is down across the district. And while that’s true, no grade level saw as big an enrollment drop as 4-year-olds in preschool, which is voluntary. (See Catalyst's analysis of CPS data here.)
In a statement, CPS officials said that this year “we have already received more applications for school-based programming compared with last year, and expect to receive further applications as enrollment remains open throughout the year.” The district also said that more than 86 percent of families that applied this year were offered seats in their first- or second-choice programs.
2. Union rethinks Chicago election spending … The American Federation of Teacher’s commitment to contribute $1 million to CTU president Karen Lewis’ mayoral bid bolstered her chance of being a viable candidate. But now that she isn’t running, will the AFT -- a staunch critic of Emanuel’s education agenda -- be involved in the mayoral election at all? That has yet to be decided. On Tuesday, the AFT’s Randi Weingarten issued a statement saying the initial commitment was to Lewis as a “union sister.” “As Karen has decided not to run, we will have to re-evaluate based on many factors – as we do across the nation — starting with conversations with our local affiliates in Chicago," she says.
The AFT money could be a big factor in the viability of any mayoral candidate -- including Cook County Commission Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a progressive who threw his hat into the race this week but has less than $20,000 in his campaign account, the Chicago Tribune reports. Emanuel has already raised some $8.7 million for the election.
3. Asbestos concerns… A week after parents complained about damaged lead paint at Gale School in Rogers Park, Little Village parents and teachers are raising concerns about asbestos and other problems at Saucedo, according to DNAinfo. The cancer deaths of at least two teachers have heightened concerns, but teachers and parents are not saying the condition of the school is responsible for the deaths. Also, CPS inspectors found that though asbestos is in the school, which was built in 1912, the levels are acceptable in all places where children are at.
According to DNAinfo, parents were told the school had conducted an asbestos test through a private investigator and that the school had passed. However, CPS would not provide parents full results. Gale’s parents, along with activists, had to file a Freedom of Information Act and go to the Illinois Attorney General to force CPS to comply. The communications problems are mystifying, given that parents need to feel secure that their children at the very least are safe in school.
4. Closings and mergers … The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago announced this week it will shutter seven elementary schools and consolidate six more by next year, a move that will affect more than 1,200 students and 200 employees. Church officials assured that “unlike past shutdowns in which some schools got reprieves, all decisions this time are final,” according to a Tribune report.
Low enrollment due to a declining population of school-aged children is being blamed for the closings across Lake and Cook counties. This year, there are 82,000 children enrolled in the system’s 240 schools; at its peak in 1965, some 366,000 students were enrolled in 524 schools. As schools emptied and parish funds dried up, many schools relied on big subsides from the Archdiocese.
5. About that study … Remember that report that came out two weeks ago that concluded that charter schools in Chicago perform worse, on average, than traditional schools? Most of the local media covered its findings, although later pointed out that the CTU had helped pay for the study by the Institute of Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota. In an opinion piece published in Crain’s Chicago Business this week, the reports’ authors defended their findings against criticism of their work by the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.
INCS' Andrew Broy had taken issue with the data quality, data sources and omission of “high-quality research” that has found positive outcomes at charter schools. In their Crain's piece, authors Myron Orfield and Thomas Luce dismiss Broy’s criticism and say they used statistical controls to compare student performance in charter schools versus those in nonselective traditional schools.
In this highly charged debate, it’s important to remember that studies on charter schools across the country have fallen in both camps, with the general consensus being that they perform about as well -- sometimes slightly better, sometimes slightly worse -- than traditional neighborhood schools.
One last note ... Waukegan school district officials and teachers reached a tentative agreement late Wednesday night, ending a month-long strike. Classes are set to resume on Monday.
I’m going to add one little line to the end of the Take 5 that says: One last note, Waukegan school district officials and teachers reached a tentative agreement late Wednesday night, ending a month-long strike. Classes are set to resume on Monday.
Frustrated parents from an overcrowded Southwest Side elementary school have taken the unusual step of forming a political action committee. Dore, in Clearing, has 673 students but was built for 400, and, as of last year, with mobile units was 127 percent over capacity, according to CPS standards. It is a Level 1 school that is 60 percent Latino and 35 percent white. About 56 percent of students are low-income.
The SWNewsHerald, an online newspaper, reports that the vice principal has to share the boiler room with the engineer. Parents also say that after fourth grade, special education students often leave the school because there’s no space for them. Board members seemed sympathetic to the cause of the parents, but political pressure might be the way to go. The North and South sides of the city have about the same number of overcrowded schools, with most of the overcrowding on the west sides, such as McKinley Park and Sauganash, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of CPS data for 2013-2014. But six of the eight schools that got annexes under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration were on the North Side.
2. Leading the way? Is CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett really another national figure standing up to over-testing and showing concerned about new Common Core tests? Ever since she announced last week that she planned to ask the state and federal government to delay districtwide implementation of the PARCC, the move was mentioned in Politico and the Washington Post as another signal that testing, and in particular the PARCC, are in trouble.
The Washington Post Answer Sheet features CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett 's pronouncement. The blog’s author, Valerie Strauss says that the PARCC and another Common Core test developed by the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium were supposed to be revolutionary—that is, more sophisticated and better able to assess student skills. But the hesitation to move toward PARCC is a sign of concern that these tests will not be the “absolute game-changer in public education” that Education Secretary Arne Duncan touted in 2010. Duncan's administration has put $360 million into developing these tests.
The blog reports that 12 states will give the PARCC this year and 26 will give the SBAC.
The parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand is certainly concerned with these larger questions about the PARCC, with parents complaining that the PARCC was too confusing and subjective. The group started an online petition urging the state to ask the federal government for a waiver.
But Byrd-Bennett’s recent stand raises questions. Her request to delay the PARCC was already turned down and she failed to mention it in her statement, and some are wondering whether it was merely a political maneuver. In her letter to ISBE, Byrd-Bennett in fact praises the test, saying the “pilot program” showed positive results. (Copies of the letter are now posted.)
According to the letter, Byrd-Bennett’s biggest concern is that, in addition to the PARCC, she also wants to administer the NWEA to elementary school students and the ACT to high school students. That would leave students facing two batteries of tests—like last year, when parents and teachers staged a mutiny against the district’s plan to give both the NWEA and the ISAT, even though the ISAT was being phased out.
At the end of this week, ISAT scores will be available from the state (CPS has not released the results on their own as they usually do). It will be interesting to if the opt-out movement caused a dip at particular schools, providing yet another reason why Byrd-Bennett likely doesn’t want another opt-out movement on her hands.
3. Protesting a strike … As the teachers strike in Waukegan drags into its fourth week, frustrated parents say it’s time that the district and educators reach an agreement so that classes can resume. Some parents told Univision this weekend the impasse is hurting students -- and that they plan to send their children to school on Monday even though union and district officials will be back at the bargaining table.
The 17,000 students in the Waukegan public school system have been out of class since Oct. 2, when teachers walked off the job seeking better pay and benefits. The strike has caused a logistical nightmare for many parents who now have to worry about day care and keeping their children busy all day. Some have also expressed concerns about the impact a continued strike may have on graduating high school seniors. The Lake County News-Sun reports that parents have also been calling nearby private schools, asking if it’s too late to enroll their children. “It doesn’t matter whose side you’re on, it’s really obvious who’s getting hurt,” says the president of Cristo Rey St. Martin Prep School in Waukegan.
4. Who wants to teach? ... Enrollment continues to decline at teacher-prep programs across the country, Education Week reports. “Massive changes to the profession, coupled with budget woes, appear to be shaking the image of teaching as a stable, engaging career,” the story reports. Federal data show that enrollment in university teacher-preparation programs dropped about 10 percent from 2004 to 2012. In California, enrollment fell by more than half between the 2008-2009 and 2012-2013 school years, leading state officials to worry about a teacher shortage.
The article features one would-be teacher who changed his mind about entering the profession because he felt “in the middle of an ideological war that surfaced in everything from state-level education policy on down to his course textbook, which had a distinct anti-standardized-testing bent.”
Catalyst looked into the decline in enrollment at teaching colleges across Illinois in April and found that enrollment fell most significantly among white students. Because of the state’s historic over-production of teachers, it’s unlikely that Illinois will have massive overall shortage of public school teachers.
5. Battle in California … The Los Angeles Times reports on this year’s tight, costly battle for what’s typically considered a sleepy race for the job of state schools chief. But as has been seen in races across the country -- and was expected, too, in the Windy City if Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis had run for mayor -- the California contest has drawn national attention and millions of dollars from unions on one side and billionaire education reformers on the other.
One reasons for all the excitement is how the candidates say they’ll respond to the recent Vergara v. California decision, which ruled that some teacher tenure rules violated the rights of poor and minority children who were stuck with bad teachers that were hard to fire. Incumbent Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson -- a former teacher and legislator -- has appealed the decision and has the backing of the unions. His challenger, Marshall Tuck, who has run charter schools and traditional public schools taken over by the former L.A. mayor, has promised to withdraw the state’s appeal if elected. He’s received millions of dollars in donations from business-minded reformers, including Eli Broad.
The results could have implications far beyond California. “Whichever side wins this relatively low-profile office gets a huge leg up in the broader debate over education policy,”one political scientist told the paper. “The politics and symbolism are tremendous both for [the unions] and the reformers.”
CPS officials made the surprise announcement Friday that they want proposals for a new, open enrollment neighborhood high school to be located at Dyett High, the Washington Park school that is in the last year of being phased out.
Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, who has been leading community activists, parents and students in an intense fight to keep Dyett open, declared it a victory. But with many questions still outstanding about the school’s program--and in particular, whether a private operator will be chosen to run the school--Brown said it’s not a complete victory and emphasized that the win didn’t come easily.
“None of this would have happened without the diligence of the community,” he says. “This is not an example of a responsive elected official or government.”
Over the past four years, numerous rallies and sit-ins were held and several people were arrested as they battled to keep Dyett a neighborhood school and to save it from the chopping block as dozens of other schools in black communities were closed. Brown and the coalition’s main concern was that Dyett’s closure would leave the surrounding neighborhood without its own high school and students would be assigned to Phillips, which is about two miles away.
CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a press release that she looks forward to working with the community. CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the Dyett request-for-proposals to run the school will be separate from a request for new charter schools, which also will be issued in December. He said the Dyett site will not be open to charter operators, but contract schools will be considered. (Contract schools operate under much the same rules as charters.)
The new Dyett won’t be opened until the 2016-2017 school year, which means the site will sit vacant for a year.
Dyett’s potential closure became the focus of a federal civil rights complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education by activists in Chicago and in other cities where school closings hit African-American communities. Students accused CPS of using tactics to drive students out and alleged that keeping resources from their school violated their rights.
A plan for teaching global leadership
Brown questioned why the district is even putting out an RFP and said the community does not want a private operator running the school.
“We want this to be a CPS school and we want them to use our tax dollars to run it,” he says. “Just like they do in Lake View, we want a CPS neighborhood school with high expectations.”
Also, Brown says he sees no reason that the high school can’t be open next school year. The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett has already been having regular meetings and will have a second retreat on Saturday.
The coalition has a plan already developed to turn Dyett into a school focused on “global leadership and green technology.” The plan was developed over a two-year period by various groups, including the Chicago Teachers Union, Teachers for Social Justice and the well-regarded Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.
The coalition got more than 2,000 signatures in support of the plan and it has the backing of the Kenwood and Bronzeville Community Action Councils, as well as DuSable Museum and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization.
Activists have also complained about conditions at Dyett as it is being phased out and students fanned out to other schools; this year, only 13 students enrolled in the school. For example, activists complained about students having to use the back door for entrance and as the numbers decreased, an increasing number of classes were taught online.
Earlier this year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel met with activists and students and agreed to let the students enter through the front door, have a gym teacher and host a prom.
Catalyst publisher Linda Lenz moderated a heated panel discussion on Thursday about the impacts of last year's massive school closings. The event was organized by City Club of Chicago and took place at Maggiano's Banquets in downtown Chicago.Panelists included CPS Board of Education members Carlos Azcoitia and Andrea Zopp; Chicago Teachers Union researcher Carol Caref; community activist and writer Valerie Leonard; and CPS chief operating officer Tom Tyrell, who oversaw the district's transition team during the closings.
The event was live-tweeted by several reporters and community activists. Check out a Storified version of the tweets below.
CPS board members approved on Wednesday the selling of 125 S. Clark and the first of 50-some schools shuttered during the 2013 mass school closings.The district’s headquarters was sold for about $28 million to Blue Star Properties, which plans to keep it offices and retail, according to a Chicago Sun-Times report. Central office workers will be spread out, some at 42 W. Madison and others in two closed schools, one in Humboldt Park and the other in Bridgeport.
Also, the shuttered Peabody Elementary on the Northwest Side will be sold for $3.5 million. Some of the space will be used as a community center, while the rest will become residential. CPS has found uses for about 10 of the other 52 emptied buildings. Chief Administrative Officer Tom Tyrrell said that despite having 41 empty buildings on the books, the district will still save $43 million in annual cost savings promised at the time of school closings. CPS has never provided an itemized list of how the district will save so much money.
2. Done deal... Board members gave the go-ahead to designate Hancock High School as the city’s 11th selective enrollment high school. Just a month ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel surprised community members and announced the plan. However, there was never any doubt that it would be approved, given that students were already being allowed to apply for the school.
Like several of the selective schools, Hancock will have a program for academically gifted students and a pre-engineering/pre-law program that will also have a competitive admissions process. Hancock teacher and blogger Ray Salazar told board members that it is unfair for students on the Southwest Side to get an old, renovated school building while students on the North and Northwest Side get a shiny new facility. School Board President David Vitale said he has been out to visit Hancock and it is “perfectly adequate.”
3. Lead paint allegations… Parents and activists from Gale Elementary school in Rogers Park say they are relieved that CPS is removing lead paint from the school and repainting it, but they are frustrated that the district knew for at least five years about the problem and didn’t fix it, according to DNAinfo. In 2009, a consultant found damaged lead paint in the boys' and girls' bathrooms, according to documents obtained by The Chicago Light Brigade through a Freedom of Information Act request (The Illinois Attorney Genera'sl Office had to force CPS to comply with the FOIA). Then, in September 2013, the same consultant found lead paint in the classrooms.
Lead paint can severely affect mental and physical development. It is especially dangerous when it is chipped. Because of its sweet taste, children have been known to eat lead paint chips or dust. District standards call on it to assume that all buildings constructed in 1978 or earlier have lead-based paint, and that it needs to be removed or repaired in areas occupied by students and staff.
CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey told DNAinfo that staff is “continuously monitors buildings for any unsafe conditions, which includes preventing any buildings with lead-based paints from posing a health threat."
But in 2012, when the district was trying to convince the public that it needed to close schools, officials admitted that a lot of old buildings were going without needed repairs. In a presentation to the Space Utilization Commission, CPS reported that the average age of buildings was 74 years and that the district had $6.5 billion in unfunded capital needs, not counting anything to relieve overcrowding.
4. Arts fund-raising... Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and Board President David Vitale announced Tuesday “Be Creative: The Campaign for Creative Schools.” So far, members of the business, cultural, and philanthropic communities have raised $11 million, they announced.
The Arts Education Plan was initiated in 2012, with the goal of every student in CPS receiving “ongoing high quality arts education both in and out of the classroom.” Over the last two years, CPS has placed arts liaisons in close to 600 schools, broadened high school graduation requirements in art to include dance and theatre, and labeled the arts as a core subject, which requires two hours of dedicated instruction per week. CPS also used $11.5 million in tax-increment financing money to hire 84 arts teachers this year.
“The arts are a key part to your education and your development,” said Emanuel, who shared that he did ballet in high school. “It’s a collaborative process, and those skills are going to be essential for the rest of your life, whether you choose to pursue a career in art or not.”
5. Profiting from shoddy schools … In a provocative article, the Chicago Reader questions Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner’s commitment to a “high-quality education for all” by examining his investments in for-profit education companies that have been accused of fraud.
Rauner’s former private equity firm set up one such company, ForeFront Education, back in 1999 to offer college degrees and training for jobs including medical assistants, paralegals, and office administrators. According to the story, a ForeFront school with campuses in the Loop falsely billed itself as "institutionally accredited" and later had to admit its graduates weren't qualified to take state exams to become certified nursing assistants. After students sued for fraud, the company settled in 2013 for about $1.2 million.
The Reader goes on to point out that Rauner is also a stockholder in another company sued for “widespread fraud while collecting $11 billion in federal student aid between 2003 and 2011,” this time by the federal government, the state of Illinois, and 10 other states. That case remains under litigation.
The Reader article comes out just two weeks before a tight gubernatorial race. Polls show Rauner neck and neck with Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat.
CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett made a big point at the board meeting today to say that she is asking the Illinois State Board of Education and the federal government to let the district delay the PARCC, the state’s new standardized test aligned with the more rigorous Common Core Standards.
But Byrd-Bennett did not include some critical information: She asked ISBE for the delay in a letter in June and, in July, ISBE sent back a letter denying her request. What’s more, the Department of Education does not decide which tests districts should use, so it is unclear what Byrd-Bennett would request from them. She told the board she wanted “concurrence from the federal government by Thanksgiving.”
Federal officials referred questions to the state department.
Even before it came to light that Byrd-Bennett’s request had already been denied, Robert Schaeffer from the National Center on Fair and Open Testing said he was skeptical of the move. “It is convenient because she probably expects Springfield to say no and then it will be an excuse,” Schaeffer said. “Testing has become part of the political process and this is a tactic to slow the criticism.”
The request to exclude CPS, while other school districts in the state will be forced to use the PARCC, was applauded by board members and, during the public commentary section, by a group of parents who were there to complain about the PARCC. The parent advocacy group, Raise Your Hand, started an online petition last week to urge ISBE to ask the Department of Education for a waiver and it already has more than 1200 signatures.
Byrd-Bennett said she was told by ISBE that they will not request such waiver. But asking ISBE to provide an exception for one school district from a state mandated test was highly unusually.
Byrd-Bennett pointed out a lot of state laws and policies are applied differently to CPS than other school districts. “We are the largest school district in the state and our administering the PARCC is more complicated because of the scale, we need to be cautious,” said Byrd-Bennett in explaining the argument she has made to state officials.
Byrd-Bennett suggested in her letter that ISBE use the NWEA for the state’s accountability system.
In a presser held during the board meeting (a first during her administration) Byrd-Bennett provided reporters with a long list of reasons she didn’t want to fully implement the PARCC this year. But in her letter to ISBE she says she is concerned mostly about scheduling.
On top of the PARCC, CPS plans to continue giving all elementary school students the NWEA and, all high school students, the ACT. Byrd-Bennett is continuing these other assessments because the district needs growth measures for teacher and principal evaluations, as well as school ratings.
“The testing demands on students and the burdens on teachers and principals with the addition of the PARCC will be overwhelming,” she writes in her letter to ISBE.
Bryd-Bennett also told reporters that she had not received information back from the “pilot program” the district participated in this past Spring. She said the district should evaluate the results before full implementation.
But in her letter to ISBE, Byrd-Bennett says the pilot yielded “generally positive results from students, teachers and administrators.” But she adds that “our schools are simply not ready for full-scale implementation.”
In his response to Byrd-Bennett’s letter, State Superintendent Christopher Koch pointed out that “most of the time devoted to testing is a local decision.” He also argues that the state can’t allow CPS to use one test, while forcing all other school districts to use another test. “The state also has an obligation to implement an equitable system of accountability for all the student in Illinois.”
Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan has said he thinks the PARCC, as well as the other Common Core aligned assessment supported by his administration, will be an improvement over the old multiple choice tests. Some of the questions on the PARCC are multiple choice, but others require students to fill in the blank or highlight text.
Critics of the PARCC say the format and some of the sections are confusing. Also, many of the questions seem subjective. Of the 23 states originally signed up to administer the PARCC, only 9 are currently planning on having students take it this year,
As the district released this year’s official school-by-school enrollment numbers, officials pointed out that the steep 3,800 drop in the student population wasn’t the most dramatic in recent years: Four times during the past decade enrollment has fallen more sharply, by 5,000-plus students.
Still, it’s the first time in years that Chicago Public Schools have had fewer than 400,000--just 396,683 students, according to the 20th day enrollment data that CPS released late Tuesday. Though it’s been nearly four weeks since the tally was taken, officials didn’t say why it took so long to release the numbers.
A Catalyst Chicago analysis of the data reveal some important enrollment trends:
IB, STEM impact
Neighborhood high schools continued to take a hit on enrollment. However, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s initiative to launch new International Baccalaureate and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs in these schools seems to be having a mixed effect: All but one of the five new “wall-to-wall” IB schools saw an uptick in enrollment. Clemente, which had been losing students for at least the last five years, saw 32 more students enroll this year, even as district officials were projecting a decline. But overall, most of the high schools that have small IB programs within a larger comprehensive school experienced a drop in enrollment.
On the elementary level, a lot of the schools in which the district launched IB and STEM programs were designated to take in students from schools closed in 2013. In addition to extra teaching positions for the new programs, these so-called “welcoming schools” received iPads and had major renovations to their buildings. Yet welcoming schools experienced an average of 6 percent decline in enrollment.
Alternatives up, some charters down
Alternative schools for at-risk students or dropouts saw the biggest increase in students, with 9,137 students now attending these schools—a 20 percent increase since last year. CPS has said it plans to open more alternative schools, a number of them for-profit.
About 2,500 more students now attend charter schools, a five percent increase since last year. But about 30 percent of charter schools saw a decline in enrollment. Charter schools, like district-run schools, have to contend with the opening of new schools and community population drops.
Cecilia Benitez, director of recruitment and retention at ACE Tech Charter in Washington Park, says the school has had trouble meeting its goal of enrolling 500 students since the opening of Back of the Yards High School, one of the new wall-to-wall IB high schools; and UNO Charter High -- Soccer Academy.
“We are seeing a drop in Latinos,” she says. For the past two years, ACE has been about 18 students short of 500. But this year, the school fell to about 448 students.
As a recruiter, Benitez goes to every high school fair to try to beef up enrollment. One of the big selling points for the school is that it can offer students a chance to earn a certificate in building trades, which can help them land jobs.
Even this late in the school year, ACE Tech will accept transfer students (who need to bring in their progress report and discipline report. Prospective students also have to have a meeting with the principal, who decides if they can attend.
Chicago Collegiate Charter, a fourth- through sixth-grade school that opened last year in Roseland, is also still taking applications for fourth-grade and is letting families join the waiting list for fifth- and sixth-grade. Roseland’s traditional schools also have plenty of space for more students and the community ranks on the top 5 for enrollment decline.
Sarah Elizabeth Ippel , founder and director of the Academy for Global Citizenship, notes that her charter school might be unusual because it always fills its spots. In fact, it usually gets about 14 times the number of applications for the spots available.
Ippel points to unique characteristics that are selling points for the school: It has an elementary IB program and dual language curriculum, an 8-hour school day--and serves 100 percent organic food.
But filling the seats also has to do with the fact that the surrounding Garfield Ridge neighborhood has many overcrowded schools. “We intentially went into an area that needed additional public school seats,” Ippel says. “I imagine it would be hard to be in an area where there [already] is sufficient capacity.”
Catalyst welcomes the Class of 2017 to its editorial advisory board: Jana Fleming, Herr Research Center, Erikson Institute; Madelyn James, Voices for Illinois Children; Ignacio Lopez, National Louis University; Bronwyn McDaniel, Consortium on Chicago School Research; Tara Shelton, South Loop School; Anand Sukumaran, Peterson Elementary; Ilana Walden, UMOJA Student Development Corp.; Greg White, LEARN Charter Schools; Teresa White, Free Spirt Media. Carmen Rodriguez, a parent member of the Von Steuben LSC is the new board chair; Alan Mather, principal of Lindblom Math & Science Academy, is vice chair.Julianar Naselli has been named principal of Daniel Hale Williams Prep School of Medicine. Ms. Naselli was formerly assistant principal of George Westinghouse College Prep. W. Terrell Burgess has been named to replace Ms. Naselli as assistant principal.
Les Lynn has left the Chicago Debate League and started Argument-Centered Education, an organization that focuses on providing professional development, implementation coaching, and adapted curriculum materials for teachers, schools, and networks in order to bring argument-centered instruction into the regular classroom.
Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones: email@example.com
The first in a series of short documentary films on education issues in Chicago will premiere on WTTW Chicago Tonight and also at a public forum at the Chicago History Museum at 7 p.m. on Oct. 28, which will be live-streamed on CAN-TV27 and at schoolprojectfilm.com.
The forum panel will include Victor M. Montañez, who was policy co-director at Designs for Change, the leading research and advocacy organization behind the creation of local school councils; William A. Sampson, professor of public policy at DePaul University and former president of Chicago United; Penny Bender Sebring, co-founder of the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, and Angela Rudolph, an education consultant and former program officer at The Joyce Foundation. Veteran broadcast and print journalist Carol Marin will moderate.
Entitled “The School Project,” the six-part film series is the work of a unique collaboration of five of Chicago’s top documentary production companies: Free Spirit Media, Kartemquin Films, Kindling Group, Media Process Group and Siskel/Jacobs Productions.
“After the decision to close 50 public schools in Chicago, we knew we had to look at the issue of public education, but we couldn’t cover it alone, said Jon Siskel of Siskel/Jacobs Productions. “We decided to ask other top companies to collaborate with us on the project.”
The first film, “Worst In The Nation?” centers on the contention by former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett in 1987 that Chicago had the worst schools in the country.
Catalyst Chicago is one of several outreach partners that are keeping their audiences up to date. The others are WTTW/Channel 11, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago History Museum and Ebony.com.
The School Project series will look at the recent mass school closings in Chicago, the expansion of charter schools, the controversy surrounding standardized testing, school discipline policies and the history of reforms and educational models.
An interactive website, www.schoolprojectfilm.com, will allow visitors to watch the documentaries online and obtain data trends, demographics and, where available, stories on individual schools.
Stay tuned for updates not only about The School Project but also about a year-long community engagement campaign Catalyst Chicago is planning to mark its 25th anniversary in 2015.
Unlike any Chicago mayor before him, Rahm Emanuel has made the expansion of quality early childhood education programs a focal point of his agenda.
He lengthened the official kindergarten school day, centralized the preschool application process, diverted some city revenue to make up for a loss in state and federal funding, and, earlier this month, announced that the city would borrow millions of dollars through a so-called “social impact bond” to temporarily increase the number of slots in the city’s heralded child-parent centers.
By next year, Emanuel says, the city will be able to offer at least a half-day of preschool to all low-income children.
“If you’re a child of a parent that is basically described as poor, or lower, you will have universal preschool for that 4-year-old,” Emanuel told a room full of bank executives last week. “So when it comes time for kindergarten, we are going to be able to make sure every child in the city of Chicago – not just our children – but every child in the city of Chicago at the age of 4 will have preschool education […]so that when they get to kindergarten and go to those seven-hour days, they are ready.”
More than three years into the mayor’s tenure, advocates for the city’s youngest children say that they’re glad Emanuel has brought increased public attention to the issue. But many – especially working parents and union activists who are pushing for full-day universal preschool – say they’re still on the fence about how much his policies will ultimately expand and broaden access to what’s long been a complex web of early childhood programs.
Cristina Pacione-Zayas, education director for the Latino Policy Forum, says it’s obvious that Emanuel “gets that we have to start early if we’re talking about closing the achievement gap. It’s a lot more in the discourse than it ever has been. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing.”
“We still need to ensure the right folks are at the table so they’re enacting policy from the ground up,” she adds.
Recognizing a good investment
Emanuel is no stranger to the world of early learning. At press conferences and education events, he often tells audiences how he studied the subject as an undergraduate student at Sarah Lawrence College before switching his area of concentration. (A spokeswoman for the liberal arts school confirmed that Emanuel studied early childhood education during his first two years, in addition to working at an early childhood center on campus for three semesters.)
Emanuel’s experience, coupled with his later work in politics and as an investment banker, convinced him that early education is a good long-term investment.
“From the evidence I’ve seen, he does care about this and it’s not just because it’s a nice thing to do for kids. I think he believes the research out there […] that for every dollar you invest, you’re going to save $7 later down the road,” says Ric Estrada, president and CEO of Metropolitan Family Services, an organization that provides early education and other services to low-income families in Cook and DuPage counties.
“You have to believe it, because he’s putting his money where his mouth is. He’s expanded programs especially in poor neighborhoods and when there is no money, he’s forced to be creative,” Estrada adds.
As evidence, he points to the social impact bonds, a new financing tool that Emanuel has turned to in order to pay for 2,600 new slots at six CPS child-parent centers over the next four years. In a plan unveiled last week, the city would borrow about $17 million from Goldman Sachs Social Impact Fund, Northern Trust and the JB and MK Pritzker Family Foundation with the understanding it will only pay the money back if it saves on expensive special education services for children later down the road. The city would make additional payments if students reach high achievement levels on kindergarten literacy and third-grade tests.
According to projections presented to the City Council last week, CPS will wind up paying the lenders nearly $21.5 million back by the time the children graduate from high school.
The mayor’s proposal contrasts drastically with how a coalition of community groups and unions has suggested the city pay for “truly universal” full-day preschool. The groups want the city to go after banks for so-called “toxic swaps,” redistribute money from tax-increment financing districts, or lobby the state to create new revenue from taxes on commuters or luxury services.
“What they’ve done is put a drop in the bucket to deal with the massive demand for preschool services, and not even begin to address the extent to which people desperately need childcare for infants and toddlers,” said Jackson Potter of the Chicago Teachers Union. “Instead of providing those services, we’ll have a much smaller version of that and we’re on the hook for creating a profitable situation for the banks that are financing this.”
Ready to Learn! focuses on the neediest
The mayor’s signature early learning initiative, Ready to Learn!, has sought to redistribute preschool spaces to the areas of the city with the highest needs. Among the changes:
-- A centralized bidding process for schools and community-based sites that are applying for state or federal money for preschool slots.
-- A centralized enrollment process to try and guarantee that the city’s poorest children get top priority. However, the change has sparked complaints from some parents who could no longer enroll their children directly at their neighborhood school, contributing to a drop in enrollment of nearly 1,000 4-year-olds in school-based preschools. “If parents can’t get slots available to them in their neighborhood, they might get referred somewhere miles away,” says Brynn Seibert, director of child care and early learning for SEIU Healthcare Illinois, which represents child care workers. “Transportation is a big problem that could obscure some of the access issues.” CPS hasn’t published this year’s enrollment figures yet, so it’s unclear whether the problem remains.
-- For those families that do not qualify as low income, CPS began charging for half-day preschool on a sliding scale. District data obtained by SEIU Healthcare Illinois and provided to Catalyst Chicago indicates that about 6 percent of all children in school-based preschools had to pay last year.
Not surprisingly, schools on the North Side, such as Edison Park and Blaine, had the highest percentage of paying students. The money generated from the sliding-scale fees – about $164,000 per month – helps pay for other early education programs in the city.
Adding up the numbers
Over the past several months, Emanuel has used the term “universal” to describe plans to provide a free, half-day preschool to the 25,000 or so 4-year-olds in the city whose families’ incomes would qualify them for free or reduced-cost school lunches. The estimates are based on U.S. Census data, and are similar to last year’s actual figures on the number of kindergartners who qualified for the lunch program.
According to the mayor’s office, about 23,500 low-income 4-year-olds are already being served in city-run early education programs in school- or community site-based slots. (Though city officials have not provided Catalyst with an accounting of that figure, the numbers roughly added up last year when taking into account 4-year-olds in Head Start, Preschool for All and child-parent centers in the city, including Head Start programs administered by other agencies.)
Emanuel’s social impact bond proposal – which could come into fruition by next month – makes a dent at reaching those additional 1,500 children who are now not in any program. Additional slots would apparently be funded with revenue generated from the city’s controversial red-light cameras, as Emanuel has said he’d invest an additional $36 million over three years from those revenues.
Last year, some of those funds went toward start-up costs for new early learning centers, including one that opened in February in the annex of Libby Elementary School in the Englewood neighborhood. Metropolitan Family Services operates the center, which provides early learning and childcare services in addition to a variety of other health, legal aid and workforce programs.
Trying to help working parents
During the press conference earlier this month, Emanuel spoke about how last year’s decision to make all kindergarten classes a full day was critical not just for the children, but for their working parents. (Previously, some schools offered a half-day and others a full-day.)
“No parent, specifically a mother, can get a job if she says, ‘I have to leave at 11 o’clock to pick up my child,” Emanuel said. “If you’re on a two-hour schedule for kindergarten, you’re not only short-changing the child, you’re short-changing the parent.”
Working parents like Hellen Juarez agree wholeheartedly with Emanuel’s assessment. But they say that the situation doesn’t just apply to those with kindergartners.
Juarez is a single mother with three daughters who lives in Brighton Park, which was ranked the neighborhood most in need of childcare and preschool slots by IFF (previously known as the Illinois Facilities Fund). Two of her daughters are in elementary school; the youngest, who is 2, goes to daycare in another neighborhood because Juarez couldn’t find anything nearby. Juarez, a paralegal who is also taking college classes, pays about $700 out of pocket for a full day of care. She says she looks forward to when her youngest daughter is old enough to go to full-day kindergarten.
“Would a half day of pre-school be useful? Not really,” Juarez said. “I have to drop off my daughter by 6:45 a.m. at the daycare, go to class then I go to work, and pick her up at 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m. Half a day is not universal. It’s just a job half-done.”
Banned by Mayor Rahm Emanuel from work for the city, Windy City Electric Company still managed to get $3.1 million in contracts from CPS, according to a Better Government Association story in the Chicago Sun Times. Windy City was accused of falsely claiming to be owned and operated by women. According to the article, CPS can terminate a contract with any company that is banned by another city agency. CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey declined to comment on why CPS continued to work with the company, but said it was under investigation by the district’s interim Inspector General Nicholas Schuler.
This brings up another point: When is Emanuel going to appoint a permanent inspector general? In June--more than three months ago--James Sullivan announced that he was leaving his post after 12 years. McCaffrey says the process is "moving forward. The candidates are being reviewed and we expect an appointment soon."
Schuler seems a shoo-in for the permanent job. He was a police officer for nine years before going to law school. He started in the city’s Inspector General department before transferring to CPS and was second in command. Being an interim seems like it has the potential to make the office less likely to take action. Wonder what CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Emanuel are waiting for?
2. Putting off the PARCC… Raise Your Hand-Illinois has started an online petition to try to convince the Illinois State Board of Education to put off implementation of the new state standardized test for a year. The PARCC is aligned with Common Core standards, which are supposed to be more rigorous than the old state standards. But there are concerns that the test is not yet reliable, hasn’t been field tested sufficiently and that many schools don’t have adequate technology to administer the test, which is administered by computer. The petition is suggesting that the state use the NWEA or another national test for elementary students and continue to administer the ACT for high school students. The petition notes that several other states have delayed using the PARCC.
Parents in Chicago are also upset because their children are being hit with a double whammy of tests this year. Not only will elementary and high school students have to take the new PARCC, but elementary students will also take the NWEA and high school students will also take the ACT. As a result, several weeks in April, May or June will be engulfed by testing. What's more, many schools are having their students take the NWEA in the fall and winter to chart their progress.
So far, the petition has 818 online signatures.
3. Playing with numbers … With just a few weeks to go before the Nov. 4 elections, The Associated Press took a look at claims made by both Gov. Pat Quinn and his opponent Bruce Rauner on school spending. Rauner, a Republican, has attacked the incumbent for a $600 million decrease in school funding since he took office. Quinn, a Democrat, says he’s increased spending.
State school data provided to the AP shows that funding on preschool through 12th grade dropped from $7.4 billion in 2009 -- the year before Quinn replaced his predecessor -- to $6.8 billion this year. However, the federal government poured in hundreds of millions of additional dollars in 2009 and 2010 through the stimulus package, which according to Quinn shouldn’t be lumped in when discussing the state’s spending on schools. “Without the federal aid, education funding in fiscal 2009 drops to $6.4 billion, which means state support has increased $442 million, or 7 percent,” according to the story.
4. Still on strike … Schools in Waukegan remain closed today as talks between the district and teachers have stalled. Teachers have been on strike for 11 days over salary issues.
District officials blamed the union for suspending contract talks indefinitely, according to the Chicago Tribune. Meanwhile the Waukegan Teachers’ Council president says teachers are “giving them time to reflect and to look at their own numbers and come back with a serious offer.”
Teachers in Waukegan say they sacrificed during lean years and now the district has a surplus that they should be sharing with teachers. However, district officials say the union’s proposal of a 9 percent pay increase would bankrupt them. Waukegan has 17,000 students and 23 schools.
5. Sign-on bonus… The City of Milwaukee has officially banned public charter schools from offering cash incentives to those who refer students for enrollment. Last week’s decision came in response to a “well-advertised offer” from a charter school that would pay $100 in cash to anyone who referred a student who enrolled a student by the state’s official head count day for state enrollment purposes. “Enrollment is the lifeblood for schools that rely on public funding because it guarantees a certain amount of per-pupil dollars from the state,” says the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
The school in question “called the campaign cost-effective because it rewarded parents for doing what they might do anyway: talk up the school with family and friends.” The teachers union, meanwhile, calls it bribery.
Though it has never been substaniated, here in Chicago we have heard of charters schools offering incentives of computers or iPads to enroll.
Also... Latasha Thomas, head of the City Council’s Education Committee, announced this weekend that she is not going to run again.
CPS is increasing the per-pupil funding provided to charter schools for this year in order to “equalize” funding between them and traditional schools.
Charter school operators say that even with the slight increase, some of them are down so many students that they have had to shift spending around to create a balanced budget.
CPS will spend an additional $7.8 million on charter schools, but spokesman Bill McCaffrey says he is not sure how much more per-pupil that amounts to.
The decision is in response to the late September announcement that CPS would not cut traditional school budgets even if they had less than the projected number of students. Under student-based budgeting, schools get a stipend for each student, but ever since implementing the new strategy two years ago, officials have declined to take money away from schools that enroll fewer students than expected.
"We must be fair and equitable and charter school students are still CPS students," McCaffrey says.
CPS will spend an additional $24 million to let traditional schools keep money even if they enrolled fewer students, and to provide more money for those schools that got more students.
Charter schools had been budgeted to get the same per-pupil rate as district-run schools, which is an average of $4,390. Charter schools also get an additional $1,973 per student to make up for the support that traditional schools get from the district.
State law stipulates that charter schools must receive funding per student, so the district would have had to take away extra money from charters that enrolled fewer students than expected. Also, unlike CPS-run schools, charters have a cap for how many students they can enroll and must get CPS board approval to increase that cap. If they take in more than that cap, they don’t get more money.
Last year, as many as 38 of 120-plus charter schools did not have as many students as they were projected to get, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of CPS data. Many of the charters that were short of students were new.
Though CPS must take an official count of students for state funding purposes on the 20th day of school, which was September 30, the district has not yet released school-by-school numbers.
McCaffrey has already acknowledged that the overall projection of 400,445 students district-wide was off by at least 3,000 students, leaving the district with a total of 397,000.