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Walking a financial tightrope through college

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 01:00

In 2006, the Consortium for Chicago School Research issued a report that sent shock waves through the Chicago Public Schools system. The discovery that somewhere between only 6.5 and 8% of CPS students graduated from four-year colleges (and only 2% of African-American boys) was a call to action. 

Subsequent follow-up reports pinpointed some of the “potholes” on the road to college, despite the almost universal aspiration, across all racial and ethnic groups, to attend college. There was enough blame to go around, targeting schools, parents and communities, as well as the colleges themselves. And there was enough room for a variety of constructive approaches to improving the track record on each of these fronts, from the creation of freshman on-track indicators that would help raise high school graduation rates, to the establishment of mentoring programs to provide the personal support many students need to keep their eyes on the valuable prize of college graduation.

It is these mentoring programs that I want to focus on because they offer some strong prospects of success for students as they face obstacles that can only be overcome with support beyond their own capacities. The task for these programs is two-fold: getting students accepted into colleges that match their level of potential and from which the odds of graduating are in their favor; and keeping them in school despite the potholes that threaten to derail them. 

In recent years, these programs include:

The Network for College Success—working inside CPS schools to support leadership teams in each school that create a college readiness environment for students.

Umoja—a veteran in the work of leadership development among students, aimed at improving their chances of success as college students.

Bottom Line—a new arrival in town, with an impressive track record in New York and Boston on both college admission and college completion.

Schools like Noble Street and North Lawndale Charter Prep, which have developed strong databases for tracking their alums and brainstorming solutions to overcoming obstacles to graduation.

AIM HIGH—the program I am most closely involved with, built on a unique model of pairing students with teams of mentors from the corporate world who stay with them from their freshman year of high school all the way to college graduation.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but rather a sampling of the variety of work being done in this area. I am sure there is other valuable work under way of which I’m unaware, and the problem is so monumental that there is room for many more willing participants. 

Bottom line is economic inequity

Whatever the particular design strategy, all of these programs are wrestling with problems that reflect the fundamental inequities of our economic system. The low-income students who represent the vast majority of those in CPS are operating without the safety net that is invisible to most middle-class families—so invisible that they recognize it as little as fish recognize the medium of water that sustains them. 

Much of my work with AIM HIGH involves the almost inevitable financial shortfalls that our students encounter. These shortfalls block their ability to register for classes at the beginning of the term or, most unjust, prevent them from receiving their transcripts when they decide to transfer schools. These debts, often as small as three-figure sums, would be resolved in middle-class families with a call home providing access to a fatigued credit card—the kind that most low-income families don’t even possess. Any new strain on the finances of a student or a family already struggling to provide for basic needs—an unexpected medical bill, a costly car repair, an increase in dormitory costs, an unanticipated medical bill—is sufficient to lead students to drop out or take a leave from school, from which they are unlikely to return.

Colleges themselves must provide help

All mentoring programs have to face the question of how these inevitable shortfalls are going to be addressed. Part of the answer lies with the colleges themselves, many of which have demonstrated admirable social consciousness by seeking out low-income students of color in an effort to diversify their student bodies, but have not provided the resources to keep those students heading toward graduation. 

They have an obligation to set aside the modest sums that will help students who have made good-faith efforts to meet their debts, but have encountered insurmountable obstacles. The failure to do so places these students in jeopardy of leaving school with no degree and a burden of debt that puts them in a worse position than if they had never entered college at all.

In one recent situation faced by a student, the university sent this debt to a collection agency, with which she is now forced to deal, unprepared though she may be to deal with the often predatory practices of these agencies. Heartlessness should not be the trademark of an institution which pretends to play a high-minded role in our society.

These low-income students are a precious resource. They have the potential to bring new skills and commitments to their home communities and to the entire society. The existing mentoring programs can go a long way in accompanying them to their goal, but they need help with the deep-seated financial obstacles that stand in their way.

Marv Hoffman, now retired, was the associate director of the Urban Teacher Education Program at the University of Chicago. Prior to that he was the Founding Director of the University of Chicago Charter School—North Kenwood Oakland Campus.

Categories: Urban School News

Dirty schools the norm since privatizing custodians: principals

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 23:09

The $340 million privatization of the district’s custodial services has led to filthier buildings and fewer custodians, while forcing principals to take time away from instruction to make sure that their school is clean.

That is the finding from a survey done by AAPPLE, the new activist arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

The contract is the first issue the group is taking a hard stance on, hoping that their input will force the district to make some changes. About 230 principals responded to the survey, with most of them saying the number of custodial staff has been reduced and is now inadequate and the cleanliness of their buildings has been negatively affected.

A principal of a South Side school that is comprised of three buildings and more than 1,500 students says she now has just one day custodian, down from three. “The day custodian is running around here like a crazy lady,” says the principal, who did not want to be identified. “And it is filthy.”

In February, the Board of Education approved two three-year contracts—one for $260 million for Aramark and the other for $80 million to Sodexmagic. Aramark was to take over the training, supervision and management of custodians for all but 33 schools. Sodexmagic would handle the job for the other 33 schools.

When Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley presented the proposal to the board, he said the deal would save the district $40 million, lead to cleaner buildings and incorporate state-of-the-art cleaning technology, such as cleaning Zambonis.

Cawley did not say the contract would result in layoffs.

Email acknowledges problems

Though CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey says most schools had a smooth transition to the private vendor, on Monday that vendor, Aramark, sent out an e-mail to principals acknowledging significant problems and asking to meet with them and their staff.  

In the e-mail, shared by a principal, the Aramark official wrote that company officials hear “loud and clear” that “we have not delivered on the promise of making life easier for principals.”

In a white paper, AAPPLE is proposing that the contracts be voided if the buildings are not brought up to Level 2 industry standards for cleanliness, as promised when the contracts were approved. The group also wants CPS to consult them on any contract of more than $500,000 that will impact schools.

McCaffrey says CPS officials are working with contractors to address complaints. “CPS recently contracted with two proven facility management companies to improve cleanliness in all schools while saving millions of dollars that can be redirected to classrooms,” he said in a statement.

Principals say the cleanliness of their buildings is integral to student learning, and note that they are naturally held accountable for it. However, under the new contract, principals do not supervise the custodians at all. Some principals say the custodial managers turn over on a regular basis.

“The person who supervises them comes once a week,” says one principal, who did not want to be identified. “That is just not going to work.”

Bad timing, no new tech

That principal of a Northwest Side school said that at the end of the school year, the custodians assigned to her school left urine in the toilets for weeks. Then, they moved furniture out of a classroom, but broke things when they brought it back in. Her building is more than 100 years old and she says that it is difficult to clean when it gets dirty.

A big complaint of the principals is that staff has been laid off or reassigned at bad times, leaving someone new to take over at crucial moments. One principal said his custodians told him they had been notified that they will be laid off two weeks after school started.

Another had all his custodians sent to new buildings for no apparent reason. “The [ones who were reassigned] were custodians who knew the building, knew the children, knew the community,” he says. “They did not want to leave.”

Two of them were reassigned the Friday before school started. “That is really bad timing,” says the principal, who, like the others, didn’t want to be identified. He says the new custodians are okay, but that he is still waiting on Aramark to let him know their schedules.

The principal also is bothered by the fact that he has seen none of the new technology that was supposed to make the cleaning more efficient.   

One principal from a South Side school that took in children displaced from last year’s closings says she had to get parents, teachers and students to volunteer, in the days leading up to the opening of school, to get her building ready. She says they spent much of the time throwing out an enormous amount of trash, sweeping and mopping.

During the summer, she sent e-mails on a daily basis to her network chief complaining of the problem, but never heard back. One of her biggest complaints concerned the bathrooms, which she says have a bad smell. The custodians tell her it is a drainage problem, but there are no plans to fix it. “Can we just get some air freshener?” she said. “I have kindergarteners going into these bathrooms and they are scary.”

“I feel like this community is already disenfranchised,” she said. “You go up north and you can eat off the floors of the schools. I feel like my community should have that kind of building.”

Categories: Urban School News

Dirty schools the norm since privatizing custodians: principals

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 23:09

The $340 million privatization of the district’s custodial services has led to filthier buildings and fewer custodians, while forcing principals to take time away from instruction to make sure that their school is clean.

That is the finding from a survey done by AAPPLE, the new activist arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

The contract is the first issue the group is taking a hard stance on, hoping that their input will force the district to make some changes. About 230 principals responded to the survey, with most of them saying the number of custodial staff has been reduced and is now inadequate and the cleanliness of their buildings has been negatively affected.

A principal of a South Side school that is comprised of three buildings and more than 1,500 students says she now has just one day custodian, down from three. “The day custodian is running around here like a crazy lady,” says the principal, who did not want to be identified. “And it is filthy.”

In February, the Board of Education approved two three-year contracts—one for $260 million for Aramark and the other for $80 million to Sodexmagic. Aramark was to take over the training, supervision and management of custodians for all but 33 schools. Sodexmagic would handle the job for the other 33 schools.

When Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley presented the proposal to the board, he said the deal would save the district $40 million, lead to cleaner buildings and incorporate state-of-the-art cleaning technology, such as cleaning Zambonis.

Cawley did not say the contract would result in layoffs.

Email acknowledges problems

Though CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey says most schools had a smooth transition to the private vendor, on Monday that vendor, Aramark, sent out an e-mail to principals acknowledging significant problems and asking to meet with them and their staff.  

In the e-mail, shared by a principal, the Aramark official wrote that company officials hear “loud and clear” that “we have not delivered on the promise of making life easier for principals.”

In a white paper, AAPPLE is proposing that the contracts be voided if the buildings are not brought up to Level 2 industry standards for cleanliness, as promised when the contracts were approved. The group also wants CPS to consult them on any contract of more than $500,000 that will impact schools.

McCaffrey says CPS officials are working with contractors to address complaints. “CPS recently contracted with two proven facility management companies to improve cleanliness in all schools while saving millions of dollars that can be redirected to classrooms,” he said in a statement.

Principals say the cleanliness of their buildings is integral to student learning, and note that they are naturally held accountable for it. However, under the new contract, principals do not supervise the custodians at all. Some principals say the custodial managers turn over on a regular basis.

“The person who supervises them comes once a week,” says one principal, who did not want to be identified. “That is just not going to work.”

Bad timing, no new tech

That principal of a Northwest Side school said that at the end of the school year, the custodians assigned to her school left urine in the toilets for weeks. Then, they moved furniture out of a classroom, but broke things when they brought it back in. Her building is more than 100 years old and she says that it is difficult to clean when it gets dirty.

A big complaint of the principals is that staff has been laid off or reassigned at bad times, leaving someone new to take over at crucial moments. One principal said his custodians told him they had been notified that they will be laid off two weeks after school started.

Another had all his custodians sent to new buildings for no apparent reason. “The [ones who were reassigned] were custodians who knew the building, knew the children, knew the community,” he says. “They did not want to leave.”

Two of them were reassigned the Friday before school started. “That is really bad timing,” says the principal, who, like the others, didn’t want to be identified. He says the new custodians are okay, but that he is still waiting on Aramark to let him know their schedules.

The principal also is bothered by the fact that he has seen none of the new technology that was supposed to make the cleaning more efficient.   

One principal from a South Side school that took in children displaced from last year’s closings says she had to get parents, teachers and students to volunteer, in the days leading up to the opening of school, to get her building ready. She says they spent much of the time throwing out an enormous amount of trash, sweeping and mopping.

During the summer, she sent e-mails on a daily basis to her network chief complaining of the problem, but never heard back. One of her biggest complaints concerned the bathrooms, which she says have a bad smell. The custodians tell her it is a drainage problem, but there are no plans to fix it. “Can we just get some air freshener?” she said. “I have kindergarteners going into these bathrooms and they are scary.”

“I feel like this community is already disenfranchised,” she said. “You go up north and you can eat off the floors of the schools. I feel like my community should have that kind of building.”

Categories: Urban School News

Districts roll the dice on $1.4 billion in tax increase measures

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 18:58

Will 2014 be the year that voters in Colorado school districts loosen up their wallets and approve well more than $1 billion in local tax increases for school construction and operations?

A year ago, voters were almost as skeptical of local proposals as they were of Amendment 66, the $1 billion K-12 statewide income tax hike that was defeated overwhelmingly. Hoping that voters are in a different mood this year, some two dozen Colorado school districts are seeking some $1.4 billion in property tax increases for construction projects and operating funds.

“On the bond side, it’s going to be the largest group of bonds that anybody’s ever seen,” said Tracie Rainey, executive director of the Colorado School Finance Project, which compiled the detailed list displayed at the bottom of this article.

This year’s ballot measures are interesting for several important reasons, including:

A big year – The total $1.4 billion request exceeds the nearly $1.2 billion districts proposed in 2012, although there were 38 measures on the ballot that year, compared to about 30 this year.

Boulder has biggest ask – The Boulder Valley School District is asking for a $576.4 million bond issue this year, exceeding the high set previously by the $515 million combined bond and override requested – and won – by Denver Public Schools in 2012.

Bond & Mill

  • Bond measures are voter-approved increases in property taxes for facilities needs. Districts sell bonds to raise the cash to pay for construction, then use the additional tax revenues to pay the bonds off.
  • Overrides are voter-approved hikes in a district’s general property tax rate that a district generally uses for operating expenses or special needs like technology purchases.

Five Adams districts asking – Most of the money – about $1.1 billion – is being requested from voters in just two counties, Adams and Boulder. Five districts in western Adams all are on the Nov. 4 ballot, an apparently unprecedented event.

Financial pressures – Despite a modest bump in school funding provided by the 2014 legislature, district leaders say that additional money is far from enough, and they have to ask voters for additional local revenues to cover building and program needs that can’t be put off.

A possible distraction – A statewide casino-expansion proposal, Amendment 68, is also on the ballot, and it promises more than $100 million in additional revenues for schools. District leaders are skeptical of A68’s promises and hope it doesn’t confuse voters about the need for local revenue. (Get details on A68 here.)

BEST off the ballot – For the first time in several years, 2014 ballots don’t include a long list of small districts seeking bond issues to raise local matching funds for Building Excellent Schools Today construction program grants. The state portion of that program has reached its ceiling for larger projects such as new schools and major renovations, so there’s no money for locals to match.

Voter mood – Finally, the 2014 election may provide an update on where some voters stand on school taxes. Voter attitudes have been on a roller coaster in this decade. District tax proposals received reasonable support in 2010, but 2011 was the worst year in memory for bonds and overrides. Voters were very supportive in 2012 but returned to their skeptical ways last year. Of course, voters rejected statewide proposals to increases taxes for schools in 2011 and 2013.

Boulder – the big ask

“This is a big ask, we understand that,” says Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger when questioned about his district’s proposal for a $576.4 million bond issue. “It’s a hard choice.”

But, he added, “The facilities needs are not going to go away,” and if building systems begin to fail the 30,500-student district isn’t in a position to cover significant building costs from its general fund.

About half the money would be used to bring all district buildings “to acceptable standards,” he said, with the rest devoted to a variety of other needs. (See the district’s detailed facilities plan here.)

PHOTO: Boulder SchoolsBoulder Valley Supt. Bruce Messinger / File photo

As is common with larger districts, Boulder went through a long planning and public consultation process before the board approved the ballot proposal in August.

Messinger said polling put the district’s overall approval rating is at “an all-time high” and that polling and focus groups indicate, “Taxpayers understand … schools are assets.”

While Messinger is feeling reasonably good about the proposal’s chances, he does note the possible of confusion with Amendment 68. “It’s a concern,” he said. “It’s on people’s minds.”

Boulder has had a history of success with its voters. It last lost an election in 2002, when voters rejected a $7.5 million override that would have funded technology improvements.

Adco’s “referendum” on school spending Election history

  • Adams 12 – $9.9M override passed, $80M bond failed 2008
  • Adams 14 – $44M bond failed 2013
  • Adams 50 – $5.2M override failed 2013
  • Aurora – $15M override passed 2012
  • Boulder – $22.5M override passed 2010
  • Brighton – $4.8M override fail 2011
  • Cherry Creek – $125M bond, $25M override passed 2012
  • Colo. Springs 11 – $21.5M override failed 2008, $131.7M bond passed 2004
  • Dougco – $200M bond, $20M override failed 2011
  • Denver – $466M bond, $49M override passed 2012
  • Jeffco – $99M bond, $39M override passed 2012
  • Littleton – $80M bond passed 2013
  • Mapleton – $32M bond passed 2010
  • Poudre – $120M bond, $16M override passed 2010
  • St. Vrain – $14.8M override passed 2012

More information

While Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties have but one school district each, Adams County is served by seven. Each district is considerably smaller than DPS or Jeffco, but combined the five largest districts in Adams had about the same enrollment as their neighboring counties did in 2013-14, about 85,000 students.

This year most Adams County voters have the rare opportunity to vote on school taxes at the same time. Those five districts – Adams 12-Five Star, Brighton, Commerce City (Adams 14), Mapleton and Westminster (Adams 50) – all have proposals on the ballot.

All five are seeking both bond issues and overrides for varying reasons. Each district is seeking bond money to upgrade existing buildings, while new schools would be built in growing parts of Adams 12, Brighton and Commerce City. Tax override revenues would be used to recruit and retain teachers, offset state budget cuts and cover a variety of needs. (See the spreadsheet at the bottom of this story for details on those district proposals and all tax measures statewide.)

Adams 12 Superintendent Chris Gdowski said the five sets of ballot measures weren’t coordinated but, “What’s driving it are common factors. We all have needs that haven’t been met.”

For Adams 12, he said, “The need is pressing, and we can’t wait any longer.”

Other county superintendent sounded the same note. “We decided to go this year because our needs just continue to mount,” said Mapleton Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio. “We have just been so far behind for so long … we just had to go.”

Westminster Superintendent Pamela Swanson said, “We’re trying to avoid any more cuts. We have some wonderful things happening, and we don’t want to take any steps backwards. We felt a moral obligation to go back out” to the voters, even though the district saw a $5.2 million override defeated last year.

Commerce City Superintendent Pat Sanchez had a bond issue defeated last year by about 300 votes. He called that a “hidden blessing” that forced the district “to be really crystal clear about what the voters are getting” this year. He and other Adams superintendents are hopeful that academic improvements in recent years will make voters more amendable to tax hikes.

Adams 12, Brighton and Mapleton are rated as “improvement” districts by the state accreditation system. Commerce City and Westminster are “priority improvement” districts but have moved up in recent years from “turnaround,” the lowest accreditation category.

Superintendents have varying answers about what happens if proposals are defeated. Gdowski said a loss could mean schedule changes in Adams 12. Sanchez said defeat “would change a five-year plan to a 10-year plan,” and Ciancio said, “If it doesn’t pass we’ll just have to keep going back to the ballot.”

Around the state

Two districts in El Paso County also have large measures on the ballot. Cheyenne Mountain is proposing a $45 million bond, and Falcon’s bond proposal totals $107.4 million.

Denver voters face a proposed sales tax increase and an extension for the Denver Preschool Program, which is separate from DPS. (Get more details here.)

There are no district proposals on the ballot this year in Denver, Douglas County, Jefferson County or in any of Arapahoe County’s seven districts.

State law bars school boards and districts from spending public funds on ballot measure campaigns.

The campaign load typically is carried by outside citizen campaign committees that raise money for brochures, yard signs and other materials. Such committees already have been formed in Boulder, in most of the Adams County districts and in Cheyenne Mountain and Falcon.

The bigger issue

Passage of bond issues and overrides in individual districts has the unwelcome side effect of increasing gaps between districts that have the political and financial capacity to pass them and those that don’t. (There’s a limit on district bond debt based on the value of property within a district, and there also are state ceilings on overrides.)

“The long range solution to this [school funding] is not doing this district by district,” Messinger said. “I worry that the gap [between districts] could widen over time,” said Gdowski.

But Sanchez, noting that there’s still a $900 million shortfall in state school funding, said it’s hard to districts to resist the pressure to raise their own money. “I think you’re going to see a trend of more bonds and mill levy overrides.”

This spreadsheet includes information gathered by the Colorado School Finance Project as of Sept. 8.

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Categories: Urban School News

Early testing may help with learning, according to research

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 18:09
Taking a practice test and getting wrong answers seems to improve subsequent study, because the test adjusts our thinking in some way to the kind of material we need to know.
– Elizabeth Ligon Bjork, U.C.L.A. psychologist

That’s the finding of a recent study highlighted in Benedict Carey’s new book How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why It Happens.

An excerpt of Carey’s book was published in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

To test her theory, Bjork gave her college students a pre-test before some of her lectures. At the end of the year, students answered correctly a higher percentage of questions that had similarly appeared on one of their pre-tests than those that they were just seeing for the first time.

While the percentage was just 10 percent, Carey points out that could be an entire letter grade.

There are some limitations to this theory, Carey writes. Pretests might not be beneficial for learning a language based notations or characters like Chinese and Arabic. That’s because there is no familiar language for your brain to latch on to.

Sunday’s edition of the magazine was the glossy’s annual education issue. Also featured were articles on Bill Gates’ personal mission to revamp history in public education, as well as the very public political fight between charter school executive Eva Moskowitz and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Categories: Urban School News

Gates Foundation has donated more than $10 million to Colo. ed groups to support Common Core

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 16:49

No organization has given more money to support the roll out of the Common Core State Standards than the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In the last four years, more than $200 million has been distributed to nearly every corner of the country to either implement the English and math standards or support those who are doing so.

Colorado is no exception.

According to this database just published by progressive magazine Mother Jones tracking the foundation’s gifts, organizations with direct or indirect ties with Colorado have received more than $10 million. Here’s a few we spotted in the database:

  • $9.7 million went to the Colorado Education Initiative, formerly the Colorado Legacy Foundation.
  • $5 million went to the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC., that also has a campus in Colorado.
  • $30,000 went to WestEd, a California-based consultant that has done a great deal of consulting for the Colorado Department of Education.

The $9.7 million grant to the Colorado Education Initiative was among the foundation’s largest one-time gifts. Its was awarded the grant to provide the foundation “organizational support” for its work on the standards, teacher effectiveness, and new standardized tests, according to the Gates website

The Colorado nonprofit works on multiple education fronts including healthy schools; teacher effectiveness; science, technology, engineering and math curriculum; and most recently, helping develop new learning models based on the state’s updated graduation requirements.

The Aspen Institute has received multiple grants from the foundation. More than $3 million is going toward the institute’s Urban Superintendents Network, which develops resources to integrate the standards and teacher effectiveness policies. And $185,000 is being used to develop public relations strategies for schools and districts to talk about the  standards and their improvement efforts. 

WestEd is using its grant dollars to research how teachers use data to inform instructional practice.

Speaking of “the Core,”  in its September/October issue, Mother Jones tracks how the state-based initiative to boost student achievement in the 21st century became the third-rail of America’s public education system.

(Disclosure: Chalkbeat is a grantee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.)

Categories: Urban School News

To better educate students, teachers need time for learning

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 15:31

The essay topic was “How to become a better man.”

B.H., my student at Consuella B. York High School, located in Cook County’s largest juvenile detention facility, wrote: “Finish school.”

My students live in Division Nine, home to the most serious juvenile offenders. Many of them are at great risk of causing harm – to themselves, their communities, and our city. I know they will be at greater risk if I fail to help them achieve the same goal B.H. set for himself.

My job—to educate these students, provide them with the information and tools they need to succeed, and help them get on a better life path—is a responsibility shared by my colleagues in classrooms across Chicago. Whether our classroom is in a jail, a district-run school or a charter school, we meet every student “where they are” on their first day of class and then create a personalized education to move them forward.

And yet, even though we fulfill this important role for students and society, I don’t often get to share ideas with others on how to improve our schools.  That is why I take every opportunity to ask people who care about public education to invest in meaningful growth opportunities for educators like me. We need access to each other and ongoing support from partners to grow as professionals.

This summer, I saw the impact of those kinds of investments when my colleagues and I participated in the Summer Design Program. This opportunity, facilitated by the Chicago Public Education Fund, brought together 120 teachers and principals from 40 schools across the city. I worked with educators from my school, other schools, and experts in areas like technology and innovation to identify a challenge, and design a solution.

At York, our challenge was simple. How do we use our new computers to help students learn more at a quicker pace?

Creating a teacher exchange program

Through the Summer Design Program process, I took my unit on memoirs and created opportunities to do just that. Students will narrate their memoirs in PowerPoint and add images to their story to create an interactive presentation. This new approach will help my students learn writing and presentation skills, and gain computer skills that they need in today’s world.  This use of technology will also allow me to spend more one-on-one time with each of them.

Chicago needs more opportunities like this for educators like me.

What if we created an exchange program? In Elizabeth Green’s new book: “Building a Better Teacher,” she writes that educators in Japan have subject matter experts and observe each other teach. I would love to learn from my colleagues in other schools.

What about a fellowship for teachers to open their own schools? Spend a year helping the best teachers in Chicago build the school of their dreams, and connecting them with the resources they need to make it great.

Technology is capable of helping all teachers personalize instruction at new levels. Is there a way for nonprofits to support district efforts to create a more technology-literate educator workforce? What if we partnered with the experts from across the country to build a certification program? It could start at a few schools, and expand based on demand.

These ideas range from big to small, but one thing is for sure—they would make a difference to teachers like me and to the students we serve.

This school year, I will find new ways to get B.H., and all of my students, to learn.  I hope Chicago will find new ways to help educators like me to grow as well.

John Boggs is a National Board Certified English Language Arts teacher at Consuella B. York Alternative High School. York is located in Cook County’s juvenile detention center.

Categories: Urban School News

To better educate students, teachers need time for learning

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 15:31

The essay topic was “How to become a better man.”

B.H., my student at Consuella B. York High School, located in Cook County’s largest juvenile detention facility, wrote: “Finish school.”

My students live in Division Nine, home to the most serious juvenile offenders. Many of them are at great risk of causing harm – to themselves, their communities, and our city. I know they will be at greater risk if I fail to help them achieve the same goal B.H. set for himself.

My job—to educate these students, provide them with the information and tools they need to succeed, and help them get on a better life path—is a responsibility shared by my colleagues in classrooms across Chicago. Whether our classroom is in a jail, a district-run school or a charter school, we meet every student “where they are” on their first day of class and then create a personalized education to move them forward.

And yet, even though we fulfill this important role for students and society, I don’t often get to share ideas with others on how to improve our schools.  That is why I take every opportunity to ask people who care about public education to invest in meaningful growth opportunities for educators like me. We need access to each other and ongoing support from partners to grow as professionals.

This summer, I saw the impact of those kinds of investments when my colleagues and I participated in the Summer Design Program. This opportunity, facilitated by the Chicago Public Education Fund, brought together 120 teachers and principals from 40 schools across the city. I worked with educators from my school, other schools, and experts in areas like technology and innovation to identify a challenge, and design a solution.

At York, our challenge was simple. How do we use our new computers to help students learn more at a quicker pace?

Creating a teacher exchange program

Through the Summer Design Program process, I took my unit on memoirs and created opportunities to do just that. Students will narrate their memoirs in PowerPoint and add images to their story to create an interactive presentation. This new approach will help my students learn writing and presentation skills, and gain computer skills that they need in today’s world.  This use of technology will also allow me to spend more one-on-one time with each of them.

Chicago needs more opportunities like this for educators like me.

What if we created an exchange program? In Elizabeth Green’s new book: “Building a Better Teacher,” she writes that educators in Japan have subject matter experts and observe each other teach. I would love to learn from my colleagues in other schools.

What about a fellowship for teachers to open their own schools? Spend a year helping the best teachers in Chicago build the school of their dreams, and connecting them with the resources they need to make it great.

Technology is capable of helping all teachers personalize instruction at new levels. Is there a way for nonprofits to support district efforts to create a more technology-literate educator workforce? What if we partnered with the experts from across the country to build a certification program? It could start at a few schools, and expand based on demand.

These ideas range from big to small, but one thing is for sure—they would make a difference to teachers like me and to the students we serve.

This school year, I will find new ways to get B.H., and all of my students, to learn.  I hope Chicago will find new ways to help educators like me to grow as well.

John Boggs is a National Board Certified English Language Arts teacher at Consuella B. York Alternative High School. York is located in Cook County’s juvenile detention center.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Fewer TFA corps in Colorado classrooms

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 09:53

v(ouch)!

In court documents filed last month, lawyers for the Douglas County School District and a group of parents who support a suburban voucher program argue the program is constitutional. They point to earlier Colorado court cases and those around the nation that found similar programs pass constitutional muster. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Human Resources

Colorado's Teach for America corp is the most diverse ever, but fewer metro school districts are employing the organization's teachers. ( Denver Post )

Christmas in September

Denver Post readers are pouring donations on two families that were recently featured in a special report about homelessness. While the gifts aren't life-changing, they are helping. ( Denver Post )

Healthy schools

Students at Thomas Jefferson High School now have access to a health clinic on campus. ( CBS 4 )

A year after four Douglas County students committed suicide in 11 days, the school district is upping its suicide prevention program. And students are taking an active role. ( Fox 31 )

Saved by the bell

High school students should have a later start time, the Aurora Sentinel argues. That would improve attendance and test scores, they believe. ( Aurora Sentinel )

You asked, we answered

A Chalkbeat Colorado reader wanted to know when it became a common place expectation that students learned to read by third grade. Here's what we found out. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Extreme Makeover

A Longmont charter school is nearly complete with its $5 million renovation and expansion. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Tick, tock

Pueblo City Schools has 23 months before it might lose its accreditation. And the state says its doing everything it can to help. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Second times a charm

The Wesminster school district hopes voters will approve a bond and mill levy question this fall. ( Wesminster Window )

Common what?

Before you help your students with their homework, you might want to take this crash course on the new Common Core approaches being used by teachers across Colorado. ( 9 News )

R.I.P.

Broomfield High School students remember their classmate and his family who died in a plane crash. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Ames closure, school funding, high school quest

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 09:45

 Did CPS close a school last year, despite promising a five-year moratorium on closings and failing to go through the process required by state law? It seems like this is the case from a Sun Times story this morning on what happened to Ames Middle School and Marine Math and Science Academy. As you will remember, last year two schools existed: Ames in Logan Square--a school that the Logan Square Neighborhood Association waged a mighty battle to keep as a neighborhood school; and Marine, a high school that shared a school on the West Side with Phoenix Military Academy.

When activists confronted Board President David Vitale in December of 2012 about rumors that Ames was going to be closed and taken over by Marine, he told them in a board meeting that he didn't know of any plans. Then, in October of 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Marine is relocating to Ames. But, when it was pointed out that this would result in a school closing,  CPS spokespeople insisted that while Ames was becoming a military academy, Marine would stay open.

LSNA got a referendum placed on the ballot and by a margin of more than two to one, residents voted against the conversion to a military academy. But the board didn't budge. Now, CPS officials are telling a convoluted story about why all the Marine Math and Science students wound up at Ames, as well as why the Marine principal is suddenly in charge of the Logan Square school. According to spokesman Bill McCaffrey, no students chose to attend. But the Sun-Times reports that students and parents say they were told that there was only one Marine campus: in the Ames building.

Bottom line: Only one school exists now, where there used to be two, and CPS did not follow the procedure for consolidattion. The only question now is whether there’s anything anyone can do about it.

2. Heath risk.... Of the 18,000 CPS students with asthma, only a quarter of them had health management plans and only half of the 4,000 with food allergies had them, according to a Chicago Tribune story about a study of 2012-2013 records by Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. The plans are meant to help schools address chronic health conditions and prevent reactions. The study found that students on the North and Northwest Sides were the most likely to have a plan on file compared with the rest of the city. Also, poor black and Latino students were the least likely, though more of them were diagnosed with asthma and allergies.

 The Northwestern pediatrics professor who led the study said that he thinks that CPS is representative of the rest of the country.

However, one obstacle may be that CPS schools have far fewer nurses than recommended. The National Association of School Nurses recommends a minimum of 1 nurse for every 750 students for a general population. The association recommends much higher for students with special health needs. However, the latest CPS data shows that the district only has 322 nurses or nurse practitioners, with only six assigned to individual schools.

3. The yearly shuffle... Austin Weekly News has a story about layoffs in local schools. According to the article, some 54 CTU members and 11 paraprofessionals lost their jobs at schools in Austin, West Humboldt PArk and Garfield Park. CTU organizer Brandon Johnson, who lives in Austin, seizes the opportunity to make the layoffs an election issue. Brandon is serving as treasurer of CTU president Karen Lewis mayoral committee and said the layoffs show Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “distain for public education and disinterest in African American Chicagoans.”

But the main reason schools lost staff is that they were projected to have lower enrollment. Some could lose more. The article is a good reminder of what is going on at local schools right now. Coming up to the 20th day, schools are trying to shore up enrollment because if they do not get as many students as expected, they will lost money. CPS schools get about $4390 per student, plus extra stipends for students who are low-income and teachers for special education and bilingual students. Last year, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett chose not to take back money from schools that missed their enrollment targets, but she won't do that this year.

4. Funding overall still on table... Though he didn’t bring up the legislation in the spring, House Speaker Mike Madigan is quietly gathering together Democrats to get them to discuss a proposed change in the way the state funds schools, reports the Associated Press. The idea is to have the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill, ready for hearings after the November election. The Senate passed the bill. The proposed legislation tries to even out disparities between districts with rich property tax bases and those that are property poor.

Manar’s plan would make almost all state funding dependent on need. It also would drastically alter the way Chicago gets money from the state. Currently, CPS get a block grant, but under the plan, the district would bill the state for services or get money per student receiving them, like the rest of the state. Chicago stands to lose about $28 million in state funding if this plan is passed. Property-rich suburbs also stand to lose a lot. Schaumburg, for example, would get $12.4 million less. One amendment to the bill is that it would cap the amount of per pupil loss to $1,000 per student.

5. High school quest... WTTW started airing the first of five documentaries at 7:30 on Friday that follow eighth-graders from Chicago and Chicago suburbs. The documentaries, which are already available on youtube, use the stories of these teenagers striving to get into good high school as a way to show the disparities in the situations confronted by the students.

One of the documentaries focuses on the administrations of the elementary schools being attended by the students. The segment at a Wilmette Junior High School features the principal cutting a ribbon for the new science wing, which was paid for through a $100,000 donation from the school’s education foundation. The principal there talks about how he sees the middle grades as a time for exploration and experience. This stands in sharp contrast to the scene in Calumet City. There, a principal stands in front of a projector talking about the school’s low test scores and how the state could come take over the school if it doesn’t improve. It also has the superintendent talking about how the school district spurned an attempt by Urban Prep to open the school in the South Suburb.

The three Chicago schools are also very different. At the UNO school, the principal shows off  a “student data notebook” which lists test scores, demerits, attendance and homework. At Disney Magnet School, students put on a musical and do a project utilizing technology.

The other episodes look at communities, the high schools they are striving to get into and eventually reveals whether they got into the high school of their choosing.

 

 





Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Ames closure, school funding, high school quest

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 09:45

 Did CPS close a school last year, despite promising a five-year moratorium on closings and failing to go through the process required by state law? It seems like this is the case from a Sun Times story this morning on what happened to Ames Middle School and Marine Math and Science Academy. As you will remember, last year two schools existed: Ames in Logan Square--a school that the Logan Square Neighborhood Association waged a mighty battle to keep as a neighborhood school; and Marine, a high school that shared a school on the West Side with Phoenix Military Academy.

When activists confronted Board President David Vitale in December of 2012 about rumors that Ames was going to be closed and taken over by Marine, he told them in a board meeting that he didn't know of any plans. Then, in October of 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Marine is relocating to Ames. But, when it was pointed out that this would result in a school closing,  CPS spokespeople insisted that while Ames was becoming a military academy, Marine would stay open.

LSNA got a referendum placed on the ballot and by a margin of more than two to one, residents voted against the conversion to a military academy. But the board didn't budge. Now, CPS officials are telling a convoluted story about why all the Marine Math and Science students wound up at Ames, as well as why the Marine principal is suddenly in charge of the Logan Square school. According to spokesman Bill McCaffrey, no students chose to attend. But the Sun-Times reports that students and parents say they were told that there was only one Marine campus: in the Ames building.

Bottom line: Only one school exists now, where there used to be two, and CPS did not follow the procedure for consolidattion. The only question now is whether there’s anything anyone can do about it.

2. Heath risk.... Of the 18,000 CPS students with asthma, only a quarter of them had health management plans and only half of the 4,000 with food allergies had them, according to a Chicago Tribune story about a study of 2012-2013 records by Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. The plans are meant to help schools address chronic health conditions and prevent reactions. The study found that students on the North and Northwest Sides were the most likely to have a plan on file compared with the rest of the city. Also, poor black and Latino students were the least likely, though more of them were diagnosed with asthma and allergies.

 The Northwestern pediatrics professor who led the study said that he thinks that CPS is representative of the rest of the country.

However, one obstacle may be that CPS schools have far fewer nurses than recommended. The National Association of School Nurses recommends a minimum of 1 nurse for every 750 students for a general population. The association recommends much higher for students with special health needs. However, the latest CPS data shows that the district only has 322 nurses or nurse practitioners, with only six assigned to individual schools.

3. The yearly shuffle... Austin Weekly News has a story about layoffs in local schools. According to the article, some 54 CTU members and 11 paraprofessionals lost their jobs at schools in Austin, West Humboldt PArk and Garfield Park. CTU organizer Brandon Johnson, who lives in Austin, seizes the opportunity to make the layoffs an election issue. Brandon is serving as treasurer of CTU president Karen Lewis mayoral committee and said the layoffs show Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “distain for public education and disinterest in African American Chicagoans.”

But the main reason schools lost staff is that they were projected to have lower enrollment. Some could lose more. The article is a good reminder of what is going on at local schools right now. Coming up to the 20th day, schools are trying to shore up enrollment because if they do not get as many students as expected, they will lost money. CPS schools get about $4390 per student, plus extra stipends for students who are low-income and teachers for special education and bilingual students. Last year, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett chose not to take back money from schools that missed their enrollment targets, but she won't do that this year.

4. Funding overall still on table... Though he didn’t bring up the legislation in the spring, House Speaker Mike Madigan is quietly gathering together Democrats to get them to discuss a proposed change in the way the state funds schools, reports the Associated Press. The idea is to have the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill, ready for hearings after the November election. The Senate passed the bill. The proposed legislation tries to even out disparities between districts with rich property tax bases and those that are property poor.

Manar’s plan would make almost all state funding dependent on need. It also would drastically alter the way Chicago gets money from the state. Currently, CPS get a block grant, but under the plan, the district would bill the state for services or get money per student receiving them, like the rest of the state. Chicago stands to lose about $28 million in state funding if this plan is passed. Property-rich suburbs also stand to lose a lot. Schaumburg, for example, would get $12.4 million less. One amendment to the bill is that it would cap the amount of per pupil loss to $1,000 per student.

5. High school quest... WTTW started airing the first of five documentaries at 7:30 on Friday that follow eighth-graders from Chicago and Chicago suburbs. The documentaries, which are already available on youtube, use the stories of these teenagers striving to get into good high school as a way to show the disparities in the situations confronted by the students.

One of the documentaries focuses on the administrations of the elementary schools being attended by the students. The segment at a Wilmette Junior High School features the principal cutting a ribbon for the new science wing, which was paid for through a $100,000 donation from the school’s education foundation. The principal there talks about how he sees the middle grades as a time for exploration and experience. This stands in sharp contrast to the scene in Calumet City. There, a principal stands in front of a projector talking about the school’s low test scores and how the state could come take over the school if it doesn’t improve. It also has the superintendent talking about how the school district spurned an attempt by Urban Prep to open the school in the South Suburb.

The three Chicago schools are also very different. At the UNO school, the principal shows off  a “student data notebook” which lists test scores, demerits, attendance and homework. At Disney Magnet School, students put on a musical and do a project utilizing technology.

The other episodes look at communities, the high schools they are striving to get into and eventually reveals whether they got into the high school of their choosing.

 

 





Categories: Urban School News

What We’re Reading: Pre-K to become a federal school turnaround strategy

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/05/2014 - 18:18
  • Changes to federal School Improvement Grants could make early education an official turnaround strategy. (Politics K-12)
  • Some conservatives are unhappy about changes to the AP U.S. History curriculum, and one test-taker wonders why. (Slate)
  • A small, safe, high-achieving high school in Philadelphia is somehow at a loss for students. (Notebook)
  • Durham, N.C., is severing its Teach for America contract, which brought a dozen teachers to the city. (Answer Sheet)
  • TFA’s subtle shifts raise questions about its role in the education reform ecosystem. (Vox)
  • As his son starts school, an urban education professor lists his hopes for the next 14 years. (Hechinger)
  • “It’s hard to feel like a guru,” says cultural literacy evangelist E.D. Hirsch. “I’ve been a pariah for so long.” (Politico)
  • Three maps of D.C. visualize the well-worn connection between poverty and low test scores. (Greater Greater)
  • An elegy for “Up the Down Staircase,” a classic of school stories from the 1960s that’s out of print. (New Yorker)
  • After two decades in the classroom, a Brooklyn teacher is collapsing distinctions between him and students. (Mind/Shift)
  • Chicago is increasingly assigning school librarians away from their libraries. (NPRed)
  • Most children displaced by Syria’s civil war aren’t attending school and probably never will again. (Atlantic)
Categories: Urban School News

Defendants: Dougco voucher program constitutional based on previous Colo. Supreme Court decisions

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/05/2014 - 17:28

Responding to claims that a private school voucher program is unconstitutional, lawyers for the Douglas County School District and parents hit back last month in a pair of briefs filed with the Colorado Supreme Court that argue the district is within its right to fund the “religiously neutral” program.

The briefs also contend the plaintiffs, who filed their briefs in May, do not have standing.

The voucher plan, which is on hold pending a decision by the Supreme Court, would allow Douglas County students to use public tax dollars to enroll in private — and often religious — schools. The purpose of plan was to provide parents with control over their student’s education, the briefs argue.

“A family may continue to attend their neighborhood school, or they may choose a charter school, home education, online education, open enrollment, a magnet school, or [the voucher program],” lawyers for Dougco schools wrote. “The [voucher program] is but one of about 30 strategies for improving educational choice in the District. If a family receives a scholarship, then the parents have further choice as to the partner school in which to enroll their child.”

The combined 109 pages, filed on behalf of the district, Colorado Department of Education and three Dougco families enrolled in the voucher program, argue that the district-created voucher program, known as the Choice Scholarship Program, should be permitted to launch.

In sum, the lawyers maintain Colorado’s “deep constitutional roots of local control” allow Douglas County to use their tax dollars any way the board of education there sees fit.

The Colorado Supreme Court agreed to hear the case earlier this year after a three-member appellate court overturned a lower court’s ruling that deemed the program unconstitutional.

The appellate court ruled the plaintiffs, including parents, clergy, and tax payers, did not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit. That decision will be one of six points the Supreme Court will consider in its ruling.

Other questions the Supreme Court will look to answer include whether the program violates Colorado’s Public School Finance Act of 1994 and four different sections of the Colorado Constitution.

According to the briefs, many of the constitutional questions have already been answered.

“Over 30 years ago, [the Colorado Supreme Court] in Americans United approved a program of public aid to Colorado students that enabled them to spend that aid at any qualified school of their choice, including private, religious institutions,” the brief says. “That decision was located squarely within this court’s jurisprudence holding that government must affirmatively accommodate religion and show a benevolent neutrality toward religious believers. [T]he legislature, department of education, and other Colorado school districts have approved and utilized scores of current programs spending public funds at private schools, including those that are religiously-affiliated, at all levels of education throughout Colorado.”

The defendants’ briefs is one of a few initial steps in what is expected to be a rather long and uncertain process. A date for oral arguments has not been set. Those arguments may not be heard until next year.

The voucher program, which was unanimously passed by the Dougco school board in 2011, would have allowed up to 500 Douglas County students to use 75 percent of the district’s per-pupil funding – or $4,575 at the time – to attend a participating private school approved by the district.

Students would have been able to use those funds to attend private religious schools.

Thirty-four private schools applied to participate in the voucher program. Dougco approved 23 of those schools.

Of the 23 schools, 14 were located outside Douglas County, and 16 taught religious doctrine.

The voucher program was modeled after other programs across the nation that have prevailed in court. It gave students the right to “receive a waiver from any required religious services at the [participating private school],” according to previous court documents filed by the district.

However, lawyers for the plaintiffs argue the waivers weren’t enough to meet constitutional muster.

From the briefs

One of the main objections to the voucher program was the inclusion of religious-run institutions. Critics saw this as a violation as of the Colorado’s Constitution as using public dollars for religious activities. But lawyers for the parents enrolled in the program claim the program is religiously neutral and any funds that go to a religious institution is by parent choice and incidental.

Other state supreme courts have rejected similar challenges to student-aid programs indistinguishable from Douglas County’s. … In Zelman, children in the Cleveland School District received scholarships they could use to attend private schools. A large majority of participating schools were religious, and the overwhelming majority of students selected religious schools. The Court nevertheless upheld the program because it was “neutral with the respect to religion … permit[ting] the participation of all schools within the district, religious or nonreligious.

[T]he District Court recognized the Program is designed “for the benefit of the students, not the benefit of the private religious schools.” And as the Court of Appeals held, it is “neutral toward religion.” Fund “make their way to private schools with religious affiliation by means of personal choices of students’ parents” and “any benefit to the participating schools” is merely “incidental.”

Lawyers for Dougco schools and the state argue in their brief that program fits within the larger context of school choice in Colorado. It compares the suburban voucher program to the seemingly popular Denver Preschool Program that collects tax revenue and provides families pre-kindergarten tuition credits. Denver families may choose to use their credits at religious programs.

The Denver Preschool Program allows residents to apply tax-derived funds toward tuition at any qualified preschool. All licensed preschools — for-profit, nonprofit, public, private, home-baed, religious, and regardless of location (inside or outside of Denver) — are eligible to participate.

The district also argues the Supreme Court is not the place to decide whether the program violates state school finance laws.

Indeed, their request is unprecedented; no private party has ever asserted a private right of action under the [School Finance] Act, given that the legislature created an explicit administrative system for resolving funding disputes. Were it otherwise, small groups of disgruntled parents, like [the] plaintiffs, would essentially transform Colorado’s courts into perpetual overseers of every spending decision made by local school districts.

‘Answer’ brief from Douglas County School District DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1284107-dougcoanswerbrief.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1284107-dougcoanswerbrief' }); ‘Answer’ brief from Dougco parents DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1284108-dougcoparentanswerbrief.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1284108-dougcoparentanswerbrief' });
Categories: Urban School News

You ask, we answer: Who decided when students should learn to read?

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/05/2014 - 16:58

When should students be able to read? And who decided that? That was commenter Joanne Roll’s response to an article last week on a new teacher who faced overwhelming odds in getting her students to grade-level.

“When did the standard come into use that children should be reading by 1st grade? It would seem to me that sets up many children to be behind before they even begin school.”

It’s an interesting question and one we didn’t know the answer to, despite its importance in current state and local education policy.

Until the adoption of the Colorado Academic Standards in 2010, the state only had a single set of standards for kindergarten through fourth grade. The current standards cover every grade until 12th grade individually. Preschool is now included and grouped with kindergarten.

And those early education standards have contributed to an increased focus on early childhood literacy. Statewide, teachers will soon be rolling out kindergarten assessments intended to measure students’ readiness for grade school — of which literacy is a large part. In Denver, the push for more pre-K, which goes before voters this fall, is in part a focus on early literacy. And the state’s literacy push reaches its peak in third grade, when students who are not reading at grade level are targeted for additional support.

So we reached out to early literacy experts to get their thoughts on the subject of when, exactly, students can read.

Here’s one response from Ounce of Prevention, which advocates for early childhood education, especially for students in poverty:

Children learn to read when they are ready to.  It is just like any other developmental milestone (walking, talking, etc.). Every child will have his/her own time frame and educational trajectory.  So while we might be able to make some generalizations about children’s average learning age or development, it is imperative that we remember that no child, individually, is “average” and all children learn at their own rate.

That said, first, we must define what “reading” really is. It is different things at different ages. There are many stages to reading, and these stages happen at different ages.

An average Pre-K child will be “reading” environmental print. That means these children will recognize “McDonalds” “Starbucks” “Stop” (if on the red, octagonal sign). A Pre-K child might start “reading” words as they relate to “context cues” (e.g., relating words to pictures a page).

An average kindergarten child will be starting to develop letter identification skills, phonemic awareness, and concepts of print. This means that they are identifying letters, putting letters with sounds, and understanding what words, spaces, and sentences are. By the end of kindergarten, they should be identifying anywhere between 15-50 sight words.  [Editor's note: these are words that students can read without having to decode. Common examples for kindergarteners might be "at" or "be."]

First grade is when children generally “learn to read,” or when most literacy curricula teach reading. Children in first grade are generally taught to “crack the code.” They can sound out words because the letters and the sounds are now connected into words.  However, because they are only at the very early stages putting meaning to what they read, many children are really only “word calling.”

Second grade is generally when we say children “read to learn.” This is when most curricula begin to teach these skills.  Some children will develop faster and some slower. When a child is reading to learn, he/she is no longer just calling words, but he/she is making meaning of the words they are calling. When a child has cracked the code AND is making meaning (comprehending), then a child is reading. It is important to watch for those kids that become really good at cracking the code/word calling but are not understanding because they appear to be reading. These are the children that hit third grade and fail the high-stakes tests and to many it is a mystery as to why because they can “read” (in this case, word call) anything.

Third grade is when the majority of comprehension skills are taught and reading becomes a much deeper and more meaningful activity.  This is why high-stakes tests are usually started in third grade.

Note: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that the state did have standards for kindergarten through third grade, but that they were grouped.

Categories: Urban School News

Conversations with teachers: Budgets

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 09/05/2014 - 13:42

For teachers, the decisions the district makes about spending priorities are front and center in their day-to-day lives. When budgets are cut, when their colleagues are laid off, when a new initiative kicks off, it is teachers who end up navigating to make up for cuts, making do because a colleague is gone and implementing the latest “new thing.”

So last year, when CPS moved to a new per-pupil funding system and drastically slashed budgets, teachers felt the impact. The district restored some cuts this year, but teachers insist they will still have to cope with the aftershocks.

Each of the teachers who participated in Catalyst Chicago’s recent roundtable discussion had different perspectives on spending and the budget. Participants were Monty Adams, a science teacher at Latino Youth High School, an alternative charter school; Jamie Cordes, a ninth- and 10th-grade English teacher at Noble Street Charter College Prep; Kris Himebaugh, an English teacher and Chicago Teachers Union delegate at Orr High, a turnaround school managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership; Hen Kennedy, a seventh- and eighth-grade history and civics teacher at Carl Von Linne Elementary; and Amy Rosenwasser, a long-time special education teacher who now teaches fifth grade at Pritzker Elementary School.

Adams and Cordes work at charter schools; Adams’ charter is for dropouts, while Cordes’ school attracts middle-of-the-road to high-achieving students. A debate is still simmering on charter funding and whether charters receive more money than traditional schools; Cordes said his understanding is that charter schools receive less, while Adams is convinced there is parity.

Meanwhile, Himebaugh at Orr has experienced the worst of the budget cuts. Orr fell from an enrollment of more than 675 students and a budget of $8.8 million in the 2012-2013 school year to a projected 561 students and a budget of $5.8 million this year.  

The two elementary school teachers, Kennedy at Von Linne and Rosenwasser at Pritzker, are at relatively stable schools. Linne, a neighborhood school in Avondale, saw its budget rise by $100,000 compared to last year.

Pritzker, which has neighborhood-based and selective programs as well as a fine arts program, is projected to have about 40 more students this year and a budget of about $200,000 more.

Here’s what our roundtable had to say:

Kris Himebaugh, turning to Jamie Cordes from Noble Street: So you get money per-pupil like we do. Do you get the same amount?

Cordes: No. We get less.

Monty Adams: I was on the state task force for charter school funding this past year and that’s one of those very dubious things. We met from September to February for many, many hours and that was kind of the argument--whether charter schools get less or more or the same. Unfortunately, it was like comparing apples with oranges. My assessment is that charter schools get about the same. The difference is that charter schools, or my charter school and most of the ones I have seen, don’t have libraries, science labs, all the textbooks. Charter schools don’t look like schools. Some of them [are housed in and] look like they're in churches or something.

Cordes: We have science labs. English and reading teachers have classroom libraries that are updated. There isn’t space in our building for a separate library, but kids are reading independently.

Himebaugh: I feel Noble Street is the exception [among] charter schools. We had to hire another PE teacher (because of the new requirement that students take physical education daily). In the meantime, last year we lost our librarian because of the cuts. This year, partly because of the budget [cuts] and partly because of the new PE requirement, we lost art.

Amy Rosenwasser: But there’s a fine arts requirement. How do you meet that?

Himebaugh: Online. Yup.  Art and music. We lost both [teachers].

Rossenwasser: In order to have gym?

Himebaugh: I don’t know if it’s specifically in order to have gym. I know we also use extra money for extra security.

Catalyst: What does art online look like?

Himebaugh: I have no idea.  It’s what’s going to happen this year.

Adams: I used to teach music online and the sad thing is we’d try to have discussions about the music, and I would have some students who were really interested. But they had nobody to discuss it with.

Himebaugh: We will offer band and TV production as fine arts programs.

One positive thing that came out of the budget cuts is that they required our principal to release the reins a little bit. In the past, when AUSL took over, we were so micromanaged. Now teachers have had to step up and take more leadership roles. That’s one positive thing.

Cordes: There are still things I want in my classroom that we can’t afford, and there are still basics that aren’t in place. In terms of budget, there are some things teachers say, I ordered this, I got approved for it last year, but I didn’t get approved this year. In terms of major staffing positions, I am not really aware of how cuts are impacting things.

Rossenwasser: Because our school is in Wicker Park, in the past we have had a tremendous amount rental income. For movies, they rent out a parking lot. They rent out the gym. There are a couple of churches there.  The Pritzker Foundation does provide some funding for after-school programs. They fund a big subsidy for eighth-graders to go to Washington, D.C. We have more sources of income even than other school in that neighborhood.

Rosenwasser: The thing that bothers me the most about [student-based] budgets, if you listen to Rahm [Emanuel] or BBB talk, it’s that it is the principals’ choice--they have all this money and they choose how to use it.

Hen Kennedy: It is like choosing to use a pencil or a pen to write your essay. You're still going to have to write the essay.

Rosenwasser: If I only have $100 and I need to buy these things and pay my rent, maybe I am not buying all the food because I have to pay all my rent. That’s the most ridiculous thing they could possibly say and they say a lot of ridiculous things. But when I hear that, I think, “How can you legitimately say that and look at yourselves in the mirror each night?”

Rosenwasser: I think people who don't have kids in the school system believe that [it is the principal’s choice]. The schools only have x-amount of money, and they can have a classroom of 50 kids or get rid of the music and art teacher.

Adams: In several schools, I've experienced the situation where they had plenty of money to invest in new stuff in the buildings or put in a courtyard or something, but at the expense of firing a couple of teachers.

Himebaugh: I knew it was bad last year when I walked into my classroom and there were 40 desks. So I am hoping when I walk in this year there will only be 30. Class size was definitely an issue at our school, at Orr. In fact, I am the union rep also. We went through the union’s class size committee, but we never got more teachers.

Cordes: I have probably about 28 or 30 on average. We are pretty limited in space as well, so it’s been pretty consistent, I’d say. They definitely try to fill those desks. But I can’t fit 40 desks in my room.

Adams: Well, the more desks they fill the more money it is for charter schoola.

Kennedy: In regular CPS schools too.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: GOP candidate Beauprez opposes Common Core

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/05/2014 - 10:02

Jeffco confusion

The Jeffco Board of Education Thursday approved a loosely defined compensation model based on teacher evaluations, a plan that has plenty of kinks to iron out. And because the new model is a complete abandonment of the status quo, it's unknown when teachers will see their promised increases. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

High hopes

Aurora officials break ground for a new school and hope they've struck gold with its "resilient" model. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Common Core

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez says he opposes the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests and would end their use in Colorado. ( Watchdog Wire )

How did a bipartisan education reform effort become the biggest conservative bogeyman since Obamacare? ( Mother Jones )

Hipper lunches

The Boulder Valley Schools are using a food truck to boost school lunch participation at district high schools. ( Daily Camera )

Student boom

The Pueblo 70 district has gained nearly 200 students in the new school year. ( Chieftain )

Editorial

The school bell should toll later in the morning if we want better test scores. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board majority OKs tentative compensation plan for teachers

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 22:26

GOLDEN — The Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education tonight approved a loosely-defined teacher compensation model tied to the results of teacher evaluations that still have plenty of kinks to iron out.

Little is still known about exactly what the new model means for teachers, who have been working under salary freezes for several years.

And because the new model is a complete abandonment of the suburban school district’s status quo, a specific date when teachers will see their promised increases is unknown at this time.

The board’s vote came just a week after board chairman Ken Witt proposed the model. District staff worked hurriedly to crunch the numbers, which staff warned could change as more information is provided to the board.

“These numbers really will change,” said Lorie Gillis, Jeffco’s chief financial officer.

What is known at this time:

  • The base salary for teachers, which is currently about $33,000, will be raised to $38,000
  • Last year’s teacher evaluations will determine bonuses
  • Probationary teachers, those still in the first three years of teaching, who received a “partly-effective” rating will receive a 1 percent raise
  • Teachers who received an “effective” rating will receive a 2.43 percent raise
  • Teachers who received a “highly effective” rating will receive a 4.25 percent raise
  • All raises, regardless of when they are finalized, will be retroactive to the start of the school year

By comparison, had the school board accepted a tentative agreement reached last spring by the district and the Jefferson County Education Association, the average teacher would have received a 2.8 percent raise.

Among the issues that still need to be worked out include where the district will cut off raises, how the district will determine the starting salaries of veteran teachers who join the district each year, and what other factors the board might consider for pay raises.

The board and staff must also determine whether student data will be considered as part of the evaluation that determines pay increases and how the model will affect the district’s budget in future years.

“This makes sense to me,” Witt said.

But teachers in the board chambers were left scratching their heads.

“I don’t know,” said Lei Lani, an instructional coach at Campbell Elementary School, when asked how the board’s decision might affect her pay.

Lani, who has two graduate degrees, said her extra education allowed her to be paid more than some of her peers. But she’s concerned the new pay plan won’t take her degrees into account.

“It’s probably going to help,” she said. “But I really want to know how its going to impact my fellow teachers.”

Lani hopes she hears from the district soon.

But district staff is working through the motions just as much as teachers.

“This is going to be very complicated,” said Amy Weber, the district’s chief human resources officer, during an interview Thursday night. “Payroll needs to be done very carefully. This is a completely new way to do pay.”

Board member Jill Fellman Thursday night said one of the reasons she could not support the new model was because it was not created with teachers at the table.

“We need to be very clear — this your model, Mr. Witt,” Fellman said.

Thursday’s vote comes after the board majority — made up of Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk — rejected the findings of an independent review that suggested the board should agree to a tentative agreement reached by the district and union last spring that included pay raises for teachers who were considered “partly effective.”

Kerrie Dallman, president of the state’s largest teachers union, said her organization is prepared to stand with the local union, which is considering a lawsuit.

“It is being discussed,” she said. “JCEA will do everything possible to ensure their members’ rights under the collective bargaining agreement will be upheld. And The CEA will be ready to support them in whatever decision they’re prepared to make.”

The unions contract with the district ends this school year.

Thursday’s board room audience was noticeably smaller than in previous months. That’s because, some said, teachers were out knocking on doors throughout the county sharing their feelings about the board’s majority.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect only those teachers who are both on probation in their first three years of and have been rated as partly effective will get a one percent raise. 

This article has also been updated to clarify pay raises for teachers, once finalized, will be retroactive to the start of the school year.

Categories: Urban School News

Conversations with teachers: Discipline

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 17:10

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has talked more passionately about reducing suspensions and expulsions than almost any other subject. And for the first time ever this year, the district is publishing school-level statistics on discipline.

Activists hope that shedding light on what is happening with school discipline will help expose problem areas so they can be addressed. They also hope principals will consider implementing alternatives to discipline that puts students out of school, especially black boys, who are disproportionately targeted.

But even activists who heralded the district’s new transparency and apparent willingness to confront the issue remain worried because money for restorative practices, such as peace rooms, peer juries or counseling, remains scarce.  Teachers, as a result, have few outlets to help them deal with problem behavior.

 At Catalyst Chicago’s recent teacher roundtable, participants said they have gotten the message that schools should curb suspensions and expressed dissatisfaction with the practice. In order for students to improve academically, they need to be in class, they said.

However, the conversation quickly shifted from discipline to what emerged as the underlying concern: a lack of support for troubled students.

Participants in our latest roundtable were Monty Adams, a science teacher at Latino Youth High School, an alternative charter school; Jamie Cordes, a ninth- and 10th-grade English teacher at Noble Street Charter College Prep; Kris Himebaugh, an English teacher and Chicago Teachers Union delegate at Orr High, a turnaround school managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership; Hen Kennedy, a seventh- and eighth-grade history and civics teacher at Carl Von Linne Elementary; and Amy Rosenwasser, a long-time special education teacher who now teaches fifth grade at Pritzker Elementary School.

Here is what they had to say:

Monty Adams: Being at an alternative school, I always talk to the kids. Most of them you would never imagine had been kicked out of a public school. They are the nicest kids. I get to talk to them, find out why they were kicked out of school, for fighting or something. I can’t imagine doing that. I’ve even had kids kicked out of CPS because of numerous medical absences. These are the children we get. I want to keep teaching at the alternative school. I love it. But I don’t understand the rationale sometimes.

Hen Kennedy: We have definitely gotten that message to not expect [misbehavior] to end in a suspension. It is something I agree with. I don’t think suspension is particularly effective. I have heard grumblings. But I think [the grumblers] also don’t think it is the most useful solution. The catch is, I am not sure we’re being taught effective alternatives to suspension. I think it is important to not suspend kids whenever possible. But it is also important to have counseling or whatever to replace that.

Adams: This year we have a principal and a dean of discipline. It is so nice to be able to teach and, if there is a student you're having a problem with who won’t be cooperative, just to be able to pick up the phone. That doesn't come back and reflect poorly on me. In fact, I can tell a student it’s kind of out of my hands. “Just go and calm down and talk to somebody else.” A lot of times they do.

They come in with all kinds of emotional problems. They need counseling. They need somebody to cool down with. You can’t do that simultaneously with teaching.

Kris Himebaugh: That is another [effect] of the budget cut. Our social worker and psychologist both got cut down to part-time and you're talking about Orr High School. You're talking about kids who are in and out of jail, who see their friends, siblings, parents die on the streets. My students get shot and killed. And so we have a half-time social worker and psychologist?

Kennedy:  We’re lucky enough to have a phenomenal full-time counselor. I can’t even imagine how our school would function without it.

Amy Rosenwasser:  We don’t have a full-time social worker. There is a definite push being made [for a social-emotional program]. We had two days of training at the end of the school year and two more next week on The Responsive Classroom, which is supposed to be a way to deal with problems in the classroom. The paraprofessionals and security [workers] did not have to report to school on those days and so they did not have to receive the training. It requires everyone to be on the same page [yet] we only had training with the teachers.

There also has to be something in place for those kids that don’t respond to that. Maybe there is something that is going to be in place, but I think a lot of schools don’t have that.

Adams:  When I was in Waukegan, [administrators] would look at it almost in a punitive way, if you had trouble with one of your students in your classroom and had to call security or something like that. Having deans of discipline is a great solution. Being able to remove that responsibility (to discipline) from [the teacher] and let the dean deal with those issues--as a result, I had much better rapport with each student because I don’t have to get involved emotionally.

Jamie Cordes: In terms of suspensions, I feel very much like [Monty] was saying. We have a dean of discipline and a culture team, and if a kid is really disrupting the learning [environment], that’s who they go to. It won’t always lead to a suspension. We've got a social worker. We've got a culture team that is quasi-security, but building relationships with students as well. We are trying to pilot a peer mediation program for certain conflicts, like student conflicts, to get more student ownership in terms of the discipline policy. But there are some things that, according to our discipline code, trigger automatic suspensions, such as drug possession or fighting.  I want to keep my kids in school. If the kid can come back to my class and still learn, then great. If a kid is on the way out and is suspended, I want them to get work in their hands so they can come back prepared. We’ve got demerits and suspensions to use when necessary. Ultimately, we want kids in class learning.

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora breaks ground on new school and hopes it struck gold with ‘resilient’ model

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 13:35

When the school bell rings next year at Aurora Public Schools’ new building at 6th Avenue and Airport Road, students should expect to get more than a lesson in A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s.

They’ll also get a lesson in the art of resiliency.

APS officials hope an unusual school model that emphasizes students’ social and emotional well-being and that aims to provide students with skills to overcome some of life’s greatest obstacles — hunger, homelessness, algebra — will be a game-changer for the academically-struggling school district.

And while district and school leaders have been working steadily toward opening the new pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school for months, the work is about to intensify.

District and school officials broke ground at the campus’ site last night. So as crane operators and construction crews begin to lay the physical foundation, school principal Carrie Clark, an Aurora Public Schools veteran, is laying the instructional foundation blocks away in a nondescript office.

Who has the more back-breaking job is to still to be determined.

‘R’ stand for resilient

Neither a name nor a mascot has been selected for the new Aurora school, which will enroll students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. But, as currently conceived, the school will be defined by the word ‘resilient.’

When Carrie Clark interviewed for the position of principal at the new school, district leaders asked her to define and relate to the word. Clark, who eventually got the job, in turn has been asking staff applicants the same question.

“Resiliency is a process you go through,” she said. “And it will be a big piece of the interview process. We need to know how our teachers will connect with that word, that process.”

And whether she’s at a community town halls or district board meeting, Clark is spreading the word every where she goes.

So what does it mean? As Clark builds her team of teachers and office staff, and as the community becomes more involved leading up to the school opening, she says the word’s definition is bound to change.

But so far, for Clark, it means her future students will tap into their own strengths, learn specific skills to cope, recover from adversity, and be prepared for future challenges.

Clark and district officials believe her future students will likely need those skills to drive their academic progress.

Preliminary data Clark presented to the Aurora Board of Education last month shows a sample of students who are likely to attend the new school are currently below grade level. And those students are barely showing the kind of academic growth they would need to be at grade level in three years. In other words, the school, before it even opens, is liable to find itself on the state’s watch list — unless Clark’s team can lead students to make massive academic gains.

Chief Academic Officer John Youngquist said it’s important the district prepare for the likelihood students will need to catch up.

“We’re working very hard to study and understand what the challenges and assets of our students are,” he said during an interview. “Let’s not wonder what that first year will be like.”

Like several other Colorado school districts that serve primarily students of color and low-income families, APS is just two years away from facing state sanctions if student test results don’t improve on standardized tests.

Youngquist believes Clark — and the new model — is up for the job.

He pointed to Clark’s experience working with both elementary and middle school students and her ability to create a vibrant school culture and lead a team of teachers.

But student data from Altura Elementary School, where Clark served as principal for four years, showed proficiency rates in most subjects are below both the state and district average. The school, which overwhelmingly serves low-income students of color, posted growth scores that demonstrated that students learned at an accelerated rate in 2012 and 2013, but that pace of growth slowed this year.

Clark, who began her new duties before the most recent data was available and who has not had the opportunity to dissect it with her Altura teachers, said she was concerned about the slower growth.

Rich school, poor school

The new P-8 school, which is currently financed by private-sector loans, is expected to draw students from a variety of schools in APS that right now are bursting at the seams. Schools in nearly every corner of Aurora are at capacity and there seems to be no indication of a slowdown in student enrollment.

A committee, established earlier this year, is meeting regularly to draw the attendance boundary lines for the new school. The committee should make a boundary recommendation to the Aurora school board early next year.

As part of its work, the committee is reviewing the boundaries of 10 other schools from Vista PEAK P-8 in the east to Side Creek Elementary in the south.

The committee has been asked to ensure students who live near each other attend the same schools and to try and minimize bus ride times.

What they have not been asked to do is ensure that the school is socioeconomically diverse.

Even though the new school will be surrounded by neighborhoods of many different levels of affluence, creating a socio-economically diverse school, which some education researchers believe is critical for boosting student achievement for both low-income students and their more affluent peers, isn’t listed as a priority on the committee’s Web page.

How the committee draws the boundaries could mean the difference between creating a school that is mostly affluent, poor or mixed. According to U.S. Census figures, Airport Road, which runs north and south through Aurora, acts as a sort of dividing line between poorer households and those more affluent. For example, those homes immediately west of Airport Road average about $37,000 in household incomes while those to the immediate east average more than $80,000.

The new school is also expected to enroll a sizable number of students from families stationed at the Buckley Air Force Base, which is about 13 minutes away from the campus.  

Students from military families have bring their own challenges for educators. Mobility can be very high military families who move from base to base. And those students are either academically significantly ahead or behind their peers.

A new path for APS

While Aurora Public Schools has been researching and building a model for the school around resiliency for nearly a year, Youngquist said the district is contemplating a number of other options to ensure a successful school. Chief among them: innovation status.

APS has a history of granting schools certain autonomies from districtwide policies, but so far, no school inside its boarders has yet to ask the state for innovation status, which would allow them to chart their own path on certain state and district requirements. With innovation status, school leaders are often freed of certain previsions from any collective bargaining agreement with a union as well. That opens up opportunities for extended and more site-based decisions.

That could change with the school at 6th Avenue and Airport.

“We’re studying what resources and autonomies would creates the best success for the school,” Youngquist said. “All options are available.”

The school’s out-of-the-ordinary model, based on the research of  Paul Tough and Kenneth R. Ginsburg, is also a double-down of sorts for APS. The district, through a series of strategic steps, appears to be embracing the social and emotional needs of students in a far greater way than before.

“We’re responding to academic data,” Youngquist said. “We’re responding to school climate and behavioral challenges. There is a clear intention [districtwide] to more fully engage with students academically.”

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Karen Lewis questions, UNO and the IRS, Kennedy-King honor

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 08:57

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis still hasn’t made up her mind -- at least not publicly -- about whether she’ll run for mayor against incumbent Rahm Emanuel. But she’s been hitting the pavement, talking with residents and asking followers to help circulate a petition to get her name on the ballot.

But all the quasi-campaigning has some teachers a little worried. During a teacher roundtable organized by Catalyst last month, some CTU members in the room expressed concern about what a campaign run would mean for leadership, especially with contract negotiations approaching. “If she runs, is she going to quit her job at the CTU? Who is going to take over?” one teacher asked. “And what will that mean for contract negotiations?” asked another.

Lewis told Catalyst she’s been asking herself the same questions but said that it’s important to remember that “union negotiations are done by a very large group of people. It’s not just me at the table.” At the moment, she says, she has no intention of resigning from her CTU gig. That’s a matter she first needs to discuss with both her executive board and the House of Delegates. “This issue is kind of like putting the horse before the cart,” she says.

2. First day turnaround… Gresham Elementary School students learned Tuesday what it means to sweat the small stuff, reported the Chicago Sun-Times. As a newly-minted school turnaround, it’s now run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership. AUSL, which has been overhauling schools since 2004, has a detailed checklist for operating its schools. The list includes things like standing in line leaving a square floor tile between students and waiting to use the bathroom at Level Zero (perfectly quiet).

The staff and parents at Gresham waged a major battle against the turnaround. At one point, some of the parent activists thought they had won over CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. The latest NWEA test scores show that about two-thirds of the 24 elementary schools run by AUSL are among the lowest 25 percent in reading. However, 10 of the 24 are among the highest 25 percent in test-score growth.

3. More UNO trouble…  The Chicago Sun-Times has reported that UNO charter schools is now being audited by the IRS. UNO’s (United Neighborhood Organization) troubles first boiled up when the newspaper reported apparent conflicts of interest in spending a $95 million state construction grant. Because the charter network did not reveal these conflicts, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission accused them of defrauding investors. According to the Sun-Times, the IRS investigation has to do with the bonds issued through the Illinois Finance Authority, a state agency that provides non-profits with low interest loans. Over the years, the agency has provided bonds for Learn, Namaste and Noble charter school networks.

This year, CPS allocated $84.5 million for UNO to run 15 schools serving a projected 7,909 students. The board gave UNO permission to open two new schools this fall, but UNO decided to hold off. UNO is currently the third largest charter network in CPS.

4. Kennedy-King honored… The South Side community college is one of 10 finalists in the Aspen Prize for Community Colleges, which carries with it a $1 million award. The award judges how community colleges are doing in getting their students to graduate and get a job, especially focusing on equitable outcomes for poor black and Latino students. Staff from the Aspen Institute will spend the next three months visiting the 10 campuses. The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy organization based in Washington D.C.

Since 2011, the City Colleges have been undergoing a process leaders call “reinvention.” In a Catalyst interview with Chancellor Cheryl Hyman, she said the goal of the initiative was to increase the number of students earning college credentials, transferring to bachelor degree programs and to improve the outcomes for those students who need remediation. The fourth is to increase the number of adult education students who succeed at college-level courses.

This summer, PBS interviewed Hyman as part of their series Rethinking College and reported that the number of graduates has doubled from 2,000 to 4,000 since “reinvention” was put in place.

5. Massive pre-K expansion in NYC… One thing Chicago’s city and teacher union leaders seem to agree on is that expanded early learning opportunities would be a good thing. Chicago Teachers Union issued a call for universal preschool last week, not too long after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel shared his own plan to expand pre-K enrollment to an additional 1,500 low-income 4-year-olds.

With all this extra attention on preschool, it might be worthwhile to see what happens when a major U.S. city actually attempts to unroll universal preschool. More than 50,000 4-year-olds in New York City have been enrolled in free full-day prekindergarten as part of one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most ambitious initiatives since he took office. The expansion has involved getting an additional $300 million in state funds, training thousands of teachers and hiring nearly 200 inspectors, teaching coaches and enrollment specialists.

But as Chalkbeat New York reports, “some skepticism of the pace of the plan has persisted, especially around basic concerns over child safety and more challenging concerns about curriculum standards and teacher quality.” Just last week the city’s comptroller complained that his office has received less than half of the center contracts he needs to review -- to ensure vendors have proper documentation such as insurance and background checks on staff.

Categories: Urban School News

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