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Updated: 13 min 10 sec ago

Take 5: Graduation rate up, Urban Prep's first class, end of PURE?

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 10:17

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett are basking in the latest graduation and on-track rate numbers, saying the five-year cohort graduation rate is now nearly 70 percent. Instead of holding a press conference and taking questions, though, Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett announced it in an editorial in the Sun-Times.  They credit full-day kindergarten, the longer school day and better programs in neighborhood high schools, such as International Baccalaureate and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.

Of course, these initiatives probably had little effect on the graduation rate, as they are too recent to have had any impact on the cohort of students in question, who entered high school in 2009-2010. The Consortium on Chicago School Research has another theory: In 2005, the consortium put out a study stating that freshmen who earn at least five credits and no more than one “F” in a semester in a core course are 3-1/12 times more likely to graduate in four years. The findings prompted CPS to hire on-track coordinators to stay on top of freshmen, though many of those support positions have vanished due to budget cuts.

Even without the supports, though, the on-track rate is 84.1 percent, according to Byrd-Bennett’s announcement at Wednesday’s board meeting. (See a CPS summary of improvements.) Board member Henry Bienen said it was a fresh change of pace to hear positive news about CPS. “We hear so much criticism of staff and the board, on school closings, on investments, on our priorities,” he said. “But at the end of the day, the metrics are the metrics. This tells us not that we’re perfect, but that success is happening […]. We can put almost everything else on the side when we see this kind of data.”

Chief of Accountability John Barker said school-level graduation and freshman on-track data should be available sometime Thursday.

2. After graduation… The Chicago Tribune revisits the first class of graduates from Urban Prep Charter School, the city’s only all-boys charter school. Earlier this year, the Associated Press did a similar story. The school made news in 2010 when all its graduates were accepted into college. National Student Clearinghouse data later showed that 76 percent of the graduates actually enrolled. The question since then has been: How many of those students will persist and earn their college degree? The backdrop for this question: In 2006, a Consortium on Chicago School Research report found that only 3 percent of black male freshmen in CPS earned a bachelors’ degree by the time they were 25.

Urban Prep’s head, Tim King, declined to provide information for the Tribune on how many students from the first graduating class got their college diploma this fall. (Tribune columnist Eric Zorn says he should have talked about the problems students encounter as they transition.) But profiles of four of the students show that they struggled with figuring out how to find a support network and deal with the increased academic rigor. One impressive point: Urban Prep stepped up and helped support these students, paying for one student to have a writing coach and another to take summer classes.

The article doesn’t confront the fact that many of the students entered college with low ACT scores. In 2010, the average was 16; last year, 17.1. A 20 is generally considered the minimum for college readiness.

3. PURE activist moves on… Through the years, PURE (Parents United for Responsible Education) Executive Director Julie Woestehoff has sounded alarms about a myriad of issues in the school system, including the dangers of retaining students and of relying too much on standardized testing. She and PURE were perhaps the first to sound alarms about UNO Charter Schools when in January of 2013 they met with the Illinois Office of the Executive Inspector General to ask for an investigation into the charter school’s financial condition.

But Woestehoff, who has been trying to keep PURE going on a shoestring budget, announced in a blog post that she has moved to Wyoming. She says later this month the board will have a meeting to decide if PURE will continue without her. 

4. Some school-related politics… The Sun-Times reports that Edward Oppenheimer is CTU President Karen Lewis’ first campaign donor for her potential mayoral run. The Oppenheimer Family Foundation is well-known among teachers for giving small grants for classroom and school projects, such as mosaic and gardening projects. Records show that Oppenheimer contributes to many campaigns. In 2011, he gave $500 to Miguel Del Valle’s mayoral campaign.

Also, this week lieutenant governor candidate Paul Vallas said that Chicago schools would face “devastating cuts” if Bruce Rauner becomes governor. He said that under the budget Rauner presented, schools would lose $4 billion annually. It is worth noting, however, that the education budget, among other areas, has been cut under Vallas’ running mate Gov. Pat Quinn. Neither candidate is talking about addressing structural problems that lead to annual deficits.

5. A look at the numbers … Chicago schools have long had more students of color than white students – not surprising, given the city’s demographics. But national student enrollment in public schools is catching up: For the first time ever, the number of Latino, African-American and Asian students is expected to surpass the number of non-Hispanic white students, according to Education Week.

Projections by the National Center for Education Statistics show that 50.3 percent of schoolchildren will be minorities this fall, with these populations remaining in concentrated major urban areas like Chicago, where just over 90 percent of CPS students are students of color.

The story points out that the most dramatic changes in public schooling have been seen in the increased numbers of students whose first language isn’t English. And the numbers are expected to rise, both in traditional urban immigrant hubs as well as the suburbs and rural communities. In Chicago, about 16 percent of CPS students were considered to have limited English proficiency last year. We reported on the challenges of bilingual education and how the suburbs are responding to the increased numbers of English Language Learners in 2012. 



Categories: Urban School News

School rating system gets tweaked

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 19:14

Just one year after unveiling a new School Quality Rating Policy that’s based on a range of indicators from attendance to academic growth, the Board of Education voted on Wednesday to now allow schools to be ranked entirely on their test results.

The change to the rating policy comes because high-performing schools would show less academic growth, thus affecting their SQRP scores, explained John Barker, the district’s chief of accountability.

Ultimately, this would “make it more difficult for schools that are performing at those top levels to [have] much growth that’s higher,” Barker told reporters after the meeting.

Under the revised policy, schools will get two ratings: one based on the SQRP and one based solely on test scores. The higher of the two ratings would be their official rank in the district’s 5-tier system.

Elementary schools that rank in the top 90th percentile nationally in both reading and math on the NWEA will automatically land in Tier 1, regardless of their SQRP score. A Catalyst Chicago analysis of the data shows that 50 elementary schools would be automatically ranked in the highest tier based on test scores, including 21 selective enrollment or magnet schools.

For high schools, the rating will be based on the composite scores for EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT.

Cassie Creswell from the anti-testing group More Than a Score says she finds it "bizarre" that CPS is revising a performance policy before even issuing its first ratings based on it.

 "The performance policy seems to ignore social science, which shows that when you put pressure on one measure then people start to juke the stats. They will do whatever they can to get high test scores," she says.

The ratings, which will be released in about three weeks, are important because they determine whether a school may be targeted for actions – such as a turnaround or closure. And parents are more likely to try to send their children to a highly rated school, which impacts enrollment.

Delay of PARCC?

During the public comment portion of the meeting, parent activist Wendy Katten told the board she was concerned about the state’s implementation of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (known as the PARCC), which is supposed to take place this spring.

“The issue with the PARCC test is not that it’s rigorous or challenging,” said Katten, of Raise Your Hand Illinois. “But the instructions are confusing, and the answers are often vague.” Katten added that some parts of the computer-based version of the test are clunky.

Illinois is one of several states that are using the PARCC to comply with federal requirements related to aligning curricula to the Common Core State Standards. CPS will not consider it a high-stakes test, meaning that it will not be tied to evaluations for teachers, principals or schools.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she’s discussed the PARCC with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and both agree that there hasn’t been sufficient discussion around the piloting of it last spring. But her explanation of whether the district plans to ask the Illinois State Board of Education for some sort of waiver or delay was not totally clear.

“I’ve had additional conversations with the state superintendent and the president of the [state] board of education to say that we’d like further discussion around – and we presented why think that we should not – I’m not looking for a long-term waiver, but the opportunity for us to really to ensure that everything is in place so that our children will be the best they can be on that test,” Byrd-Bennett said.

After the meeting, Barker told reporters that school district officials from across the state have had “a number of conversations” regarding how the PARCC will be handled in the spring. Some school districts have expressed concern about the technology required to offer the assessment on computers, although there is also a paper version, while the Peru superintendent recently questioned whether states were putting too much emphasis on the test.

Barker said CPS is investigating its options but did not explain whether the district intends to seek a waiver or delay.

Meanwhile, ISBE spokesman Matthew Vanover said the state has no authority to provide a waiver or delay for the federally mandated tests.

“We did have an extensive field test this spring where about 500 districts, 1,200 schools and 110,888 students in Illinois took part in PARCC field testing,” he wrote in an e-mail to Catalyst. “The field test was a ‘practice run’ to gather input from teachers and students and to identify and correct problems with this assessment system before its first official administration in spring 2015. This field test did include the online and pen and paper versions.   These assessments are required under NCLB and we have no authority to waiver them.

NWEA analysis

Since CPS released school-level NWEA test scores a few weeks ago, it has been difficult to figure out how to analyze them. This is the first time CPS released the detailed scores and tied them to a performance policy. But the revised performance policy passed Wednesday reveals that the district is looking at the national attainment percentile—the average score of students, compared to the national average--as a measure.

Using that indicator, here are some findings:

  • Charter schools and neighborhood schools did about the same on average, while selective enrollment elementary schools and magnets did way better. Eight charter schools, including all the LEARN campuses and Alain Locke, did not provide NWEA scores.
  • The schools in Riverdale on the Far South East Side and Fuller Park on the South Side did the worst; while the schools in Edison Park and Forest Glen on the Far North Side did the best.
  • In reading, 87 schools or nearly one-fifth scored below the 10th percentile in national attainment. Ninety percent of them are mostly black and/or neighborhood schools.
  • Of the schools that scored above the 90th percentile in national attainment in reading and math and were therefore automatically given the highest rating: 28 are neighborhood schools, one is a charter school and 21 are either magnet or selective enrollment schools. Of the neighborhood schools, only one, Hefferan in West Garfield Park, is mostly black.
Categories: Urban School News

School rating system gets tweaked

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 19:14

Just one year after unveiling a new School Quality Rating Policy that’s based on a range of indicators from attendance to academic growth, the Board of Education voted on Wednesday to now allow schools to be ranked entirely on their test results.

The change to the rating policy comes because high-performing schools would show less academic growth, thus affecting their SQRP scores, explained John Barker, the district’s chief of accountability.

Ultimately, this would “make it more difficult for schools that are performing at those top levels to [have] much growth that’s higher,” Barker told reporters after the meeting.

Under the revised policy, schools will get two ratings: one based on the SQRP and one based solely on test scores. The higher of the two ratings would be their official rank in the district’s 5-tier system. (See revised policy in pages 19-30 of meeting agenda.)

Elementary schools that rank in the top 90th percentile nationally in both reading and math on the NWEA will automatically land in Tier 1, regardless of their SQRP score. A Catalyst Chicago analysis of the data shows that 50 elementary schools would be automatically ranked in the highest tier based on test scores, including 21 selective enrollment or magnet schools.

For high schools, the rating will be based on the composite scores for EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT.

Cassie Creswell from the anti-testing group More Than a Score says she finds it "bizarre" that CPS is revising a performance policy before even issuing its first ratings based on it.

 "The performance policy seems to ignore social science, which shows that when you put pressure on one measure then people start to juke the stats. They will do whatever they can to get high test scores," she says.

The ratings, which will be released in about three weeks, are important because they determine whether a school may be targeted for actions – such as a turnaround or closure. And parents are more likely to try to send their children to a highly rated school, which impacts enrollment.

Delay of PARCC?

During the public comment portion of the meeting, parent activist Wendy Katten told the board she was concerned about the state’s implementation of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (known as the PARCC), which is supposed to take place this spring.

“The issue with the PARCC test is not that it’s rigorous or challenging,” said Katten, of Raise Your Hand Illinois. “But the instructions are confusing, and the answers are often vague.” Katten added that some parts of the computer-based version of the test are clunky.

Illinois is one of several states that are using the PARCC to comply with federal requirements related to aligning curricula to the Common Core State Standards. CPS will not consider it a high-stakes test, meaning that it will not be tied to evaluations for teachers, principals or schools.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she’s discussed the PARCC with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and both agree that there hasn’t been sufficient discussion around the piloting of it last spring. But her explanation of whether the district plans to ask the Illinois State Board of Education for some sort of waiver or delay was not totally clear.

“I’ve had additional conversations with the state superintendent and the president of the [state] board of education to say that we’d like further discussion around – and we presented why think that we should not – I’m not looking for a long-term waiver, but the opportunity for us to really to ensure that everything is in place so that our children will be the best they can be on that test,” Byrd-Bennett said.

After the meeting, Barker told reporters that school district officials from across the state have had “a number of conversations” regarding how the PARCC will be handled in the spring. Some school districts have expressed concern about the technology required to offer the assessment on computers, although there is also a paper version, while the Peru superintendent recently questioned whether states were putting too much emphasis on the test.

Barker said CPS is investigating its options but did not explain whether the district intends to seek a waiver or delay.

Meanwhile, ISBE spokesman Matthew Vanover said the state has no authority to provide a waiver or delay for the federally mandated tests.

“We did have an extensive field test this spring where about 500 districts, 1,200 schools and 110,888 students in Illinois took part in PARCC field testing,” he wrote in an e-mail to Catalyst. “The field test was a ‘practice run’ to gather input from teachers and students and to identify and correct problems with this assessment system before its first official administration in spring 2015. This field test did include the online and pen and paper versions.   These assessments are required under NCLB and we have no authority to waiver them.

NWEA analysis

Since CPS released school-level NWEA test scores a few weeks ago, it has been difficult to figure out how to analyze them. This is the first time CPS released the detailed scores and tied them to a performance policy. But the revised performance policy passed Wednesday reveals that the district is looking at the national attainment percentile—the average score of students, compared to the national average--as a measure.

Using that indicator, here are some findings:

  • Charter schools and neighborhood schools did about the same on average, while selective enrollment elementary schools and magnets did way better. Eight charter schools, including all the LEARN campuses and Alain Locke, did not provide NWEA scores.
  • The schools in Riverdale on the Far South East Side and Fuller Park on the South Side did the worst; while the schools in Edison Park and Forest Glen on the Far North Side did the best.
  • In reading, 87 schools or nearly one-fifth scored below the 10th percentile in national attainment. Ninety percent of them are mostly black and/or neighborhood schools.
  • Of the schools that scored above the 90th percentile in national attainment in reading and math and were therefore automatically given the highest rating: 28 are neighborhood schools, one is a charter school and 21 are either magnet or selective enrollment schools. Of the neighborhood schools, only one, Hefferan in West Garfield Park, is mostly black.
Categories: Urban School News

Teachers get creative to find time for professional development

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher-led trainings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building trust, camaraderie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Menu for principals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Teachers get creative to find time for professional development

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher-led trainings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building trust, camaraderie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Menu for principals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Latino Youth Alternative School teachers to vote on union contract

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Latino Youth Alternative School teachers to vote on union contract

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 09:16

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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



Categories: Urban School News

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

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 09:16

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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



Categories: Urban School News

Keeping Simeon program only a start to improving career education

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 14:14

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

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

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

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

Expand career offerings

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Keeping Simeon program only a start to improving career education

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 14:14

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

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

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

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

Expand career offerings

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Concept Charter won’t open in Chatham this fall

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 17:26

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

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

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

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

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

History of setbacks, controversy

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Concept Charter won’t open in Chatham this fall

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 17:26

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

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

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

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

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

History of setbacks, controversy

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 08:54

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

State delays requirement for teachers of preschool English learners

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 15:19

The Illinois State Board of Education voted on Wednesday to delay a requirement for preschool teachers to obtain additional qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English.

The decision comes three months after ISBE first put the proposed delay to public comment. The requirement was supposed to kick in on July 1, but now teachers of preschool students who are learning English will have until July 2016 to get endorsed in either bilingual education or English as a Second Language instruction.

ISBE asked for the delay because school districts were simply unable to find enough fully qualified staff for their preschool programs to work with English language learners (ELLs).

“A lot of personnel don’t have that endorsement,” said Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education during Wednesday’s board meeting. “At the very minimum we need these to be adopted to give schools more flexibility [in meeting the requirement].”

Most of the 23 public comments on the proposed rule change agreed with the delay, although many commenters “pointed out that it is cost-prohibitive for currently employed early childhood teachers or bilingual education teachers to complete preparation programs for the endorsement that they lack.”

The board also took a step on Wednesday toward creating a set of standards for the state’s “seal of bi-literacy” for graduating high school students who attain a high level of proficiency in a language other than English. After California and New York, Illinois became the third state in the nation to approve such a program last year.

Starting this fall, districts that opt into the program will certify graduates’ diplomas and transcripts if they attain “intermediate high” proficiency or better on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages assessment.

“This is a great way to support bilingualism and multiculturalism in the state,” Koch explained. “This is starting to see dual language as a valuable thing.”

The proposal now goes to a public comment period before the board takes a final vote.

Categories: Urban School News

State delays requirement for teachers of preschool English learners

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 15:19

The Illinois State Board of Education voted on Wednesday to delay a requirement for preschool teachers to obtain additional qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English.

The decision comes three months after ISBE first put the proposed delay to public comment. The requirement was supposed to kick in on July 1, but now teachers of preschool students who are learning English will have until July 2016 to get endorsed in either bilingual education or English as a Second Language instruction.

ISBE asked for the delay because school districts were simply unable to find enough fully qualified staff for their preschool programs to work with English language learners (ELLs).

“A lot of personnel don’t have that endorsement,” said Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education during Wednesday’s board meeting. “At the very minimum we need these to be adopted to give schools more flexibility [in meeting the requirement].”

Most of the 23 public comments on the proposed rule change agreed with the delay, although many commenters “pointed out that it is cost-prohibitive for currently employed early childhood teachers or bilingual education teachers to complete preparation programs for the endorsement that they lack.”

The board also took a step on Wednesday toward creating a set of standards for the state’s “seal of bi-literacy” for graduating high school students who attain a high level of proficiency in a language other than English. After California and New York, Illinois became the third state in the nation to approve such a program last year.

Starting this fall, districts that opt into the program will certify graduates’ diplomas and transcripts if they attain “intermediate high” proficiency or better on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages assessment.

“This is a great way to support bilingualism and multiculturalism in the state,” Koch explained. “This is starting to see dual language as a valuable thing.”

The proposal now goes to a public comment period before the board takes a final vote.

Categories: Urban School News

State delays requirement for teaching preschool English learners

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 15:19

The Illinois State Board of Education voted on Wednesday to delay a requirement for preschool teachers to obtain additional qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English.

The decision comes three months after ISBE first put the proposed delay to public comment. The requirement was supposed to kick in on July 1, but now teachers of preschool students who are learning English will have until July 2016 to get endorsed in either bilingual education or English as a Second Language instruction.

ISBE asked for the delay because school districts were simply unable to find enough fully qualified staff for their preschool programs to work with English language learners (ELLs).

“A lot of personnel don’t have that endorsement,” said Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education during Wednesday’s board meeting. “At the very minimum we need these to be adopted to give schools more flexibility [in meeting the requirement].”

Most of the 23 public comments on the proposed rule change agreed with the delay, although many commenters “pointed out that it is cost-prohibitive for currently employed early childhood teachers or bilingual education teachers to complete preparation programs for the endorsement that they lack.”

The board also took a step on Wednesday toward creating a set of standards for the state’s “seal of bi-literacy” for graduating high school students who attain a high level of proficiency in a language other than English. After California and New York, Illinois became the third state in the nation to approve such a program last year.

Starting this fall, districts that opt into the program will certify graduates’ diplomas and transcripts if they attain “intermediate high” proficiency or better on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages assessment.

“This is a great way to support bilingualism and multiculturalism in the state,” Koch explained. “This is starting to see dual language as a valuable thing.”

The proposal now goes to a public comment period before the board takes a final vote.

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: Torres

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 13:32

Jose Torres has been named president of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, succeeding Catherine Veal, who served as interim president after Dr. Glenn W. “Max” McGee retired last summer. Torres is leaving his position of the past 6 years as superintendent of the U-46 Elgin School District.  Previously he was regional superintendent for Area 14 in the Chicago Public Schools, where he oversaw 25 schools with more than 14,000 students.

Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catayst Community Editor Vicki Jones: vjones@catalyst-chicago.org

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: Torres

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 13:32

Jose Torres has been named president of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, succeeding Catherine Veal, who served as interim president after Dr. Glenn W. “Max” McGee retired last summer. Torres is leaving his position of the past 6 years as superintendent of the U-46 Elgin School District.  Previously he was regional superintendent for Area 14 in the Chicago Public Schools, where he oversaw 25 schools with more than 14,000 students.

Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catayst Community Editor Vicki Jones: vjones@catalyst-chicago.org

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Safe Passage expansion, closed, vacant buildings and more on Concept

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 08:55

A meeting of parents and community members about a shooting in North Lawndale spurred CPS officials to finally divulge some information about how they plan to expand the Safe Passage program. In presenting the 2014-15 budget in July, officials said they would expand Safe Passage by $1 million to $10 million, but they did not say where the new routes would be. The Sun-Times now reports that a big part of the expansion will go to schools that received a lot of students from closed schools even though they were not officially designated as so-called welcoming schools. Four of the new schools getting new routes are, indeed, in North Lawndale. They are Penn, Crown, Mason and Lawndale. The other two are Langford in West Englewood and Metcalfe in West Pullman.

The Safe Passage program pays community organizations and churches to hire workers to stand along blocks where children walk to and from school to make sure they are safe. The program was started in 2009 by former CPS CEO Ron Huberman as part of his big safety initiative called Culture of Calm. For the first few year, the routes were only to and from high schools. The Safe Passage program was expanded last year to watch over students as they went from closed schools to new ones. There were no major incidents along the routes last year, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS officials credit the program.

About 60 percent of students from closed schools went to welcoming schools, which recieved extra resources. Parents in North Lawndale spurned welcoming schools more than parents in other communities, especially in the case of Paderewski, whose students were directed to two predominantly Latino schools in Little Village but chose predominantly black schools in North Lawndale instead.

2. About those closed schools… Fox News has a story about the condition of the schools closed last year. One of the big concerns when the closings were announced was that they would leave more eyesores in neighborhoods that already had too many. Also, neighbors worried that they would attract trouble. It seems like these fears are coming  true. King Elementary has become a hang out, Armstrong has broken windows, the playground at Henson is littered with a decaying mattress, and Paderewski was tagged with graffiti. Chief Operating Officer Tom Tyrrell says CPS has a roving group of engineers and custodians checking on the closed buildings.

Meanwhile, The Chicago Tribune weighs in with a story on CPS efforts to unload the schools. At least 57 buildings sit vacant--36 from 2013 closings and 21 of 29 that were put on the market in 2012. The article notes that CPS has asked aldermen to hold meetings to take the pulse of the community, but scheduling those meetings can be difficult. So far, community members have resisted bringing charter or alternative schools into vacant buildings.

DNAinfo has a story about Peabody in gentrifyng West Town.  There are more than 20 bidders for the school, including a tech firm and a developer interested in putting condos in it. However, the community would like to see the building taken over by the Northwestern Settlement House, a 120-year-old social service organization.

3. Also on school closings… The Chicago Students Union, a group that emerged last year in response to the mass school closings, is holding a press conference and protest march on Monday. The students are demanding an elected school board. They are also are working with ChicagoVotes to get students registered to vote.

Students from Whitney Young, Payton and Prosser are among the leaders of the group. In their press release, they say they met with CPS board member Jesse Ruiz to tell him that Prosser students were using 20-year-old books, though $100,000 was left in discretionary funds. They also met with CPS’ official Student Advisory Board to propose a system for students to communicate their concerns to district officials.

Catalyst will be live tweeting the press conference and march. Follow us at @CatalystChicago

4. More on Concept Charter schools… The Chicago Sun Times has a story about the FBI’s investigation into Concept Charter Schools. That’s the charter network whose Chicago and other Midwestern locations were raided earlier this year by the FBI. Concept runs three schools in Chicago and is set to open another two this year. A location change hearing for one of the schools will be held Tuesday evening.

When Concept was raided, its officials said the feds were investigating the federal e-rate program, which helps schools pay for Internet access and computers. The program requires competitive bidding, but, according to records, Concept funneled almost $1 million to three businesses run by men who had previous relationships with Concept. For example, Core Group Inc. got $550,000. Core Group Inc. in Mt. Prospect was started by a founding board member of Concept.

Concept Schools is run by Turkish immigrants and connected to the Turkish Gulen movement. An artcile in the Atlantic argues that the problems with the 120-some charter schools connected to the Turkish Gulen movement in the United States stem from the transparency problems with charter schools in general. (Many have run into issues around how they award contracts and use the public money.)

The Concept schools also have been sharply criticized for spending money to pay the immigration costs to bring Turkish teachers to teach at their schools. The article notes that some of this criticism smacks of xenophobia. The Turkish Gulen movement has been praised for providing schools around the world that focus on academics and not religious ideology--a rare institution in places like Pakistan. Quoting Diane Ravitch, a prominent educaiton researcher who is critical of chartes, the article notes that the charter school movement has fought to keep its books and dealings under cover. “In other words, it isn’t the Gülen movement that makes Gülen charter schools so secretive. It’s the charter school movement itself,” it says.  


5. By now… Most people have taken in the Chicago Tribune poll the gave Mayor Rahm Emanuel dismal ratings on his school performance. It showed that two-thirds of respondents side with the Chicago Teachers Union in how to improve schools and disapprove of Emanuel’s handling of CPS. What’s more, most respondents--poor or rich, black or white--are not keen on the idea of neighborhood schools being stripped of money, while charter schools get more.

The poll is interesting because respondents have a such a negative reaction to Emanuel doing exactly what he said he would do. Read an education questionnaire Emanuel filled out when he was still a candidate. He says he would lengthen the school day and, in response to a question about whether he would close schools, he says that he would take “drastic measures… to ensure our children are getting the education they deserve.” In so many words, he also says he would replicate charter schools that are working.

Categories: Urban School News

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