A follow-up study of students who attended the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s Educare early childhood center show promising results—for parents as well as students.
Among the findings:
-- Graduates are outscoring their classmates on the reading portion of the ISAT: 67 percent of Educare students now in elementary school passed the reading portion of the ISAT, compared to 57 percent of a comparison group of students in the same schools.
-- In both preschool and 3rd grade, students scored higher than the national average on measures of social-emotional learning.
-- On a vocabulary test, students scored slightly lower than the national average but did just as well, compared to other students nationwide, as they had in preschool.
-- Fewer than half of the students who received special services at Educare still needed those services in elementary school.
A hallmark of the Educare program is a focus on helping parents find the best elementary school for their children, as well as helping children make a successful transition into kindergarten.
Educare has begun to focus on sending children to better schools. The percentage of students attending neighborhood schools shrank from 66 percent in year 1 of the study to 38 percent in year 6 of the study, when 62 percent of students went to charter, contract or magnet schools.
Portia Kennel, senior vice president of program innovation at the Ounce of Prevention Fund, says the experience of participating in Educare sets up families to continue building social relationships and accumulating “social capital” after they leave the program.
“We are creating a culture of parents who are armed out there to make sure their child gets the best education, and see themselves as responsible,” Kennel says.
The study also found, however, that some parents have struggled with schools that don’t value their input – and with helping students with homework once it gets more complicated.
Parents of Educare graduates, Kennel said, have now started an alumni network to continue the support they received in the program.
Elgin Area School District U-46 will offer tuition-based, full-day kindergarten next year in a pilot program that could be expanded later, according to the Daily Herald.
SHOOTING DRILLS: In this State of the State address, Gov. Pat Quinn called for all of the state’s schools to hold annual drills to help students prepare for the possibility of a school shooting. (CBS Chicago)
IN THE NATION
STILL OVERRATED: In Michigan, 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better under new teacher-evaluation systems recently put in place. In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or better. Principals in Tennessee judged 98 percent of teachers to be "at expectations" or better last school year, while evaluators in Georgia gave good reviews to 94 percent of teachers taking part in a pilot evaluation program. Those results, among the first trickling out from states' newly revamped yardsticks, paint a picture of a K-12 system that remains hesitant to differentiate between the best and the weakest performers—as well as among all those in the middle doing a solid job who still have room to improve. (Education Week)
A DESEGREGATION ODYSSEY: A federal judge approved a plan on Wednesday intended to lift a longstanding desegregation order in the Tucson Unified School District that has served as a reason and an excuse for a lot that has gone wrong in the district over the past decades: shrinking enrollment, sliding graduation rates and insistent dropout rates. (The New York Times)
LOATHING 'BELOVED': A Fairfax County parent, Laura Murphy, wants the Pulitzer Prize-wining Toni Morrison novel, "Beloved," removed from classrooms. Murphy said the novel depicts scenes of bestiality, gang rape and an infant’s gruesome murder, content she believes could be too intense for teenage readers. (The Washington Post)
Chicago Public Schools principals will have to meet a more rigorous set of benchmarks this year to collect bonuses of up to $20,000, district officials said Wednesday, according to the Tribune.
Half of the criteria for financial bonuses will be based on higher student test scores. The other half will be based on qualitative information on how well a principal is running the school.
TESTING BACKLASH: CPS Parents at more than 30 schools around Chicago circulated petitions Wednesday demanding that schools scale back on standardized testing. (Catalyst)
PRINCIPAL RECRUITING: The $10 million Chicago Leadership Collaborative is training 75 principal candidates to be ready to take the helm at a school this fall. Yet CPS leadership is not quite sure how many job openings will be available. (Catalyst)
PARENTS AND ALDERMEN: Three Chicago aldermen are joining parents and community residents in a call to keep a Logan Square school open. Brentano Math and Science Academy is among more than 100 schools on a list for possible closing by Chicago Public Schools because it is considered “underutilized.” (WBEZ)
COMMUNITY MEETING: CPS will hold a community meeting on school utilization from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at Our Lady of Peace Rectory, 7851 S. Jeffrey Blvd.
IN THE STATE
STRIKE ENDS: Students of West Chicago Elementary School District 33 are due back in class Thursday morning after teachers came to a tentative agreement with the school board overnight. (Tribune)
DEAL REACHED: The Barrington 220 Board of Education and the Barrington Education Association have come to terms on a three-year deal, according to a joint statement released Wednesday. (Barrington Courier-Review)
IN THE NATION
EVALUATION HURDLES: School districts around the country are facing obstacles as they attempt to finalize new teacher evaluation systems in time for the 2013-14 school year. At least 30 states have passed laws requiring new evaluation systems, but many cities are experiencing pushback from teachers and unions, particularly on requirements to include student test scores as a part of a teacher’s rating. (Hechinger Report)
The $10 million Chicago Leadership Collaborative is training 75 principal candidates to be ready to take the helm at a school this fall. Yet CPS leadership is not quite sure how many job openings will be available.
After a large number of principals retired last year, Chief Talent Officer Alicia Winckler says it is hard for her to predict how many will be leaving this year. She noted that she will know more about principal vacancies once decisions are made about which schools will be closed.
With schools closing and more than 450 candidates already on the eligibility list, the need for new candidates might not be clear--- but this year, when 159 principals left because of an expiring early retirement program, 25 local school councils couldn’t find a principal they wanted to hire. Catalyst reported on the collaborative, first announced last year by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in its Fall 2012 issue of Catalyst In Depth.
On Wednesday, Winckler provided more information on the collaborative, one of five principal leadership initiatives touted Wednesday. The other four initiatives are new evaluations, mandated by the state and announced earlier this year; revamped support, including leadership development for new principals and targeted training for more experienced principals; a revamped eligibility process; and Principal Achievement Awards that will provide up to $20,000 for principals whose schools meet specific improvement criteria that are now tougher to achieve. Last October, Emanuel announced similar performance bonuses for 82 principals
Overall, the district’s goal is to have “strong and effective” principals in place at every school by the 2014-2015 school year.
A “day in the life” of a principal
Rather than take principals from a variety of training programs, the leadership collaborative is focusing on four and is meeting with them regularly to make sure that the programs and CPS are aligned. CPS expects 100 principals a year will be trained.
The new eligibility process will include undergoing a “day in the life” of a principal. In this mock environment, principals will not only be confronted with the standard duties of being a principal--such as meeting with staff and reviewing data--but also with the unexpected, such as handling an upset parent.
“We are really trying to mirror the complexity of being a principal,” Winckler says.
To show that they can work with communities, principals will have to lead mock LSC or parent meetings.
Winckler says that LSCs will be given some indication of the areas in which candidates performed well in the eligibility process and the areas in which they showed some weaknesses. Also, CPS officials are taking pains to get these candidates in front of LSCs, who ultimately still have the power to choose principals.
The candidates have been introduced to network chiefs, who work in tandem with local school councils, Winckler says. In the spring, the candidates also will be brought in to meet with LSCs.
In recent years, CPS has made it increasingly difficult to become eligible for the principalship. The district is also introducing new state-mandated evaluations that include student test scores as one component. On Wednesday, Winkler released a breakdown of how much each measure will count in principal evaluations. (See pdf below.)
Parents at Coonley and Ray elementary schools were among those at more than 30 schools around Chicago who circulated petitions today demanding that schools scale back on standardized testing.
They’re demanding an end to testing in preschool through 2nd grade, and fewer tests for older students. They also want the district to offer an accounting of the instruction time and money that is spent on test prep and test-taking.
The petition gathering was organized by the anti-testing More than a Score campaign, a coalition of the Chicago Teachers Union, Parents United for Responsible Education, Raise Your Hand, and Parents 4 Teachers. The union has long been opposed to the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations, but new teacher evaluations incorporate a test-score component.
It is part of a national day of action to support teachers in Seattle who are boycotting the Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, which CPS also uses. The test has recently been criticized because a U.S. Department of Education study found that its use had no effect on 4th- and 5th-grade students’ reading achievement.
CPS schools use the test two to three times a year, and it is one that has come in for criticism. At the January board meeting, teacher Anne Carlson, who teaches 4th- through 6th-grade at Drummond Montessori, cited the research and said testing in Chicago amounted to child abuse. Kindergarteners, she said, take as many as 14 district-mandated tests a year.
Dramatic changes are coming to the testing landscape in Chicago and Illinois. The Illinois State Board of Education plans to raise the cut-off scores on the ISAT test and test scores are virtually certain to plummet across the board as a result. In 2014, new tests based on the Common Core Standards are expected to replace the ISAT, and scores on these tests are also expected, at least initially, to paint a dim picture of student achievement.
“Let’s play school…let’s play DIBELS”
Parent Rhoda Rae Gutierrez, who helped organize the petition gathering at Coonley, complains that her children even take tests when they are playing. “My older daughter, who is 8, said to my 5-year-old, ‘Hey, let’s play school… let’s play DIBELS,” Gutierrez said (DIBELS is an early literacy test.) “Teachers are put in a really awkward position of having to balance the district mandates with trying to provide a quality education.”
Julie Greenberg, whose son is in 2nd grade at Coonley, said that now that winter break has passed and the ISAT is approaching, “You can see the content of the homework is changing. It’s fill-in-the-bubble homework. I think we all know that’s not the best way our children learn.”
Others complain that for gifted students, testing takes away from the accelerated program. “They are re-hashing what they did a year ago,” said Coonley parent Steve Johnson, also a local school council member at Amundsen High School, who signed the petition. Johnson has one child in the school’s gifted program and another in the neighborhood program.
Parent Joy Clendenning had little luck getting signatures at Kenwood Academy High School, where few parents got out of their cars. But at Ray Elementary, she found more signers including Aisha Mays, who was dropping off a 1st-grade student. Mays quickly understood what Clendenning was petitioning against.
“I hate standardized testing,” Mays said. “I think it is stupid.”
Mays went onto say that she never performed well on standardized tests, but that had little bearing on her ability to make it through school and get a good job.
Clendenning, who has two children at Ray and two who have graduated, tells Mays that she knows her son’s 1st-grade teacher well and that she would trust her, as a professional, to get an accurate read on where her son is without a standardized test. Mays agrees, noting that the teacher comes early every Wednesday to provide extra help in reading for her son.
Not all parents at Ray signed the petition on the spot. Many wanted to take the information and read it. Some of them are concerned that, if they were to opt out of the testing, it would hurt the school and their child’s teacher.
Sabrina Miller, another parent at Ray who stopped to talk to Clendenning, said she never had a problem with testing. “It puts me in a mind frame of where my child is at,” she said. Before talking to Clendenning, Miller said she never thought about the drain that tests have on instructional time or on the district’s money. She decided to sign the petition.
A group of Chicago parents is mounting an effort to get CPS to limit standardized testing and provide more transparency about the costs, amount and stakes of the 22 tests now being administered in the district. They've launched a website and a petition.
PARENTS PETITION: As a group of public school parents petition to cut their children’s standardized tests, the Chicago Teachers Union denounced what they call “abusive” testing in Chicago Public Schools. Parents behind the website MoreThanAScoreChicago.org will circulate petitions near at least 36 public schools asking the Board of Education to limit testing and provide more details about the cost and stakes of the 22 tests now used in the district. (Sun-Times)
MISSING HISTORY: Some local activists are concerned about the lack of African American history education in Chicago Public Schools, saying the district hasn’t ensured that district schools offer students enough education about black history or literature. (WBEZ)
CUTTING TIES: Following in the footsteps of Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills School District 181, Hinsdale Township High School District 86 is moving closer to cutting its ties with the La Grange Area Department of Special Education (LADSE) cooperative — a move that means it would educate special needs students on its own. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
COPYRIGHT PROPOSAL: A proposal by the Prince George’s County Board of Education to copyright work created by staff and students for school could mean that a picture drawn by a first-grader, a lesson plan developed by a teacher or an app created by a teen would belong to the school system, not the individual. (The Washington Post)
HOLD THE CUTS: President Barack Obama is calling on Congress to temporarily delay a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts set to hit federal K-12 education spending—as well as defense, criminal justice, and a whole host of other programs—on March 1. (Education Week)
Tens of thousands of young people get arrested each year in Chicago, and a lot of those arrests happen on the grounds of Chicago Public Schools, according to WBEZ. In 2011, there were about 4,600 arrests on public school grounds, or about a fifth of the 25,000 arrests of kids 17 and under that year in Chicago.
Records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show that the way several UNO charter schools were built has provided a financial boon to people close to UNO's leaders. More than one-fifth of the taxpayer money spent on the Soccer Academy Elementary project, for example, went to four contractors owned by family members of UNO’s political allies and a top executive of the group.
A proposal to start classes a week earlier for the 2013-14 academic year in Elgin Area School District U-46 drew criticism Monday night at the school board meeting. (Daily Herald)
IN THE NATION
Since a group of Seattle high school teachers decided to boycott administration of a computerized exam in December, their protest has been embraced by opponents of high-stakes testing as a call to nationwide action. (Education Week)
A new study from the Dallas-based George W. Bush Institute finds most states have little or no information about how their principals are prepared, licensed, supported, and evaluated. (Education Week)
Elementary schools in West Chicago are closed Monday as District 33 teachers begin to strike, the district announced, after a union representing the district's teachers had rejected the district's latest contract offer late Sunday night. (Tribune)
Jennifer Cheatham, chief instruction officer for CPS who helped create a uniform academic calendar and extend the school day, is a finalist for the superintendent job in Madison, Wis. (Tribune)
SHOE TAX: A newly introduced bill, sponsored by Rep. Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest), would impose a 25-cent tax on the purchase of athletic shoes to fund supporting Illinois YouthBuild — a non-profit with 16 programs in the state that provide job training for disadvantaged youth. (Sun-Times)
IN THE NATION
RINGLEADER INDICTED: Federal prosecutors have indicted Clarence Mumford, a Memphis teacher, assistant principal and guidance counselor, on being the mastermind behind a teacher certification test cheating ring. (The New York Times)
COMMON CORE BACKLASH: Opponents of the Common Core State Standards are ramping up pressure to get states to scale back—or even scrap—the effort, even as implementation moves ahead. (Education Week)
CHARTER CAUTION: Following a study released last week by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University that suggests that the standards used by the charter authorizers to judge school performance are terribly weak, The New York Times says states that are in a hurry to expand charter schools should proceed carefully.
POST-NEWTOWN SECURITY: Emporia, Kan., is arming guards in middle and high schools, the first step in a broader update of school security measures. (USAToday)
RESIDENCIES FOR TEACHERS: The Denver Teacher Residency is using a program that trains new teachers by using a model based on medical residencies and recruiting from the corporate world. The program offers monthly stipends, tuition reimbursement, and priority status for a teaching job. (The Denver Post)
The sign taped on the door says “No Boys Allowed.” Inside the room, donuts and small, white Styrofoam cups of orange juice and water sit on a desk.
Several young women slowly walk in with a look of consternation on their faces. “It is critical down there,” says one.
“That is crazy,” says another.
Teacher Magen Kilcoyne, whose curly, sandy-colored hair is pulled back and who is dressed in black cargo pants and a black “Bowen Class of 2012” T-shirt, shakes her head as she plops down copies of author Nathan McCall’s book “Makes Me Wanna Holler” on everyone’s desk.
“The boys were at it again,” she says, with a quick roll of the eyes.
Earlier, during lunch, a massive food fight in the cafeteria turned into a brawl. Police were called in, and some students were carted off in two paddy wagons. Principal Jennifer Kirmes says it was Bowen’s worst day so far this year in terms of school climate.
Jasmine Bennett, one of the girls in Mrs. K’s girls-only book club, says she stood against the wall, terrified, as students climbed up on tables and jumped off onto other students’ heads.
Though a fight is disturbing any day, it is especially disappointing that it happened on a Wednesday, a day that Kirmes is trying to make special. On that day, students take a break from their regular classes and pick from special classes that include options like robotics, journalism, chorus, recycling and the book club run by Kilcoyne.
The new initiative gives students at Bowen at least some exposure to the kind of electives that more elite schools routinely offer. Wednesday is also a day during which students can make up credits or attend group therapy to help them cope with problems such as managing anger or trauma.
“Intervention and extension,” says Kirmes, describing the initiative. Though it’s new, students have responded, coming to school more regularly not only on Wednesdays but Thursdays as well.
Without the initiative, Bowen’s course offerings are bare-bones. Every class is one that will count toward graduation requirements.
Within Chicago Public Schools, high school course offerings vary drastically—from paltry, as at Bowen, to robust, as at Walter Payton on the Near North Side. The type and size of the school and the skill level of incoming students are factors that drive the disparity. Bowen is a neighborhood high school with just 522 students, most of them with lower-level skills.
The most drastic dissimilarities are between high schools in impoverished neighborhoods with dwindling populations and selective enrollment high schools in more middle-class communities.
Payton, a selective enrollment school, has a 27-page, full-color catalog of course offerings. In it, students can read descriptions of courses ranging from 20th Century Global Conflicts to Advanced Jazz Band to a physics class focused on electricity and magnetism.
Payton also offers an all- honors curriculum for freshmen and sophomores; in junior and senior year, students can move into Advanced Placement classes.
“The complexity of the texts is pretty significant,” says Principal Ted Devine. “They are college-level.”
Meanwhile, at Bowen, the course offerings are summed up on one page. Other than the special Wednesday classes, the electives are sparse, mostly reserved for seniors and straightforward, like creative writing.
Kirmes says the staff is “toying” with the idea of an honors program, but some teachers do not believe in tracking students. Until two years ago, Bowen was split into small schools, some offering honors tracks.
Most of Bowen’s incoming freshmen score a 12 (out of a possible 25) on the Explore, the standardized test that is the precursor to the ACT. The score puts Bowen among the bottom 10 in the district on this measure, with only eight other high schools posting worse scores.
“There are very few exceptions,” Kirmes says. “There will be maybe one 16.”
Bowen does offer several Advanced Placement classes, but teachers lament that students are not prepared for them.
During her regular history classes, Kilcoyne covers the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark case Plessy v. Ferguson and the fallacy of separate but equal schooling. She points out that so much of what she teaches is still relevant today.
Kilcoyne once brought a group of young women from Bowen to Payton for a tour. Not only did students seem to be learning entirely different, more rigorous content, but the school environment was the polar opposite of Bowen’s.
Payton was built in 2000 and has state-of-the-art equipment, while Bowen was built in 1910 and needs $38 million in repairs. Bowen’s disrepair is obvious, with broken ceiling tiles, old peeling paint and classrooms that are either too warm or too cold.
For the first time, Kilcoyne says, the young women realized how different one school can be from another. They were stunned.
“The conditions here are subpar,” Kilcoyne says. “This wouldn’t fly at Jones or Payton. It breaks my heart. It makes me want to cry.”
At smaller neighborhood schools like Bowen, programmers have an increasingly hard time offering a variety of classes. If students need remedial coursework, such as a double period of reading or math, it often fills the time they would otherwise spend on art, music or other electives. Many students don’t start working on their required language and art classes until junior year—too late for them to dive into these subjects if they discover a propensity for them.
CPS does not keep or review high school course catalogs on a centralized basis. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS officials have seemingly realized how inconsistent course offerings are and how neighborhood schools fall short. A push is on to level the playing field.
They designated five schools as STEM Early College schools, giving students an opportunity to go to accelerated math and science classes and eventually take community college classes. Also, Emanuel announced that he was expanding IB offerings. Five schools will become “wall-to-wall” IB schools, while five more will add separate IB programs.
The ultimate goal of the IB program is for students to earn a full-fledged IB diploma. CPS does not currently track how many students in existing IB programs earn the diplomas, according to a response from a Freedom of Information request.
Jasmine Bennett did not expect to attend Bowen. She planned to go to a private Catholic school. Then, her mother lost her job and couldn’t afford it. But like many students at even the worst schools, Jasmine tries hard and has carved out a niche for herself.
This school year, she started an initiative with her friends to encourage students to say five positive things to five teachers. The only rule is that the compliments must be truthful. “So you can’t tell them they look nice, if they don’t,” Jasmine says. “They react with a huge smile.”
Jasmine says she started the project because she imagines it is difficult to work at Bowen.
Now a junior, Jasmine has gotten serious about her studies. She spends about an hour every day doing homework, usually staying after school because once at home, she forgets what work she needs to do.
She and her two friends are clearly treated specially in the school. One Friday, two days after the big food fight, they bypass the cafeteria and instead head to the counselors’ offices to see if they can share the counselors’ stash of food.
No one has anything for them this day, so the young women are forced to go to the cafeteria. Because of the food fight, no hot food is being served. Instead, they get trays with apples, milk and packaged graham cracker-and-peanut butter sandwiches.
After the quick lunch, the girls escape the noisy cafeteria to go to the college coach’s office, where they hang out until their next class. Jasmine talks about college trips she made. Only seniors are supposed to be college ambassadors, but she is an honorary one.
Jasmine says she doesn’t think that she is missing anything academically by attending Bowen. Her teachers know better.
Thinking of one bright young man, Kilcoyne says she worries that he is not being challenged because of the lack of experience writing essays. Instead of a lot of writing, Kilcoyne focuses on discussions in her classes. “Everyone can express their opinion,” she explains.
Tonda Tyre, who teaches Bowen’s AP literature and language classes, also says she is constantly modifying her lessons to make them doable for students, even though AP wants teachers to stick to standard curricula.
By the time students take her AP classes, few are working at an advanced level. This school year, she says, teachers got together for the first time to talk about tackling the problem by aligning content from one grade to the next.
Kirmes told Tyre she could weed out some of the students who signed up for AP, but she didn’t want to do it. She asked the students if anyone wanted to leave and avoid the harder work. “None of them wanted to go,” Tyre says.
Still, not all of the students have stepped up to the challenge. Tyre says she constantly weighs expectations against reality. She models how assignments should be done and makes a big deal out of it whenever a student does something right.
One day, she asks students to turn in their vocabulary notebook, where they are expected to list new words they have come across and the definitions. Not one student takes a notebook out. After a quiz, several students start going through dictionaries, feverishly writing down words they don’t know.
Seeing this, Tyre sighs. She gives them until Monday to turn in the notebooks.
Every year, a high-stakes gamble begins.
Parents across Chicago take their children to be tested for selective elementary schools and programs, the first step in a potentially make-or-break scenario. The district has 16 schools and programs for gifted students starting as kindergarteners—plus 10 more for older elementary students—and these schools and programs send large numbers of students on to the district’s gems: the selective high schools that invariably score at the top of the heap on state achievement tests and offer students a broad array of rigorous courses, engaging electives and enriching after-school activities.
Although the outcome is high-stakes, the scenario is not really much of a gamble. The odds are overwhelmingly in favor of children from higher-income families, who are disproportionately more likely to take the test and secure admission to gifted programs, according to an analysis in this issue of Catalyst In Depth. The trend is most apparent at the elementary level, the analysis found: Children who live in the highest-income census tracts are four times more likely to take the test for elementary gifted programs than children from the lowest-income tracts.
The analysis provides clear evidence of the opportunity gap: Lower-income children, most of them black and brown, are more likely to be shut out of the chance to attend elementary schools that offer rich curricula and would give them the best shot at gaining admission to top high schools. Students of color end up playing catch-up in a game that’s rigged against them from the start and favors students whose parents have more knowledge and financial means to give their children advantages at the starting gate.
The definition of what constitutes “giftedness” is not clear-cut, but science is clear on one point: Innate intelligence or talent is not determined by race or family income. A child living in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood is just as likely to have advanced intellectual capacity, or strong artistic or musical talent, as a child of the Gold Coast or Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Too often in education, higher-income students benefit from the Lake Wobegon effect: They all end up above average, no matter where they start out.
In contrast, lower-income children are likely to fall further behind even when they start out ahead. A 2010 report, “The Achievement Trap,” analyzed data from three national longitudinal studies and found high-achieving, low-income 1st-graders were more likely to fall behind academically compared to high-achieving children from wealthier backgrounds.
Stuck in schools with meager resources and classrooms with lackluster teaching, the low-income students quickly became bored, their potential going untapped.
* * *
Sometimes, small-scale efforts can change the equation.
Under former CEO Ron Huberman, the district was freed from a long-standing federal consent decree on desegregation. For years, the decree had maintained diversity at its most elite high schools by capping the percentage of seats awarded to white students. Once the decree was lifted, though, Huberman feared the schools would become too homogeneous and pioneered an initiative that gave 100 seats to promising students from the district’s lowest-achieving, virtually all-black elementary schools.
CPS has quietly continued Huberman’s initiative. Not every student to be offered a spot has accepted it. Not every student who accepted a spot has stayed on. Among the first group of students, now juniors, 20 percent transferred out to other schools.
The young people who persevered, despite being woefully underprepared academically, told Catalyst Chicago that their experience has been life-changing.
One young man, who chafed at the strict discipline of his elementary school, appreciates the more relaxed, creative atmosphere at Whitney Young. “I am not a bad kid,” he says. “I just don’t appreciate restrictions.”
Another young man, initially “freaked out” by the low grades he received on his first progress report, reached out to teachers for help and gave up his spot on the basketball team to devote more time to his studies. “I just thought to myself, if I try hard, I can do it,” he says.
Small-scale initiatives cannot be expected to erase broader inequities. The district is trying to level the playing field for students who end up in neighborhood high schools—offering more Advanced Placement classes, International Baccalaureate curricula and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs. The large-scale success of these plans is still a question mark, however.
What’s not in doubt is that students—including young black men, who are too often stigmatized and stereotyped as loud, unruly and unintelligent—are eager to excel and looking for a challenge.
A chance for a good education shouldn’t be a high-stakes gamble.
In 2008, a federal judge freed CPS from the dictates of a long-standing desegregation decree that had kept at least some racial balance in the district’s elite selective schools.
To try and maintain that balance in four selective high schools—Walter Payton, Jones, Northside College Prep and Whitney Young, bar-none the best high schools in the city—CPS officials started a program that offers seats to promising black students from the district’s worst elementary schools, who otherwise would not have qualified for admission.
The district has quietly kept the initiative going and expanded it to Lane and Lindblom. At the same time, the diversity at the top selective high schools has shifted. Since 2005, the number of Latino students in CPS has increased by 7 percent, but the number at these selective schools has only risen by 2 percent.
And in 2005, black students made up about 24 percent of students in the North Side selective high schools. Now, black students comprise about 17 percent, a figure that would fall to 15 percent without the diversity initiative.
The first cohort of students in this special program are now juniors and though some of them floundered academically, many have adjusted to the demands of a top high school.
Anthony Wiggins, a tall young man now given to wearing argyle sweaters and other preppy clothing, says he feels he is better off for attending Whitney Young instead of his neighborhood school on the far Southeast Side. But nearly every semester at Whitney Young has been difficult for him, and Anthony longed to be better-prepared.
“I was totally freaked out,” he recalls, talking about the geometry class he took during a summer freshman orientation. “I had never seen this before in my life.”
When classes began, everyone else seemed to be at least a year ahead of him.
For students like Anthony, the disparity in preparation starts even before elementary school, when parents take their 4-year-olds to be tested for gifted and classical elementary schools. These schools, as well as some North Side magnet schools, serve as major feeders into the North Side selective high schools, a report by WBEZ revealed last year. More than half of CPS elementary schools do not send any graduating 8th-graders to these selective schools.
In fact, a Catalyst Chicago analysis found that children living in high-income census tracts were four times more likely to take the test for gifted and classical schools than children in low-income areas—even though research has found that intellectually gifted children are no more likely to be rich than poor. By the time students go to high school, more lower-income students apply for selective schools—and there are more seats available—but the disparity continues: 31 of 77 community areas with low application and acceptance rates for selective enrollment elementary schools continued to have low rates for high schools. (See charts.)
While diversity is a goal, some of the selective enrollments were opened with the intent of trying to keep the middle class in Chicago, says Timothy Devine, principal of Walter Payton College Prep.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley and his then-schools CEO Paul Vallas “were trying to combat the brain drain that occurred at 7th or 8th grade,” Devine says. “We are meeting the needs of highly discerning students and parents.”
Devine points out that these schools also attract teachers from better schools of education, teachers who otherwise might not consider teaching in CPS.
But Donna Ford, education professor at Vanderbilt-Peabody College, says that under-representation is a pervasive problem, not just for poor black and Latino children but also for children from middle-class families. Tests used for admissions can be biased, and some black and Latino parents and students shy away from gifted schools that are not diverse.
“The question is: ‘Who are the gatekeepers for parents to know about these programs?’” she says. “Black and Hispanic parents are rarely told about them. There is a lack of access to information.”
Katie Ellis, CPS’ executive director of access and enrollment, says that her staff has in recent years stepped up efforts to reach out to parents. Before, the staff would wait to be invited to schools and other venues; now they invite themselves, making sure to hit a variety of places.
This year, for the first time, Ellis’ office has “trained the trainers,” reaching out to social workers, day care workers and others in the community who interact with parents, giving these workers information to pass along to parents.
The consequences can be devastating for advanced students who, for whatever reason, fail to get into a gifted program, Ford says. She equates it to children with learning disabilities who do not get the right support.
A 2010 report called “The Achievement Trap” found that high-achieving, low-income 1st-graders were significantly more likely to lose that status by 5th grade than their wealthier peers who had more educational opportunities.
Later, they were twice as likely to drop out.
“They become bored, disengaged, unmotivated,” Ford says. “They also might act out because they don’t have work to fill the time.”
Jakori Lesure was on the verge of becoming one of those children.
Jakori says he never took a test to get into elementary school. He does not think his mother even knew about gifted or classical programs. She sent him to Catalyst-Howland Charter School, not because it was necessarily better than his neighborhood school, but because it was closer. Jakori was part of the first class to graduate from Catalyst-Howland in Austin, a Level 3 school, the lowest rating CPS gives.
Jakori says Catalyst-Howland emphasized discipline. He got detentions nearly every day, mostly for not wearing his uniform or not tucking in his shirt or not having a belt on. “I feel like uniforms are a way to exercise control,” he says.
Catalyst-Howland tried to have an accelerated track, Jakori says. But by the time he was in 6th grade, it was discontinued. “Only six students were in it, and they decided it wasn’t worth wasting a teacher,” says Jakori, who is now 16.
In 8th grade, he took the test to get into a selective high school. He remembers thinking that the math was beyond hard. “It was stuff I had never seen before,” he says.
The news of his results was not good. Jakori wasn’t accepted at any of the selective schools. He and his mom started looking for alternatives. Later that spring, he got the surprise letter offering him a spot at Whitney Young under the special diversity program.
Austin, where Jakori lives, has no gifted or classical elementary schools with the type of curriculum needed to prepare students for top high schools. Seven of the 16 schools are on the South or Southwest side and the rest are on the North Side.
But even when schools are relatively close, some parents are reluctant to have their children tested.
Mercedes Hunter, a social worker at Bunnyland Day Care Development Center in Roseland, says she and other staff will sometimes suggest to parents that they apply for magnet schools or take their children for testing. But often, parents don’t pursue it.
Parents are usually looking forward to having their children go to the school nearby, where brothers and sisters might already be, Hunter says. They also don’t like the idea of their young children traveling outside the neighborhood, even though busing is provided.
“Transportation is the big issue,” Hunter says. “It is up to the parent to follow up and many don’t.”
Uriel Montoya, education organizer for Enlace Chicago, a community group in Little Village, says many parents on the Southwest Side have no idea that such accelerated programs exist. “CPS needs to do a better job [of promotion],” he says.
By the time students are ready for high school, many have already lost any chance to go to a top selective school. To qualify for the test, students must have 7th-grade scores that are above the 50th percentile on the ISAT in both reading and math.
Though some 14,000 students apply for about 2,000 seats in the North Side selective high schools, admissions officers spend much of October and November going to a range of elementary schools to sell their programs.
Location is also a barrier even for older students. At Northside College Prep in North Park, the top-scoring high school in CPS, only about 9 percent of the students are black and just 20 percent are Latino.
Northside Principal Barry Rodgers says his admissions director actively recruits from underrepresented neighborhoods. “It is primarily a function of the demographic distribution of groups throughout the city,” he says. (Von Steuben, a nearby magnet high school, is 16 percent black and half Latino.)
At Shoop Academy in Morgan Park, Principal Lisa Moreno has several perspectives: She was an assistant principal at Northside, one of her daughters attends Walter Payton and now she is trying to get her bright students to open up to the idea of going to a selective high school that may be across town.
Moreno says most of her parents won’t even go to open house events at the schools or to high school fairs, because they aren’t accustomed to traveling so far. “They don’t realize how much they are limiting their children,” she says.
But some of their concerns are practical. Parents don’t want students traveling in the dark—early morning or early evening—and they wonder how their child will participate in afterschool activities.
Moreno knows those concerns well: Every school night, she picks her daughter up from the Metra station.
The initiative that landed Jakori and Anthony at Whitney Young was created, in part, to help CPS officials save face and keep selective and magnet schools from becoming too white once the desegregation decree was lifted.
Then-CEO Ron Huberman hired Richard Kahlenberg from The Century Foundation to devise a new admissions process that was based partly on grades and test scores and partly on socio-economic conditions.
The bet was that socio-economic factors could be used as a proxy for race—but that bet didn’t quite work out. After the first group of students was admitted under the new system, it was apparent to Huberman that the racial balance was going to be thrown off in the elite North Side selective schools.
So Huberman and his team came up with the idea of using provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act to allow students from schools that didn’t make Adequate Yearly Progress—the federal performance benchmark—to transfer to schools that did. At the time, only four high schools met this benchmark, and they happened to be Whitney Young, Jones, Northside and Payton. One hundred seats would be offered.
Of the 100 students offered seats the first year, 25 turned them down. In that first year, students struggled. In the next cycle, Ellis says, the cut-off score was raised and fewer students made the cut-off. But for the current school year, more than 100 seats were offered and about 85 students accepted.
Since then, the program has flown quietly under the radar. The Office of Academic Enhancement makes no mention of it on its website. After the first year, students didn’t know that they got into the schools through the program. Some of the high schools did not want the students’ identities revealed, fearing that their classmates would then view them differently.
Donna Ford considers programs like these good strategies to provide opportunity for low-income minority students to get a top-flight education. Middle-class children who end up in neighborhood schools still get more opportunities, she says, since their parents are more likely than low-income parents to be able to provide extras to keep them engaged in school and learning.
“I would rather err on the side of inclusion,” Ford says. “We are neglecting a huge portion of our children.”
But getting a black child to go to a mostly white school, even if the school is high-performing, can be a tough sell.
“They are like, ‘Hell no, I am not going there,’” Ford says. “They worry that they will be isolated. We can play games with criteria, but if the reputation of the school is that there are no black kids, then we aren’t going to get them in there.”
As admissions director at Whitney Young, Nicole Neal was painstakingly aware of the privilege associated with the school. She often had parents and students begging and crying for spots. “It is tough, because there are so many limited options for people who want public education at that level,” she says. “My heart went out to the students and parents.”
But Neal, who is now an assistant principal at Shoesmith Elementary School in Kenwood, says she is not so sure removing bright students from neighborhood high schools is the best thing. “Why take the talent out of the community?”
“If they had gone to neighborhood schools, what would their experience have been?” she asks, referring to students who took advantage of the diversity transfers. “Socially they might have fared better. They may have had more opportunity to be involved. Because it took them so long to get home, many of them went straight home.”
Meanwhile, principals at the selective schools were initially concerned about the impact of the initiative.
The first set of students sent to Whitney Young had scored 200 points lower on admissions criteria than the lowest-scoring students admitted through the standard process. Because Whitney Young is centrally located and well-known in the black community, most students who were offered a seat jumped at it.
Principal Joyce Kenner says this put her school at a disadvantage compared to Payton and Northside, which got fewer of these students. “Whitney Young should not be punished for doing a good job,” she says.
Kenner, too, suspects black students shy away from Northside and Payton because they don’t see other students like them in the school and there are not extracurricular activities that interest them.
A lot of the students also accepted spots at Jones. Even before the initiative, Jones administrators were concerned that the school was losing diversity and had developed a program to target 8th-grade students from under-represented schools.
Jones Principal Paul Powers says the school’s location, on the south end of downtown near several train and bus lines, makes it ideal to draw a mix of students.
Among students interviewed by Catalyst who were admitted through this initiative, many say they were intimidated at first. Most had been in all-black elementary schools. But the initial trepidation didn’t last, and they quickly made friends and found their niche at their new schools.
The academic adjustment proved far more difficult. The principals at Jones, Young and Payton say they initially had money—$10,000 per student the first year, but none after that—to buy equipment like computers and graphing calculators. Some still provide bus cards for the students, out of their discretionary budgets.
They also continue mentoring and tutoring programs, which in some cases include students who weren’t admitted through the transfer program.
Devine says there are noticeable differences among the transfer students—and some have adjusted surprisingly well.
“One student might struggle because he doesn’t have strong reading skills, another because of math and another because they might not have a nurturing home environment,” Devine says. “Some kids do very, very well and you would never know they came through the program. There is a spectrum.”
At Jones, administrators expanded the Response to Intervention program. The basic idea behind RtI is that schools should intervene when students are having problems and should document how or whether the interventions are working.
Through this process, Jones Assistant Principal Carolyn Rownd says she realized that a lot of students were missing specific skills. Now, one freshman class each in English and math incorporates lessons in missing skills—for instance, vocabulary in American Literature. Many students also needed to improve their grammar.
“All kids need it,” Rownd says, noting that students admitted through the regular process also have academic deficits. “The best thing that came out of this cohort of kids was that it opened the door to the need for everyone to polish their skills. They made us do that. They gave us the kick.”
Some students say they were acutely aware that they were coming in at a lower academic level. Among the first group, 20 percent later transferred to other schools.
Lyric, a student at Jones, remembers crying a lot the first semester, frustrated that she was behind her classmates.
“Mrs. Rownd would tell me to push that frustration away and try it again,” says Lyric (her real name is not being used for privacy reasons). “She would ask me if I needed to go talk to the teacher. This motivated me to try harder and not to quit. It mattered to them if I did well.”
Lyric points to a desk in the main office with a computer on it, saying “I lived there.” At Jones, she quickly realized that it was better to stay at school and do her homework—her focus was better at school and she had access to the Internet.
When Lyric’s classmate, Ethan, was handed the letter offering him a spot a Jones, he was so excited he could barely read it. Then, Ethan says, reality set in. “I was intimated,” says Ethan (who also asked that his real name not be used). “I wondered if I was good enough. I felt like I was behind and I worried that I would feel really stupid.”
Ethan was salutatorian of his elementary school class and a straight-A student, but didn’t get offered a spot at any of the city’s elite schools. Until he got the letter, he planned to go to Julian, where his brother was a student.
In his first weeks at Jones, Ethan says he psyched himself out because he was so worried about keeping up. The amount of homework was much more intense than in elementary school. “I wasn’t used to bringing all my books home and studying,” he says.
His first progress report was no pretty sight. His grades fell from straight As to one D and a lot of Cs and Bs.
“I freaked out more than my mom,” he says.
Eventually Ethan calmed down and convinced himself that this was his chance to learn a lot. For many of the other students, the first few weeks were review. But Ethan says he studied everything he was given because much of it was new to him.
“I just thought to myself, if I try hard I can do it,” he says. “I just tried to reassure myself.”
He also took advantage of the outstretched hand from his teachers. Almost every day, he went to his math teacher and asked him to walk him through a task. Ethan also realized he had to give up some things, such as basketball.
He made it on the basketball team both freshman and sophomore year, but each time couldn’t play through the season because he had too much homework.
Ethan is a loner, and Rownd says when he first came to Jones he was very quiet. But he has changed since being there. “He is who he wants to be,” she says.
A recurring theme among the transfer students is one of educational opportunity and, perhaps more importantly, the freedom to be someone different than they feel they could have been at their neighborhood school. Lyric says she always imagined herself as worldly and sophisticated and that going to Jones has made her into the young woman she dreamed of being.
Anthony complains about the travel to Whitney Young, which includes depending on erratic buses. But he admits that his horizons have been expanded and he is now thinking about going to college in a different state, somewhere far away for sure. “When you come from Whitney Young, you can go anywhere,” he says. If he had gone to his neighborhood school, he believes, that wouldn’t have been the case.
Jakori, however, says that sometimes he thinks it would have been better to go to his neighborhood school. Many semesters, he nearly fails his classes before finishing up all the work and pulling his grade up to a barely C. “My mother is always on me about grades,” he says.
But at a neighborhood school, or a charter school where discipline is paramount, he acknowledges he might have had problems.
At Whitney Young and other selective schools, discipline is expected but the school climate is more relaxed and has space for creativity. Jakori describes himself as an artist.
When asked what he does that might get him into trouble in a stricter environment, Jakori smiles sheepishly.
“I am not a bad kid,” he says. “I just don’t appreciate restrictions.”
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On the first floor of Brown Elementary School is a room with colorful mats on the walls, a ball pit and calming low-intensity lights.
Principal Kenya Sadler proudly shows off this new feature of her school. Sadler raised private money to install it because she thought the specially designed environment would benefit the children in her schools’ two classes for children with autism.
Now, Sadler is desperately hoping that the room doesn’t wind up behind shuttered doors, unused. She’s also worried about the students in the autism program, not to mention the rest of her students, plus their parents, whom she fears will be left scrambling if Brown is closed. Brown’s building is 34 percent utilized and it is a Level 3 school, making it a prime candidate for closure.
Sadler’s concerns underscore one of the underlying factors in the hot-button issue of school closings. As enrollment dwindled at schools now considered underutilized, principals and central office administrators often took the opportunity to fill the empty rooms. Often, the empty space was transformed into classrooms for special education children—called cluster programs, since they drew children from a cluster of nearby schools—or into pre-kindergarten classrooms.
More on school closings
Like the one at Brown for autistic students, special education cluster programs draw students with severe disabilities from all the other area schools.
More than half of all special education cluster programs are in underutilized schools, according to CPS data. Though CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has taken some of the underutilized schools off the table, a third of the schools still at risk of being shut down house special education cluster programs.
Advocates are worried that district officials are not taking a strategic look at special education. For one, they note that the utilization formula does not take into account the fact that separate, self-contained classrooms for special education students are legally mandated to have smaller class sizes. If the smaller classes were accounted for, some schools would not be considered underutilized.
In a letter to the School Utilization Commission, Rod Estvan of the group Access Living points out that if all schools on the list were shut down, CPS at a minimum would have to find space for 60 special education classes. Estvan calls that a daunting task.
Margie Wakelin, an attorney for Equip for Equality, says that a group of attorneys have raised the issue of what happens to students with disabilities in the midst of school closings. They fear that the closings will have a disproportionate impact on special education students.
When the district has shut down schools with cluster programs in the past, Wakelin says she has been contacted by parents who reported that their children didn’t get the needed special education services when they were transferred to new schools.
“To just say that the IEP (individual education plan) follows the child is not enough,” Wakelin says. Sometimes the receiving school doesn’t get a student’s complete file for months after the start of the school year.
Plus, it can be hard for children with emotional disabilities to transition to new schools, she says.
Preschools also an issue
Also, most of the schools still on the list—nearly 90 percent—currently house pre-kindergarten programs. At the same time city and CPS officials are making decisions about school closings, they also are in the process of re-distributing preschool slots, says Maria Whelan, president of Illinois Action for children. Early childhood officials are “well aware” of what is going on at CPS, she adds.
Brown Elementary, located on the Near West Side, also has a pre-kindergarten program. Though the rest of the grades might lack students, Sadler points out that the preschool has a waiting list.
The Near West Side has experienced an explosion in new residents, many of them families with young children. At Brown, neighborhood children come to the preschool, Sadler says, and it attracts a diverse group. But in kindergarten, the diversity disappears.
The neighborhood has a wealth of elementary school for these middle-class parents to choose from. Two new magnet schools opened over the past decade, and the Near West Side now has more specialty schools than any other community in the city.
Sadler says she has started a discussion with the preschool parents about what it would take to get them to stay.
“We are fighting against the grain,” she says.
Brown, however, is not alone in its dilemma. The principal of a half-empty school in Englewood says that whenever a child leaves his preschool, he can quickly fill the spot with another child from the waiting list. (The principal asked that his name not be used.) Englewood and other predominantly black communities have the most schools at risk of being shuttered.
This year, the principal says, he had to fill out a long application for the city’s new competitive process that will award preschool funding to schools and community organizations. It was an arduous task, one that he would rather have avoided if the school is going to be shut down anyway, he says.
If the school is closed or doesn’t receive preschool funds, he fears that neighborhood children won’t go to any preschool at all. Most of the children walk to the school with parents or older siblings.
“If it is too far, they will just leave the little ones at home,” he says.
Antoinette Thomas, who has taught in the preschool for nine years, says that providing the program to her students in the low-income neighborhood of Englewood is especially important. “If they take the preschool away, it will be a disservice to our community,” she says. “This is what levels the playing field.”
Inside the school, Thomas has a big classroom with a turtle and a hamster. Like most preschool classes, it is divided into different areas, such as the dramatic play area, the science area and the alphabet area.
Whelan says the city has devised an intricate process in which officials will look at small areas in a community and determine the demand for preschool. Funding will be awarded accordingly.
Because the school closing process and the preschool competitive process are happening simultaneously, Whelan is hopeful that children will not be left out.
“Right now, the early childhood program is extremely flexible,” she says.
Assets that parents want
Since special education and prekindergarten classes serve the most vulnerable students, advocates are especially worried about how they will fare under the closings process. But CPS data also shows that underutilized schools tend to have the assets that parents want.
According to CPS data, almost all elementary schools have libraries. The difference is that 90 percent of schools at capacity or overcrowded schools have a library and a librarian, but only 75 percent of underutilized schools have a librarian.
More than 80 percent of underutilized schools also have science labs and 96 percent have computer labs.
Sadler, like many principals, has used her classrooms to provide a slew of extras for her students—usually by relying on grants or outside partners to foot the bill.
Brown Elementary has a fitness center, paid for by the Chicago Bulls, whose parking lots are across the street from the school. Sadler has arranged for a personal trainer from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition to work with the gym teacher on developing a program.
The school also has a STEM lab and a teacher to teach engineering, whose salary is paid for with a grant.
One room is set aside for volunteers who come in on a daily basis to read with children who are struggling academically. Sadler has recruited 75 volunteers.
Plus, Brown has a parent room, with a couch and computers donated by a partner. Parents can use the room to work on their resume, and some of the preschool parents come to hang out while their children are in the shorter program, which operates for 2-1/2 hours.
Yet Sadler doesn’t want the school to become a magnet or other specialty school. She wants it to remain a place where neighborhood students have the right to a seat.
“We have a lot of resources here and don’t want to be just another name on the list,” Sadler says.
This is how CPS officials envisioned the 28 community meetings on school closings taking place this month: First, a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation with details in each area, showing how many schools are underutilized and low-achieving, followed by the now-familiar refrain about CPS’ looming deficit and limited resources being spread too thin.
Finally, the crowd would disperse into breakout sessions to share with independent facilitators the strengths and weaknesses of their schools, plus suggestions about how to make the transitions to new schools less painful.
In reality, this is the scenario: A CPS official tells the throngs of people in attendance that public comment will start immediately and that each speaker will only have two minutes to speak. Then, for the next hour, parents, teachers, principals and even some children make impassioned pleas to keep their schools open.
At the end of the meeting at Olive-Harvey College on Wednesday, Chief of Schools Denise Little got up and tried to reassure the suspicious crowd that she was listening. She noted that she wanted the pictures that attendees from DuBois School brought, showing their dilapidated buildings, and said she will remember, among other things, that White Elementary is the only other school located in the area.
Eventually, the attendees reluctantly retreated into breakout sessions. The media is not allowed in these sessions, but, from interviews, it appears that people continued to make the case to keep their schools open and refused to broach the topic of transition.
Taquia Hylton, principal of West Pullman School, says people in her overflow breakout session told facilitators that they don’t see how they will get around safety issues, should they try to move students.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel this week announced a new partnership between Chicago Public Schools, City Colleges of Chicago and Chicago-based startup The Starter League to provide new web development courses that will reach thousands of Chicago students at the city’s five Early College STEM high schools, the city’s Technology Magnet Cluster high schools, and the City Colleges.
The Starter League teaches beginners how to code, design, and ship web applications. (Press release)
SURPRISE, YOU'VE GOT SUPPLIES!: A hundred CPS teachers were each surprised at a South Side school on Thursday with $1,000 worth of school supplies by CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, OfficeMax CEO Ravi Saligram and Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The teachers received paper, pens, pencils and a digital camera. The event was part of OfficeMax's A Day Made Better program. (CPS media advisory)
IN THE STATE
SECURITY UPGRADES: New security cameras, an advanced intercom system and panic buttons are part of the security upgrades coming to Glen Ellyn District 41's five schools. Officials said the improvements are not directly related to recent school shootings. (Daily Herald)
IN THE NATION
RACE TO THE TOP STRUGGLES: A majority of winners in the $4 billion Race to the Top competition are struggling with evaluation and data systems, the U.S. Education Department's second annual progress report on the program says. (Education Week)
Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is leaning on Tom Tyrrell, a retired Marine colonel who once quietly sorted out a prisoner exchange in the wake of war in Kosovo, to help in the transfer of students in the upcoming school closing process, the Sun-Times reports.
SCHOOL FILLED WITH SORROW: Grief counselors and extra security moved about King College Prep High School Wednesday, comforting crying students in the aftermath of a shooting in a nearby park that killed sophomore Hadiya Pendleton, 15. (WBEZ)
CPS SPENDS WAL-MART MONEY: The Walton Family Foundation (a foundation run by the founders of Wal-Mart) is providing financial backing for the current series of school closing meetings taking place around the city this month. (Catalyst)
CORE CHOOSES ITS CANDIDATES: The Caucus Of Rank and file Educators has nominated its candidates for the upcoming election in the Chicago Teachers Union. Karen Lewis, Jesse Sharkey, Kristine Mayle and Michael Bruson were nominated to run for a second term to lead the union for another three years. The election is in May. (Substance News)
IN THE NATION
RACE AND SCHOOL CLOSINGS: In a crowded room in the U.S. Department of Education building in southwest Washington, protesters from 18 cities gathered to tell department officials how school closings have affected their communities—and to call for a moratorium on school closings, action on civil rights complaints against the closings, and a new model for transforming schools that serve racial minorities. (Education Week)
LAW SCHOOL BLUES: Law school applications are headed for a 30-year low, reflecting increased concern over soaring tuition, crushing student debt and diminishing prospects of lucrative employment upon graduation. (The New York Times)
GETTING OUT OF GOVERNMENT: The public school system in the nation’s capital may let high school students graduate without taking a high-school-level course in how their country’s government works. (The Washington Post)
District officials have said they don’t want to link the volatile issue of school closings with the equally volatile issue of charter school openings. But a major pro-charter foundation is providing financial backing for the current crop of school closing meetings taking place around the city this month.
The district is now engaged in a community engagement process intended to provide feedback to the district as it contemplates what schools to close. That process is being underwritten by the Walton Family Foundation (a foundation run by the founders of Wal-Mart). The Walton Foundation has fueled the expansion of charter schools across the country and, in January, announced that CPS was the largest recipient of charter school grants in the country.
The Walton Foundation agreed in November to provide CPS with a grant for the community engagement process around the “utilization crisis,” according to the CPS communications office. The foundation lists a $478,000 grant to the Children First Foundation, a not-for-profit set up by CPS (Spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler confirmed the $478,000 is likely the grant for the community engagement process.)
The district had not budgeted for a “rigorous community engagement effort” and therefore needed to reach out for funding, notes spokeswoman Becky Carroll. CPS is using the grant to pay for the “independent facilitators” from the Loran Marketing Group, which is running the breakout sessions at the community meetings.
The content of these breakout sessions is not clear. CPS has banned the media from attending them.
In addition, the money is paying for robo-calls to tell parents about the meetings, mailings to parents and “other engagement and communication platforms.” Carroll stresses that the community engagement process is happening, but “not at taxpayer expense.”
“This grant is allowing us to initiate what is probably the most inclusive and rigorous outreach to parents CPS has done to include their voice at the front end of this process,” Carroll says.
Other charter voices
Other ties have made it difficult for the district to quell suspicions among parents, grassroots activists and the Chicago Teachers Union that CPS plans to replace closed schools with new charters.
The School Utilization Commission that is advising the district on closings is staffed by the Civic Consulting Alliance, a not-for-profit that does business consulting for city government. The Civic Consulting Alliance is housed in the same office as New Schools for Chicago, an organization that funds and advocates for charter schools. New Schools for Chicago also received a $220,000 Walton Family Foundation Grant.
Civic Consulting Alliance CEO Brian Fabes says his organization is doing pro-bono work for the commission. He says that New Schools and the Civic Consulting Alliance are not connected, though they share several of the same board members.
In the past, most of the closed schools have eventually become charter schools.
At community meetings that have already taken place, attendees have repeatedly accused CPS officials of wanting to close schools in order to make way for charter schools.
CPS officials, however, say that schools need to close in order to “right-size” a school district with shrinking enrollment. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has promised not to allow any of the newly-closed schools to become charter schools, yet charter schools could still be located in the same communities as closed schools.
A trip to a park ended in tragedy when a 15-year-old King College Prep sophomore was fatally shot in the back about a week after she performed at President Barack Obama’s inauguration with the King College Prep Band.
CHARTER CHEERLEADERS: About 1,500 school choice supporters rallied Tuesday night in Union Station's Great Hall, dancing and cheering in support of increased charter school funding and school vouchers. (Catalyst)
CHOICE AND CHARTERS: The Tribune says thousands of parents, students and teachers gathered Tuesday in Union Station's Great Hall wearing yellow scarves and T-shirts to rally for school choice and equal funding for charter schools.
ROWDY SUPPORTERS: A public hearing at Truman College Monday evening to gather input on CPS' plan to close certain schools got rowdy, according to ABC News. More than 200 people crammed into the gym at Truman chanting in support of keeping their schools open.
UNHEARD AT HEARING: Chanting "Save our schools" and "No school closings," several hundred parents, teachers and community members refused to let Chicago Public Schools officials speak during a public hearing on school closings Monday night in Uptown. (DNAInfo.com)
IN THE STATE
HONOR ROLL: The State Board of Education named 26 Northwest suburban elementary schools to the Illinois Honor Roll on Monday — half of them from one district alone. (Daily Herald)
IN THE NATION
BACK OFF: After four years in office, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan still hasn't won over local school board members. (Education Week)
GATES ON GRANTS: Pell Grants and other non-loan federal student aid should be replaced with a single federal-state matching grant, according to a report from the Committee for Economic Development. The report, commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also proposes eliminating federal tax credits for higher education, and suggests streamlining the process of applying for student aid and repaying loans. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
About 1,500 school choice supporters rallied Tuesday night in Union Station's Great Hall, dancing and cheering in support of increased charter school funding and school vouchers.
Rather than the current funding rate for charter schools of 75 percent, charter advocates would like to see them funded at the same rate as other schools. They are pinning their hopes on House Bill 980, which would mandate the change. “My hope is that the charter schools will get equal funding,” said Gary Comer College Prep parent Tamala Dreux. “With the funding the school is getting, they are doing an awesome job.”
Lidia Rebolledo, whose two children attend St. Stainslaus Kostka School, said at the rally that she hopes legislators take up the issue of school vouchers this year. “It's important because it's our money,” she said. “If it's because of money that we have to stop getting a quality education, I don't see why Illinois cannot support us in that.”
Created with flickr slideshow.
This post has been updated with the final count of how many people attended the rally.
The commission handpicked to oversee Chicago Public School closings is leaning strongly toward recommending that no more than 20 schools be closed in any one year to give students, parents, teachers and bureaucrats an opportunity to adjust to the upheaval, sources said Monday, according to the Sun-Times.
AN ACCUSATION: The Chicago Teachers Union accused Chicago Public Schools on Monday of manufacturing its fiscal crises, pointing to a newly released audited budget for the last school year that seems to show an extra $344 million. But CPS said the money, already budgeted for the current school year, only shows on last year’s books thanks to a Cook County fluke that saw property tax bills sent out on time for the first time in more than 30 years. (Sun-Times)
PAYING FOR KINDERGARTEN: As more parents seek full-day kindergarten for their children, more Chicago-area school districts are offering it — but sometimes at a cost of thousands of dollars in tuition. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
DOE INVESTIGATION: The United States Department of Education is investigating complaints that plans to close or reorganize public schools in Philadelphia, Detroit and Newark discriminate against black and Hispanic students, as well as those with disabilities, a department official confirmed on Monday. (The New York Times)
MONEY ON THE LINE: Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Monday urged the State Legislature to intervene so that New York City does not lose hundreds of millions of dollars because it missed a deadline this month to finish negotiating a teacher evaluation system. (The New York Times)
NO HARM DONE: Studies find student achievement doesn't suffer even when teachers take advantage of early-retirement incentives. (Education Week)