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Take 5: CPS grads hiring preference, Common Core money and governor endorsements

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 08:19

1. Touting it as a way to keep CPS students in school, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is defending a decision he made two years ago to give preference in firefighter hiring to Chicago Public School graduates. Now that the Chicago Fire Department has opened up hiring, writes Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown, several elected officials say they are getting complaints from families of private school students. And the fire chief says the hiring preference has caused an “outcry” among the rank-and-file, many of whom are second- and third-generation firefighters and would like their own children to have the same chance. About 12 percent of high schoolers in Chicago attend a private school, according to the U.S. Census.

Emanuel needs to make extra sure that the hiring process is fair for black candidates. When he came into office he settled a big lawsuit stemming from the city’s discriminatory handling of a 1995 firefighters entrance exam.

2. New standards, new market…. With schools adopting new standards and more of them buying smart tablets for students, there’s money to be made in education for technology developers. That’s what Phyllis Lockett told Technori Pitch, an event that showcases technology startups, according to an article on the Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation site. As you will remember, Lockett was founding president and CEO of New Schools for Chicago, which raised money to invest in charter schools. Lockett now runs LEAP Innovation which aims to connect tech companies and educators. "Common Core is huge,” she told the group. “It’s inherently nationalized standards. What that means for technology developers is that if you develop solutions that are tied to the Common Core — 46 states have adopted them throughout the country — you can sell anywhere.”


3. Speaking of the Common Core... WBEZ looked at how a variety of Chicago-area schools are implementing the new Common Core State Standards, a set of academic standards that most states have signed onto. Illinois is one of them.

The standards, which are supported by -- but did not arise from -- the federal government, are supposed to encourage critical thinking. But they've been heavily criticized in some states by both unions, who fear over testing, and conservative activists, who worry about the broad reach of the federal government. Though the Chicago Teachers Union voted symbolically against the standards earlier this summer, they’ve been less controversial here in Illinois than in other states, such as Louisiana, where the governor is now in a legal tiff with his own state school board over his attempt to scrap them.

The WBEZ story sheds some light on what classrooms sound like when teachers implement lessons guided by the new standards.

4. A teachers' governor?... The Illinois Federation of Teachers announced this week it'll support Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's reelection campaign. The state union (and parent organization pf the CTU) says Republican candidate Bruce Rauner is "out of touch” about “what’s best for education and Illinois families." The state's other major teachers union, Illinois Education Association, also announced it will back the incumbent.

Some of Quinn’s moves as governor have angered teacher unions, and his choice of former CPS CEO Paul Vallas, who supports charter schools and other so-called corporate reforms, have raised questions. But Rauner is an unabashed supporter of vouchers and charter schools.

"Don't compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the alternative," Quinn said in April at the IEA convention’s gubernatorial debate.

 

5. Beautiful old building …. That’s what the new buyer of CPS’s headquarters says about the 125 S. Clark St. office building.

Crain’s Chicago business reports that a venture of the local Blue Star Properties Inc. has a contract to buy the 20-story building, which it plans to redevelop into loft office space for tech startups and creative firms.

Blue Star’s founder, Craig Golden, didn’t say how much the company is paying, but Crain’s reports that it’s believed to be well below the $35 million CPS expected to get from a previous potential buyer, Marc Realty Residential LLC. The 1907 building was designed by famed architect Daniel Burnham’s firm.

CPS, which hadn’t been making full use of the building in recent years because of downsizing, is set to move its 1,000 or so downtown employees to the  former Sears store at 2 N. State St. this fall.




Categories: Urban School News

George Washington High principal, symbol of changes to storied IB program, leaves school for undetermined post

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 18:08

[Updated at 6:20 p.m.] Denver George Washington High School’s principal Micheal Johnson, who became the target of vocal criticism over changes to the school’s International Baccalaureate program, is leaving the school to take a central administrative job. 

“[I]t has been my honor and privilege to serve your students as the principal of George Washington High School,” Johnson said in a letter sent this afternoon to parents. “It is with deep gratitude for your engagement in our community that I announce that I am moving into another leadership position with the Post-Secondary Readiness team of the Denver Public Schools.”

Jose Martinez, a former Jeffco Public Schools principal, director of diversity, and principal supervisor, has been named the school’s interim principal. Martinez’s first day will be Aug. 6.

Susana Cordova, DPS chief schools officer, said the change was part of the district’s ongoing effort to “support our teams and have people in places where they can be most successful.”

While leading George Washington, or GW, Johnson was paid $112,175. He’ll continue to be paid that salary in his new role, a principal on special assignment for post-secondary readiness at a yet-to-be determined school. Cordova said details are still being worked out on the school or schools where Johnson will be assigned.

Tension between Johnson, who was named principal of the southeast Denver high school two years ago, and the George Washington community escalated last spring as Johnson and DPS officials introduced parents to their plan to open access to the school’s IB program.

The strain was exacerbated by Johnson’s alleged unresponsiveness to teachers’ and parents’ concerns over the changes and next year’s teacher assignments.

Micheal Johnson

The IB plan, slated to take effect in the 2015 school year, is intended to make the  program  accessible to a larger number of students. Currently, the program is highly selective, and only students who enter as underclassmen are allowed to pursue the prestigious IB diploma. The re-imagined program would mirror admissions policies at other IB programs across the nation.

Cordova said that Johnson’s departure in no way signals a weakening of the district’s resolve to make changes to IB, or to beef up GW’s Advanced Placement and lower-grades honors program. “Most definitely, the work will continue. Our commitment to keeping parents engaged [in planning the changes] is critical. Our commitment to keeping students engaged is critical.”

She also said that one of Martinez’s strengths is communicating effectively with a diverse student and parent population “and bringing people together around a common agenda.” A 2006 story in the Denver Post portrayed him as a no-nonsense school leader.

Johnson and district officials believe the IB program, as it is currently structured, has produced unintended achievement gaps between the school’s middle-income and poor students.

Just over 400 of George Washington’s 1,424 students are enrolled in the IB program. And only 14 percent qualify for free- or reduced-lunch, a proxy of poverty, while more than half of the school’s entire population qualifies by the same standard.

Critics, parents and students alike, packed the school’s library in May to voice their concerns about the changes. They fear the proposed changes will water down the elite program’s rigor.

Since then, a vocal group of IB parents have called for Johnson’s resignation.

The news of Johnson’s exit comes one week after the Denver teachers union filed a formal grievance with the district claiming Johnson cut the school’s leadership team of teachers out of the development of the master schedule.

“This continues to fit the double standard that Denver Public Schools has for administration versus other employees,” said union leader Billy Husher. “Administrator after administrator is moved out of their position for district-level positions when they are ineffective as leaders while teachers and other employees are hung out to dry and told that they cannot work in the District for a minimum of 3 years before they are eligible for rehire.”

According to Johnson’s letter, instructional superintendent Fred McDowell will lead the transition, which includes finalizing the schedule, naming an interim-principal, and hiring nine teachers.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported Micheal Johnson had earned a masters degree from Harvard. He received his masters from the University of Colorado. He also, according to his resume on Linkedin participated in an educational leadership program at Harvard. 

Categories: Urban School News

Project seeks to measure students’ non-academic skills

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 16:59

The riddle of 21st century skills — the broad term often used to describe a set of abilities like critical thinking and collaboration — has always has been about how to measure them. But now an alliance of education groups think they have a way to do that.

The groups this week unveiled Project: BeReady, an online survey designed to indicate students’ abilities in such non-academic areas as professionalism, entrepreneurial skills, personal traits and civic awareness.

“We’re all looking at these 21st century skills, but there’s no tool to measure them,” said Kathryn Harris, a development officer for Generation Schools Network, an education management non-profit.

Michael Simpson, CEO of Pairin, said of the new tool, “This is really about whole student development.” Pairin is a Denver talent and personnel evaluation company that is teaming with Generation Schools, which in Colorado operates a school at Denver’s West High School and is working in the Englewood district.

He said his company got involved in the project because it decided “the biggest impact we could make is to fill that [job] pipeline with qualified applicants.”

Harris, Simpson and others spoke to about 125 invited guests at a Tuesday event in Denver intended to describe the project’s pilot phase, launch a two-year second phase intended to involve 10,000 students and make a subtle fundraising pitch.

The Project: BeReady survey is an online test that allows a user to build a description of herself by selecting whether words and phrases accurately describe them or not. Simpson said it’s based on psychological research dating back to the late 1940s. Developers came up with a detailed list of skills the survey is supposed to test for (see full list at bottom of story). Learn more on the project’s website.

During field testing earlier this year in Colorado, adults took about 12 minutes to finish the survey, and students took about 22 minutes, Simpson said. The current version of the survey is designed for students in 8th grade and above, although promoters hope to eventually develop a version for younger students.

Project: BeReady also is developing tools to help teachers learn how to use the test and a dashboard that will allow teachers and administrators to view and analyze both individual student and aggregated data.

Testing, privacy concerns raised

Project backers acknowledged public concerns about testing and student data privacy in their remarks.

“Project: BeReady is not about just another test,” said Generation Schools executive Mary Cipollone, stressing it’s about giving students, parents and teachers information they don’t have now. “It is not about more data.”

Asked about the ill-fated inBloom data project, Simpson said, “The biggest problem inBloom has was lack of communication, or lack of effective communication. … There were a lot of misconceptions that weren’t addressed until it was too late.”

He added, “I think we know how to communicate in a way that won’t give people the wrong impression.”

Simpson also said the project has strict privacy controls. (See privacy policy here, and the project’s Student Bill of Rights here.)

In an effort to differentiate itself, the project’s website also has a detailed “Is/Is not” section.

What’s next

Generation Schools and Pairin, using about $875,000 of their own money, earlier this year developed the survey and related tools and gave the survey to about 5,900 students in 3,500 adults in Colorado.

Starting in September, the project plans to start a two-year pilot project involving 10,000 students around the country.

“We’re looking to scale this across Colorado and, we think, across the nation,” Harris said.

And, backers are hoping to raise $320,000 to help schools and youth development groups pay for participating and an additional $623,000 to support further development of the tools and professional development for teachers and administrators in using the system and analyzing data.

The project’s business plan envisions charging $10,000 per site and $10 per student a year for the service, which Simpson termed “really, really affordable.”

Who’s involved

The idea originated with Generation Schools and Pairin, but the project’s steering committee also includes representatives from the Colorado Education Initiative (formerly the Colorado Legacy Foundation), Department of Education, Colorado Community College System, Accenture Foundation, Gill Foundation, Donnell Kay Foundation, Get Smart Schools, Colorado Succeeds and Academy School District.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado districts adjust to healthy snacks

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 10:09

Keyboard kids

A two-year study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress has determined that fourth graders do just fine taking writing exams on computers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Good for you

Colorado school districts are falling in line with the federal government's brand-new healthy snacks guidelines. ( KUNC )

Preparing for the worst

Castle Rock police and firefighters honed their skills during a full live shooter drill at Castle View High School. ( Douglas County News-Press )

More than 20 agencies and 240 people participated in an active shooter exercise at a Durango elementary school. ( Durango Herald )

Common Core Roundup

The early pattern suggests that the common standards could undergo some relatively minor changes but still persist in states where opposition has led to high-profile legislation and big headlines. ( EdWeek )

Supporters of the Common Core standards have concluded they're losing the public debate and that they need better PR. ( Politico )

Special education teachers are facing the challenge of implementing the more rigorous Common Core State Standards for their students. ( Hechinger Report )

Image management

The Falcon School District has launched a new logo and a new branding campaign. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

Report: Fourth graders able to “meaningfully participate” in computer-based tests

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/29/2014 - 20:23
NAEP has studied and captured data on fourth-grade students’ ability to write using a computer, and we are excited to report that they are capable of using computer programs to type, organize and write well enough to be assessed.
– David P. Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board

Driscoll’s statement is based on a first-of-its-kind study of 13,000 fourth graders conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.

The center spent two years studying whether fourth graders would be able to take the writing test, which is proctored every two years to a national sample of students, on a computer.

The center will be transitioning its exams to computers.

The findings of the report may put some critics of computer-based tests at ease. Those critics have raised concern about whether some students who have less access to technology may not be able to demonstrate their proficiency in writing, for example, because they lack keyboarding skills.

There’s been particular concern about “the digital divide” between technology and students from low-income families and schools.

But the report, which was released last week, found 100 percent of the students who participated reported having access to a computer at school, while 93 percent reported having access at home, and 92 percent reported previously taking a computer-based assessment.

The center  published its finding online with tools and suggestions for educators here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Some Dougco Republicans skip breakfast where teachers union president gave speech

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/29/2014 - 09:55

Cha-ching

A measure to ask Colorado voters to approve the expansion of the state's gambling laws has officially made it onto the ballot. Supporters of the constitutional amendment claim the new casinos would be good for school coffers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The most important meal of the day

Some Douglas County Republicans skipped a monthly breakfast last week when the district's teachers union president addressed the crowd. The event's organizer defended the decision to have Courtney Smith speak. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Decisions, decisions

The Brighton school district is considering asking voters to approve a bond measure in November. If voters reject the proposal to raise taxes for new schools, the district should plan to extend its day and calendar year, a new report found. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Are we there yet?

Colorado Springs parents who are dreading the drop-off lane in front of their child's campus have a choice. The Mountain Metropolitan Transit offers a free "schoolpool" program that connects families who want en masse alternative transportation or carpooling. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

Science, techology, enginering, money

The Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 received a $2.5 million grant to develop new programs that will focus biotechnology and engineering. The new classes will be in partnership with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. ( Gazette )

The Story behind the story

What's the deal with New York's new teacher tenure lawsuit? NPR breaks down the issues behind the teacher tenure lawsuits across the country and looks at who is behind them. ( NPR via KUNC )

And here's Chalkbeat New York's article breaking down — in great detail — the lawsuit's claims. ( Chalkbeat New York )

Categories: Urban School News

Casino expansion initiative makes the ballot

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 18:21

Colorado voters will get to decide if they want a full-scale casino in the Denver suburbs – which backers say would raise millions in supplemental funding for school districts.

The secretary of state’s office Monday ruled that backers of what’s now officially Amendment 68 had gathered sufficient valid signatures to put the proposed constitutional change on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The proposal is being pushed by the Rhode Island owners of the Arapahoe Park racetrack in the southeast metro area. If the amendment passes, they would be allowed to open a full casino at the track. The amendment would allow casinos in Mesa and Pueblo counties as well, five years after horse tracks open in those counties.

In an effort to gain public support, the initiative would devote 34 percent of the casino’s adjusted gross proceeds to a new K-12 Education Fund. Arapahoe Park would pay an upfront $25 million into the fund when it opens the casino. Legislative analysts are estimating $114 million in K-12 revenue in 2016-17, the first full budget year of operation.

The revenue would be funneled directly to school districts on a per-pupil basis, bypassing the legislative appropriations process and the state’s school finance formula. Such “sin taxes” have a weak record of delivering promised revenues – see this Chalkbeat Colorado analysis for details.

The amendment probably won’t be backed by mainline education interest groups. Mention of the initiative during a Colorado Association of School Executives convention last week brought chuckles from the crowd.

The committee running the campaign has styled itself Coloradans for Better Schools. Opposing the amendment is a group named Don’t Turn Racetracks into Casinos, which is backed by casino owners in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek, the only places where casinos currently are allowed by the state constitution.

Expect a high-visibility campaign – the pro group already had raised $2.1 million, and opponents have a war chest of $9.1 million. Updated financial disclosure reports are due on Friday.

The pro-amendment group turned in petitions with 136,800 signatures on July 14. The secretary of state’s office, using a sampling technique, estimated 102,180 were valid. Some 86,105 signatures were required.

Read the text of Amendment 68 here.

The only other possible ballot measure of interest to education is what’s temporarily named Proposition 124. It would require school district contract negotiations to be held in public and is being pushed by the Independence Institute, a free-market think-tank. Aug. 4 is the deadline for filing petitions.

Backers of Proposition 49, which would have allowed bans on carrying concealed weapons on college campuses, have withdrawn their proposal.

Categories: Urban School News

In Brighton, booming enrollment could lead to year-round school

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 16:32

During the last decade, Adams County School District 27J’s enrollment has doubled. And there is no sign of a slow down, according to district officials.

The district in Brighton, about 30 minutes north of Denver, is out of room and is considering asking voters this November to raise taxes to finance new school construction.

If that bond issue does not pass, however, a third party is recommending 27J move to a year-round calendar to manage overflowing classrooms.

“There is no foreseeable end to this district’s enrollment growth. We may surpass 17,000 students during the 2014-15 school year and we will be a district of more than 20,000 students in the near future,” said 27J Superintendent Chris Fiedler in a media release. “We have worked to squeeze everything we can out of our budget, but we have simply run out of options. The state offers us no help for our crowding issues. If we cannot raise additional revenue for the new students, we will see longer school days and year-round schedules. That’s why we are reaching out to the community for answers.”

The new report, released earlier this month by Western Demographics Inc., recommends:

  • Elementary schools should adopt a year-round calendar in 2016.
  • Middle and high schools should extend their day by two or three periods in 2016.
  • The district should use more modular classrooms at the middle school level.

The Western Demographics report also recommend the district start preparing now. Factors district leaders will need to consider are budget and operational changes, a renegotiated teacher contract, transportation and food services.

The firm also said the district should return to a traditional schedule if and when more permanent space is made available.

According to the U.S. Census, 31 percent of all Brighton residents are under the age 18. That’s a higher percentage of school-aged children than Denver, Aurora, and Jefferson County. About one-third of all children in Brighton are under the age of 6.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Average Colorado teacher’s salary below national average

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 10:03

money matters

The next state legislative session is still months away. But Colorado superintendents and district executives are readying their pitch to lawmakers on why they should spend more on schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Human Resources

The average base pay for a Colorado teacher with 10 years of experience is $36,700. That's less than the average trucker's salary and about $8,000 below the national average, according to a new survey. ( CPR )

Private practice

The U.S. Education Department on Friday released new "user-friendly" guidelines to schools on how to communicate with parents about the data classrooms are collecting on students. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Healthy schools

The Douglas County School District school board has decided to opt out of federal guidelines for school meals and fundraisers that utilize food sales. The decision to ignore the policies outlined in the National School Lunch Program will cost the district about $167,000 ( Douglas County News-Press, Denver Post )

And the Denver Post's Vincent Carroll says Dougco is right to do so. ( Denver Post )

At the same time, a growing trend among some school districts — including Denver Public Schools — is growing its own produce. ( Denver Post )

testing testing

The CEO (and former Coloradan) of the nonprofit developing the state's new standardized tests called the exams "beautiful tools" when she addressed a gather of the state's superintendents. Her comments come as a state panel is researching Colorado's assessment programs. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

summer school

More than 100 Native American high school students graduated last week from the Upward Bound program at the University of Colorado. ( 9News )

Meanwhile, about 170 new teachers and counselors in the Harrison School District are participating in a four-week program where they work with the district's established teachers to get a jump on the academic year. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

A cut above

Some of the New York educators who developed the proficiency ratings on the state's standardized tests defended the scoring system and reluctantly accepted the results. Still others left feeling the process was so controlled that the results — which saw a shocking dip in student pass rates — were inevitable. ( Journal News )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Charter admission transparency; new political coalition and career ed

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 09:21

1. Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday signed into law legislation intended to address some of the common complaints about charter schools, like that they are secretive or that they kick kids out and keep the money. HB3232 requires funding to follow students who transfer to and from charter schools throughout the school year. It also requires charter schools to video tape admission lotteries and turn over the video to the school district. In addition, charter schools will have to submit yearly audits and tax forms to ISBE. What is fascinating is the Illinois Network of Charter School write up of what compromises they won as the bill was being negotiated. For example, the bill originally called for charter schools to give back money only for students who transfer, while the new bill calls for charter schools to also get paid for students they allow to transfer in.

Also, the bill originally called for the school district to run admission lotteries. If this provision had stayed in the bill, it might have opened the door for a centralized admission process for all schools. For a number of years, CPS leaders tried to put in place a centralized admission process that would have included charter schools. In fact, INCS agreed to this in the the 2011 Gates Compact. Currently, the admissions process is centralized for all high schools except charter schools. But charter schools have resisted. Last year, WBEZ reported that because the charter school admission process is not centralized, it is unclear how much demand there is for them.

2. Meanwhile, the CTU… The Sun Times reports this morning that labor groups, including the Chicago Teachers Union, have formed a new political party, called United Working Families. The new group is not anti-Rahm per se, but might wind up helping CTU President Karen Lewis, should she decide to run. The executive director Kristen Crowell says that the three big issues the group will be addressing are the school closings, high unemployment and violence on the South and West sides.

3. About that violence… CPS students made the news this weekend in the disturbing way they often do. Sun Times reporter Becky Schlikerman writes a moving account of 11-year-old Shamiya Adams' funeral. Melody School Principal Tiffany Tillman captured the essence of the little girl when she described her as “a beautiful child, a cheerleader, bop queen, peacemaker, respectful to all and most remembered as a best friend,” according to Schlikerman’s article. 

Also, on Monday, the Tribune featured a short piece written by students at Bradwell School of Excellence in South Shore to try to counter the publicity that paints their neighborhood as violent. They write: “We want you to know us. We aren't afraid. We know that man on the corner. He works at the store and gives us free Lemonheads. Those girls jumping rope are Precious, Aniya and Nivia. The people in the suits are people not going to funerals, but to church.”

But being exposed to violence has residual effects. A growing body of research points to the lingering effect of trauma on the lives of children. Research has developed a clear link between trauma, acting out and academic failure. In the Summer 2012 issue of Catalyst in Depth, we reported that CPS leaders understand the effect of trauma but struggle to come up with the resources to provide the type of therapy that has been effective elsewhere.

4. Turning back time… New Haven Connecticut lengthened the school day for some of the same reasons Mayor Rahm Emanuel did it. Theythought it would be a way to close the achievement gap between their high poverty district and more well off suburbs. They also followed the lead of charter schools, which have long boasted longer school days and years as a way to boost achievement.

But one year later, they abandoned the experiment, reports The Hechinger Report. Why? Students and teachers were exhausted, and the intended results didn’t come to fruition. The principal decided to scrape the longer school day for students in order to give teachers more time to plan and collaborate. Every morning, teachers have an hour before students come in. This is especially interesting given that CPS teachers say that the new extended school day schedule gives them little time to meet and plan together. 


5. Keeping kids in college… Did you know that Illinois has a 10 year goal of getting 60 percent of adults a two or four year higher education degree or a postsecondary credential of “marketable value,” such as a certificate in welding or commercial truck driving? The Sun-Times reports that earlier this month community college and business leaders met to discuss how they could meet this goal, called the Illinois Public Agenda for College or Career Success. One of the problems is that only 20 percent of those who enroll in community colleges get a credential within three years. But the good news is that more companies are offering to pay for college courses or are creating apprenticeships, according to the article. 

In the winter issue of Catalyst in Depth, we reported that CPS’ Career and Technical Education program has changed focus in the past few years to concentrate more on careers that require college degrees. Yet many believe that more technical training should be available for students. This issue came up in the latest budget debate as it was revealed that Simeon was cancelling its electrician program. Another noteworthy fact: 36 percent of CPS graduates go to community colleges, so the success of community colleges is intrinsically tied to whether CPS students achieve their goals.

Categories: Urban School News

Life after being arrested at school

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 01:00

It is a week and a half before school lets out for the summer, and though the weather is on the cool side, children are on the playground of Little Village Elementary School, shouting and running in the late afternoon. 

Anthony Martinez slides into the basement of an old building on the corner across the street. Several teenaged boys are slouched on a worn, weathered couch, playing video games in the dim light. Others are shooting pool. The young men are here as part of Urban Life Skills, a diversion program that allows young offenders to avoid the juvenile court system and a possible criminal record.

Anthony, who is the youngest in the room, sits by himself. He looks nervous in the way a 15-year-old might, staying quiet and biting his lip. Short and with a bit of a round face, Anthony sports a small gold earring in each ear, and today wears what is something of a uniform for teenage boys in the neighborhood—an oversized white t-shirt and too-baggy blue jeans.

Anthony is supposed to be getting ready for his eighth-grade graduation from Kanoon Magnet Elementary, but he is not sure that it will happen. His math teacher is threatening to fail him, and he could be forced to go to summer school.

If so, that would derail his high school plans: Anthony wants to go to Community Links High School, a year-round school that allows students to graduate in three years. It is smaller than most high schools and would give Anthony the individual attention and fresh start he so desperately wants. 

But Community Links requires students to be “in good standing” in order to enroll, so Anthony will lose his chance if he fails eighth grade. Instead, he would be stuck at Farragut, his neighborhood high school. Though Farragut’s dean of discipline says the school environment has become calmer and there is almost no gang-banging, Anthony says he knows too many other young men at the school and would come in with too much negative baggage.

“I am trying to have a better life, but if I went to Farragut, I would probably drop out,” he says. 

Anthony, the younger brother of a known Latin King gang member, says that the teachers at Kanoon never liked him, always thought he was a bad apple and for years considered him “at-risk.” Mostly, he maintains, the teachers dislike him because of the incident that led to his arrest and his eventual assignment to the Urban Life Skills program: a playground fight that he was accused of participating in and breaking a girl’s nose.

Anthony insists he had nothing to do with the fight. Initially, he was only suspended; it wasn’t until weeks later that police came to the school to arrest him. Fearing he would be found guilty of aggravated assault, Anthony pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was placed on two years’ probation and sent to the Urban Life Skills program.

Art Guerrero, who runs Urban Life Skills and has volunteered at Kanoon, says the arrest probably happened because the girl’s father insisted some action be taken. Guerrero adds that Anthony has had problems with teachers being wary of him and that the school does tend to call the police a lot. 

Like Anthony, many of the students arrested at schools are challenging and perhaps made bad decisions, but there are alternative ways to deal with them other than calling the police, says Joel Rodriguez, an organizer for the Southwest Organizing Project, which has worked with Voices of Youth in Chicago Education to advocate for a diminished police presence in schools. He notes that students are usually back in the school very soon after being arrested and nothing has changed about the circumstances surrounding the incident.

“Instead of dealing with human beings, we are just calling the police,” he says. “With all the stresses in schools, people have very little energy to deal with students.”

More so than in other large school districts, Chicago schools are quick to call in police to handle student misbehavior and conflict, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for the 2011-2012 school year (the most recent available).  In Chicago, police were called at a rate of nearly 18 cases for every 1,000 students, while New York City’s rate was 8 per 1,000 students and numbers in Los Angeles were 6 per 1,000. 

Overall, CPS referred 7,157 students to law enforcement, of whom 2,418 students were arrested, according to the federal data. As is the case with school discipline in general, black males are disproportionately targeted: They make up about 20 percent of CPS students, but 40 percent of those referred and arrested. Another 20 percent of students arrested or referred to law enforcement are Latino males—about the same percentage as Latino male enrollment. (Black and Latino girls are the vast majority of the other students who are referred or arrested.)

What’s more, these numbers likely underestimate the true number of arrests of young people in and around schools. The federal CPS data only includes incidents in which a school staff member calls police to the building. However, Chicago police track all arrests of those 17 or younger in a school building or on school grounds, regardless of how the arrest originated.

The Chicago Police Department reported 3,768 arrests of minors in schools and on school grounds during school hours in 2011-2012, according to data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.  

(In early July, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that 1,000 fewer students were arrested in the 2014 school year, but the police department did not confirm these figures.)  

Students are acutely aware of the heavy police presence in their schools, says Mathilda de Dios, program manager for Northwestern University’s Children and Family Justice Center. As part of her job, she leads Know Your Rights workshops at high schools and community centers.

At the start of workshops, she asks teens how many of them have been arrested at school or know someone who has been. More than 80 percent of them typically stand up.

Asked how many of them go to schools with restorative justice programs such as peace circles or peer juries, and about 30 percent stand up. 

De Dios says that police involvement rarely leads to a resolution of the conflict. And when police lead students out of school in handcuffs, it shapes how they view school and how school employees perceive them.

Jennifer Viets learned this the hard way when her son was taken by police out of a freshman summer program at Lane Tech High. Viets says the police were only trying to get information from her son about his friend, who was accused of throwing rocks. But her son told her that when he returned to Lane the next day, teachers commented to him that they didn’t think he would be back.

A few years later, Viets’ son and his friend were led away from school in handcuffs after being accused of stealing at a party. Viets notes that the two were the only young black men at the party. They were never charged, as the investigation eventually pointed to other culprits. Nevertheless, Viets says her son was scared.

“Everything went downhill after that,” Viets says. Her son wound up leaving Lane and completing high school with a virtual charter school. His friend transferred out too.

“It changes the way everyone perceives you when you are arrested, even if you are never charged,” she says. “How do you recover from that?”

At Kanoon, where Anthony attends, 13 students were referred to police or arrested in the 2011-2012 school year. That doesn’t sound like many, but it puts Kanoon at the higher end of the scale for elementary schools: 68 percent of elementary schools had fewer than five incidents of police involvement, and the vast majority did not lead to arrests, according to the federal data. 

Meanwhile, just 20 high schools accounted for half of all arrests —even though students in those schools made up less than a quarter of the high school population. 

Most incidents that lead to police involvement are simple battery or assault cases, theft cases or possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to a Catalyst analysis of Chicago police data.  

In June, CPS overhauled its student code of conduct and drastically cut the list of incidents that require police notification. The new code, which youth and parent advocacy groups had pushed for, now only requires police notification for drug or gun possession. In other cases, school officials can decide themselves whether or not to call police, depending on the severity of the crime and whether others were hurt or in danger of being hurt. Plus, principals must check with the Law Department before calling police on a student who is in fifth grade or younger.

In contrast, the previous code listed 27 categories of incidents that required a call to police, including battery and “any illegal activity which interferes with the school’s educational process.” 

Yet Chicago remains an outlier. A Catalyst review of discipline codes from suburban Chicago districts and other large urban school districts shows that many give principals full discretion to decide whether to call in police, even in drug and gun possession cases.

Cliff Nellis, lead attorney for the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, says that too many young people come to him after arrests for incidents that could easily be labeled a misdemeanor or dealt with through school discipline. “In mostly white suburbs, it is almost always misconduct, whereas here it is a crime,” says Nellis, referring to the rough West Side neighborhood. 

Nellis points to one case in which a client and his friend broke into their high school and played basketball in the gym. “It was basically a prank,” he says. The alarm was triggered and police wound up surrounding the school. The boys hid, but were eventually sniffed out by dogs. 

Nellis says the boys had nothing in their possession and the only things out of place in the school were basketballs. “They could have been charged with misdemeanor trespassing and the boys could have had a call home,” he says. “Instead, they were charged with a Class 2 felony burglary—breaking and entering with intent to steal. The intent is subjective.”

Schools are only part of it, says Nellis. Arrests on the streets and in the schools start young for many and this involvement follows them into adulthood. More than 57 percent of adults in North Lawndale have criminal convictions, according to a 2002 Center for Impact Research study, a mark that makes it more difficult to get a job and do other things necessary to change the direction of one’s life.

“This neighborhood is flat-out oppressed by the criminal justice system,” he says.

Cook County’s Juvenile Justice Division reports that about 75 percent of young people on probation re-enroll in school, but not necessarily the same school they attended at the time of arrest. (As part of juvenile probation, students must enroll in school.) Those on the ground say many are steered toward alternative schools. CPS is in the midst of a major expansion of alternative schools, many of them to be operated by for-profit companies.

Elvis Aguilera found out the hard way how difficult it can be to re-enroll. Elvis just turned 16 in January, but he has already been in and out of the detention center three times and in-patient drug rehab programs three times as well. The last time he got out of youth prison in St. Charles on parole in October 2013, Elvis went with his mother to get back into Farragut High School. School officials, he says, told him to just wait. Every two or three weeks, he and his mother went back and asked for him to be let back in, only to be turned down. 

Eventually, the staff at Urban Life Skills got involved and reached out to a re-enrollment specialist at CPS. (In 2013, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett hired these specialists to look for teenagers not in school.) According to Elvis and Art Guerrero, they were given some surprising news: Farragut still counted Elvis as enrolled.

The re-enrollment specialist told Guerrero that it is not unusual for schools to keep students enrolled, even though they are gone for months at a time. With high schools struggling to keep enrollment up because the district has switched to providing money on a per-pupil basis, it benefits schools to have these students on their rolls. But schools will quickly drop them when pressured to actually take them back, the re-enrollment specialist told Guerrero—schools don’t want teens perceived as problems or potential trouble. Elvis, in particular, has a tattoo that the principal didn’t like.

Elvis says that on his 16th birthday, he was officially unenrolled from Farragut. He says he was told he could try an alternative school or a GED program, but so far has turned down the idea. Now he spends his day helping walk the neighbor’s children to school and waiting for 4 p.m. when he can go to the diversion program. “I am so bored,” he says, noting that the last time he relapsed into drug use was because he was bored.

For Anthony, getting assigned to juvenile probation officer Elizabeth Marrero and placed in Guerrero’s diversion program felt eerily familiar. Both Marrero and Guerrero worked with Anthony’s older brother, Victor. Guerrero says he met Anthony when was he was about nine or 10 years old and would beg to tag along on field trips with the diversion program. Diversion programs often take their clients to ball games, museums or downtown.

Guerrero also volunteered at Kanoon, taking a group of “at-risk” sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders aside and talking to them about once a week. Anthony was part of that group. “I have known him since he was a shorty,” Guerrero says.

Guerrero’s life mission is to prevent others from following the same path he took. In his wallet, Guerrero, who is almost 50, has a picture of himself from 13 years ago. His face is sunken in, with deep wrinkles. His eyes have large swollen bags under them. He’s rail-thin. 

Guerrero says he was just like these boys at one time. He grew up in the neighborhood and his grandmother still lives in the same house just a few blocks from the diversion program. He gang-banged. He smoked weed. He got addicted to heroin. He overdosed six times.

On September 25, 2005, Guerrero was arrested and charged with dealing drugs near a school, a Class X Felony. He was 39 years old, and faced between six and 30 years behind bars. “In jail, I was saved,” he says. “I felt like God was telling me that I had a purpose and it is not to be a dealer or an addict.” 

After a year, he came out of prison and started volunteering with Urban Life Skills, which is connected to New Life Church, an evangelical church with several locations in Chicago. That is when Guerrero became involved in Anthony’s life. Guerrero’s face has filled out and now, he has a middle-aged pouch that makes him look healthy and normal. He likes taking Anthony and the other boys out to get something to eat. In the quietness of a car ride or over a taco or some ice cream, they’ll often talk to him about their fears and their hopes.

Guerrero says he gains the boys’ trust. Marrero says he plays good cop. “I play bad cop,” says the probation officer, a tall, thin striking woman. She says she has to be stern to let her clients know that she is about business. She is a mandated court reporter, so what she finds out she has to tell the judge. But she is also motherly.

Guerrero says that over time the drugs may have changed, but the cycle is much the same. Young teens, like Anthony, mostly smoke weed. But as they get deeper into the street life, they graduate to harder drugs. The addiction to drugs makes it more difficult to take a different path. 

When Anthony first started at the juvenile diversion program, some drug tests showed he was smoking marijuana. But lately, they have come out clean.   

Anthony is young enough and eager enough that he’s still got the potential to change his trajectory. That is why there was a palpable sense of relief on the Friday before graduation when he flew into the Urban Life Skills basement and announced that he was going to graduate. “The principal called me into the office and told me I could walk,” he says. “They gave me a gown.”

That evening the clients were treated to Mexican food, as well as a guest speaker to kick off the theme of the month: perseverance. One of the first things the speaker did was ask the young men if they knew the definition of the word. No one did. 

“It means doing something despite difficulty,” says Arnulfo Torres, a counselor for Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy, an alternative school in Humboldt Park. “What happens when you walk down the street and you get jumped and you go to the hospital? What happens when your brother gets shot up? What happens to you? You keep living. Life still goes on. You don’t stop being what you are. You have perseverance.”

A few days later, Guerrero and Marrero attend Anthony’s graduation. They stand in the back behind the parents and brothers and sisters. They each came with different messages that they wanted to get across to him. Marrero wanted this to be special for Anthony. She wanted him to savor the moment. She kept pointing out to him how so many people were proud. “Even the principal gave you a real honest hug,” she told him.

Marrero watched him closely. She noticed that when all the other graduates tossed their caps into the air, Anthony reached up and held his firm on his head.  Later, when she mentions it to Anthony, he says: “I didn’t want to lose it.”

Guerrero wasted so many years cycling in and out of prison and drug rehab and now spends his days trying to hold a life jacket out for young men, some of whom are destined to do the same. Guerrero knows that Anthony’s journey is not going to be easy. The message Guerrero had for Anthony is that he can overcome the assumptions and expectations that he won’t make it.

As he hugged him, over and over again as though repeating a prayer, he says, “This is just the beginning. This is just the beginning.” 

“I told the principal that in the end, Anthony is going to prove everyone wrong,” he says, looking straight at Anthony. “He is going to graduate from high school. He is going to make it.”

Categories: Urban School News

Quick to punish

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 01:00

Cory Warren and a group of his classmates at Phillips Academy High School had a challenge: Work with a community organization to try to convince their peers that drinking and taking drugs are bad ideas. 

Alcohol and drug abuse are virtually never talked about in Chicago Public Schools, even in high schools, he says. Yet teens can be especially susceptible to peer pressure to drink and do drugs, and the consequences for drug-related offenses in CPS can be severe.

“I think in elementary school they told us not to smoke squares (slang for cigarettes), but no one said anything about marijuana,” Cory recalls. But pot-smoking and drinking are all around him, he says—on the street, in his home and in one particular hallway at school. As a football player, Cory stays away from it. And he desperately wants his younger brother to follow suit.

In this day and age, recreational marijuana use is legal in two states and technically only warrants a ticket in Chicago. So Cory and his classmates choose a nuanced message for their skit, one that focuses on the negative impact of coming to school high and getting drunk at prom. 

“Your eyes are super-red and you are going to be in space in class,” Cory says. “So even if you are going to do it, wait ’til after school.”

Getting caught on drugs or carrying drugs in CPS carries consequences beyond the academic that range from a short suspension to arrest; non-punitive or educational responses are outside the norm, especially for schools in poor communities. Though the district’s revised Student Code of Conduct is intended to make discipline more equitable and send the message that students should only be suspended if they are a danger to themselves and others, non-violent drug possession ranks as the second-most serious of infractions, and drug sales rank as the most serious, along with arson and rape. 

As a result, thousands of students face stiff consequences for drug violations that mostly involve less than 30 grams of marijuana—just over an ounce.  

Over the past two school years, 2,300 students were suspended for drug use, possession or sale; 527 had an expulsion hearing, though only 22 were eventually expelled; and 1,066 were arrested, according to data from the state’s School Incident Reporting System, CPS and the Chicago Police Department. (Expulsion data are through April 30.)

The numbers contribute to the district’s overall arrest rate, which is more than double the rate in New York City and Los Angeles, though Chicago has fewer than half the number of students (see story on page 8).

When police get involved in drug cases, 99 percent result in an arrest. Police are called to schools far more often for incidents of assault or battery, yet only about 25 percent of these incidents result in an arrest.  

While some schools are quick to mete out harsh punishment, other schools let small-scale drug offenses stay off the radar. 

One Gage Park High School student, an African-American girl, said she came to school high most of the time for many years. The security guard and some teachers and administrators knew she was smoking marijuana and commented on it to her. But there were no other consequences.

Eventually, she says her foster mother realized how bad the problem was and got her into a drug treatment program. “I just needed someone to talk to,” says the young woman, who cannot be identified because she is a ward of the state.

At Kelyvn Park High School, one young Latino man says the first time he was caught with some weed, his parents were called and that was that. The second time he was suspended. But his friend adds that students at the school get suspended for relatively minor offenses. 

In some schools, drugs, especially marijuana, are not a big deal given the other challenges in a community. “The students here have many problems,” says Ali Muhammad, principal of Austin Polytech, a small West Side High School.  “Drugs are just one of them.” 

Kathleen Kane-Willis, interim director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, notes that youth drug use is much more complicated than adult drug use. Even some who support legalizing marijuana think that young people should face some consequences when they come to school with it or on it. 

Yet Kane-Willis worries about policies that are not consistent. In a study the consortium released in the spring, she found that people in Chicago are far more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession while people outside the city are more likely to be ticketed—despite a Chicago ordinance that allows for such ticketing. 

These differences extend to schools and districts, something that worries Kane-Willis.

“If you don’t have a clear policy, then it is like the wild, wild West,” she says. “It is the variation in the system that makes it unjust.”

As the perceived risk of marijuana use goes down, its use among teenagers is on the rise, according to a recent survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  Surveys have shown that there’s little difference between city and suburban teens in the level of drug use, but young people with greater access to money and resources are more likely to use hard drugs like heroin and cocaine.

In many suburban school districts, officials have incorporated education and treatment programs into their response to the problem. Some Chicago schools refer teens to programs, but the district has no systemic approach to providing students with intervention services.

Still, it is impossible to get a comprehensive look at how school districts outside of Chicago approach drug use. State law requires that districts report drug-related incidents, as well as students caught with firearms and attacks on school personnel. But a 2012 Chicago Tribune investigation found that districts were ignoring the law, which was supposed to help parents determine the safety of schools.

Following the Tribune’s investigation, big school districts, such as Chicago, Naperville and Plainfield, started reporting incidents. But at this point, only about 16 percent of all public school districts in the state have met the mandate. The Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois State Police, which are in charge of collecting the data, say they don’t have the manpower to force compliance.

In the past two years, 139 school districts have reported more than than 3,000 drug-related cases. 

By and large, the most common punishment for students caught with drugs is suspension. And as in Chicago, disparities exist. School districts with more than half low-income students are much more likely to have students arrested than other schools, and slightly more likely to expel students. 

Though anecdotal, many suburban school officials say that they offer students treatment or education to keep suspensions down or in lieu of suspension altogether.

Just this year, Shepard High School in southwest suburban Palos Heights began contracting with Rosecrance Drug Rehab Center. A Rosecrance therapist comes to Shepard once a week to provide therapy for students who have been caught with drugs or who came to school high or under the influence. 

“We backed off of kicking kids out,” says Carleton Rolland, assistant principal at Shepard. “We want to help the kids. We want to get them on the right track.” If the student continues to show up drunk or high, administrators will encourage their parents to place them in an inpatient or outpatient treatment program, he says.

Rolland says he has never called the police to arrest a student for a drug offense, but he does call police to have them come to impound the drugs.

At Stevenson High School in the well-to-do suburb of Lincolnshire, the school district has a policy in place to handle drug use and possession, but it is “not a sweeping blanket approach,” says the school’s spokesman. The Stevenson guidebook says that officials may refer students to the school resource officer, the title that many suburbs use for the police officer stationed at their school.  It also says that school officials may suspend students or recommend them for expulsion.

But to lessen the punishment, students can agree to go to a program run by Omni Youth Services twice a week for about eight weeks. Cristina Cortesi, Stevenson’s first-ever substance abuse prevention coordinator, says the educational program, called Seven Challenges, aims to get students to think critically about their decisions.

In the past, a second offense could result in expulsion. But Cortesi, who was hired this year, says they are piloting a program in which second-time offenders are referred to a more intensive 12-week program, which can either be inpatient or outpatient. 

After completion of the program, school officials consider whether an expulsion is necessary, she says.

Cortesi also runs multiple voluntary support groups for students who are thinking about their drug use or who are currently enrolled in or have completed a treatment program. 

At Stevenson, every student with a first offense agreed to participate in the Omni program, Cortesi says. However, she reports that at another high school where she previously worked, some students would rather take a long suspension instead.

“That is frustrating,” she says. “We’re limited in the scope of what we can do at that point, other than enforce school discipline policy.”

She says that if students continue to get in trouble with drugs, they are told they will be expelled. “But at that point, consequences are not going to make the difference,” she says. “Treatment makes the difference.”

Gun and drug offenses are now the only two categories of offenses that require police notification under the new CPS Student Code of Conduct. Some suburban school districts leave it up to administrators, saying that police “may” be notified. 

Mathilda de Dios, an outreach worker for Northwestern University’s Children and Family Justice Center, says she would like to see student arrests for marijuana offenses become a non-option. “In a city willing to ticket adults, we have a double standard,” she says. “There is no reason why we should hold youth more accountable.”

It’s more important, she points out, for schools to address substance abuse problems with help.

Up until now, the only way a CPS student could be referred to the district’s discipline intervention program is to go through an expulsion hearing. The new code of conduct allows principals to ask for a referral directly.

Joel Rodriguez, an education organizer for the Southwest Organizing Project, says the option is a positive change. But the intervention program, called SMART, takes place on Saturdays at a downtown location and often students must wait for weeks to get admitted. 

Despite the code of conduct’s shift in policy, a critical missing piece remains, according to Rodriguez and other activists: Lack of money for social-emotional programs to help students deal with problems such as substance abuse. 

Some schools, on their own, develop relationships with outside organizations and then make their own stipulations for students. Farragut High School’s dean of discipline, Francisco Torres, says his school this year developed a relationship with a local health center that operates a counseling program for students. He referred 10 students to the program in lieu of suspending them. 

The end result: Only four students were suspended in 2014 for possession or sale of drugs, down from 17 in 2013, according to the state’s School Incident Reporting System.

Torres says that students don’t think that using marijuana is a problem. But from his point of view, drug use and gang activity are intertwined. “If we can stop them from using drugs, we can also stop them from gang-banging,” he says.

Other schools rely on parents. Lincoln Park High School reported 68 drug-related incidents in 2013 and 39 in 2014, according to the Reporting System. Of those, 56 were for drug use, 51 were for possession and selling. Most of the students who had drugs were suspended. But in 20 percent of the cases, 23 overall, school officials checked off the “other” box.

Dean Donovan Robinson says that in recent years, fewer students have been caught coming to school high on drugs or with drugs on them. 

“We can sit down and talk to them and get their parents on the phone,” says Robinson, who gives the confiscated drugs to police and throws paraphernalia in the garbage. 

Cecilia Farfan, assistant principal at World Language High School, says that students must be arrested if they are found in possession of drugs. But that doesn’t happen often; last school year, Farfan says, the school had only one drug possession case. The student brought three or four baggies of marijuana to school and was charged with possession with intent to distribute. 

“We were surprised it was him. He comes from an extremely good family,” Farfan says. 

She says she has had students suspected of being high or drunk. But it is tricky. “Sometimes we call the parent and tell them to pick the student up for a day because it is a liability.”

The school does not have money for prevention programs or for counseling, whether for substance abuse or other issues. Counselors try to help students who seem to have problems, but mostly by referring them to outside resources. 

“We have to concentrate on academics, test scores, reading, ACT preparation,” Farfan says. “Drug counseling and prevention is not something we spend money on.”

Rick Velasquez, executive director of Youth Outreach Services, says that he definitely sees a difference in how drug use in schools is viewed and handled in CPS versus the suburbs. Youth Outreach Services, which has a contract with Cook County to provide juvenile diversion programs in Chicago and throughout the suburbs, serves a mix of wealthy and poorer suburbs as well as the city. 

“Suburbs are more likely to take the health perspective,” he says. “They also are concerned about liability.” 

Velasquez says that at one point, his organization was hired to do programs in CPS, but that work has fallen by the wayside.

“The schools are so focused on performance and test-taking that they don’t look at the whole child,” he says. “They don’t look at them holistically.”

Tell us what you think. Leave a comment below, or email karp@catalyst-chicago.org.

 

Categories: Urban School News

Drug policy should focus on teaching, not punishment

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 01:00

Jesus Velazquez got caught at school with a marijuana pipe in his backpack. What happened next is exactly what shouldn’t take place if a school district’s goal—or, from a larger perspective, a community’s goal—is to get kids who make dumb mistakes back on track. 

Jesus was suspended for 10 days. While out of school, he got behind in his classes and struggled to catch up when he returned. Nine months later, Jesus got an unexpected letter stating that he had to show up for an expulsion hearing. He accepted an offer to go to a diversion program instead of being expelled, but it took three months for him to land a spot. Jesus ended up failing most of his sophomore classes and is now facing a fifth year in high school. 

Obviously, schools cannot let students carry around drug paraphernalia or drugs without taking some swift action. Teenagers must be steered quickly away from substance abuse, even in this day and age, when recreational use of pot is legal in two states and being caught with an ounce or less warrants only a ticket and a fine in more than a dozen states. Even Jesus, who told his story to Deputy Editor Sarah Karp for this issue of Catalyst In Depth, admits that he was wrong. But no one was hurt in the incident. Jesus wasn’t accused of selling drugs. He didn’t have a gun or other weapon. Take him at his word that he is basically a good kid and was shocked to be threatened with expulsion months after the fact.

Surely this was a case in which a non-punitive response—mandatory drug education or participation in community service—made better sense. Too many students who have committed non-violent drug offenses end up like Jesus, the target of a heavy-handed approach that kicks them out of school—the very place that, with the right resources, could steer them in the right direction. Most often, students of color are the target. Schools with significant white enrollment, including those in the suburbs, are less likely to expel or arrest students for drug violations. 

We’re not talking about offenses involving heroin or cocaine or meth, hard drugs with more serious health risks than marijuana and that warrant felony charges outside schools. The majority of these incidents involve 30 grams (about an ounce) or less of marijuana. 

Under a 2012 Chicago decriminalization ordinance, Jesus, if he were older, might have gotten only a slap on the wrist. The ordinance allows police to issue tickets and fines to adults carrying small amounts of pot. But harsher penalties are still in place for juveniles: Offenders younger than 17 still face arrest in such cases.

These arrests help fuel the sky-high arrest rate in Chicago Public Schools, which dwarfs the rates for New York City and Los Angeles public schools, even though both districts are far larger. 

It’s appropriate to take a tough stand against drugs with teens. A ticket and a fine aren’t enough. Arrests and expulsions are too much. What’s needed is education and teaching.

One suburban principal put it best: “We backed off of kicking kids out. We want to help the kids. We want to get them on the right track.” 

This issue of Catalyst In Depth was written as part of a project headed by the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. The Social Justice News Nexus at Medill is wrapping up its inaugural fellowship cycle, with reporting fellows—Sarah Karp among them—and Medill graduate students completing reporting projects on drug policy and the impact of drugs on Chicago. Stories will be published on the Social Justice News Nexus website at sjnnchicago.org as well as by the project’s media partners, which include Catalyst and our sister publication, The Chicago Reporter. The stories will be showcased in a multi-media Pop-Up Magazine event scheduled for October.  A new fellowship cycle will also be announced in the fall, focusing on mental health care in the city. That’s a topic Catalyst covered in our award-winning summer 2012 issue of Catalyst In Depth on mental health trauma in schools. You can find the issue on catalyst-chicago.org.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Charter admission transparency; new political coalition and career ed

Catalyst Chicago - Sun, 07/27/2014 - 09:21

Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday signed into law legislation intended to address some of the common complaints about charter schools, like that they are secretive or that they kick kids out and keep the money. HB3232 requires funding to follow students who transfer to and from charter schools throughout the school year. It also requires charter schools to video tape admission lotteries and turn over the video to the school district. In addition, charter schools will have to submit yearly audits and tax forms to ISBE. What is fascinating is the Illinois Network of Charter School write up of what compromises they won as the bill was being negotiated. For example, the bill originally called for charter schools to give back money only for students who transfer, while the new bill calls for charter schools to also get paid for students they allow to transfer in.

Also, the bill originally called for the school district to run admission lotteries. If this provision had stayed in the bill, it might have opened the door for a centralized admission process for all schools. For a number of years, CPS leaders tried to put in place a centralized admission process that would have included charter schools. In fact, INCS agreed to this in the the 2011 Gates Compact. Currently, the admissions process is centralized for all high schools except charter schools. But charter schools have resisted. Last year, WBEZ reported that because the charter school admission process is not centralized, it is unclear how much demand there is for them.

Meanwhile, the CTU… The Sun Times reports this morning that labor groups, including the Chicago Teachers Union, have formed a new political party, called United Working Families. The new group is not anti-Rahm per se, but might wind up helping CTU President Karen Lewis, should she decide to run. The executive director Kristen Crowell says that the three big issues the group will be addressing are the school closings, high unemployment and violence on the South and West sides.

About that violence… CPS students made the news this weekend in the disturbing way they often do. Sun Times reporter Becky Schlikerman writes a moving account of 11-year-old Shamiya Adams' funeral. Melody School Principal Tiffany Tillman captured the essence of the little girl when she described her as “a beautiful child, a cheerleader, bop queen, peacemaker, respectful to all and most remembered as a best friend,” according to Schlikerman’s article. 

Also, on Monday, the Tribune featured a short piece written by students at Bradwell School of Excellence in South Shore to try to counter the publicity that paints their neighborhood as violent. They write: “We want you to know us. We aren't afraid. We know that man on the corner. He works at the store and gives us free Lemonheads. Those girls jumping rope are Precious, Aniya and Nivia. The people in the suits are people not going to funerals, but to church.”

But being exposed to violence has residual effects. A growing body of research points to the lingering effect of trauma on the lives of children. Research has developed a clear link between trauma, acting out and academic failure. In the Summer 2012 issue of Catalyst in Depth, we reported that CPS leaders understand the effect of trauma but struggle to come up with the resources to provide the type of therapy that has been effective elsewhere.

Turning back time… New Haven Connecticut lengthened the school day for some of the same reasons Mayor Rahm Emanuel did it. Theythought it would be a way to close the achievement gap between their high poverty district and more well off suburbs. They also followed the lead of charter schools, which have long boasted longer school days and years as a way to boost achievement.

But one year later, they abandoned the experiment, reports The Hechinger Report. Why? Students and teachers were exhausted, and the intended results didn’t come to fruition. The principal decided to scrape the longer school day for students in order to give teachers more time to plan and collaborate. Every morning, teachers have an hour before students come in. This is especially interesting given that CPS teachers say that the new extended school day schedule gives them little time to meet and plan together. 


Keeping kids in college… Did you know that Illinois has a 10 year goal of getting 60 percent of adults a two or four year higher education degree or a postsecondary credential of “marketable value,” such as a certificate in welding or commercial truck driving? The Sun-Times reports that earlier this month community college and business leaders met to discuss how they could meet this goal, called the Illinois Public Agenda for College or Career Success. One of the problems is that only 20 percent of those who enroll in community colleges get a credential within three years. But the good news is that more companies are offering to pay for college courses or are creating apprenticeships, according to the article. 

In the winter issue of Catalyst in Depth, we reported that CPS’ Career and Technical Education program has changed focus in the past few years to concentrate more on careers that require college degrees. Yet many believe that more technical training should be available for students. This issue came up in the latest budget debate as it was revealed that Simeon was cancelling its electrician program. Another noteworthy fact: 36 percent of CPS graduates go to community colleges, so the success of community colleges is intrinsically tied to whether CPS students achieve their goals.

Categories: Urban School News

What We’re Reading: Building a better conversation about teaching

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/25/2014 - 18:13
  • Don’t miss the first excerpt from Chalkbeat CEO Elizabeth Green’s “Building a Better Teacher,” out next month. (NYTMag)
  • Elizabeth shares tips, gleaned from reporting her book, for parents who want to help their children with math. (Motherlode)
  • An educator riffs off the excerpt to make the case for “slow reform.” (Storify)
  • A math teacher rounds up some of the research reflected in Elizabeth’s story. (dy/dan)
  • A researcher found that extra time in math classes didn’t pay off for sixth-graders. (Stanford Report)
  • A New Haven school that scrapped extra time for students in favor of time for teachers represents a trend. (Hechinger)
  • A mother says her preschooler’s experience bears out data about black boys being disciplined disproportionately. (WaPo)
  • A sociologist notes that implicit bias and real differences in behavior can be at play in discipline disparities. (Shanker)
  • The Achievement First charter network is starting its quest for “disruptive change” by overhauling one school. (New Haven Independent)
  • Teachers union contract negotiations are heating up in Los Angeles. (L.A. School Report)
  • From profiles to tragedies, here’s a rundown of New Yorker stories about education to read while you can. (Vox)
  • An educator describes her journey from naive Teaching Fellow to experienced teacher. (Atlantic)
  • Project-based learning is the focus at the teacher-run Workshop School in Philadelphia. (NPRed)
  • The author of “Up the Down Staircase,” the iconic book about teaching in New York City, has died at 103. (New York Times)
  • American principals are more likely than colleagues in other countries to say their students are poor. (Upshot)
  • Chicago has told its largest charter network to make it easier for students to apply. (WBEZ)
  • The start-of-the-school-year nightmares have set in. What’s yours? (Tween Teacher)
Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: Price, King, Okezie-Phillips, new principals

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 07/25/2014 - 16:03

John Price, former chief of schools of Network 4 for Chicago Public Schools, has been named assistant superintendent of schools for Evanston/Skokie Elementary School District 65. No replacement has yet been named.

Tim King, founder and president of Urban Prep Academies, a network of all-male charter high schools in Chicago, has been appointed a commissioner of the Chicago Park District.

Erica Okezie-Phillips, former education program officer at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, has embarked on a new career as an Independent Consultant specializing in International teacher training and Early Childhood Education development. Ozekie-Phillips left the foundation in May.

These interim principals have become contract principals at their schools: Antonio Acevedo, Whittier Elementary; Femi Skanes, Al Raby High School; Adam Stich, Hitch Elementary.

The following have also become principals: LaMonica Clemons Williams, Dett Elementary, formerly acting principal at Haley; Laura LeMone, Von Steuben High School, formerly assistant principal at Juarez High School; Raynell Walls, Drummond Elementary, formerly assistant principal at Volta Elementary; Mary Kay Richardson, Thomas Early Childhood Center, formerly Everett Elementary.

Categories: Urban School News

PARCC chief says new tests “beautiful tools”

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/25/2014 - 15:37

“I think they’re really beautiful tools, but they’re just tests,” the CEO of the PARCC testing group told Colorado school administrators Friday. “The really important thing is what happens in the classroom every day,”

Laura Slover acknowledged rising criticism of standardized tests but said, “This is not a testing agenda; it’s a equity agenda.”

Slover spoke to the closing session of the Colorado Association of School Executive’s annual summer meeting in Breckenridge, which drew more than 1,000 administrators and others.

Calling the PARCC language arts and math tests “a huge game changer,” Slover said, “This is a quality test. It’s better than anything else out there on the market.”

Some Colorado schools field-tested the new exams last spring, and the tests are scheduled to be given in all districts next spring, replacing the TCAP tests. However, a new state task force is studying a variety of testing issues, and assessment is expected to be a major education issue during the 2015 legislative session.

“There is a lot of frustration about testing,” Slover acknowledged, particularly the perception of a growing testing burden. PARCC is working on a whole system of tests, including diagnostic and formative exams in addition to the end-of-year tests.

Slover asked, “Is this an opportunity to streamline and look at PARCC as a solution and not an additive extra thing you have to do?”

She also said, “The PARCC assessments do not require some separate kind of test prep. … If teachers teach the content their kids will do fine. It’s about good teaching, it’s not about drill-and-kill test prep.”

Slover started her education career as an English teacher and basketball coach at Battle Mountain High School in Eagle County. She recalled that she didn’t pay much attention to standards and assessments in those days.

“Those standards and those results sat in a nice cupboard and I didn’t use them much,” she said. “I wish I’d had tools like the PARCC states are developing now.”

Colorado educators who participated in a panel following Slover’s talk were generally supportive.

Tracy Dorland, chief academic officer of the Adams 12-Five Star district, said Common Core standards and new tests are “about raising the bar for all kids,” adding she hopes the change “re-energizes our teachers.”

She said she’s concerned “that we lack the courage to get it done and that we get derailed by the political rhetoric, whether it’s left or right.”

Dorland also said teachers can help ease public concern about new tests. “When teachers tell parents good things about the work they’re doing parents are really supportive.”

Dan Snowberger, Durango superintendent, said the old state-only standards “created an un-level playing field” and cautioned, “If we think the new standards are about tweaking what we do, we’ve missed the mark.”

Snowberger also said, “My fear is that there will be this groundswell of anti-Common Core and that some educators will get on board with that.”

Categories: Urban School News

District leaders start laying plans for 2015 session

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/25/2014 - 14:24

The 2015 legislative session is five months – and one election – in the future, but school district leaders already are strategizing the issues they’re going to push in the new year.

School funding stays at the top of that list, Boulder Superintendent Bruce Messinger told the annual summer meeting of the Colorado Association of School Executives during a session Friday in Breckenridge.

“We’re continuing that work,” said Messinger, who’s co-chair of the group’s legislative committee and who was a leading figure in the 2014 lobbying effort that persuaded lawmakers to make a $110 million reduction in the state’s school funding shortfall, known as the negative factor.

Asked about the issue by Chalkbeat Colorado, Messinger said the group of superintendents working on the issue haven’t yet decided how much of an additional reduction to push for in 2015. “This is a multi-year effort,” he noted and said superintendents would “hope to match” the 2014 negative factor reduction next year.

He also acknowledged that other financial pressures on the legislature may make for a tough lobbying challenge. “We recognize it probably will be difficult.”

Messinger said superintendents also are focusing on accountability and testing but haven’t yet developed group positions on those issues.

He did say there’s “quite a bit of agreement around finding the right balance” of testing and that superintendents are closely watching a new state task force that is starting to study the issue.

Messinger also indicated that after more than five years of reform efforts some superintendents feel it’s time to look into the workings of those laws. “We’re just not seeing the positive impact” on student achievement.

In his comments to the group Messinger echoed other speakers who called for greater recognition of local leadership and local control.

When superintendents started lobbying on school finance last year, Messinger said they were confronted with “the belief [by some lawmakers] that we don’t control the future of education. … We challenge that, and we will control the future of education.”

CASE lobbyist Elisabeth Rosen opened the Friday meeting with some previews of the 2015 session, saying, “It is anticipated that the House will remain in Democratic control, but there will be leadership change.” She added, “It’s feasible Democrats could lose control of the Senate.”

While 2015 legislation is likely on enrollment counting, testing, turnaround schools and oversight of online schools, Rosen said she thinks lawmakers may not take up teacher licensing changes.

Rosen said CASE won’t decide until September whether to take a position on an initiative proposing casino expansion, with some revenues dedicated to school districts. But her mere mention of the plan brought skeptical chuckles from the audience. She said CASE will oppose a second initiative that would require district contract negotiations be conducted in public. Neither initiative has yet been certified for the ballot.

Categories: Urban School News

U.S. ed department issues new guidance to schools on student privacy

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/25/2014 - 14:11

In an apparent response to growing concern from parents about student data collection, the U.S. Education Department this morning announced new “user-friendly” student data and privacy guidance for schools and districts.

The new guidance makes several recommendations including schools and districts share with parents what information they are collecting about students, how is the information protected, and if they share personal information with third parties.

The department also launched a new website that includes resources and information for parents regarding the federal student privacy laws.

“Now more than ever, schools need data to monitor academic progress and develop successful teaching strategies,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “At the same time, parents need assurance that their children’s personal information is being used responsibly. This guidance helps schools strike a balance between the two.”

Parents across the county — and in Colorado — have become increasingly anxious about student privacy as more schools are collecting more data points.

Locally, parents in Jefferson County have raised concern about student privacy in two separate matters: inBloom, a now expired project of the Gates Foundation that would have created a super-dashboard for teachers to find student information with just a few clicks, and TS Gold, a school readiness assessment. Earlier this year, the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education dropped the district’s use of Gold in kindergarten but kept the tool in its preschools in order to continue to receive funding from the state’s preschool program.

Full release from U.S. Education Department

The U.S. Department of Education today announced new guidance for schools and districts on how to keep parents and students better informed about what student data is collected and how it is used.

In the guidance issued by the Department’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center, schools and districts are urged to be proactive in communicating how they use student data. Information should be available to answer common questions before they are asked.

“Now more than ever, schools need data to monitor academic progress and develop successful teaching strategies,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “At the same time, parents need assurance that their children’s personal information is being used responsibly. This guidance helps schools strike a balance between the two.”

The Department’s Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) also announced a new companion website that includes a variety of resources and information regarding the federal laws FPCO administers, and to help keep the public informed about the privacy and use of student records.

The new site, http://familypolicy.ed.gov, is aimed at being more user-friendly to help school officials, parents and students find the information they are seeking. In the coming months, the Department will post decision letters from prior complaints handled by FPCO, which administers the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The website will also feature an online “community of practice” for school officials to share best practices, information, templates and other resources.

The new guidance recommends that schools and districts provide parents with information, such as:

· What information are you collecting about students?
· Why are you collecting this information?
· How is the information protected?
· Do you share any personal information with third parties? If so, with whom and for what purpose(s)?
· Who should parents contact if they have questions about your data practices?

To respond to parental inquiries, the guidance recommends that schools :

· Keep the lines of communication open.
· Review parental questions, concerns and suggestions in a thoughtful and careful manner.
· Respond to parental or student requests in a timely manner.
· Periodically review old inquiries and resolutions to evaluate and improve communication and transparency efforts.

The guidance also advises schools to make information about their student data policies clear, consistent and easy to find on their public website. Members of the community should periodically review the site for ease of use, comprehension and completeness.

Today’s announcement addresses the increasing need for schools and districts across the country to collect data about students, including their test scores, grades, credits earned, and other related information, such as demographics, enrollment, discipline, and special education status.

Education agencies use this information to identify student talents and special requirements, check academic progress and develop successful learning plans. The guidance encourages schools and districts to take a hands-on approach in communicating with parents to help alleviate confusion and misunderstandings about the use of student records.

The Department’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center is a one-stop resource for education stakeholders to learn about data privacy, confidentiality and security practices related to student data. The center provides information and updated guidance on privacy, confidentiality and security practices through a variety of resources, including training materials and technical assistance.

Besides FERPA which protects the privacy of student education records, FPCO also administers another law related to the use of student personal information. Known as the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), the statute addresses, among other matters, the use of personal information collected from students for marketing purposes and the administration of certain surveys and evaluations to students.

For more information on the work of the Family Policy Compliance Office, see its website here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Union leaders plan to send teachers door-to-door for votes

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/25/2014 - 09:56

Politics to the core

Those curious about how to lead Colorado away from the Common Core State Standards met at movie theaters across the state this week to participate in a live event hosted by conservative media personality Glenn Beck. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

bell out of order, please knock

Union leaders hope to make the most of their human capital. They plan to send teachers door-to-door to stump for progressive issues. ( Politico )

No brainer

Helmets used by girl lacrosse players have been proven to decrease concussions, a new study found. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

systemic racism

In an essay, a mother of two preschoolers attempts to rationalize why her students were suspended. Her conclusion: they're African-American. ( Washington Post )

implementation nation

The Louisianna state school board is considering whether to sue Gov. Bobby Jindal for his efforts to thwart the use of the Common Core standards in the state's public schools. There's just one catch — Jindal has to approve the hiring of any outside lawyers by state boards. ( AP )

Gov. Chris Christie's executive order that would tweak the use of new testing data in teacher evaluations is being dubbed a half-step by those who wish to see the tests and their data gone for good. ( North Jersey )

Meanwhile, in Texas, the state has decided to pilot its teacher evaluation system one more year. The new evaluation program is the first update to the system in 17 years. ( Texas Tribune )

Categories: Urban School News

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