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Updated: 1 hour 41 min ago

Students rally for bill to limit suspensions and expulsion, ban discipline fines

2 hours 55 min ago

Students from Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) rallied in the Loop Wednesday to build support for student-drafted legislation that would eliminate monetary fines imposed for disciplinary reasons in schools, as well as limit out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.

The proposed bill, SB3004,   is now pending in the state Senate. The crowd of students and supporters from the Campaign for Common Sense Discipline in Chicago Public Schools marched from CPS headquarters to the State of Illinois Building to urge lawmakers to support the bill.

VOYCE has called attention to harsh discipline in CPS, and has also been among those criticizing charter discipline policies, which are often tougher than the CPS Student Code of Conduct.

Noble Street Charter Schools have come under fire not only for a strict discipline code but also for levying hefty fines against students for relatively minor infractions.  Last week, Noble Street announced it would drop one of its more controversial fines, the $5 fee assessed against students who earned detentions.

“We want common sense discipline, instead of the zero-tolerance policy we have now,” said Mariama Bangura, a junior at Roosevelt High School. “Schools need to support their students, not kick them out for minor issues.”

"Keeping students in the classroom and connected to their school communities is important to the District, which is why CPS revised its disciplinary policies to focus on instructive and corrective responses to misbehavior, resulting in a 36% drop in out-of-school suspensions for high school students over three years," said CPS spokesman Joel Hood in a statement. "While CPS and VOYCE are aligned in their efforts to reduce suspensions and keep students in school, SB3004, as drafted, places strict limitations on administrators' ability to manage school safety and could potentially interfere with law enforcement's jurisdiction and ability to enforce safety on school grounds or at school-sponsored events."

Though high school suspensions have declined, elementary suspensions have risen dramatically in recent years, Catalyst found, and the racial gap in disciplined has widened.

Harsh discipline has a disproportionate impact on African American male students and has long been an issue in CPS. School discipline is also in the spotlight nationally, with federal education officials urging districts to find ways to keep students in school instead of suspending and expelling them.

In addition to banning fines for discipline infractions, SB3004 would amend the Illinois School Code to put limits on the actions that could lead to suspension or expulsion. For one, students could only be expelled “for posing a significant threat of imminent serious harm to other pupils or to staff” instead of for the more subjective “gross disobedience or misconduct.”

Students could be suspended, for not more than 10 days, for “a serious act of misconduct” rather than “gross disobedience or misconduct.”

“I’m the first one to take action if a student is disrupting my class, but I see kids being suspended and expelled for minor infractions all the time,” said Roosevelt teacher Tim Meegan. “This undermines my ability to teach and hurts the students.”

The student group was joined by Jessica Schneider from the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc., who, echoing other experts across the country, said school discipline has become a civil rights issue. Schneider pointed to data showing black students in CPS are 30 times more likely to be suspended than whites, and said that disciplinary fees are an exclusionary practice that further disadvantages low-income students.

In the News: Fewer Chicago students smoke, CDC reports

10 hours 32 min ago

Smoking among Chicago high school students has decreased by more than 20 percent since 2011 and is now the lowest recorded rate in youth smoking, the mayor's office announced Tuesday. Based to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a study shows that less than 11 percent of Chicago high school students reported smoking in 2013, down from more than 13 percent in 2011. (Press release)

THE PARENT TRAP: Most forms of parental involvement, like observing a child’s class, contacting a school about a child’s behavior, helping to decide a child’s high school courses, or helping a child with homework, do not improve student achievement, say the authors of “The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education,” in an  opinion piece. In some cases, they actually hinder it. (The New York Times)

DEBATING TEACHER FIRING: A bill awaiting the signature of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback would essentially make teachers in the state at-will employees of their school districts, and teachers would be able to challenge termination only if they allege the firing violates their constitutional rights. (The Kansas City Star)

LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: About 1,800 applicants were in Portland Tuesday, looking for teaching jobs at the Oregon Professional Educator Fair. Almost 170 school districts and other educational agencies have booths at the two-day fair. They’re looking for new staff as teachers retire or move out of the area. (OPB)

Across all races, teacher education losing students

April 15, 2014 - 1:14pm

Fewer college students are enrolling in traditional undergraduate teaching programs in Illinois, with whites accounting for the biggest drop. After years of holding steady, enrollment fell significantly in 2011 and 2012—by 23 percent overall, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of data from the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) for 2003 through 2012. White student enrollment fell at an even higher rate of 25 percent.

Black enrollment in teaching programs showed no clear trend between 2003 and 2010, but, as with white students, declined significantly in 2011 and 2012. Hispanic enrollment, however, grew steadily between 2003 and 2010, only to fall in the next two years. But that growth means that more Hispanics than African Americans are now entering teaching.

Still, enrollment trends are important because of the mismatch between students and teachers that can lead to a cultural divide in the classroom: About half of students in Illinois public schools are minorities, but close to 84 percent of teachers are white, according to state records. In Chicago, the need for a diverse teacher workforce is especially evident: 86 percent of students are children of color but less than half of teachers are minorities.

Despite the mismatch, it’s not likely that the state will experience a massive overall shortage of public school teachers anytime soon. Illinois has long produced an overabundance of teachers in all but a few instructional categories, and the state’s population of elementary and high school aged students is expected to continue on a slight decline through at least 2019, according to national projections.

At Illinois State University, the state’s biggest producer of teachers, enrollment has gone through ups and downs during the past decade. But it hit a new low in 2012, when the numbers were 16 percent lower than a decade earlier.

“We have a very strong history of educating teachers and seeing those numbers decline has been a concern,” says Stacy Ramsey, ISU interim director of admissions. "It’s just getting harder and harder to become a teacher, with all the testing standards and continuing education […]. I don’t think it’s a career choice that is as attractive as it used to be.”

Illinois teaching institutions aren’t the only ones losing students. According to a national survey by the American Association for Teacher Education, the number of full-time undergraduates enrolled in education degree programs fell by 6 percent between 2006 and 2011 – even though overall enrollment at the 581 institutions surveyed grew by more than 7 percent during that time period.

“With everything that’s going on right now, the profession is just not well received because of the [2012 Chicago teachers] strike and the closing of schools,” says Chamiyah Pugh, a first-year teacher at Mays Elementary School in Englewood. “The teacher turnover rate is so high you will meet teachers who tell you to get out of this field and to save yourself.”

Harder exams, less prestige

University leaders and others in the field say the toughened entrance exam for education colleges that was put into place in 2010 is responsible for much of the decline. That year, the Illinois State Board of Education restructured and raised the cut scores for the required entrance exam for education colleges, now known as the Test for Academic Proficiency (TAP), and also imposed a limit on the number of times students could take the test. Overall, fewer than a third of students who now take the TAP pass it – a far cry from the previous pass rate of more than 80 percent overall.

Yet leaders also point to other circumstances that may have made teaching less attractive, such as school closures and layoffs in Chicago as well as the fight over pension reform and the growth of alternative teaching programs.

“Teaching just doesn’t seem to be appealing to certain students anymore,” says Sterling Sadler, dean of the College of Education at Western Illinois University. “What we are seeing is that the quality of those students who do enroll is improving, which is a good thing.”

Much of the public dialogue about the sharp drop in pass rates on the TAP has focused on black and Hispanic students, whose scores are significantly lower than for white students. But the numbers are bad across the board: Only 34 percent of white students passed the exam in the final quarter of 2013.

“When you change the cut score, it’s going to affect all students,” says Brian Schultz, a professor and chair of the Educational Inquiry & Curriculum Studies Department at Northeastern Illinois University. “The cut score needs to be changed, or let’s eliminate that as a requirement because it doesn’t predict performance in the classroom.”

Schultz and other critics of the test, including the organization Grow Your Own Teachers—which partners with community organizations in low-income neighborhoods to recruit community members into teaching—want the state to find alternative methods of assessing the quality of prospective teachers.

“ISBE is in a tough situation in terms of how they have decided to go down this path in terms of using rhetoric such as ‘raising the bar’ on teachers, because to change that now would suggest that they’re now ‘lowering’ the bar,” he said. “But that would be the moral thing to do. They’ve made a mistake and it’s having a disparate impact [on students of color]”.

“We know that those individuals that have the cultural competencies and are able to connect in culturally respectful ways to their students are the most successful in the classroom,” Schulz adds.

Mary Fergus, a spokeswoman for ISBE, says the agency hasn’t conducted a formal analysis of the downward trend.

“While it may be the case that TAP has momentarily stopped individuals from pursuing a teaching license, it is also the case that the higher expectations serve as a gate, keeping individuals who cannot perform those foundational functions from moving forward until they can reach that point,” she added.

Last month ISBE voted to eliminate the limit on the number of times students could take the TAP, explaining that the measure sought to diversify the teaching workforce. The state board also formed a working committee that includes educators and young teachers of color to study the issue and has given colleges discretion to allow students to enroll into education programs prior to passing the TAP.

However, during ISBE’s meeting in April, state officials said many universities have chosen not to use that discretion. Staff at NEIU, for example, decided after much discussion not to allow students into the program before passing the TAP to avoid potentially burdening them with debt if they ultimately fail the exam.

Opting for other careers

Of course, not everyone who earns a bachelor’s degree in education goes on to earn a teaching certificate, and even fewer wind up teaching in public schools. A longitudinal study published last year by the Illinois Education Research Council, at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, showed that less than half of those who get certified wind up teaching in an Illinois public school, with some entering private schools and other educational jobs in the private sector.

The study sought to inform the design of policies meant to improve the supply of academically skilled and racially diverse teachers in Illinois by tracking students who graduated from high school in 2002 and 2003, through college and into the workforce. Among its findings: Minorities are far less interested in becoming teachers starting in high school, when they indicate their desired career on their ACTs. The trend continued all along the teacher pipeline.

“Regardless of academic preparation, minority high school students still aspired to teach at lower rates, minority bachelor’s degree recipients were less likely to have earned teaching certificates, and minorities with teaching certificates were less likely to become teachers in Illinois public schools, compared to whites,” according to the study. “These all indicate that other factors besides academic preparation also have a large impact on the relatively low minority representation of new public school teachers in Illinois.”

Certified black teachers, according to the study, are the least likely ethnic group to become a public school teacher in Illinois.

 “Amongst people of color, becoming a teacher has zoomed down to [no] more than 8th place in their interest level,” says Dominic Belmonte, president and CEO of Golden Apple, a non-profit organization dedicated to recruiting and developing good teachers in Illinois. “There is a sense out there that teaching is a difficult task that has a limited payoff as far as salary, as far as prestige, as far as challenge. Trying to make teaching cool again with all of these obstacles is a tad difficult.”

That’s part of the reason why educators at ISU launched the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline more than a decade ago. The program seeks to prepare students from high schools in Little Village, Auburn Gresham and Albany Park for college – and careers as Chicago teachers.

“The end goal for students that we’re recruiting from CPS is that they’ll return home to teach,” explains Robert Lee, the program’s executive director. “And many of our alums will continue living in these communities we serve.”

About 800 students have successfully gone through the pipeline and are now teaching in Chicago Public Schools, Lee said.

 Another facet of the program brings ISU students into Chicago neighborhoods, where they live for a month while taking teaching classes and interning at a local community organization. Pugh, the first- year teacher at Mays Elementary School in Englewood, spent the summer of 2012 in the program, which she said prepared her to teach in the city. 

Pugh was impressed with the program’s community and cultural emphasis.

“As an African-American girl growing up in Chicago, most of my teachers didn’t understand what it was like for us,” she says. “I wanted to be the person who ‘got’ the kids because I rarely had anybody I could relate to.”

Alternative routes to the classroom

The growth of alternative teaching programs, such as Teach for America and the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), may also be influencing some students to pursue a teaching certificate post- college instead of earning a bachelor’s degree in education.

Mike Konkoleski, a math teacher at Solorio High School, knew since his senior year in high school that he probably wanted to become a teacher. But he chose to study math at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and later added a double major in Spanish. Fulfilling the requirements for both majors made it difficult to also schedule the education courses he’d need to earn a teaching certificate.

He considered staying at U of I for a fifth year in order to get his teaching certificate, but instead applied to several post-college alternative teaching programs in Chicago. He entered the AUSL program in 2008, where he earned his teaching certificate along with a master’s degree in education while spending a year in the classroom under the watchful eye of a mentor. Konkoleski says he has no regrets.

“No matter what education program you look at, you only learn so much in the courses. The only way you learn is by teaching,” he points out.

Konkoleski and others in his cohort earned traditional teaching certificates through the AUSL master’s degree program at National-Louis University. Those who enter Teach for America, meanwhile, earn provisional teaching certificates during their first year on the job, and an initial certificate after their second year, provided they have fulfilled the necessary coursework and other requirements through Dominican University, National-Louis University or the University of Phoenix.

In 2005, ISBE granted 337 alternative teaching certificates to new educators that received their training through alternative programs. The number peaked in 2010, when 1,302 alternative teaching certificates were granted in Illinois, and has since dropped to 514 in 2012, the most recent year for which ISBE had data.

Despite the growth, however, it’s important to note that the vast majority of teachers still earn traditional certificates. In 2012, for example, 14 times as many traditional teaching certificates were granted when compared to alternative teaching certificates.

In the News: Students test driving Common Core; you can, too

April 15, 2014 - 7:54am

Millions of American students this spring are piloting new online standardized tests linked to the Common Core State Standards. You can try out sample tests and see for yourself if they boost your critical thinking skills. (The Hechinger Report)

The main reason for the trial run is to see if computer systems are ready to handle millions of students logging on to take the exams at the same time. But it’s also a public relations test. Students are getting a first look at the exams in full, and educators will now have a better sense of whether they will live up to their promise.

FREE ACT COULD END: Illinois lawmakers are considering whether to continue paying for high school juniors to take the ACT and debating whether to pass along the $52.50 exam fees to students and their families as a way to save money. (State Journal Register)

SCHOOL IMPROVEMENTS: The Springfield School District will undertake more than $5 million worth of building improvements this summer, including repaving parking lots, installing central air conditioning and replacing two roofs. The upgrades are part of $90 million in health and life safety improvements for which the Springfield School Board agreed to issue bonds in late 2008. (State Journal Register)

DENVER CONSIDERS HIRING UNDOCUMENTED TEACHERS: The Denver Public School system has joined with Teach for America to hire undocumented immigrants who were granted temporary legal presence and work authorization under a presidential initiative known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (Think Progress)

CLARITY ON STUDENT PRIVACY: Several groups are working to establish more clarity and guidance with new policies for K-12 schools that are struggling to deal with the atmosphere around issues of student-data privacy. (Education Week)

In the News: Public schools more segregated than 40 years ago

April 14, 2014 - 8:06am

African American students are more isolated than they were 40 years ago, while most education policymakers and reformers have abandoned integration as a cause. That reality is explained in a new report called “For Public Schools, Segregation Then, Segregation Since: Education and the Unfinished March” by Richard Rothstein of the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute, which looks at the reasons and the implications of continued school segregation. (The Washington Post)

WINDFALL FROM PENSION PLAN WILL HELP CPS: Crain's Greg Hinz is reporting that Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to restructure two city pension funds brought to light a little-noticed quirk in state law that will result in a windfall for the city—and help Chicago Public Schools. For many schools, the windfall could be enough to "hire a couple of teachers, or put in some new programs," said Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47th, who along with colleague Will Burns, 4th, unearthed the money.

GOING AFTER SCHOLARSHIPS: With college costs increasing and the prospect of paying back student loans intimidating, Chicago Public Schools are becoming increasingly aggressive about encouraging students to pursue scholarships. According to the district, students received $400 million in scholarship offers during the 2012-13 school year, up from $266.7 million the year before. (Tribune)

NOBLE DROPS DISCIPLINE FEE: The Noble Network of Charter Schools has dropped a $5 fee charged to students hit with a detention, one of the most controversial aspects of its strict discipline policy. Noble informed parents of the change a day after the Tribune detailed the privately run school's tough approach to student discipline. (Tribune)

CHEMICAL CONTENTS: It took a Freedom of Information Act to get the Chicago Public Schools to disclose what's in the chicken nuggets they serve in their cafeterias. NPR's Scott Simon reveals the chemical contents:  brown sugar, salt, onion powder, maltodextrin, silicon dioxide, citric acid, potassium chloride, sodium phosphates and, oh, yes, a little chicken.

POOR STUDENTS GET POOR TEACHERS: The Center for American Progress released a new report that finds that poor and minority students are more likely to be taught by a teacher rated ineffective and less likely to be taught by one who is exemplary. “We’ve known for awhile that poor and minority students attending U.S. public schools are more likely to be taught by underqualified or brand-new teachers,” said Jenny DeMonte, co-author of the report and associate director for education research at the Center for American Progress. “Our new report takes this idea a step further. Using new evaluation data, we found that these same children are also more likely to be taught by a teacher rated ineffective.” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Quinn, Rauner spar over education

April 11, 2014 - 4:48pm

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and his challenger, Bruce Rauner, met for the first time this afternoon at the Illinois Education Association's 160th Representative Assembly and annual meeting in Chicago.

The Democratic governor and his Republican oponent sat down for an hour with IEA President Cinda Klickna, who asked hard questions about everything from funding and pension reform to charter schools and the minimum wage. She asked Quinn why teachers should trust him this time around, and Rauner about his admiration for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Neither candidate was too popular with the 1,000+ educators in the room. The Chicago Teachers Union is not part of the IEA.

Catalyst live-tweeted the event from the back of the International Ballroom at the Hilton Chicago Hotel, along with several other journalists and political junkies. The following is a Storified compilation of tweets. The IEA has posted a video of the event online.


[<a href="//" target="_blank">View the story "Quinn, Rauner debate before teachers" on Storify</a>]

In the News: Teacher engagement can predict academic success

April 11, 2014 - 7:15am

Students who have teachers who make them “feel excited about the future” and who attend schools that they see as committed to building their individual strengths are 30 times more likely than other students to show other signs of engagement in the classroom—a key predictor of academic success, according to a report by Gallup Education. (Education Week)

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE MOMS: The 2014 recipients of the Chicago State University Foundation’s “Essence of An Angel” Awards will share their stories of challenge and triumph at an event Sunday that celebrates the achievements of some of Chicago’s most successful single mothers while funding scholarships for single mothers who attend the university. Honorees are Brenda Palms Barber, Executive Founder, North Lawndale Employment Network; Cristina Baines, Manager, Chicago State University Creative and Print Services; Aundrea Holland, CSU Student; Lisa Haley Huff, Senior Vice President, PNC Bank and Gwendolyn Mackel Rice, Non Profit Consultant. (Press release) 

HOST OF SUMMER PROGRAMS: The Chicago City of Learning initiative will bring together more than 100 Chicago city agencies, youth serving and community organizations to offer free summer programs to the city’s youth and provide digital badges to those who participate and gain skills through them. (Press release)

TEST SCORES FACTORED OUT: Departing from the past decade's heavy reliance on test scores to determine which students advance to the next grade, the New York City Department of Education said Wednesday that schools will use a basket of measures instead. (The Wall Street Journal)

NO TESTING FOR VOUCHER STUDENTS: Republicans in the Florida House on Wednesday firmly rejected a proposal to require students who attend private schools with state-sponsored vouchers to take the same high-stakes tests given to students in public schools. (The Tampa Tribune)

THE PROBLEM WITH GRIT: Author Alfie Kohn offers 10 concerns about the "let's them grit" fad championed by the school reform crowd. Grit, he writes, can be counterproductive and unhealthy. The push to teach kids “grit,” to make them more persistent, has become wildly popular in the last couple of years, spurred by journalist Paul Tough’s bestseller How Children Succeed and the widely publicized views of Angela Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania researcher. (The Washington Post)

In the News: Bill to weaken charter panel stalls

April 10, 2014 - 7:25am

After a racially charged debate over weakening a state charter schools panel, the Illinois House voted down union-backed legislation Wednesday to give more power to local school districts to veto charter-school applications.

FUNDING FORMULA BILL ADVANCES: A proposed overhaul of the state’s complex school-funding formula got the green light Tuesday to come before a full Senate committee. The overhaul also calls for the elimination of the Chicago Block Grant and would fund Chicago Public Schools the same way as the rest of Illinois’ schools. Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, said CPS is not opposed to the measure. (State Journal-Register)

UNIFORM ASSESSMENTS FOR SELECTIVE SCHOOLS: Chicago Public Schools is adopting the Northwestern Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress as the uniform assessment for all students applying to a selective enrollment school, academic center or gifted school for School Year 2015-16. (Press release)

CHOSEN FOR SCIENCE PILOT: Kenwood Academy High School, Ariel Community Academy and University of Chicago Woodlawn Charter School are three of 46 schools that have been chosen by Chicago Public Schools to pilot its new computer science curriculum next fall. (Hyde Park Herald)

DROPOUT PREDICTORS: A new research report, "College Choice Report: Part 3—Persistence and Transfer," suggests that students at the greatest risk of dropping out of college are those who earn lower ACT college readiness assessment scores, particularly those with less educated parents and lower educational aspirations themselves. Also, dropout rates tend to run significantly higher for students who planned to earn less than a bachelor’s degree, those who attended a college with less-selective admission requirements and those whose parents did not attend college. (Press release)

ACHIEVEMENT GAP PERSISTS: Maryland's Montgomery County’s efforts to close the gap in achievement between its high-poverty and low-poverty high schools have not worked, with widening disparities on many measures of student success, according to a report released Tuesday. The study found that the schools are increasingly divided by income, race and ethnicity, with African American, Latino and low-income students more isolated than they were three years ago. (The Washington Post)

CPS uses creative accounting to find cash for schools

April 9, 2014 - 5:56pm

If only we were all CPS, and every time we were short on cash, a pot of one-time, never-to-be-available-again money appeared that would get us over the hump.

CPS leaders announced Wednesday that, once again, they have found a way out of a budget nightmare and plan to increase basic per-pupil funding to schools by $250 per child--in all, about $70 million more than last year--while also paying the hefty teacher pension payment due this year.

According to the plan, the district will be able to recoup several hundred million dollars by extending the "revenue recognition period" for 60 days at the end of the next fiscal year, moving it from July 30 to September 1. That way, a property tax payment that typically comes to the district in August will count for FY 2015 instead of FY 2016.

School Board President David Vitale said this trick will only work once. “The downside is that someone might say we are avoiding the problem,” he said during a conference call Wednesday.

In each of the three years since Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected, CPS leaders have announced a hefty deficit and then eventually found one-time pots of money to fill the hole. 

Just two months ago, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett threatened doom if something was not done to ease the pension burden, which is $697 million this year. “In the absence of action from Springfield, this increase in pension costs will crowd out classroom spending, and we will see further cuts to school budgets,” she told them at the February board meeting.

Vitale said district leaders decided to use the accounting strategy to get more money to schools and “stay on the trajectory to keep children going.”

Emanuel also is up for re-election in February of 2015.   

In the past few years, as CPS leaders grappled with a looming teachers strike and the prospect of closing schools, officials waited for the district’s revenue picture to become clearer before giving principals their budgets.  Vitale said this year, leaders want to give principals their budgets in April, a common practice in the earlier years, so they could hire staff in a timely fashion.

For next year, the per-pupil allocation will be $4,390, up from $4,140 now. Schools get slightly more for students in kindergarten thru 3rd grade and for high school students.

Budget Director Ginger Ostro said the increase adds about $70 million to school budgets. Last year, CPS cut $80 million from schools.

The increase should be welcome news to parents who were gearing up for a fight to maintain their school’s budgets. Last year, they were up in arms when principals got their budgets in June, with steep cuts.

A coordinated group of parents, many of them representing schools in middle-class neighborhoods, came to the School Board meeting in February to beg the board not to cut any more.  

Wendy Katten, whose group, Raise Your Hand, just launched a petition drive for more money, said she sees the announcement as a victory. “It is a great start,” she said.

In addition to the basic per-pupil budget, schools get other pots of money for poor students, special education students and special programs. CPS officials did not give any specifics on how or whether these other line items will change in the upcoming budget.

This year, schools designated to take in students from closed schools were given extra money to help with the transition. Byrd-Bennett said schools won’t get that money in the coming year, but will be able to “keep the iPads and laptops” that were purchased to give those schools more resources.


Education funding reform bill advances in legislature

April 9, 2014 - 3:36pm

SPRINGFIELD - The pending amendment to SB 16, the 419-page school funding reform amendment, was pored over and examined and scrutinized, argued over and debated by witnesses and legislators on the Special Issues Subcommittee of the Senate Executive Committee for nearly three hours yesterday before it was approved for full committee consideration.

Meanwhile, members of the Illinois State Board of Education endorsed the proposal during today’s regular meeting.

The amendment authored by state Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) returns most of the revenue distributed to Illinois school districts to that money's original path - the General State Aid formula that was designed to minimize the disparities in funding from one district to another.

"We own the most inequitable [school funding] system in the nation," Manar told a gathering in Springfield last week. Currently, only 44% of all school funding is directed through the GSA formula. Manar's proposal would raise that percentage to 92% and would "weight" the distribution to districts on the basis of poverty and other factors.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon led off Tuesday's testimony by congratulating Manar for having crafted a fair proposal, and she especially praised one of factor that will be part of the weighting formula:  development of "Advanced Standing Students," those who take and succeed in Advanced Placement courses and high school coursework that leads to college credits. (College-credit coursework in CPS is on the upswing.)

The panel also heard from Miguel del Valle, former Chicago mayoral candidate who is a founding board member for the advocacy group Advance Illinois and previous Chicago City Clerk, state senator and long-time chair of the Senate Education Committee. He was strongly in favor the Manar proposal because it shelters the poorest districts from fiscal harm.

State school funding fell by more than $1 billion since 2009 and cuts on the horizon (due to a scheduled decrease in the state income tax from 5% to 3.75% on January 1, 2015) will "hurt those most who can afford it least," del Valle said. By funneling most state funding through the general state aid formula, schools with high concentration of poor children will be spared much fiscal pain, he said.

Most of the interaction during the protracted hearing consisted of Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine), the only Republican on the subcommittee, challenging Manar and other proponents, as well as witnesses in favor of the amendment.

Murphy pushed del Valle into a corner and an admission that "the wealthy school districts would not do as well" under the Manar bill. Currently, more state funding reaches wealthier districts in the form of block grants based on average daily attendance.

The proposal would shring the "flat grant" given to wealthier schools that are not eligible for money under general state aid.

Support that might have been unexpected came from Jeff Mays, president of the Illinois Business Roundtable. Mays is a former state representative from Quincy, where he now serves on the elected local school board.

"When I showed this to my [Business Roundtable] board, I said ‘There are principles here that we have long stood behind,’ " Mays said.

“This is a good first step,” he added. “It may not make it all the way [to being enacted into law], but I don't think it should stop here.” The Business Roundtable is an elite club of corporate CEOs who usually oppose higher government spending.

Easily the most eloquent testimony of the hearing came from David Lett, superintendent of Pana CUSD 8, which has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in state support in recent years. He described the impact of having to cut teachers and school support staff, scale back music and art programs, and limit student access to libraries.

Since state support for education began to shrivel in 2009, Lett pointed out, the percentage of students from poor families has risen from about 40% to 60% in his district, with one elementary school posting an 80% poverty rate. These are the students who are hit the hardest when state money is cut under the current system, he explained.

He called for "boldness" and described Manar's proposal as "the boldest plan" because it has positive effects even without adding more revenue.

Another witness was Larry Joseph, director of research for Voices for Illinois Children. "We believe very strongly in the objectives" of the Manar proposal, Joseph said, praising the bill’s "effective targeting toward schools with the greatest need."

The panel voted 2-1 to send the bill to the full Executive Committee. State Sen. Kimberly Lightford and state Sen. Heather Steans voted "yes"; Murphy voted "no."

Jim Broadway is publisher of Illinois School News Service.

Comings & Goings: Rico

April 9, 2014 - 12:47pm

Jose Rico has been named senior vice president of community investment at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago.  Rico served four years as the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.  He planned policy, strategic initiatives, outreach and communications for President Obama’s education agenda and the Latino community.  He helped develop the Promise Neighborhood grants for cradle-to-career programming in distressed neighborhoods across the country.  Previously, he was a founding principal at the Multicultural Arts School at the Little Village/Lawndale High School campus.    He will lead United Way’s work on education, income and health and its Neighborhood Network model, which concentrates services in underserved communities. 

In the News: Intense competition for CPS' elite middle schools

April 9, 2014 - 8:48am

Competition to get into middle school at elite Chicago Public Schools programs around the city was more intense than ever this year, as scores hit record highs at some of the programs that guarantee a coveted spot at a selective enrollment high school. (DNAinfo)

CPS DELAYS TEST: Chicago Public Schools said Tuesday that the standardized test being used for the first time in applications to the city’s top selective enrollment schools will also be required for private school students, but that those children won’t have to take the test until next fall. (Tribune)

TURNAROUND PUSH BACK: CTU President Karen Lewis joined Diedrus Brown, principal of Greshman Elementary, on Tuesday in pushing back against the Chicago Public Schools’ turnaround proposal, alleging officials are more concerned about money than students’ best interests. Progress Illinois has a video.

VALLAS HIRED: Paul Vallas, who returned to Illinois last month as Gov. Pat Quinn’s running mate, has been hired to a six-figure job as a municipal finance consultant by a longtime friend and political supporter of the Democratic governor. Vallas, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, officially moved back to Illinois following the completion of his contract as schools superintendent in Bridgeport, Conn. (Tribune)

DUNCAN KEEPS HIS DISTANCE: In a hearing before a House appropriations subcommittee Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan defended the competitive grants built into his fiscal 2015 budget request, gave no substantive details about a proposed Race to the Top for equity contest, and continued to distance himself from the Common Core State Standards. (Education Week)

Charter school supporters rally against slew of bills

April 8, 2014 - 5:09pm

One bill would eliminate the state’s independent charter school authorizer. Another would place a cap on salaries for charter school CEOs and require school districts—not schools themselves--to hold lotteries for new students. A third bill would prevent the opening of new charter schools in neighborhoods where traditional public school have been shuttered in the past decade.

These are just three of nearly a dozen charter school-related bills before the Illinois Legislature this year that pick away at the historic autonomy granted to charter schools.

Illinois Network of Charter Schools President Andrew Broy says it’s the biggest wave of anti-charter school legislation he’s ever seen.

“There’s no question about it. This year is the most dangerous year to the charter school system we’ve ever had,” Broy said in a recent interview with Catalyst Chicago.  “These bills would fundamentally alter the way charter accountability works.”

Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and other critics say that publicly funded but privately run charter schools need more oversight, citing as proof last year’s corruption scandal at the United Neighborhood Organization Charter School Network.

“Taxpayers are demanding more accountability from charter operators,” said CTU President Karen Lewis in a statement. “They want to know whether the money going to these schools is actually being spent on educating students.”

Some outside observers say it might be time to have a conversation about whether Illinois should continue having charter schools, period, instead of addressing the issue through piecemeal legislation in a highly charged and impassioned environment. In a way, the bills are a response to the outrage felt by many educators and parents after CPS closed 50 neighborhood schools last year.

The battle over charter schools plays out differently from state to state. National attention has recently been focused on New York City, where the state Legislature thwarted Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s attempt to charge rent to charter schools operating in public buildings.

Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, called the anti-charter school bills under consideration in Illinois “out of step” with the best practices in state laws across the country. She weighed in on the legislation in a press release sent out on Tuesday in support of the close to 1,500 Illinois charter school students and parents who traveled to Springfield to lobby legislatures to vote against the bills.

Here’s a summary of the major bills and where they stand in the legislative process:

  • House Bill 6005/Senate Bill 3030: More accountability. This multi-layered amendment to the state’s charter schools law has been voted out of both the House Education Committee and Senate Subcommittee on charter schools. It would remove the authority to operate lotteries for new students away from charter schools and place it into the hands of the school’s “authorizer” (usually the district). The bill includes several accountability measures, such as: prohibiting charter school staff from being employed by the school’s management company; requiring charter schools to pay back a pro-rated portion of public funding provided to the school district when students transfer out; preventing charter schools from using public dollars for advertising purposes; capping the salary for charter school CEOs at 80 percent of the district superintendent’s salary, and charter school principals’ salary at 10 percent more than the average salary for other principals in the district; and creating an audit process for charter schools that spend more of their budget for administration purposes than the district. Also, the bill would require the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to conduct an assessment of the impact of charter schools on the school system – including funding flow, enrollment, graduation and attrition rates. Charter schools could also lose state funding if they don’t meet all reporting requirements.
  • SB 2627/HB 3754: Scrap charter commission. The bill to repeal the Illinois State Charter School Commission – which has authorized four charter schools since its creation – has been voted out of the full House, and a companion bill is in the Senate education committee. The bill would also require ISBE to prepare an annual report based on the evaluations of charter schools sent in each year by local school districts. ISBE opposes the bill, arguing that the commission complies with all state requirements and should be allowed to continue its work.
  • SB 2779/HB 4237: Approval referendum. This bill would significantly change the appeals process for charter school applicants that are denied by local school boards. It has been voted out of the House education committee, but remains in the Senate education committee. It would require prospective charter school operators whose applications are approved by the state in the appeals process to then go to a referendum. 
  • HB 4655/SB 3004: Curbing disciplineThis bill seeks to reduce the use of expulsions and out-of-school suspensions unless the safety of other students or staff is at risk at traditional public schools, while requiring charter schools to comply with some new requirements. It has been voted out of both the House and Senate Education committees.  Under the bill, all schools – including charters -- must provide behavioral and educational support services to suspended students and submit to the school district detailed documentation about incidents leading to out-of-school suspensions or arrests; school districts must compile these reports into annual summaries that are available for public review. Charter school employees can’t encourage students to leave a school to avoid formal disciplinary procedures or fine students for breaking the rules, both common practices in some Chicago charter schools. Catalyst has reported on some of these controversial disciplinary policies on several occasions.
  • HB 4527: Special education, ELL. This ISBE initiative explicitly mandates that charter schools comply with all state laws on special education and English Language Learners students. It has been voted out of the full House, but has not yet been voted on by the Senate’s Education Committee. ISBE believes all schools should comply with special regulations on educating vulnerable populations, but charter school supporters say it’s unnecessary because schools already comply with federal laws – which are less stringent. 
  • HB 4591: Return of public funds. This bill would require that state funding follow students who are dismissed from charter schools into their new schools. The bill has been voted out of the House Education committee but it has no companion bill in the Senate. Charter school operators would have to return 100 percent of the district’s per capita student tuition money, on a pro-rated basis for the time the student is no longer enrolled in the school. Critics say the bill ignores the fact charter schools receive less money in per-pupil funding than other schools.

Another bill -- SB 3303, which has had no traction in the state Legislature -- would prohibit the opening of any new charter schools in neighborhoods where a traditional public school has been closed in the past decade. Meanwhile, HB 5328 would require charter schools in Chicago to be administered by local school councils, just like traditional public schools. While that bill has been approved by the Education committee, it has no companion bill in the Senate. 

INCS is tracking all charter school-related bills on its web site, as is the CTU

In the News: Gresham principal fights turnaround

April 8, 2014 - 8:26am

If Gresham Elementary School Principal Diedrus Brown is going to lose her job in what CPS calls a "turnaround,"  she said Monday she’ll go down telling the truth. Brown will join Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis outside the school Tuesday to try to persuade CPS to leave Gresham alone. In the evening, she'll join supporters from Gresham and the other two schools recommended for turnaround — Dvorak Technology Academy in North Lawndale and McNair Elementary School in South Austin — outside the Kenwood home of Board President David Vitale. (Sun-Times)

CHARTER ADVOCATES RALLY: As a raft of legislation that could curtail the autonomy of charter schools in a number of ways, advocates of the privately run but publicly funded schools are set to descend on the state Capitol for a Tuesday rally. (Tribune)

AUSTIN SCHOOL GETS FEDERAL FUNDS: On Monday the White House announced Chicago's Manufacturing Renaissance organization won a $2,670,909 "CareerConnect" federal grant, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel said will go to the Austin Polytechnical Academy High School on the city's West Side. (Sun-Times)

MORE FUNDS FOR WORK/LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES: President Obama traveled to a high school in the Washington suburbs on Monday to announce the winners of $107 million in grants intended to update curriculums to better integrate work experiences and real-world learning opportunities. (The New York Times)

DESIRE TO DEFUND COMMON CORE: Ten Republican senators don't want to see another dime of federal money going to states in exchange for adopting certain academic standards. That includes the Common Core State Standards, now embraced by 45 states and the District of Columbia. The senators also don't want any more federal funding going to develop assessments that go along with the Common Core, or any other set of standards. (Education Week)

In the News: Regular schools outperform charters, data examination reveals

April 8, 2014 - 8:26am

Even as many parents have embraced new charter schools, there’s little evidence in standardized test results that charters are performing better than traditional schools operated by the Chicago Public Schools system, an examination by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Medill Data Project at Northwestern University has found.

In fact, in 2013, CPS schools had a higher percentage of elementary students who exceeded the standards for state tests for reading and math than the schools that are privately run with Chicago taxpayer funds.

CHARTER ADVOCATES RALLY: As a raft of legislation that could curtail the autonomy of charter schools in a number of ways, advocates of the privately run but publicly funded schools are set to descend on the state Capitol for a Tuesday rally. (Tribune)

PRINCIPAL FIGHTS TURNAROUND: If Gresham Elementary School Principal Diedrus Brown is going to lose her job in what CPS calls a "turnaround,"  she said Monday she’ll go down telling the truth. Brown will join Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis outside the school Tuesday to try to persuade CPS to leave Gresham alone. In the evening, she'll join supporters from Gresham and the other two schools recommended for turnaround — Dvorak Technology Academy in North Lawndale and McNair Elementary School in South Austin — outside the Kenwood home of Board President David Vitale. (Sun-Times)

AUSTIN SCHOOL GETS FEDERAL FUNDS: On Monday the White House announced Chicago's Manufacturing Renaissance organization won a $2,670,909 "CareerConnect" federal grant, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel said will go to the Austin Polytechnical Academy High School on the city's West Side. (Sun-Times)

MORE FUNDS FOR WORK/LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES: President Obama traveled to a high school in the Washington suburbs on Monday to announce the winners of $107 million in grants intended to update curriculums to better integrate work experiences and real-world learning opportunities. (The New York Times)

DESIRE TO DEFUND COMMON CORE: Ten Republican senators don't want to see another dime of federal money going to states in exchange for adopting certain academic standards. That includes the Common Core State Standards, now embraced by 45 states and the District of Columbia. The senators also don't want any more federal funding going to develop assessments that go along with the Common Core, or any other set of standards. (Education Week)

SUPES Academy stories win national award

April 7, 2014 - 4:13pm

Deputy Editor Sarah Karp has won second place for investigative reporting from the national Education Writers Association for a series of articles that delved into the details of CPS’ questionable $20 million, no-bid contract with the for-profit SUPES Academy.

The contract to provide principal training was approved quietly by the School Board last summer and was the largest no-bid contract awarded by the district in recent years.

On Monday, CPS Inspector General James Sullivan said the investigation spurred by this report was ongoing.

EWA’s judges praised the articles. One wrote that “Catalyst Chicago battled far above its weight in digging up the details behind a no-bid contract in Chicago Public Schools. They are doing praiseworthy watchdog investigative reporting.”

Another judge wrote: “Very admirable digging into this contract and this organization, which is clearly fraught with conflicts of interest.”

Prior to being hired as CEO for CPS, Barbara Byrd-Bennett worked for the SUPES Academy as a coach. The owner of SUPES Academy, a for-profit-company based in Wilmette, also runs two other consulting companies, Proact Search Inc. and Synesi Associates. 

Karp’s reporting detailed how school leaders can be trained by SUPES, placed in jobs by Proact and then earn extra money working as coaches and mentors for SUPES Academy, which provides professional development for school leaders. 

The stories also led to the resignation of the superintendent of Baltimore County, Maryland schools, who had been working for SUPES as a coach and mentor for Chicago principals at the same time that his district had its own contract with SUPES for principal training.The Baltimore County district was unaware of the superintendent's work until Catalyst's stories were published.

Numerous principals complained that the SUPES Academy workshops and training were low-quality.

The first-place award in the category, Investigative Reporting/Education News Outlets, was given to the Chronicle of Higher Education for a series on the Gates Foundation and its influence on education policy.

The Chicago Sun-Times won first place in the Large Newsroom/Investigative Reporting category for its stories on corruption at UNO charter schools.

“This American Life” won first place in the Investigative Reporting/Broadcast category for its two-part series on CPS' Harper High School. The same series won a Peabody Award.


In the News: Noble network's discipline code in spotlight

April 7, 2014 - 8:04am

Officials and many parents from the Noble charter school network are defending its tough disciplinary code, but the network's disciplinary policies run counter to district and national efforts to find ways to keep students in the classroom. The discipline code also extends to teachers, who are penalized if they don't enforce the rules.

LSC ELECTIONS: Beginning Monday, residents will have the chance to elect parents and community members to Local School Councils. You don’t need to have kids enrolled in a particular school — or kids at all — to cast a ballot. You just need to be at least 18 years old and live within the boundaries of the school where you're planning to vote. To determine the boundaries, check the CPS school locator. (DNAinfo)

VALLAS GETS HIRED: Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, who is running for Illinois lieutenant governor, has taken a new job with a Chicago-based consulting firm. (ABC 7)

CERTIFICATION PROGRAM IN PERIL: The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is set to vote this week on whether to pull the plug on a multimillion-dollar effort to develop an advanced national credential for principals. (Education Week)

SCHOOL PRAYER BILL BLOCKED: Viriginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vetoed a school prayer bill on Friday, saying it could lead to “coercive prayer” or “religious messaging” at school events. (The Washington Post)

In the News: CPS reveals little about meal ingredients

April 4, 2014 - 7:46am

WBEZ's Monica Eng asked Chicago Public Schools to tell her the ingredients that go into students' meals and she had to filed a Freedom of Information Act to get an answer. So what does go into the chicken nuggets that the district serves? The complete ingredient list for CPS chicken nuggets is two words: “chicken nuggets.” And it took more than a month for CPS Nutrition Support Services to figure this out and get back to her, Eng reports.

GLITCHES PLAGUE TEACHER LICENSING SYSTEM: Hours after the state launched a new, multimillion-dollar teacher licensing system last year, an educator logging in was shocked to find a serious security breach. The glitch-prone system,which  has been compared to the Obama administration's troubled Affordable Care Act website, incorrectly labeled one educator a felon. Others were mistakenly listed as delinquent on child support, which could block them from getting a license, according to records obtained by the Tribune.


ANOTHER HIT TO COMMON CORE: The Oklahoma Senate passed a bill that would repeal the Common Core State Standards, moving closer to becoming the second state to officially dump the standards, following the lead of Indiana. (Tulsa World)

COST OF OPTING OUT: Students opting out of New York state tests could cost schools grants and trigger state reviews. (

JANITORS MAY GET GUNS: A bill that would allow teachers, janitors or anybody else a principal or superintendent designates to carry concealed weapons on school campuses passed a Florida House committee. (The Palm Beach Post)

EXPANDING CHARTERS IN LOUISIANA: Twenty-two organizations have applied to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to open 34 charter schools in Louisiana in 2015 and beyond. They could substantially increase the number of charters in the Louisiana, which has 117 charter schools already in operation. Fifteen new state charters will open in the fall. (Times-Picayune)

ADJUSTING TO COMMON CORE: Passing rates plummeted when New York State changed its tests to match Common Core curriculum standards, but this year students say they were better prepared to handle the material. (The New York Times)

In the News: How politics played a role in NYC charter victory

April 3, 2014 - 8:08am

The New York Times offers a behind-the-scenes look at how New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo out manuvered New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio to give New York City charter schools some of the most sweeping protections in the nation.

END OF THE LINE FOR INBLOOM? New York state legislators made clear in their recently inked budget deal that they didn't want student data uploaded to the inBloom database, which the Gates Foundation spent $100 million to build, hoping it would become a resource for states and school districts nationwide. So the New York State Education Department has directed inBloom to delete all data stored there to date. No additional data will be uploaded, a spokesman said. That abrupt termination leaves inBloom with no known customers. Massachusetts is still officially considering a contract with the nonprofit, but a state education department spokesman said it was unlikely to proceed. Illinois no longer plans to upload large amounts of data, though individual districts may participate; inBloom won't say whether any have agreed to do so. (Politico Morning Education newsblast)

Golden Apple has selected 175 young people for its 2014 class of the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois, making it the largest ever in 26 years. The program is also the leading pre-service teacher preparation and internship program in the nation. Chicago Public Schools recently approved a $1 million agreement with the Golden Apple Scholars program to provide 150 new teachers on top of the program's annual state-supported cohorts, during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. (Press release)

PEABODY AWARDS RECOGNIZE STRUGGLING SCHOOLS: The 2014 Peabody Awards honored three reports about schools facing poverty, crime and serious educational challenges. They included "This American Life’s" two-part feature on Harper High School in Chicago which aired on public radio stations across the country as well as "180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School," shown on Public Broadcasting Service television stations. (School Book)

PUBLIC, CHARTER SCHOOLS COMPETE FOR SAME FUNDS: In one corner: cash-strapped school systems with aging facilities and billions of dollars tied up in debt service. In the other: charter schools looking to build and refurbish facilities of their own. Both want dollars from an ever-shrinking pot of money. (Tampa Bay Times)

HOMEWORK BURDEN: A report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., shows that homework load has been mostly stable over the past two or three decades, but those who complain about too much homework get most of the attention. (The Detroit News)

TEACHER TENURE ON TRIAL: A lawsuit filed by the nonprofit advocacy group Student Matters on behalf of nine California public school students followed unsuccessful attempts in contract negotiations and the legislature to give school districts more freedom to hire and fire teachers. (Stateline)

Lawmakers consider LSC requirement at charter schools

April 2, 2014 - 3:17pm

As CPS gears up for the next Local School Council elections, legislation under consideration in the state’s House of Representatives would require every charter school in Chicago to be administered by an LSC.

Unlike traditional neighborhood schools in the city, charter schools are not overseen by an elected body of parents, community members and staff. (Find out who is running for the LSC at your school.)

“The whole point of this is bringing democracy into our schools,” says Rod Wilson, a member of Communities Organized for Democracy in Education, which has been lobbying for the bill. “We feel that if a school is in District 299 and receives public funding, there should be parents with decision-making authority, not just giving advice or input.”

House Bill 5328, sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero) also restores some authority to LSCs at schools under probation and requires Chicago Public Schools to provide $2,500 to each council for training purposes. The bill passed on first reading in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee in late March and is awaiting a second vote to get out of committee.

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) opposes the bill, arguing that it “would create an additional and conflicting decision making entity in the charter school authorization process,” according to a summary of charter school-related legislation that the organization is tracking in Springfield.

Charter schools under current law and contract are governed under non-profit governing boards, and if you add LSCs as a layer, it’d be unclear what role they’d play,” says Andrew Broy, president of INCS. Charters get to design their curriculum and they get held accountable for results, not process.”

Broy said most charter schools already have active parent councils and that many schools’ governing boards include parents and community members. As an alternative to the LSC proposal, he said he’s suggested to lawmakers that charter schools should demonstrate how they’ll ensure parental and community involvement during the authorization process.

Even though the group doesn’t want charter schools to have elected governing entities, three staff members of INCS are currently running for seats on LSCs in Chicago. LSC elections take place on April 7 at the city’s elementary schools, and on April 8 at the high schools.

The INCS staff running for seats at LSCs include: the group’s spokeswoman, Jodie Cantrell, community candidate at Blaine Elementary School; director of development and capacity, Eric Johnson, parent candidate at Audubon Elementary School; and charter support manager, Jelani McEwen, community candidate at Kenwood High School. WBEZ first reported on some of the unusual candidates running for the Blaine LSC in March.

Suspicious of motives

Broy says he doesn’t think it’s a contradiction for his staff to run for positions on LSCs while the organization opposes having councils at charter schools. He considers it a sign of their “well-roundedness” if they participate in community organizations in their neighborhood.

“They’re trying to have a role in governance in local schools, and in those schools they can do that through LSCs,” he says.

But perhaps not surprisingly, activists against charter schools say they are suspicious of the true motives of LSC candidates who support charter schools.

Earlier this week, for example, some parents and educators circulated a list of candidates “not to vote for” on Facebook because of their support for charter schools and supportive politicians, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner.

“If they’re running for LSCs, does that mean they want to make them charter schools? Is that the purpose?” asks Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center in Bronzeville and a former LSC member himself. “Or do they want to be a part of a democratic process? If so, they should support this bill.”

Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is also getting increasingly involved in promoting LSC participation to both its own members and community groups. In February, the CTU and the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) organized a summit for about 250 LSC candidates and other community activists who wanted to learn about how to run an effective council. The coalition of like-minded LSC candidates voted to share a campaign platform that advocates for an elected school board, universal pre-kindergarten and an end to charter and military school expansion.

“We realize how important the LSCs are, and that they’re pretty much in the same boat as the union,” said Michael Brunson, the CTU’s recording secretary. “We have the same interests in having our publicly funded schools survive.”

LSC elections

LCSs are responsible for approving schools’ discretionary budgets, hiring principals, and overseeing the school’s Continuous Improvement Work Plan, although councils at schools on probation have more limited powers. Each council is made up of six parents, two community members, two teachers, one non-teacher staff member and the school principal. High schools also include one student representative.

Getting teachers, residents and community members interested in joining their LSCs isn’t always easy, Brunson says.

“You mention LSCs and people’s eyes roll,” he says. “There has been a lot of cynicism and disengagement. You can see that each year as you have elections, fewer and fewer people running for school councils.”

After passage of the historic School Reform Act and during the first elections in 1989, more than 17,000 people ran for seats.  But interest in LSC elections has since dwindled. This year, for example, CPS extended the deadline for candidates to file their paperwork to encourage more people to sign up.

Despite the extension, many LSCs still lack enough candidates to fill the vacancies. Nine of the 516 schools with LSCs lack any parent candidates, while 39 lack any community candidates. In total, 35 percent of councils don’t have enough parent candidates to fill the vacancies, and 22 percent don’t have enough community member candidates, according to CPS data. Click here to see an interactive map of all LSCs and the names of all of the candidates.

Pauline Lipman, a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago who studies race and class inequality in urban schools, says that despite the lack of interest in LSCs, they remain “the only place where there is democracy at any level” in Chicago schools. The city’s School Board is handpicked by the mayor, although there is currently movement in Springfield to change the system. 

“They have great potential to involve parents and community members and teachers with the principals in robust discussions of what they want to happen at their schools and put pressure on CPS to provide it,” Lipman says.