Almost buried in the whirlwind of news on school closings is the Chicago Teachers Union election, in which challenger Tanya Saunders-Wolffe is seeking to oust current President Karen Lewis.
Voting kicked off today, and early results may be released as soon as this evening.
Saunders-Wolffe, a guidance counselor at Jesse Owens Elementary on the Far South Side, is waging an uphill battle to unseat Lewis, harnessing dissatisfaction among many teachers with the latest union contract.
Saunders-Wolffe has also criticized Lewis and the current leadership team for their tactics against the district and City Hall.
“We have to give [teachers] a voice from the table. We can’t just keep screaming from the streets,” Saunders-Wolffe told Catalyst Chicago in March.
“We have done so many school visits. Teachers are really unhappy with the contract,” said Mary Ellen Sanchez, opposition candidate for recording secretary, who was outside Byrne Elementary in Garfield Ridge this morning. Sanchez teaches 3rd grade at Byrne.
Candidates on Saunders-Wolffe’s opposition slate, the Coalition to Save Our Union, are pledging to focus more on member services, which they charge have fallen by the wayside as Lewis’ team, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, focuses on organizing. Organizing is a major component of CORE’s strategy, as Lewis’ team led the CTU through a week-long teachers’ strike last fall, Chicago’s first in 25 years. Immediately after the strike, CORE switched gears to fight school closings through protests and partnerships forged with community and parent groups.
The Coalition also wants to rebuild the union’s bridges with district management, despite a relationship that has grown increasingly bitter in recent years.
At Byrne, teachers enumerated the issues that swayed them to support the Coalition, many of them boiling down to unhappiness with the contract: longer days and hours that the pay raise didn’t make up for, a cut to paid before-school prep time, and an agreement to drop litigation over the contractually promised 4 percent raises that teachers didn’t get during the 2011-2012 school year.
“People were getting scared [because] the strike was too long,” and thus gave in too much at the negotiating table, said librarian Mary Beth Corbin. She also complained that even though the contract ended up including incentives to participate in a wellness plan, and even teachers who are participating are being charged due to bureaucratic snafus.
Scott Worden, Byrne’s special education teacher, said he was undecided but also felt the contract left much to be desired. “With the strike, I don’t think we gained anything,” Worden said. “No matter who’s in charge, we always lose something as teachers. The board’s going to win, because they’re going to sneak something in.”
At Kenwood Academy High School in Hyde Park, many teachers said they supported CORE and cited Lewis’ handling of the strike.
“I trust the leaders who led us through the strike to carry us through another year,” said science teacher Barbara Richter. Coreen Uhl, another staff member at the school, said Lewis “did a great job representing us during the strike, so I’ll be taking that into account.”
Added history teacher Shannon League: “I don’t think we could have asked for much more. In negotiations, you have to give a little.”
A Chicago Tribune review of documents related to Chicago Public Schools closings raises questions about how district officials used information to promote and defend its plan. In many cases, the district appears to have selectively highlighted data to stress shortcomings at schools to be closed, while not pointing out what was lacking at the receiving schools.
NO FAN OF MAYOR'S PLAN: In an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle broadly criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s education agenda Thursday, saying the Chicago Public Schools teachers’ strike last year had provided the excuse for a sweeping school-closure plan that “weakens our public schools.”
THE LONG WALK: A Tribune analysis of a database used by CPS to calculate the average distance students affected by school closings will have to travel to their reassigned school next year shows the average walk will be almost twice as far as it is now, increasing from about a third of a mile to nearly six-tenths of a mile.
DERAILING STUDENTS: Nearly 100,000 Chicago Public Schools students would have to find a new way to get to class starting next week, once the CTA shuts down the south end of the Red Line for a major track overhaul. According to the CTA, 98,000 students at 370 CPS schools would be affected by the reconstruction of the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line, which is set to begin on Sunday. (CBS Chicago)
TURNAROUND CONCERNS: Parents and members of the Chicago Teachers Union stormed the steps outside the Academy of Urban School Leadership’s office Thursday and raised concerns over the Chicago Public Schools’ plan to turnaround six schools at the end of the academic year. CPS wants to fire and replace staff members at Clara Barton Elementary, William W Carter Elementary, Dewey Elementary Academy of Fine Arts, and Isabelle C O'Keeffe Elementary schools on the South Side and Thomas Chalmers Specialty Elementary and Leslie Lewis Elementary schools on the West Side as part of its recent round of school actions. AUSL would take over all six schools. The Chicago Board of Education will vote on the possible turnarounds and other school actions May 22. (Progress Illinois)
PODCASTS FOR POLICYMAKERS: The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research is debuting a new podcast series, Ed. Research Matters, which will take a closer look at UChicago CCSR research, focusing on the findings that matter most for policymakers and practitioners. In the premiere episode, UChicago CCSR researcher Eliza Moeller, discusses From High School to the Future: The Challenege of Senior Year, released in February.
When I was introduced to the term “social-emotional learning” and began to understand its meaning I recognized it as a ray of hope. Hope for my community, which, seemingly unbeknownst to me, had changed dramatically over the years.
The only visible signs of change were the front lawns in the neighborhood, now less well-kept than in the past. Drive through the neighborhood today and you will see men standing on the corner of my block, where they have stood for years. But what you will not see is the blood that has been shed on that same corner, of men and women, young people to old. Yet the men continue to stand on that corner, where some of their own friends have lost their lives over the years.
I started searching for answers to these killings in 2008 when my neighbor’s son was killed on that very corner. My search led me to discover the concept of social-emotional learning and I am eternally grateful. I believe with all of my being that it gives hope to my community and can help stem the tide of violence in my neighborhood and others.
When my neighbor knocked on my door that fateful morning to let me know that her son had been killed, gunned down one block from our homes, it is hard to explain the depth of my feelings. When I finally could breathe, what I did was to evaluate myself and how I may have contributed to the senseless killing. I realized that not only didn’t I know my neighbor’s son, who had been killed--but I really didn’t know her or the other eight children she was raising as a single mother.
Yes, I had spoken to her and her children in passing, but that was on the surface. Why hadn’t I gotten to know them beneath the surface? I had been too busy with my own family, work, friends, etc., to get to know my neighbors. How did my block become a killing field, nicknamed ‘Beirut,’ I later learned--and how do we work to stop it? How did we get here?
In a sense, I had been asleep.
Now that I was awake, I had to decide what to do next. All this personal reflection was taking place around the same time our new president, Barack Obama, was elected. On January 19, 2009 he asked all of us to volunteer for a day. So I decided to look for an agency or organization my family could spend the day volunteering with, in my community or somewhere on the Southeast Side of Chicago.
When I checked the website the president’s group had published, not one Southeast Side organization was listed. I cried, because it seemed nobody cared about the children in my neighborhood. I called up my local park district and asked if I could volunteer. I started going to meetings
Fast-forward to the fall of 2013, when I was introduced to the concept of social-emotional learning and, for the first time, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, defines the concept as a process through which children and adults learn how to effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. In an ideal world, social-emotional learning would be a part of every school curriculum in the nation.
In the quest to stop the killings in our community, my neighbors and I started a movement to have social-emotional learning whole-heartedly implemented in the schools in our community. In our research, we found that no elementary school in our area teaches social-emotional skills in any measurable way.
We believe that if children are taught sound decision-making, relationship-building, conflict management and other valuable life skills from pre-school through 12th grade, more of them will choose to go to college or the work force instead of joining gangs and participating in negative activity that will only land them in jail before they begin their lives.
Like President Obama has said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.”
When I woke up, I realized that I had to actively participate in leading my community out of Beirut.
Laura Rabb Morgan
Founder and servant leader, South Chicago Block Club Coalition SEL Grassroots Movement
In the two lawsuits filed in federal court Wednesday to try to slow down or stop school closings, the central charge is that special education students will be disproportionately hurt by the actions.
This, according to the lawsuits, is a violation of the American Disabilities Act. More than 5,000 students are enrolled in either the 53 schools slated for closure or the ones set to receive them.
“It takes years to build trust with these children,” says attorney Tom Geoghegan. “All that will be lost or destroyed when we send them to new teachers in new schools.”
One lawsuit asks the judge to force CPS to wait a year so that the district can ease the transition for special education students from one school to another. The other wants a judge to halt the closures, questioning whether CPS will save significant money from closing the schools.
Next Wednesday, the CPS Board of Education will vote on the actions, which would represent the largest district restructuring ever. The lawsuits ask for an emergency injunction, but Geoghegan says he isn’t requesting a hearing prior to the vote next week.
The lawsuits are being paid for, at least partially, by the Chicago Teachers Union. They were filed on behalf of parents at various schools slated for closure.
In years past, lawsuits have unsuccessfully attempted to block the district from shutting schools. It is a difficult task given that the school code allows districts to open and close schools.
In addition to alleging a violation of ADA, one of the lawsuits adds the allegation that closings are in violation of the Civil Rights Act because they single out “poor and marginalized African American children.” Some 88 percent of the students who stand to be affected by this year’s school closings are black, while they represent only 42 percent of students in CPS, according to the lawsuit.
“Since 2001, CPS has found one excuse or another to close schools attended by African American children,” Geoghegan says. “If you have to save money find some other place to save money. It is time to lay off the kids.”
Geoghegan also represented plaintiffs last year in a lawsuit that alleged racial discrimination in school actions. The lawsuit was dismissed, but is being appealed.
In a prepared statement, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett did not address the specific accusations in the lawsuit. She said the lawsuits show that the union leadership is “committed to a status quo that is failing too many of our children. “
"Thousands of children in underutilized schools are being cheated out of the resources they need to succeed,” said Bennett, who has promised extra resources for designated receiving schools. “It's time to give these children the opportunity to attend higher-performing welcoming schools and put them on a path to thrive."
One of the arguments for waiting a year is that CPS put off the decisions until the end of the school year. Geoghegan points out that usually decisions about school actions are made much earlier in the school year.
This year, Barbara Byrd-Bennett took over CPS in October and promptly asked the state legislature to let her delay the announcement from Dec. 1 to end of March. Because state law calls for 60 days between the announcement and the decision, the vote can’t take place until late May—only a few weeks before the end of school year.
“The late date makes it impossible to conduct the closings without significant disruption to the programs in which these children participate and without adequate provision for the special safety risks faced by children with disabilities,” according to the lawsuit.
Kristine Mayle, a former special education teacher and current financial secretary for the union, says that teachers take time to prepare disabled students for transitions.
“For students with autism and more severe disabilities, for six months, teachers might walk a student over to the classroom and slowly acclimate them to their new class,” she says.
CPS officials still have not said whether the teachers of special education students will follow the students and the students still do not know their teachers for the coming year, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also says that the transition plans around safety lack specificity, which is a particular problem for students with disabilities. The lawsuit points out that several independent hearing officers who reviewed the school closing plans also found problems with the lack of specificity.
“Plantiff children and all children in special education risk even greater harm than children who are not in special education to the extent that they are forced to walk through new, unfamiliar and dangerous neighborhoods, an experience that exacerbates the effects of their condition,” according to the lawsuit.
The other lawsuit charges that the school closings will cause special education students irreparable harm and that it outweighs any financial benefit to the school district. Among other issues, it says that class sizes in receiving schools will be bigger than those in closing schools. Big class sizes hurt special education students more than other students, according to the lawsuit.
Rod Estvan, education organizer for the disability rights group called Access Living, noted that it might be hard for attorneys to prove their case, even if it might have merit.
Estvan has been attending a CPS subcommittee on school actions and says CPS officials are methodically going through a checklist of steps to make sure they can defend the treatment of special education students. While he is not sure of the quality of what they are doing, Estvan says CPS will be able to show they are making an effort.
Yet he notes if CPS lawyers bring generic plans to the federal judge they may have problems. The independent hearing officers launched into CPS for providing general material.
“What they brought to the hearing officers was pathetic,” he says.
Soon after CPS leaders announced plans to close schools, parent advocates sounded the alarm that massive school closings would cause class sizes to swell in the receiving schools.
CPS officials tried to veer away from that discussion, as parents intuitively believe that smaller class sizes are better. Yet it is clear that larger class sizes will be one impact of closing schools that the district considers underutilized. Adding a student or two to classes in receiving schools frees up money, since fewer teachers will be needed and teacher salaries are the district’s biggest expense.
Though the capital cost savings for school closings are unclear and CPS has lowered its initial savings estimates on that front, officials have also estimated that increasing class sizes by just one student would save as much as $26 million per year.
Wendy Katten, the board president of Raise Your Hand, says that allowing class sizes to go up is the opposite of what most people want. Katten’s organization was started after former CEO Ron Huberman threated to raise class sizes to 35 students to close a budget deficit.
“Parents and teachers, people who are actually in the schools, know class size matters.[Class sizes going up] is certainly not what the stakeholders want,” Katten says.
Research suggests that class size does not have a major impact on achievement unless classes are 15 students or smaller. But the issue resonates with many teachers and parents, who note that classes in some schools are routinely 30 to 40 students, above the district’s own guidelines. They point out that suburban and elite private schools have much lower class sizes, especially in the lower grades.
After CPS leaders took pains to counter Raise Your Hand’s criticism, Catalyst Chicago asked CPS for class size data in December 2012 and then submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the data in February. The information was provided in late April and shows that:
Schools that are underutilized according to the district’s formula have, on average, two fewer students than in schools deemed to be at capacity. Only 4 percent of classrooms in closing schools are above recommended class sizes and 12 percent of classrooms in underutilized schools.
About 850-more than 25 percent-of primary classrooms have more than 28 students, the amount recommended under the district’s contract with the teachers union. Class size has the most impact on young students, according to research.
Another 713 3rd thru 8th-grade classes have more than 31 students.
CPS officials have emphasized that closing schools will help get rid of split-grade classrooms, which are viewed as bad because teachers must teach to a wider range of ability levels. Schools slated for closure do have significantly more split-grade classes than other schools—but even in these schools, split grades are only 14 percent of the total.
Katten notes that in a lot of schools that are slated to close, the principal is using discretionary funds to keep class size low. Yet when schools are combined, it will be more difficult for principals to find the space to spread classes out, she says.
The issue of class size is constantly mentioned at rallies and marches against the planned closings. Margaret Cooley, at a march with her grandson from Overton to Mollison on Tuesday, says CPS “just wants to put them all in there and bunch them up.”
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll says that principals often choose to add a student or two over the limit to classes, and that board policy only provides guidelines.
Carroll says it is “simply not true” that closing schools will lead to a larger number of over-sized classes.
“Principals will make decisions around class size that they believe are in the best interest of their students,” Carroll says. “All welcoming schools, which are also underutilized, will be within their appropriate utilization range.”
Kristine Mayle from the CTU says principals have a “false” choice. Sometimes they decide to increase class size by one or two students so they can hire a full-time art or music teacher.
“They are supposed to do what is best for students and sometimes that means hiring an extra security guard because they are in an unsafe neighborhood,” Mayle says.
The union has a committee to which teachers in overcrowded classrooms can complain, but Mayle says it has limited staff to investigate and limited access to resources to provide the teacher with relief.
“We are not talking about a kindergarten teacher with 29 students, but rather the one with 40 students,” she says.
At the same time CPS is closing a record number of schools, it also is implementing per-pupil budgeting in which schools get a set amount of money per student, rather than budgets allocated based on the number of teachers needed in a school. That also could have an impact on class size, Mayle says.
“Principals will have an incentive to pack students in,” she says.
Contributing: Linda Lutton (Chicago Public Radio-WBEZ)
Attached is an Excel spreadsheet with class size data, provided by CPS. It is from the 20th day of school. It includes information about which schools are slated to close and which ones slated to receive them.
In a May 3rd memo, Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago wrote: “Chicago Public Schools have asked the Chicago Fire Department to assist in its transition strategy with the closing of over 50 schools. And that involves having a strong physical presence on each safe passage route for all welcoming schools for three weeks," WGN TV reports. The head of the Fraternal Order of Police says that request shows that the Chicago Police Department is not up to the task.
UTILIZATION OUT, RESOURCES IN: The rhetoric around school closings is now about focusing resources, writes Curtis Black of Newstips.org. This shift in communication strategy is dictated by the fact that school closings turn out not to be about deficits or utilization — given they won’t save money for several years, if ever, and since the “utilization crisis,” caused by adding 50,000 charter seats during a decade when CPS lost 30,000 students, is being addressed by adding more charters. CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett now says closing schools will allow CPS to provide libraries, air conditioning, iPads and “learning gardens” at a small group of receiving schools.
DEPAUL DEAL: Word leaking out of City Hall indicates that a big chunk of the financing for a new DePaul arena would come from the pot of cash that robs millions from public schools, WLS is reporting. This would be very controversial because Emanuel is on the point of closing 54 schools.
ANOTHER WAY: CPS has an alternative to school closings, turnarounds and charters, according to writer Rob Warmowski: a school improvement approach called Focused Instruction Process that was developed by non-profit Strategic Learning Initiatives and was used successfully in six Chicago schools and is now being used in several high schools outside Chicago. Catalyst has this op-ed about the approach and its success.
TEST TOUTING: In an attempt to slowly change the academic culture of Proviso Township High School District 209, teachers, administrators – even the PTO – have been reminding students of the importance of state testing. The results seem to have paid off with significantly more participation, especially at Proviso East High School. (Forest Park Review)
IN THE NATION
THE FIRE NEXT TIME: In the Atlantic, John Tierney writes that he sees a new revolution taking shape in American K-12 public education.
CORE SUPPORT: Backers of the common core intensify their efforts to tout the standards in the face of high-profile opposition in some states. (Education Week)
The Chicago Teachers Union and other activist groups said Monday they would hold marches over three days to protest CPS' plan to close 54 schools. The marches will begin Saturday in the South and West side neighborhoods where many schools are slated for closing and culminate in a rally Monday afternoon outside City Hall. (Tribune)
A DEMAND FOR EMANUEL: The chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus is demanding that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked school board follow hearing officers recommendations to keep open 13 of 54 Chicago Public Schools targeted for closing. (Sun-Times)
MATH AS PROBLEM SOLVER: Researchers expect a program that combines “math tutoring on steroids” with sports-based mentoring for troubled teens in Chicago to help reduce school misconduct, absenteeism and course failures. About 50 boys at Harper High School in Englewood have taken part in the program since the school year began in fall 2012. The MacArthur Foundation has committed $1 million to expanding the combination of math tutoring and the mentoring program, which is called Becoming a Man — Sports Edition, or BAM, which is run by a Chicago nonprofit agency called Youth Guidance. A private source has pledged another $1 million and additional funding is being sought. (Sun-Times)
UNO FUNDING: As the largest charter-school operator in Illinois, the United Neighborhood Organization depends largely on City Hall and Springfield. It also borrows money — from banks and on Wall Street — to pay its bills. Private fund-raising accounts for under 2 percent of UNO’s charter-school funding. Investors, including banks and Wall Street, which together are owed about $70 million. About $37.5 million of that came through the issuance of bonds in 2011. (Sun-Times)
CHALLENGING THE TEST SYSTEM: Timothy Anderson, a student leader with Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools and Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, explains why he boycotted the Prairie State test. "When the future of a school rests on its test scores, students like me get demoted or pushed out," he writes. (Catalyst)
IN THE NATION
ALL TEACHERS FIRED, SCHOOLS CLOSED: Summer break has started very early for students in one Michigan school district. Buena Vista schools have been closed for five days already, and on Monday, the district's website stated that the school would be closed until further notice. Buena Vista school district, which educates approximately 450 kids, is out of money. All the teachers have been laid off and a financial emergency has been declared. The district has suffered from declining enrollment that has led to a loss of $3 million in state funding since 2010. (Take Part)
OFF THE MAP: The Seattle School District will no longer require MAP tests at city public high schools, Superintendent José Banda announced Monday. Opponents of the test argued that it detracts from valuable classroom time, has little to do with instruction subject matter and are not taken seriously because students know they don’t affect their GPAs. (Central District News)
This spring, I got an unexpected tardy pass from the office at my school, telling me that I had been late to my homeroom. As it turned out, I was marked as late because my homeroom had been changed--I was assigned to a sophomore homeroom instead of a junior one. No one had talked to my mom or me about this. I only found about my demotion because I got a tardy.
The switch happened not just to me, but to 67 other juniors in my school who were told we did not have enough credits. However, in my case and many others, we had between 11 and 14.5 credits, which is enough to be a junior and qualify to take the test. Some students did not have enough credits to be juniors in the first place, but that still does not explain why they were promoted to junior year in the fall and then demoted to sophomore status right before the Prairie State test.
Under so much pressure to raise its Prairie State test scores, the administration tried to take advantage of the promotion policy and demote a third of the junior class, just to keep us from taking the test and bringing down the school’s scores. I was having challenges at school but the last thing I would have expected is that my school system would demote me instead of supporting me.
This is not what school systems are supposed to do to students. They are supposed to provide extra support to students like me who don’t do well on tests or who might fall behind. But instead, they tried to make us disappear.
I care about my education. I want to go to college and to study music engineering. But when the future of a school rests on its test scores, students like me get demoted or pushed out. That’s why I joined the more than 100 juniors who boycotted the second day of the PSAE. We boycotted school, and the test, to send a message to Mayor Rahm Emanuel: School closings and student push-out, driven by high-stakes testing, must end.
Many adults disagreed with us, including CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Byrd-Bennett even tried to threaten and intimidate us, sending out a parent letter that insinuated that students who didn’t take the test on Wednesday would not be promoted to senior year.
This was a scare tactic that seemed designed to mislead parents. It did not give any information about the state-required make-up test in May or the established CPS practice of promoting juniors who sit for just one of the two days of the test. And what CPS didn’t realize was that these threats had actually already happened to me. CPS was threatening to withhold our promotion to senior year, but I had already been demoted in March as a direct result of Mayor Emanuel’s pressure on schools to raise test scores or face closure.
When these scare tactics did not prevent us from boycotting, CEO Byrd-Bennett scolded us, saying that “the only place that students should be during the school day is in the classroom with their teachers getting the education they need to be successful in life.” I agree with this statement, but does Mayor Emanuel? CPS pressure on schools to raise test scores actually leads to students getting pushed out of school. Many of the juniors who were demoted at my school started talking about dropping out because it was such a discouraging experience.
If CEO Byrd-Bennett and her boss, Mayor Emanuel, actually want every student to receive a good education every day, they should limit high-stakes tests, not use them to justify school closings in mainly African-American communities. The announcement that they are ending just one of a number of CPS tests given to kindergarteners is like the promise to give air-conditioning to students whose schools get closed. It’s a token effort given to us in the hopes that we will go away.
We want our boycott to be a wake-up call to Mayor Emanuel and CPS. We demand and end to testing-driven school closings, under-resourced schools, and student push-out. And we’re not going away.
Timothy Anderson is a student leader with Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools (CSOSOS) and Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE).
Now under investigation by two state agencies, the United Neighborhood Organization is also facing tough questions on Wall Street from investors who lent tens of millions of dollars to help pay for the rapid expansion of UNO’s charter-school network, according to the Sun-Times, which broke the story about UNO using state funds to pay companies owned by two brothers of a top UNO executive.
PRINCI-PALS: Although CPS is asking principals from closing schools and receiving schools to work together, the plans to shut schools have created friction between some principals and staffs at some schools. But two principals two Far South Side elementary schools have forged an unlikely friendship. (Tribune)
REVAMPING SEX EDUCATION: A proposal one step from Gov. Quinn's desk would require that birth control information be included by Illinois schools that choose to teach about sexual activity. Under the bill, schools that teach sex education in grades 6 through 12 would have to emphasize abstinence, but contraception and sexually transmitted disease awareness would be part of the curriculum, too. (Tribune)
CHARTER CHANCES: More than 100 suburban school board members voted against an online charter school in April that was proposed to serve students from Algonquin to Plainfield. But even with such unanimous opposition throughout the region, local educators fear the State Charter School Commission may find reason to overturn the local school boards' decisions. (Daily Herald)
IN THE NATION
TOP JOB OPENINGS: At least 17 well-known districts are facing superintendent vacancies, and the turnover may bring big changes in some school systems. Schools chiefs or interim superintendents will be leaving this year or next in at least 17 well-known districts, including Baltimore; Boston; Clark County, Nev.; Indianapolis; and Wake County, N.C. (Education Week)
WEALTH AND ACCESS: A growing number of teenagers from wealthy families in China are attending schools in New York City, seeking an advantage in admission to American universities. (The New York Times)
After lagging behind other Americans in education for generations, Latinos have significantly narrowed the gap, and last year they passed a milestone, with new Hispanic high school graduates more likely than their white counterparts to go directly to college, according to a new study. (The New York Times)
CHARTER SUPPORTERS RALLY: Scores of members of Charter Parents United and supporters converged on downtown Wednesday near the Chicago Public Schools headquarters making their demands known to the school district. The group wants CPS to provide “all families with the choice of a high-quality and safe public school.” The group also lambasted the dozens of Chicago aldermen who support a moratorium on the number of charter public schools in the city. (Chicago Defender)
IN THE STATE
PENSION PROPOSAL: Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan made it clear Thursday that he will pursue a proposal to shift the cost of Downstate teacher pensions away from the state and onto local school districts. (State Journal-Register)
IN THE NATION
HYBRID SCHOOL: D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson is seeking to merge a long-struggling elementary school with a high-performing charter school, creating what she describes as a first-of-its-kind partnership between the two types of schools. (The Washington Post)
In their relentless pursuit of prestige and revenue, American private and public four-year colleges and universities are increasingly using financial aid to attract the best and most affluent students rather than to help low-income and working-class families pay for college, according to a new report released Wednesday by the New America Foundation’s Education Policy Program.
MAKING NO PROMISES: Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday he appreciates the work done by hearing officers who want to keep open 13 of 54 Chicago Public Schools targeted for closing but made no promises to follow their recommendations. In fact, Emanuel hinted strongly that recommendations made by the retired judges — stemming from concerns about the security of some students and the special education needs of others — would not be followed by his handpicked school board.
ENCOURAGED BUT DOUBTFUL: Teachers at two Uptown schools that could close this year under a Chicago Public Schools proposal were encouraged by a retired judge's call to delay the plan — but remain doubtful CPS officials will listen or reconsider. (DNAInfo.com)
RENAISSANCE ERA: All three of the schools that launched former CPS CEO Arne Duncan’s signature Renaissance 2010 initiative are getting shaken up by the current CPS administration. And for the first time, CPS is pulling the plug on a “turnaround” school, Bethune Elementary. (WBEZ)
In statehouses and cities across the country, battles are raging over the direction of education policy—from the standards that will shape what students learn to how test results will be used to judge a teacher's performance. Not since the battles over school desegregation has the debate about public education been so intense and polarized, observers say. (Education Week)
PENSION TENSION: The Illinois Retired Teachers Association, a group of 35,000 former public school teachers and educators, says it is prepared to sue if Senate President John Cullerton's pension reform plan becomes law. The central characteristic of Cullerton's plan is that it offers employees and retirees a set of choices, such as taking less money for their annual 3 percent automatic cost-of-living increases or keeping the level intact and giving up access to insurance. (Tribune)
COMMON CORE FOCUS: Education expert Sandra Alberti of the nonprofit Student Achievement Partners spoke at Irving School on April 29 about the new Common Core standards being implemented in Oak Park District 97 and other schools across the country. Illinois is among 45 states that are adopting the new standards, which cover elementary, middle and high schools. Common Core, as described by supporters, is described as a more rigorous way of learning and teaching English and math. (Oakpark.com)
IN THE NATION
VOUCHER RULING: Louisiana’s highest court ruled Tuesday that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s hallmark school voucher plan violates the state’s constitution because of how it is funded. The state Supreme Court found that the school voucher plan is illegal because it diverts tax dollars to private schools from Louisiana’s “minimum foundation program,” which was created under the state constitution to pay for public schools. (The Washington Post)
GOING DIGITAL: High school students will take the ACT college admissions exam by computer starting in the spring of 2015 — but at least for a while, the paper and pencil version will be available, too. (The New York Times)
CPS officials on Tuesday mostly dismissed the conclusions by independent hearing officers that the district should not close 11 schools, without addressing safety concerns and questions about the academics at the receiving schools.
Speaking on background, the officials said that the hearing officers--who concluded that CPS did not comply with state law and therefore should not close the schools--either did not understand or over-stepped their role.
Of 54 schools, hearing officers concluded that the following should not be closed: Buckingham Special Education Center, Calhoun, Delano, King, Mahalia Jackson, Manierre, Mayo, Morgan, Overton, Williams Elementary and Williams Middle School. In addition, a hearing officer said the closures of Stockton and Stewart should be delayed and that Bowen High School should not be forced to co-locate with a new Noble Street Charter School.
The hearing officers’ findings are not binding.
In a statement released later Tuesday, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that the reports will be considered by Board of Education members. The board is set vote on proposals to close 54 schools and co-locate another 11 at their May 22 meeting. If approved, this will be the largest restructuring of a major urban school district ever.
“We are grateful for the work and dedication hearing officers have brought to this process,” Byrd-Bennett said in her statement.
Hope for opponents, but no guarantee
Given that the opinions were written by well-respected former judges, the reports could give new fodder to closing opponents and may bear weight on board members’ votes.
CPS officials note that in the vast majority of cases, hearing officers simply concluded that CPS complied with the law. But the officers in other cases listened to impassioned pleas from teachers, parents, principals, aldermen and state lawmakers, and issued reports that indicated they understood their concerns.
Otis Taylor, principal of Buckingham Special Education School, says he didn’t know what to expect when he went to the hearing. He and parents told the hearing officer that the commute is too long from Buckingham, on the far South Side, to Montefiore School on the Near West Side.
The hearing officer agreed, saying that the CEO “failed to consider pertinent information on the safety impact that the long commute will have on Buckingham students.”
Taylor says the finding gives him hope. “I am glad it came out like that and I am optimistic.”
As is the case with Buckingham, in most scenarios the officers opposed a closing because they did not think the district had made sufficient transition plans that addressed academic or safety concerns.
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll says the district was only required to provide a draft transition plan—which, as drafts, are works in progress and won’t be complete until mid-June. She added it was not up to the hearing officers to comment on the quality or feasibility of the plan.
But many of them did just that.
“Generalities and vague promises”
Hearing officer Paddy McNamara notes that “it cannot be emphasized enough how concerned the Manierre parents are about their children’s and their own safety if Jenner and Manierre are merged into one school.” The two Near North Side schools are such deep rivals that the basketball league realigned so that they don’t play each other, according to the testimony.
She decided “that CPS violated its own guidelines by failing to consider the unique circumstances of Manierre.”
Regarding plans for the closing of Morgan Elementary, hearing officer David Coar noted two deficiencies. First, the transition plan did not adequately answer the question of whether Ryder, set to receive Morgan’s students, could meet the need of special education students. Second, CPS did not tell parents enough about how safety concerns would be addressed.
“The safety of the youngest and most vulnerable children in the school system is a very serious thing, not to be addressed with generalities and vague promises,” wrote Coar, a former federal judge. “Violence is a fact in the city of Chicago and in the neighborhoods involved in this school closing in particular.”
Hearing officer Charles Winkler echoed these concerns. However, instead of opposing the closure of Stockton and Stewart, he suggested that CPS wait until the 2014-2015 school year.
Then, he asks these probing questions: “Will an understaffed Chicago Police Department be able to provide enough officers to assist the Stewart children? Will CPS hire a private security company to furnish properly trained personnel? Is there really enough time to get everyone up to speed so the 14,400 children from the closing schools are provided safe passage?”
Carroll says the school district is still working with the Chicago Police Department to firm up plans. However, the transition plans rely on what are called “safe passage workers” to make sure students get from school to home. Safe passage workers are adults from the community who stand on corners and watch students as they walk home, calling the police if they spot trouble.
Other hearing officers cited academic concerns. In the past, most displaced students have landed at schools that are not much better than the schools that closed.
One current proposal involves Overton and Mollison, both of which are Level 3 schools, the lowest possible rating given by CPS. Overton is slated to close, with its students sent to Mollison.
Byrd-Bennett’s guidelines say that if two schools have the same rating, the district can still consolidate, as long as the receiving school outperforms the closing school on four of the performance criteria established by the district. The performance criteria include ISAT scores and measures of academic growth, as well as attendance.
Under those guidelines, Overton qualifies to be consolidated into Mollison. Hearing officer Carl McCormick does not dispute that, but he does point out that the guidelines don’t lead to the ultimate goal—a better education for the students who are displaced.
“We must ask, is it relevant or significant that the higher-performing school is rated in the lowest academic level and is on probation?” wrote McCormick, a former Cook County Circuit Court Judge. “This is tantamount, using a food metaphor, to the promise of an omelet with a crisp waffle. Then what is actually delivered is broken eggs, whose contents are oozing out, and a burnt pancake.”
Rather than addressing McCormick’s concerns, in a formal written response, CPS’ General Counsel James Bebley wrote “the Hearing Officer substituted his judgment for the CEO’s in applying a different standard to higher-performing schools than the one expressed in the guidelines.”
As we enter the final stretch of the race to close down a record number of schools, the most ever in a single district at one time, we are extremely concerned about the patterns that are emerging in North Lawndale.
We find that capital costs used to justify closing North Lawndale schools have been inflated up to 3 times. Moreover, no capital projects are now in progress at the schools slated to be closed, and they are in excellent condition. We have also found, consistently, that CPS has misrepresented the amenities of the closing schools. In most instances, the closing schools have greater amenities than the receiving schools. For example, CPS has said that Pope and Henson don't have computer labs. Yet Henson has two technology labs, a library and a computer in every classroom, and Pope has a technology lab and a media center.
(Catalyst Chicago reported on the impact of closings in North Lawndale in the spring issue of Catalyst In Depth. Independent hearing officers have recommended against closing about a dozen schools, but none of those targeted in North Lawndale.)
Community residents have questioned whether the proposed school closings are providing cover for the Academy for Urban School Leadership, which operates turnaround schools, to consolidate its interests in North Lawndale. Bethune, an AUSL school, will close before being completely turned around. This will free capacity for AUSL to take over Chalmers, situated across the street from the northeast corner of Douglas Park. Pope, situated across the street from the southwest corner of Douglas Park, will close, and Johnson, which is an AUSL school, will assume its attendance boundaries. Johnson is situated across the street from Douglas Park on 14th Street. AUSL controls Collins High School, situated inside the park. After the dust settles, AUSL will control essentially every school in or around Douglas Park.
In addition, while Henson’s receiving school is Hughes, the new attendance boundaries are drawn such that the lion's share of Henson students will go to Herzl, another AUSL school. There are also connections to the current CPS leadership. Board President Vitale is the former board president of AUSL. CPS’ Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley is a former managing director of AUSL.
While we believe schools should be improved rather than closed, it should be noted that AUSL schools do not necessarily present better options. AUSL schools in North Lawndale have historically under-performed the North Lawndale Average.
School closings will also “re-segregate” the African American and Latino communities around Paderewski, and will not provide better opportunities for African American students. Currently, Paderewski is the only North Lawndale school whose attendance boundaries include North Lawndale and Little Village. Paderewski’s student population is 82% African American and 18% Latino. African American students generally live in Lawndale, north of Cermak Road, while the Latino students generally live in Little Village, south of Cermak Road.
Even though CPS has designated Cardenas and Castellanos as receiving schools for Paderewski, the new attendance boundaries for Cardenas and Castellanos are drawn such that the northern boundary is Cermak Road. Likewise, the southern boundary for Penn and Crown is Cermak. Effectively, Latino students will be sent to Cardenas or Castellanos, which are higher-performing, while African American students will go to Penn or Crown, both lower-achieving. Cardenas is Level 1 and Castellanos is Level 2, and both are nearly filled to capacity. Paderewski, Crown and Penn are all Level 3 schools, and Paderewski is the strongest of the three.
We ask that CPS put a moratorium on school closures until they can complete their master facilities planning process, mitigate any conflicts of interest and change any plans that could compound segregation.
Valerie F. Leonard
Co-Founder, Lawndale Alliance
According to a report released Tuesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality, the vast majority of teachers in the nation’s largest school districts took a pay cut or saw their pay frozen at least one year between 2008 and 2012. (The New York Times)
Independent hearing officers are opposing 14 of the school closings proposed by Chicago Public Schools officials, citing safety concerns and the district's failure to show students would be going to better schools. In some cases, hearing officers concluded that CPS violated its own closing guidelines or presented inadequate transition plans, especially for special education students. In many of these cases, hearing officers said the academic difference between a closing school and a school taking the students was marginal.v(Chicago Tribune)
INFLATED AND FLAWED: A joint analysis by WBEZ/Chicago Public Media and Catalyst Chicago has found that CPS' original cost savings estimates related to school closings were significantly flawed—based on outdated needs assessments inflated by estimates and riddled with mistakes. And, although CPS officials lowered their initial savings estimate by $122 million, their new projections are still based primarily on speculation regarding the current condition of buildings and needs.
A SKEPTICAL PUBLIC: The amount Chicago Public Schools says it’s going to save by closing down schools is being challenged by parents, school staff and aldermen across the city. And CPS itself recently admitted to overstating how much it would save from closing schools.
A WRINKLE FOR RANGEL: Blogger Kenzo Shibata says UNO charter network's CEO Juan Rangel should step down from the Public Building Commission that oversees construction of public schools and other government buildings. "It’s been well documented recently that UNO Charter Schools operated largely as a patronage trough for the connected. This news prompted Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to suspend state funding to the UNO charter network coming out of a $98 million state grant." (Chicago Now)
IN THE NATION
EVALUATIONS AND TEST SCORES: While Texas legislators and educators agree that better methods are needed for teacher assessment, the question of tying evaluations to test scores is a sticking point. (The New York Times)
DUNCAN ON DETROIT: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Detroit students Monday and told them better days are ahead for the city's troubled schools. (The Detroit News)
Reports published Monday night show that independent hearing officers do not think CPS has proved its case for closing 11 schools. The hearing officers said that CPS did not follow policies and laws in deciding to close Buckingham, Calhoun, Delano, King, M. Jackson, Manierre, Mayo, Morgan, Overton and Williams Elementary and Middle school. Also, a hearing officer suggested CPS delay the consolidation of Stewart and Stockton in order to address safety concerns.
In addition, a hearing officer recommended against the co-location of Bowen High School with Noble Street.
The hearing officers cited safety concerns, said some schools were not higher performing enough to be a welcoming school and also that CPS should have taken special education students into account in their utilization formula.
CPS will host a media call this morning. More information to follow.
CPS released this fact sheet in response to the officer's reports.
On the day CPS announced its list of school closings, students at schools slated to shut down received folders with letters to their parents stating that their school had lost enrollment, was partially empty and needed anywhere from $4 million to $37 million in repairs and maintenance.
District leaders repeated that argument, telling the media that CPS will avoid paying $560 million in capital costs over 10 years by shuttering 51schools—more than the savings in operating expenses. The argument has been used to justify the closings, the largest number ever at one time in a major district, as CPS pointed out the need to move old, expensive-to-maintain buildings off the books and cut a projected $1 billion deficit
But a joint analysis by WBEZ/Chicago Public Media and Catalyst Chicago found that the original cost savings estimates were significantly flawed--based on outdated needs assessments inflated by estimates and riddled with mistakes.
CPS leaders acknowledge that the numbers were not iron-clad and insist that the basic premise—avoiding major capital spending—is solid.
In its draft 10-year facilities plan, officials quietly lowered their initial savings estimate by $122 million, conceding that some of the changes were prompted by repeated questions from WBEZ and Catalyst.
Yet the new projections are still based primarily on speculation regarding the current condition of buildings and its needs.
The WBEZ and Catalyst analysis found these problems with the cost savings figures:
“We are toast”
Principals, local school council members and community activists--and even aldermen--have been questioning the cost-savings figures since the district first released them.
They believe the numbers were exaggerated to bolster the case for closing schools and say it undermines their trust in the district’s decision-making process—an already fragile trust that CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said she is determined to repair.
One principal said he was worried the minute he saw the district’s estimate for repair and maintenance at his school.
“I thought to myself, we are toast,” said the principal. This principal, and others contacted for this story, said he has been warned by CPS not to talk to the press.
A 2010 assessment put a $7 million price tag on repairs and maintenance at this principal’s school. However, the letter provided by the district for parents said it would cost more than three times that figure for repairs and maintenance.
Parents at Trumbull in Andersonville had a similar reaction. The letter parent Ali Burke received at home on March 21 said that Trumbull needed $16.2 million in maintenance and repairs.
“It is ludicrous,” said Burke, who serves on the local school council at Trumbull.
Trumbull’s latest assessment from 2010 stated that the school needed $4.6 million in capital spending. No new assessment has been done since then. Internal documents provided to WBEZ and Catalyst show CPS lowered the projected savings after the March 21 letter, to about $11 million. The draft facilities plan put the cost to maintain and repair at $15 million.
Burke and other LSC members said they would think CPS would put out estimates based on an actual assessment and pricing based on bids. Burke asked CPS to provide an accounting for how it determined the costs, and CPS officials promised to bring one to a planned meeting with U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky. But the CPS official who attended “forgot” the paperwork, Burke said.
James Morgan, Trumbull’s president, is incredulous. “Where is your source, CPS?” he said.
Not a science
Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, notes that predicting capital cost savings is difficult. Filado’s Washington D.C.-based organization focuses on educational facilities planning. “It is not science,” she says. “It is elastic.”
But Filardo, who has been assisting the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, said that some of the numbers put out by CPS seem odd, especially given the latest assessments.
She points to Wentworth Elementary, a building that is slated to be shut down next year as students and staff relocate to Altgeld.
Between 2000 and 2010, CPS spent about $3 million at Wentworth for boiler repairs and campus renovation, among other work. The 2010 assessment stated that Wentworth needed $5.5 million more in work.
Then, this winter, CPS projected savings of $10.5 million in capital costs by closing Wentworth.
Yet given the major work done in the past 10 years, Filardo says it is hard to imagine what needs to be done. “It is probably an exaggeration,” she says.
Filardo has studied school closings in cities across the country and says it is not unusual for school districts to inflate savings, although often for operating costs such as salaries for laid-off principals, engineers and teachers.
A top CPS official, as well as board president David Vitale, say the adjusting of figures is not important because the basic premise remains.
“Not having to worry about the capital maintenance is clearly something that will save us money,” says the official (whom the CPS communications office would not let be identified). “It is not a perfect science.”
Education quality also a factor
Vitale says CPS officials are trying to put out a lot of information and tackle many projects and so he would not be surprised if some of the information was not accurate.
“My assumption is that they made some judgments and some estimates,” he says. CPS board members have asked to be briefed on each of the proposed school actions. By then, Vitale says he expects the school-by-school numbers to be accurate and it is important to him to be able to compare relative costs between schools.
However, with only six updated assessments, it is hard to see how he will be able to make apples-to-apples comparisons for every closing situation. Take Ryerson and Laura Ward in West Humboldt Park.
The Ward building is slated to close. Ward does not have a new assessment, but the updated assessed need is about $6.6 million a year (including $3.3 million from a 2008 assessment, plus extra costs added in such as inflation, engineering and design).
Ryerson, where Ward’s student and staff are to relocate, has an updated assessment that puts the price tag for capital spending at $7.9 million.
Yet Vitale notes there are other factors to consider beyond capital cost savings.
“Because of our financial situation, we must use our buildings efficiently,” he says. He says he also will be looking at utilization and the quality of education in each building.
Dumas Elementary teacher Nadjea Butler-Wilson leads her 3rd-grade students in a lesson on reading a persuasive paragraph. The author believes his town needs a new library. Butler-Wilson wants her students to analyze his argument.
“The reason he’s giving you is that the library is too small. How can you prove that? What is some fact about the library that will show it’s too small?” she prompts the class.
“Some people think it’s too small,” one boy says.
But this is not the answer Butler-Wilson is looking for. She pushes the students to give facts to prove their point. A girl suggests one, saying, “More people keep coming in [the library] and there’s not enough room.”
Learning how to construct written arguments, the goal of this lesson, is an important element of the new Common Core State Standards, set to begin phasing in next year. Last year, Dumas was one of 35 schools that became “early adopters” of the standards and were given money to pay for substitutes while teachers worked on model lesson plans aligned to the standards. The lesson plans became the basis for curriculum guides.
(Dumas and two other early adopter schools, Canter and Armstrong, are closing. The Dumas building in Woodlawn will stay open as children from nearby Wadsworth transfer over and the school is renamed Wadsworth.)
As CPS begins to phase in the standards, one group of teachers will have a particularly tough task. Teachers of young children will have to expose students to high-level ideas without relying on strategies that are not geared toward young children; for example, too much desk work that could easily frustrate them and, in turn, make learning more difficult.
In fact, many early childhood teachers have long resisted efforts to impose academic expectations on young children. The Common Core standards have re-ignited the debate, and the fear that tasks meant for older students will be “pushed down” to younger children.
But educators say that, with careful work, teachers can learn to adapt. At Dumas and other early adopter schools, preschool and primary teachers are striking a delicate balance, slowly incorporating lessons that teach Common Core concepts and skills to young children at a level and pace that are developmentally appropriate.
Principals also say young students can handle the Common Core, if teachers give them the right support.
When very young students respond to a topic by talking about their likes and dislikes, Dumas Principal Macquline King says, teachers refer them back to the text they have read. “We understand what you like, but what does it say in the text?” she explains.
Nancy Hanks, the principal at Melody Elementary, says that a lesson in which students look for details in a text can be made accessible to those who don’t write yet: Some students may write the details, some may draw them, and others may dictate them to the teacher, she explained at a Chicago Principals and Administrators Association panel.
“In raising the bar, [students] jump right up to it,” Hanks believes.
Hanks once saw students drawing pictures of dolphins after reading a book about dolphins, but realized that the pictures didn’t have specific details in them. So she told them to re-do the pictures. Some of the details the new pictures showed included dolphins’ spouts and dolphins coming up for air.
Rhonda Atkins, a preschool teacher at Dumas, says that meeting with kindergarten teachers and learning about the standards helped her align lessons with the expectations her students will face when they leave preschool.
Teaching students about counting money entailed getting a book about money that was appropriate for preschoolers, Atkins explains. “You talk about something preschoolers understand--has anybody ever gotten money for [their] birthday or for Christmas? Did you get coins? Did you get dollars?”
She also asked parents to count loose change with their children to reinforce the concept at home.
Other concepts Atkins introduces include shapes, ordinal numbers (first, second, third and so on) and writing.
“Children have been working on how to write sentences. My very high-level students are able to write paragraphs,” she says. “There’s only a few, but you try to push them further.”
Breaking down complex texts
Cardenas Elementary Principal Jeremy Feiwell says that having students read more complex material has paid off with higher test scores on the NWEA MAP assessment, which measures the ability to understand complex texts and is given to children as young as 3rd grade. The ability has “skyrocketed” among Cardenas students, Feiwell says.
Referring to evidence from the text is an important part of the Common Core, and Feiwell says even children as young as 1st grade can do it. Proof hangs on the wall of Maricela Aguirre’s 1st-grade classroom, where a collection of student work shows answers to questions about a story featuring animals, with evidence to back up students’ thoughts. “How did the pig outsmart the wolf? How do you know?” reads one prompt.
In a pre-K classroom, teacher Maria Morin reads the story “Thinking One Can,” an earlier version of the story that became the classic children’s book “The Little Engine That Could.”
But this story is read aloud from a teacher’s guide, with only one picture. Morin tells her students it will be more challenging to listen to the story without looking at pictures to tell what is going on.
At the end, Morin asks students what lesson the story is trying to teach. After some discussion, she re-reads the sentence where the story sums up its moral.
Feiwell explains that Morin’s teaching shows two shifts spurred by the Common Core. First, Morin is showing students how to summarize main ideas using evidence from the text. Second, by exposing children to a story without pictures, she is helping them get ready to understand higher-level books down the road.
In Elizabeth Rickey’s 3rd grade class, students work through a play about the Greek mythological character Medusa, who was transformed into a monster when a goddess turned her hair into snakes.
“We were doing a shared reading of a play about Medusa, and we were looking at it through her perspective,” Rickey explains. She asked students taking on Medusa’s role to answer questions like “What do you think about the way Athena treated you?” and “Why do you think she changed your hair into snakes?”
“It’s a really challenging thing to put themselves in the character’s shoes,” Rickey says. At the same time, they are talking about how to differentiate their own point of view from that of the author.
From basic arithmetic to understanding concepts
In 2nd-grade teacher Eva Verta’s room at Columbia Explorers Elementary, students practice counting, using math worksheets with pictures of manipulatives.
“Remember, I should be able to follow how you’re counting by checking your labels,” Verta reminds the students. She speaks directly to one boy: “You know what, Emilio? I cannot read your mind when I look at these labels. I can’t see how you counted. I look at yours and I say, ‘Hmm, how did you get 501?’”
With the Common Core, math must go beyond just getting the right answer. Students must be able to explain their thinking and demonstrate understanding—in this case, by labeling each item in the drawings.
Columbia Explorers is not an early adopter school, but has been incorporating the English standards for a couple years. This year, the school began to implement the math standards.
Principal Jose Barrera says that based on the school’s experience, redesigning lessons will be hard work.
“Nothing’s going to happen with CPS giving you this magic kit,” he says. “You have to take ownership, 1,000 percent.”
In 3rd-grade teacher Jennifer Ford’s room, some students practice multiplication tables on worksheets. Other children, working in groups, say them out loud using flashcards.
Before long, Ford gathers the whole class in a circle. Picking one number at a time, she has students surround her for an exercise. The first number she gives out is five.
One by one, each student in the circle reels off a math fact of his or her choosing that involves five:
“Five times one is five.”
“Six times five is 30.”
“You got it,” Ford says.
“Five times six is 30.”
“Five times ten is 50.”
Curriculum coordinator Beth West explains that one Common Core goal is to make sure students master skills “fluently” so they can use them with ease. In the earlier grades, this includes a sizable dose of mental math.
Terry Carter, who is leading Common Core implementation at the Academy for Urban School Leadership, says schools run by AUSL are focusing mostly on math in grades pre-K to 3. AUSL manages 25 schools and is slated to take on six more with this year’s school actions.
The schools are working with the Erikson Institute’s Early Mathematics Education Project on ways to make math concepts accessible and appropriate for youngsters.
As part of the Common Core, Carter says, students must be able to explain and demonstrate their thinking using manipulatives and visual models.
Children should also learn to persevere in solving tough math problems.
“The Common Core likes to see the endurance and stamina of children to be inquiry-based. Children are allowed to struggle with a problem rather than being told or funneled [to an answer with] teachers breaking down every step,” Carter says.
To learn how to make those changes, AUSL teachers are working in groups to practice lessons.
One teacher teaches a lesson in another teacher’s classroom while colleagues observe. Then, they analyze what went well and what went poorly, and teach a revised version of the lesson to a different class.
Not necessarily a disconnect
Sandra Alberti, director of state and district partnerships and professional development for the nonprofit Student Achievement Partners, is hopeful about what the Common Core could mean for early childhood teachers.
“What the standards do is signal to early childhood educators and everyone in the system that… these are a list of things kids need time to develop, play with, and explore,” Alberti says.
In math, Alberti says, giving students more time with the material can slow down instruction and allow time for deeper conceptual understanding.
Currently, most math teachers teach strategies and tricks students can use to get the right answer. “That’s not math,” she says. Some curricula focus on concepts but fall short at having students actually practice enough problems. But, Alberti says, “We shouldn’t make a choice between having kids get the answer right and having them explain their thinking.”
With reading, she says, the most important piece of the standards is to challenge students to engage with material above their level because that’s how they will grow as readers.
“It’s very hard for (students) to catch up to grade-level peers when everything we give them has been scaffolded,” Alberti says. “If they’re not given a more complex text, they’re not going to develop a more complex understanding.”
At Dumas, Butler-Wilson says that the Common Core can be a good fit for early childhood because the standards ask students to use their imagination and ideas.
Students can master the standards, she believes, “but it requires everyone to change the way they think about teaching and learning. It requires the teacher to be more of a facilitator in the classroom as opposed to being at the front [teaching] one lesson the same way to all the students. The standards can’t be reached that way.”
Butler-Wilson recalls a math lesson that required students to do a scavenger hunt for items of a certain length –a foot, an inch or a yard – and made posters of the results. The goal was to help strengthen their understanding of the concept.
“When they would think about an inch, they would think about the things they discovered in the classroom,” she says.
Elizabeth Najera, principal of Velma Thomas Early Childhood Center, also doesn’t necessarily see a mismatch between Common Core expectations and what students should be learning in preschool.
A team of teacher leaders in the school has identified what they want children to know in order to be ready for kindergarten. One thing that’s key, she says, is making sure teachers intentionally design instruction to build on children’s knowledge.
Teachers at Velma Thomas try to use open-ended questions to develop higher-level thinking skills, even in very young students, and Najera sees that as a good fit.
“Some of the things that are in the Common Core, I think they are not too different from what we are doing already,” she says. But a lot will depend on how the district changes its expectations for preschool teachers, she adds. “I guess we kind of have to wait on that.”
Early Childhood Resource Page: http://www.catalyst-chicago.org/early-childhood
Common Core Resource Page: http://www.catalyst-chicago.org/common-core
The Consortium on Chicago School Research surveyed 700 principals and assistant principals and 900 teachers in December about CPS' new teacher evaluation process and will do so again in May. CPS, however, would not authorize the organization to release preliminary findings. A district spokesman said the data are "too preliminary to be of any value."
An Atlantic article asks whether new CPS evaluations are proving a valuable tool or simply another drain on educators' time by focusing on the experiences of teachers and principals at three schools (John Hancock and Jenner and Robert Emmet Elementary), where the new teacher evaluation program was implemented this year. (The Atlantic)
IN SUPPORT OF TEACHERS: On Friday morning, hundreds of Lincoln Park High School students poured out onto the street, in a walkout in support of their teachers. Eight teachers recently learned they will not returning when the school is converted to a wall-to-wall International Baccalaureate. Before doing so, they presented a letter explaining why they planned to walk out. “We want to show that we do care about our education and we wish to have a say in it,” it read. “We have been informed that many teachers are being fired so that newer teachers can be hired and we don’t want to sit back and let CPS make a business of our education.” (WBEZ)
IN THE NATION
A NEW MAJORITY: Hispanics have passed whites as the largest ethnic group in Texas schools, making up almost 51 percent of public school enrollment. The influx of Hispanic students, many from poor families, has brought about many changes in classrooms, with more expected as that population continues to grow. (Dallas Morning News)
NOVEL CO-HABITATION: Two redbrick buildings in a gritty section of Philadelphia are being converted into apartments and offices intended to house teachers and nonprofit educational organizations in what the developers hope will become a cohesive community. When the renovation is complete, 60 percent of the buildings’ 114 apartments will be reserved for teachers, who will be offered a 25 percent discount on market rent — paying about $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom unit in a neighborhood where they typically rent for $1,300. (The New York Times)
Victoria Chou, the dean of the College of the Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago is retiring in August. Chou has been dean of the college for the past 17 years. She is also currently an interim executive associate chancellor for external and government relations. Chou has been a co-chair of the Steering Committee of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, chair of the Governing Board of the National Teachers Academy-Professional Development School in Chicago, and co-chair of the Council of Chicago Area Deans of Education.
Lisa Vahey, an education nonprofit consultant, is moving closer to family and to start a new job with Breakthrough Schools, a charter school network in Cleveland, Ohio. Vahey is a former director of the Chicago New Teacher Center and of the New Teacher Network at the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago. Vahey has also served as an area reading coach for Chicago Public Schools.
Oliver Sicat, has been named CEO and president of Edvocate, the charter management organization overseeing USC Hydrid High School in Los Angeles. Sicat is a former chief portfolio officer for Chicago Public Schools and the founder of University of Illinois at Chicago College Prep, a campus of the Noble Street Charters Schools. USC Hybrid High, now in its first year, is a charter school authorized by the Los Angeles Unified School District and designed and built by the University of Southern California Rossier School. Sicat is an USC alum.
Tony Anderson is the new board chair of Perspectives Charter Schools. The current board chair, Larry Ashkin, will be become chair emeritus. Anderson is a former vice chair and managing partner for the Midwest area of Ernst & Young. While he was at the firm, Anderson build a corporate/school partnership with the schools.