In announcing school closings, Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett indicated students who are displaced would be sent to better-performing schools, but that is not the case, according to the Sun-Times.
One-third of relocating children are going to schools with CPS academic rankings similar to the schools they are leaving. And children from at least eight of those schools are landing at facilities with lower state standardized test scores.
CHARTER CHEERLEADERS: A survey commissioned by the Chicago Tribune and the Joyce Foundation finds widespread support—among parents of CPS students and other Chicagoans—for more charter schools in the city. However, Julie Woestehoff, of the group PURE, says the polling wasn't exactly balanced. Her look at the survey showed those who responded were 50 percent white (less than 9 percent of CPS students are white. Thirty percent made more than $75,000 a year. (87 percent of CPS students are from low-income families that qualify for federal free or reduced lunches.) Forty-three percent of those polled do not know a Chicago Public School teacher or teachers union member.)
RALLYING THE COMMUNITY: The Chicago Teachers Union plans to rally at the Daley Center Wednesday and has been preparing parents and community groups for weeks for civil disobedience acts like sit-ins. Opponents of the district's plan have hung "No School Closings" and "School Closings = One-Term Mayor" banners in the Loop.
RAHM RESPONDS: Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded to widespread criticism of his plan to close 54 Chicago Public Schools, saying he wasn't interested in doing what was politically easy and that the pain of the closings doesn't compare to the anguish of "trapping" kids in failing schools. (Star Tribune)
In the coming weeks, the field of candidates for May’s Chicago Teachers Union election will begin to take shape.
Nominating petitions are due today. Opposition candidate Tanya Saunders-Wolffe, a counselor at Jesse Owens Elementary on the far South Side, has already announced that she intends to challenge current CTU leader Karen Lewis as part of a new union faction, Coalition to Save Our Union.
The coalition includes members of the United Progressive Caucus (UPC) and ProActive Chicago Teachers (PACT), which were longtime foes of each other before Karen Lewis’ group, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), took power.
Members of the coalition charge that current CTU President Karen Lewis has failed to prevent school closings and damaged relationships with CPS by relying too much on protests. They also complain that the union has asked delegates to file grievances instead of union staff (a move they say could put delegates’ jobs at risk and lead to intimidation) and shifted its focus to organizing, meaning that teachers aren’t getting enough support in exchange for their dues.
“What we have had for years, which has been criticized (by CORE), is labor peace. We had a seat at the table to create policy. That bridge has been destroyed. They won’t talk to the union,” Saunders-Wolffe says. “We have to give (teachers) a voice from the table; we can’t just keep screaming from the streets.”
To get on the ballot, Saunders-Wolffe must collect signatures from at least 5 percent of union members. She says well over 50 people are collecting signatures on behalf of the coalition. If she should be elected this summer, she says she will focus on making sure teachers in closed schools are able to follow their students, and on ongoing “strategic bargaining” over the effects of CPS policies.
Some unhappy with strike results
Both sides declared victory after the strike this fall, but Coalition to Save Our Union charges that teachers ended up getting a bad deal – particularly since they never got back the 4 percent raises that CPS said it couldn’t afford to pay in school year 2011-12.
The group is also slamming Lewis for failing to put the brakes on school closings and allowing the passage of Senate Bill 7, which puts tight restrictions on the Chicago Teachers Union and unions around the state and allowed the district to impose a longer day.
Mary Ellen Sanchez, who is running for recording secretary, says that elementary teachers’ loss of a half-hour morning prep period has resulted in less time to meet with administrators and parents, even work with small groups of students before school. (Saunders-Wolffe says her group would like to see the prep period restored, and students’ days shortened by 30 minutes.) “Without that half-hour prep, we don’t have that time to communicate with each other,” Sanchez says.
Frank MacDonald, a delegate at George Washington High School, complains that some aspects of the new contract – such as the new employee discipline system – were glossed over in debate about the contract. After four warnings for any one issue within three years, a teacher can be terminated.
MacDonald adds that teachers’ wage increases feel paltry to some, because paychecks are being stretched out over a longer time period with the longer year. “Some people are looking at a $14 increase” per paycheck, he notes.
Debbie Lynch, a former CPS teacher and past CTU president who ran against Lewis in the last election but then endorsed her in a run-off, has come out in support of the new caucus as well.
“It is not strikes so much as the contracts that are deciding factors in union elections -- whether or not the members are happy with the contract that the leaders are negotiated,” Lynch says. “(Teachers) feel this leadership got headlines but no protection for the members. With a strike, you have that raising of expectations that there is going to be something beneficial as a result.”
She says CORE has promoted its own political agenda – “an agenda of confrontation, protests and rallies, and the question has to be, what has it gotten the membership?”
“When they were stopping traffic in the streets they had the opportunity to come back with a contract that had moratorium language for stopping school closings,” Lynch adds. “When I was in office, I had a memorandum of understanding with Arne Duncan to stop school closings. It’s been done before.”
Inside the backpacks of Lattrice Jamison’s children on Thursday were several sheets of paper, some of which infuriated her and others that confused her.
One sheet informed her that Emmet Elementary School, the school her son and daughter attended since preschool, was closing next year. According to the paperwork, students from Emmet would go to either DePriest or Ellington. (For a complete list of closing and receiving schools, see our chart to the right.)
On top of this news, their folders contained an application and a two-page list of all the schools to which she could apply. This led Jamison to conclude that her children, now in 5th and 6th grade, and their classmates would be not be guaranteed a seat anywhere. She said principals would be allowed to pick and choose which students they wanted to take in and the decision would be based on test scores.
“Why should I have to apply?” said Jamison, who serves on Emmet’s local school council.
A day after CPS announced plans for the largest school shakeup in history, parents were trying to figure out where their children would attend school next year, as many vowed to fight the actions. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is recommending that 53 elementary schools and one small high school close. The Board of Education is set to vote on the measures at its May 22 meeting.
In actuality, Jamison doesn’t have to apply unless she wants to enroll her children somewhere other than the designated receiving schools, said CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler. Ziegler said the application was handed out because CPS extended the deadline for open enrollment and magnet cluster schools, in an effort to give parents choice. However, sought-after spaces in high-performing magnet, selective enrollment and most charter schools are already filled.
The situation was made more difficult by the complicated scenarios designed by CPS officials as they attempted to get all displaced students into what they consider to be better facilities and better school programs.
Students at 16 of the schools that are closing will stay in the same building, which will be taken over by the principal, staff and students of higher-achieving schools. In five separate situations, students will be assigned to one of two or three schools. CPS did not say how it will assign students when there’s more than one welcoming school.
In addition, 18 of the schools have special education cluster programs, which serve more severely disabled students from the area. These students might not go to the designated welcoming school, but rather be assigned to different places.
As parents and activists digested this information, they continued to return to what has been a common concern as the announcement of mass school closings approached. Jamison joined a group of West Side activists at a press conference where speakers accused district leaders of targeting black students and putting them in danger.
Jamison said that students from DePriest and Ellington already get into fights with those from Emmet. “They come to the school and jump over fences and fight,” she said.
Michelle Hunt-Harris held a poster that showed the gang boundaries in Austin and where the schools that were recommended from closure are located in relation to their welcoming school.
Hunt-Harris, who serves on the local school council at May, said she is in a “state of unease” as she worries about the children crossing gang boundaries.
“Our community is being disrespected,” she said.
See a timeline of school closings under Mayor Rahm Emanuel:
Juan Rangel, the $250,000-a-year chief executive officer of one of the largest charter school operators in Chicago, has three children of his siblings on the UNO payroll, who together earn $208,000 annually, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.
Rangel has his 30-year-old nephew working as his deputy chief of staff. Carlos Jaramillo, the son of Rangel’s sister Rosario Jaramillo, is paid $88,000, payroll records show. Rangel’s niece Araceli Estrada is paid more than $49,000 a year as an apprentice kindergarten teacher. Another Rangel nephew — Juan Antonio “John” Rangel, 38, makes more than $71,000 a year as an information technology manager for UNO’s charter school network.
A COMPLICATED PLAN: In announcing the largest shakeup ever attempted in one year by a major urban school district, CPS officials laid out a complicated plan for a total of 71 actions—closings, co-locations and turnarounds—that will affect more than 30,000 students. (Catalyst)
IPADS FOR DISPLACED KIDS: As if to make the historic shuttering of 54 schools more palatable, CPS pledged to provide iPads to third- through eighth-grade students at schools taking in displaced students, the Tribune reports.
SHOCK, ANGER, TEARS: In neighborhoods most affected by the unprecedented announcement of 54 school closings, the reaction by parents and teachers was swift, angry and in some cases, tearful.
A few of the notable reactions to the school closings:
"This is cowardly and it is the ultimate bullying job. Our mayor should be ashamed of himself." —CTU President Karen Lewis
"In a word, the approach was brutal. It's certainly not deserved by these parents and these kids." — Mary Visconti, the director of the Better Boys Foundation, a youth organization in the Lawndale neighborhood.
"They're talking about giving me (International Baccalaureate) programs, (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs, air conditioning for my schools. I think they should have been doing these things already. And I don't want to take those things at the stake of somebody losing their life. And I'm telling you, that's what's going to happen. I don't want to take air conditioning and then have somebody's blood on my hands." —Ald. Walter Burnett (27th Ward)
WHO AND WHERE: The vast majority of the 30,000 impacted students are African American and attend schools on the South or West Sides, or near former public housing developments. (WBEZ)
In announcing the largest shakeup ever attempted in one year by a major urban school district, CPS officials laid out a complicated plan for a total of 71 actions--closings, co-locations and turnarounds--that will affect more than 30,000 students. (Full list below.)
CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett will recommend that 54 school programs be shut down. Nearly 90 percent of the students in the closing schools are black, though African Americans make up only about 40 percent of the district’s entire student population.
The impact of school actions on black communities has been a major factor driving opposition among activists as well as the Chicago Teachers Union, which held a press conference attacking the actions.
Under this proposal, the communities that would have the most closings are: West Town, Auburn Gresham, Austin, West Englewood and West Pullman.
In addition to the 54 shut-downs, 11 schools will co-locate with another school, eight of them with charter schools. Two severely underutilized high schools—Bowen and Corliss—will share their buildings next year with new Noble Street charter high schools. CPS officials said this will give people in the area two “good, strong” options in one building, but some community members and others are likely to worry that the charters will drain away more students from the neighborhood schools.
Finally, the non-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership will get six more schools to “turn around,” a process that entails replacing virtually an entire staff. AUSL is a politically-connected teacher training program that has won national recognition from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. One AUSL school, Bethune Elementary in East Garfield Park, will be closed. Also, Dodge and Morton, two AUSL school, will co-exist in the Morton building.
The board is set to vote on this proposal at its May 22 meeting. Before then, CPS will hold three hearings on each recommendation, two in the affected communities and one with an independent hearing officer at its downtown headquarters.
Cost savings, teacher layoffs
Initially, these moves will cost CPS money but over 10 years, the district will save about $1 billion, said Chief Transformation Officer Todd Babbitz. The savings are a combination of $560 million in capital costs and $430 million in operating costs.
Critics will likely argue that less than $1 billion in savings over 10 years is not a lot of money, considering CPS has a $5 billion yearly budget.
But Babbitz and other officials said the school district is not only closing schools to save money, but also to make the remaining schools better.
At the welcoming schools, CPS plans to make $155 million in capital investments and spend $78 million in “up front” operating costs.
The initial investment is high as CPS officials have spent the last week announcing the various things they plan to provide for welcoming schools. Each will get air conditioning, a library, a science lab and computer lab, as well as a social worker and other social supports for students. In addition, safe passage workers will watch over students as they make their way to their new school. Students at a handful of schools will get bus transportation.
CPS leaders earlier today announced that 19 schools will get specialty programs, such as International Baccalaureate or fine arts programs. These will be magnet cluster programs, which maintain an attendance boundary, but can take students if they have space. Officials could not say on Thursday how many extra staff these schools will get for these programs.
Spokeswoman Becky Carroll argued that the district is prioritizing these welcoming schools, many of which will become the neighborhood schools.
“These are communities that have been under-resourced and underserved for years,” she said. “We want to give them all the things that they need that they do not have now.”
At the Chicago Teachers Union press conference, President Karen Lewis lambasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who reportedly is on vacation with his family. “This is not going to save money, it is going to cost money and it is going to leave abandoned buildings,” she said.
CPS officials could not immediately say how many teachers will be laid off as part of the upheaval. As part of the new teacher’s contract, those teachers from closed schools get to follow their students to a new school, if they are tenured and highly-rated.
But at the press conference, little was said about the fate of teachers. Lewis, parents and teachers said they worried most about the students.
Kohn lunchroom attendant Takeeva Thompson said that at her school, a 7-year-old was killed and other students have been shot. She said the school is a haven for students. “We are either giving them a gun or a book,” she said.
Nina Gibbs, a parent of a student at Mahalia Jackson, said the plan calls for her daughter to go to Fort Dearborn Elementary. “That is on the other side of the tracks,” she said. “What kind of safety and security are they going to have? You have already got a lot of children here been shot, beat up, kidnapped. What about the parents who will no longer be [in] walking distance from the school?”
Safety a top concern for parents
Adam Anderson, the district's officer of portfolio, planning and strategy, said that officials took into account the concerns about safety that parents and residents expressed at the 28 community hearing held this winter.
Among the things that CPS officials heard were that people want a school in their area and they don’t want children to have to cross barriers, such as railroad tracks, to get to school. Anderson said it also was important to him and other school leaders that children were sent to better facilities and better schools.
But all these criteria created quite a puzzle for CPS leaders and this is evident by the plan they laid out. In several situations a school program closes, meaning the administration is displaced, but the children stay in the building. The principal and staff from a better-performing school take over that closed school program, leaving their building empty.
For the first time perhaps ever, CPS will try to combine three schools into one building and, in at least one case, the district will split children from one closed school up between two schools.
These unusual combinations left some people in the community with their head spinning. Dwayne Truss, an activist in Austin, said he was trying to get his head around all the proposals for his community.
“Some of this is just crazy,” he said.
ACTION LISTClosing School
Co-Locations Crane with Chicago Talent Development H.S. Noble-Comer with Revere New Noble HS with Bowen Montessori of Englewood with O'Toole Kwama Nkrumah Charter Gresham New KIPP with Hope HS Disney II expanision with Marshall Middle Belmont Cragin with Northwest Middle Noble HS with Corliss Dodge with Morton Drake with Urban Prep for Young Men--Bronzeville Turnarounds Barton Chalmers Dewey O'Keefe Carter Lewis
The number of Chicago Public Schools slated for closing could be as many as 50, sources told the Tribune Wednesday evening. CPS has never closed more than a dozen or so schools in one year, so this year's closings could be historic.
CLOSING LIST NEARS: Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett could reveal as early as today the full list of which schools to close and where displaced students will go next year. She has until March 31 to announce the targeted schools. (Sun-Times)
TRANSPORTATION SAVINGS: CPS says it has identified $15.7 million in transportation savings for its Fiscal Year 2014 Central Office budget. The savings come through streamlining bus schedules and optimizing bus routes. Almost $12 million in savings will come from streamlining bus schedules and optimizing routes, according to a news release. CPS buses 5 percent of its students, most who attend selective enrollment programs or have special needs.
PERSEPOLIS OUTCRY: The uproar over CPS banning the graphic novel "Persepolis" has even reached the UK, with a story in the Guardian newspaper. A host of free-speech organizations have sent a letter to Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CPS chief executive, and members of the Chicago board of education.
IN THE STATE
MORE POOR STUDENTS: In a release Wednesday, the Illinois State Board of Education said between 2003 and 2012, the proportion of low-income students grew from 37.9 to 49 percent. (AP)
According to a study being released Wednesday by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 82 percent of candidates who received undergraduate degrees in education between 2009 and 2011 were white, while close to half of all children under 5 in 2008 were members of a racial or ethnic minority.
SCHOOL INVESTMENTS: CPS officials early this morning rolled out a list of investments they will be pour into schools receiving students displaced by school closings, which will be announced at the end of this month. According to a statement from Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett, all welcoming schools will receive academic and capital supports based on their particular needs. Welcoming schools also will have: air conditioning; new discretionary funding as part of the “Welcoming School Support Fund” that principals can use to invest in programs to meet the unique needs of their students; and a library with access to digital learning materials. (Tribune/release)
CLOSING ARGUMENTS: A group of about 50 teachers, parents and students from the Chicago Public Schools went to Springfield Tuesday morning, to urge lawmakers to stop CPS officials from closing dozens of schools.
MEANWHILE: Six Chicago aldermen opposed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's efforts to shutter schools called on legislators to place a temporary moratorium on closings for at least a year, but the effort fizzled Tuesday.
LEWIS IN NY: Catch a video of the speech CTU president Karen Lewis gave last weekend at the NYCORE Conference.
IN THE NATION
SUSTAINABLE SCHOOLS: The impact and design features of the growing number of environmentally sustainable school buildings are on display at the National Building Museum as part of an exhibit on green school space. (Education Week)
Josephine Norwood’s children have undergone multiple school closings and forced transfers in their time at Chicago Public Schools. But when Norwood got wind that her autistic son’s current school was on the final list of schools being considered for closure, it was just too much to take.
The program her son is in has already been moved two times because of school actions. Now, it is at McClellan, a small school in Bridgeport.
“I am appalled that he could be displaced again,” Norwood said at a Tuesday press conference organized by Raise Your Hand, a parent advocacy group. “I want to ask this question: Do you understand the repercussions this will have?”
Like other parents with autistic children, she said her son has trouble with transitions and each move causes him to regress. (Norwood is a member of Catalyst Chicago’s editorial board.)
Raise Your Hand’s Wendy Katten said she wanted to call attention to the issues faced by special education students because, just days before the expected announcement of closing recommendations, she doesn’t feel as though they have been adequately addressed.
Katten says that about 6,000 special education students attend the 129 schools still being considered for closure. Three of the schools serve only special education students.
Thirty-nine of these schools have what are called “cluster programs,” for severely disabled students from the neighborhood. Cluster programs were often located in underutilized schools—the schools being targeted for possible closure—because these schools had space.
In a letter sent to parents of special education students last week, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett promised that, if their child’s school is closed, the new school will be flush with a library, computer and science labs, social workers and air conditioning.
“I also know that transitioning to a new school may be challenging for some students, especially for those with disabilities,” she said.
She said she will ensure that students go to a school that can serve the special needs child, has supplies and equipment and is accessible.
Proposed change in state law heightens anxiety
Katten noted that Chief Transformation Officer Todd Babbitz admitted to the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force that the additional space needed for special education students was not taken into account in the district’s official utilization formula, which was used to determine which schools are considered under-utilized and at risk for closing.
Currently, state law dictates that students with mild disabilities must be in pull-out classes with 15 or fewer students, while students with more severe disabilities must be in classes with no more than eight students. The Illinois Legislature is considering a change that would remove these limits—something that advocates are pushing hard against.
CPS has not said whether it supports scrapping these limits. But the prospect of the change is adding to the anxiety of parents whose children have special needs.
After the press conference, which was held in the lobby of CPS headquarters, Katten and parents from 13 schools still on the potential closing list tried to get a meeting with CPS leaders. As she was talking to the staff at front lobby desk, Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley was walking out.
Katten turned and asked him if he knew if a decision maker was upstairs and could speak with them. First, Cawley said that he was not the right person to speak to and that the forum to speak with officials was during the many community meetings held in February.
“Those meetings failed,” Katten told him.
Then, Cawley told the group that they should take their concerns to the network offices. After a little more back and forth, Cawley left. Later, Phillip Hampton, who runs the Office of Family and Community Engagement, came down and talked to the parents.
The parents, however, seemed unsatisfied.
Lasharra Wilson, a parent from Smyth School, said she is tired and overwhelmed by the prospect of having to find a new school for her son. “I am begging you not to close Smyth. It is already hard enough.”
Mary Moore said when her son was three years old and started at McNair Elementary School in Austin, he hid under the table. She said she was told that he would never talk and never walk.
“Now he is going to graduate from 8th grade with honors and go to Wells,” she said. “McNair is a school with love.”
Elizabeth Yarbrough sent her four adopted children to McNair and takes students from her home day care center to and from the school. She says when her oldest son, who is now 19, was there, parents fought for a new building. Now it is renovated and wheelchair- accessible. “Students can just slide in and feel welcomed,” she said.
Twenty-three percent of McNair’s students are in special education.
“I am standing here for the parents who are not able to speak for their children,” Yarbrough said. “Let McNair stand. Why are you destroying something that should not be destroyed? Find something else to do.”
Following reports that the Chicago Public Schools were removing copies of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel "Persepolis" from classrooms and libraries, Knopf Doubleday, the parent company of the book's publisher, Random House, issued a statement saying the move "smacks of censorship.” (Truth Out)
ATTEMPTED SIT-IN: Eager to keep the fervor going for the graphic novel “Persepolis,” students at Lane Technical High School tried in vain to stage a library sit-in during Monday morning classes — but they couldn’t pull it off. (Sun-Times)
IN THE NATION
POWER TO CHARTER: The Kansas Senate Education Committee gives a second chance to an ALEC-based charter school bill, which would give the Kansas Board of Regents, cities and counties and the governing board of any public or private post-secondary institution the power to authorize a public charter school. (Lawrence Journal-World)
TAKEOVER TARGET: Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III is planning a takeover of the Maryland county’s struggling school system, seeking state legislation that would put him in charge of the school superintendent and $1.7 billion budget while significantly reducing the power of the elected Board of Education. (The Washington Post)
RHEE CHALLENGED: Comedian and TV host Bill Maher challenged über-school reformer Michelle Rhee's “no-excuses” philosophy on teachers by saying that he thinks the problem with public education is “poverty and parents.” He pushed back on some of her major talking points: teachers can overcome poverty, teachers don’t need tenure, etc. (The Washington Post)
Most low-income students who have top test scores and grades do not even apply to the nation’s best colleges, according to a new analysis of every high school student who took the SAT in a recent year. (The New York Times)
NOVEL PROTEST: Chicago Public Schools’ removal of the graphic novel "Persepolis" from classrooms sparked protests Friday and outcry from the autobiographical novel’s Iranian-born author. (Tribune)
IN THE STATE
CHARTER OPPOSITION: Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice hosted a forum Sunday to rally opposition to the online curriculum company K12 Inc. and a proposed charter school that could open in the Fox Valley as soon as next year. (Daily Herald)
WITHOUT CONSENT: The Springfield School District might have violated state and federal student privacy laws by publicly releasing standardized test scores of individual students without parental consent. (State Journal-Register)
IN THE NATION
GLOBAL GENDER GAP: A new study finds that the global reading gap for boys is three times as large as the math gap for girls. Also, the largest math gap is among high-achieving boys and girls. For reading, the gap for boys was most pronounced among the lowest-performing students. (Education Week)
JUVENILE JUSTICE FUNNEL: Critics say an increase in police presence will funnel students into the juvenile-justice system for matters administrators should handle in-house. (Education Week)
Billionaire businesswoman Penny Pritzker abruptly resigned from the Chicago Board of Education Thursday, fueling speculation that President Obama would nominate her for a cabinet position.
Pritzker's resignation letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not refer to the potential Cabinet position. "I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve the city of Chicago, its children and families, during these last two years," Pritzker wrote. "Education is critical to ensuring every child has an opportunity to succeed, and I wholeheartedly support the work that you are doing to improve Chicago schools." (Tribune)
CLOSINGS AND SECURITY: Chicago Public Schools on Thursday unveiled a security plan for students whose schools are closed that includes paying community groups to watch over kids as they go to and from their new schools and adding security personnel inside those schools. (Tribune)
COMPREHENSIVE PLAN: CPS officials unveiled what they called a "comprehensive" safety plan to address concerns that closing schools will put students in danger. Much of what they outlined—from community members patroling the routes to and from school to social emotional programs at welcoming schools—have been offered before at welcoming schools. (Catalyst)
INFORMING PARENTS: Apples to Apples and the Open Data Institute have launched a website, SchoolCuts.org, intended to give parents information about school closing decisions. Parents can also select their children's current school to learn more about it and schools where they may be reassigned.
PREPARING FOR A FIGHT: The CTU is conducting two "Citywide Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Trainings” to prepare parents, students, teachers, public school employees and community residents for what it calls "the next stage in their fight to save 129 schools from the chopping block." The first training was Thursday night at a West Side Church. The next one will be held Saturday at Pleasant Gift M.B. Church on the South Side. (News advisory)
JOB SEARCH: Harrison A. Peters, chief of schools for Chicago Public Schools is one of three candidates the Prince George’s County (Md.) Board of Education has identified for the position of superintendent of its schools. (Bowie Blade-News)
IN THE NATION
HOLD THE TESTING: A plan to suspend California’s standardized testing for certain grades while new computerized exams are developed could save $15 million, the state’s top education official said Wednesday. (Los Angeles Times)
HISTORIC STEP: The Boston School Committee, once synonymous with fierce resistance to racial integration, took a historic step Wednesday night and threw off the last remnants of a busing system first imposed in 1974 under a federal court desegregation order. Instead of busing children across town to achieve integration, the plan adopted by the committee is intended to allow more students to attend schools closer to home. (The New York Times)
CPS officials unveiled what they called a "comprehensive" safety plan to address concerns that closing schools will put students in danger. Much of what they outlined--from community members patroling the routes to and from school to social emotional programs at welcoming schools--have been offered before at welcoming schools.
The newest part of the plan was that at least one security guard from the closing school would follow the students to the welcoming school. "They will be able to see a familiar face," said Jadine Chou, the district’s chief safety and security officer.
Chou and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett would not put a pricetag on any of the extras they promised to welcoming schools, saying that they had to wait til they had a final list of schools and did an assessment of what is needed.
Chou and Byrd-Bennett said they got many of their ideas from the community engagement process that took place this winter. CPS held 28 community meetings in February. Byrd-Bennett didn't attend any of the meetings, but she said she read the transcripts. What she took from them was that "everybody got that we need to close school."
“One of those things we heard frequently at the community meetings was parents just need peace of mind to make sure their children are able to travel safely,” Chou said.
Chou said CPS officials paid special attention to specific problem areas pointed out to community members and parents and they will be going back to these people once the final list is announced. Each welcoming school will have a unique plan.
But the following are some of the things that CPS will provide:
*Social-emotional supports like coping skills and conflict resolution training, as well as student “buddies” for children whose schools have closed
*Community-building activities for students and families.
*Extra technology like security cameras
*Money for security guards from closed schools to work at receiving schools for at least a year.
The announcement came just a day after CPS began looking for moving companies to help with closings.
Illinois Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno said at a press conference Wednesday that Chicago "receives a disproportionate share of the state's education resources" thanks to "outdated (funding) formulas, a de-emphasis on the foundation level which equalizes school districts' property wealth and a shift to special grant(s)," Crain's Grez Hinz reports.
PREPARING FOR THE MOVES: CPS officials this week posted a Request For Proposal for logistic management services, which will handle inventorying equipment, putting locks on doors, hiring movers and making sure that records get to the schools where the displaced students end up. CPS asked companies bidding on the job to give prices for 20, 40, 60, 80, 100 and 129 schools. (Catalyst)
IN THE NATION
CHARTER PERFORMANCE: A new report released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Public Impact found that in an analysis of charter school performance in five different cities across the U.S., including Chicago, the charters modestly outperformed their district counterparts but lagged behind statewide performance averages of regular public schools. The cities were chosen because of their high percentage of charter schools, which served between 10 percent and 30 percent of the student population in those communities. (Education Week)
THE CTU EXAMPLE: As the struggle for the future of public education continues in Philadelphia, a video presents the Chicago Teachers Union as an example of how to fight and win. (The Notebook)
ARMING TEACHERS: Public school districts across Oklahoma could decide whether to allow armed teachers in classrooms under a bill approved late Tuesday in the Oklahoma House. The Special Reserve School Resource Officer Act passed by the House on a 68-23 vote despite concerns raised by opponents over the safety and liability allowing armed teachers. (Fox News)
CPS is making some quick moves as leaders deal with a tight timeline for what could be the biggest closure of schools ever.
This week, CPS officials posted a Request For Proposals for logistics management services, including inventorying equipment, putting locks on doors, hiring movers and making sure that records get to the schools where the displaced students end up. CPS asked companies bidding on the job to give prices for 20, 40, 60, 80, 100 and 129 schools.
The pre-proposal is due on Friday and the full proposal is due on March 25. About a week later, CPS intends on awarding the contract.
The district also sent out an e-mail to providers asking them to take a survey detailing the services they could offer to welcoming schools. Among the activities suggested for current and incoming students at the welcoming school are field trips, school improvement projects and team-building workshops. The survey also asks whether the provider can offer these services for free, as part of its current offerings, or would need additional funding.
The survey must be returned by Friday.
These two requests underscore the difficulty of the timeline that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS leaders chose for this process. Much of the specific planning around the closing and welcoming schools is set to happen in April and May, before the Board of Education officially votes on which schools to close.
State law dictates that 60 days must lapse between the announcement of the recommendations and the board vote. Also, between the recommendation announcement and the board vote, public hearings are to take place where people can supposedly still try to keep their school open.
CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has not announced what schools she plans to close yet, which means a vote can’t take place til at least mid-May. Spokeswoman Becky Carroll has said that the recommendations are not a done deal. “These are merely recommendations by the CEO,” she said
But, even within the Request for Proposals for the logistics management team, there seems to be some confusion. The proposal says the “final list of school closings published on March 31, 2013.”
“Immediately upon award (April 3),” the logistics company is to start doing an inventory of closing schools and welcoming schools so that orders for textbooks and furniture can take place this spring, according to the RFP.
According to the RFP, locks will be changed at the closing schools by June 28, two days after the official end of school. Staff from each closing school, including the counselor, clerk, custodian and engineers, will stay on through the closure and welcoming activities.
The logistics coordinator will hire movers and packers and warehousing. One logistical nightmare: Any material bought with a grant needs to follow the students, teachers and principals participating in or responsible for the grant and shouldn’t be mixed in with other material.
These requests also confirm that closing schools will end up being an expensive process as desks, books and computers must be moved, buildings must be shuttered and services must be provided to try to create a smooth transition. In addition, Byrd-Bennett has hired ex-Marine Tom Tyrrell to help with logistics. How much Tyrell is being paid is unclear, as his hire was not approved by the Board of Education, nor is he listed as a vendor.
CPS received a $478,000 grant from the Walton Foundation to facilitate the school closing process.
Part 1 of a seven-part series on Austin neighborhood schools that remain on CPS's list of potential closings wonders why the district is considering shutting down Lewis Elementary, which is undergoing millions of dollars in renovations. (Austin Talks)
The Austin Talks series also will look at six other schools: Armstrong, DePriest, Emmet, Key, May and McNair.
BLOGGING TEACHER: A Chicago public schools teacher Ray Salazar was named a winner in the Best Blog Category by the Education Writers Association. Salazar, who writes The White Rhino: A Chicago Latino English Teacher blog will be honored in May during EWA’s National Seminar at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. (Chicago Now)
OFFENSIVE PRESENTATION: Oak Park and River Forest High School Principal Nathaniel Rouse apologized to families in a letter Tuesday for a presentation to students that he said "addressed issues of race in a way that was offensive." The remarks were made during a Monday assembly that was part of the school's weeklong anti-violence campaign. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
'BLACKBOARD' BACKLASH: Criticism is pouring in over "Blackboard Wars," the documentary series featured on Oprah's OWN Network about troubled John McDonogh High school in New Orleans. The noted New Orleans educator, Loyola University’s Andre Perry, questioned the show’s impact on the psyche of students and suggested a scholarship might be a better use of Oprah’s resources.
ADDRESSING WORD GAP: Providence, R.I., has won a $5 million contest created by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with a high-tech plan to overcome a language skills problem known as the word gap that puts low-income children at a profound disadvantage in the classroom. Chicago, a runner-up will get $1 million, which it plans to use to harness computers to create a data-driven “predictive analytics platform” to track trends and allow city leaders to identify problems before they are obvious. (The Washington Post)
SMARTPHONES AND TEENS: The use of smartphones has jumped greatly among teenagers over the past year, and one in four of youths in that age group access the Internet mostly through their cellphones, a nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center shows. (Education Week)
A group of black and Latino state lawmakers said today they will push legislation that would freeze efforts by Chicago Public Schools to close dozens of schools beginning later this year, though it’s unclear how much traction such an idea would gain in Springfield, according to the Tribune.
PER-PUPIL FUNDING MODEL: Chicago Public Schools will move to a per-pupil funding model next year intended to give principals more flexibility in determining how they spend their school’s dollars — while bringing all schools, including charters, onto the same funding formula. Under the new formula, all schools will receive the same funding for core staff, educational support personnel, supplies and additional instructional programs — about half their budgets — based on a per pupil standard, eliminating inconsistencies. (Sun-Times)
RADICAL SHIFT: CPS will this year make a radical shift in its budgeting practice by giving schools a set amount of money per student for core instruction, rather than allocating a certain number of positions based on enrollment. (Catalyst)
DIVIDING THE MONEY: Chicago Public Schools officials plan to scrap a school funding formula that assumes a typical class size of 30 students in favor of a system that would divide money on a more straightforward per-pupil basis. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
MASSIVE DISREPAIR: America’s schools are in such disrepair that it would cost more than $270 billion just to get elementary and secondary school buildings back to their original conditions and twice that to get them up to date, a report released Tuesday estimated. (Asbury Park Press)
COMPUTERS FOR ALL: The Los Angeles Unified School District recently approved plans to spend $50 million initially—and up to $500 million over time—to provide all students in the nation's second-largest school system with a computer device. (Education Week)
WEINGARTEN ARREST: American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was arrested last week in Philadelphia while protesting a hearing of the School Reform Commission that voted to close 23 public schools. (The Washington Post)
After many years of discussion and a pilot program, CPS will this year make a radical shift in its budgeting practice by giving schools a set amount of money per student for core instruction, rather than allocating a certain number of positions based on enrollment.
At the same time, the district will provide charter schools with the same amount of funding, on a per-pupil basis, as traditional schools—a practice that charter supporters have long advocated for. But with the exact amount of per-student funding still to be determined, it is unclear whether the move will be a boon or a detriment to charters, said Illinois Network of Charter Schools President Andrew Broy.
The new practice, called student-based budgeting in the education world, might seem merely a technical change. But in reality, it could have a far-reaching impact on the composition of teaching force and the equity of programs among schools.
CPS officials hailed the move as a way to give principals more power over their budgets and emphasized that the switch is not being done to save money. In the past, officials curtailed plans to adopt the practice because they were concerned about how it would work in a time of shrinking budgets.
Gray Elementary School Principal Sandra Carlson, whose school has been part of a per-pupil budgeting pilot program since 2006, said she is worried, considering the district is facing a projected billion deficit.
“I am waiting to see my new budget,” said Carlson. Yet she added that having more control over her budget has allowed her to respond better to past reductions in funding.
Student-based budgeting is touted as a way to give principals the flexibility to spend money in the way they see fit to best meet the needs of their students. Done well, advocates say, student-based budgeting can also bring more parity and transparency to school budgets. As it is now, the district’s funding formula is complicated and weighted so that it is difficult to figure out if one school is making out better than the other.
“I loved it when I was a principal,” said CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who said the practice allowed her to add an art teacher at her school. Byrd-Bennett and Budget Director Ginger Ostro unveiled the new system on Monday.
Pitfall for veteran teachers?
But there are potential dangers. One is that principals will veer toward hiring inexperienced teachers to save money, or contract out programs, such as the arts, rather than hire a certified teacher. In 2005, Catalyst wrote about the pitfalls of per-pupil funding in 2005, when then CPS CEO Arne Duncan was looking at making the shift.
CPS officials stressed that they don’t want to provide a disincentive to hiring experienced teachers and are creating a pot of money to help offset the salary cost to schools that have more than the average number of highly experienced teachers. As yet, it’s unclear how much money the district will provide to offset veteran salaries or whether it will be maintained as time goes on.
In a press release, the Chicago Teachers Union called the extra funding a "stop-gap measure." It "in no way compensates for the destructive, long-term, and systemic consequences of this program.”
There’s also concern that principals could misspend money. In the past, CPS officials have hesitated to move toward student-based budgeting because it meant that they lose control of budgets.
Byrd-Bennett said she believes that principals generally do what is best for their school, but that there will be safeguards in place. As is the case now, she said principals will have to get their budgets approved by the network offices. Also, the budget office will monitor for any unusual spending.
Currently, the district provides a regular classroom teacher for every 28 students in primary grades and one teacher for every 31 students for 4th grade and up. In addition, for every 750 students, the district provides an assistant principal, an art or music teacher and a librarian or gym teacher. Schools with smaller enrollments get part-time positions.
Questions of extra resources, charter benefit
Under student-based budgeting, principals will get a special amount of money per student and will have to decide how many teachers, clerks, art, gym and music teachers they need. While principals could decide to have extra-small class sizes and forego other things, they can’t raise class sizes beyond the limits established in the teacher’s union contract (28 for primary grades and 31 for upper elementary grades and high school).
Carlson said that student-based budgeting has had another big benefit for her: stability. Now, a school’s budget is based on the number of teachers for a projected enrollment. But if a school gets fewer students than expected, they stand to lose a teacher or two. For years, principals have complained about how disruptive this practice can be to students. In the past, Carlson has made the decision to reduce her equipment and supply budget rather than lay off a teacher.
As they roll out student-based budgeting, CPS is side-stepping the thorny issue of how to handle the additional funding that schools get for low-income students, special education and bilingual students and for magnet and selective enrollment schools. This money will not be folded into the per-student allotment, but rather doled out based on the complicated formula currently in use.
Yet Ostro said that extra money and positions given to schools this year to implement the longer school day will be included in the per-student allocation.
Another question is how CPS will take into account the district’s high mobility rate. Byrd-Bennett said that detail has not been worked out yet. In other districts with student-based budgeting, the money follows the student, up until a certain point in the year, at which time, the original school keeps the money, Byrd-Bennett said.
The district’s charter and performance schools have been funded using student-based budgeting since their inception. But they have always complained that they have gotten less than traditional CPS schools. Even after a boost in funding last year, they currently get 80 percent of the core costs, so Monday’s move could end up providing another boost in funding for them, Broy said.
Not only is it unclear whether the new per-student allocation will be more than the current amount charter schools get for each student, but Broy said that he doesn’t know how CPS officials plan to deal with the things charters pay for and traditional schools don’t. The biggest additional weight on charter school budgets are facilities and operations, he said.
(Note to our readers: Catalyst Chicago has changed our comment policy. Comments labeled "Anonymous" will no longer be allowed.)
Hundreds of North Side residents are asking their alderman, Joe Moore, to publicly oppose the opening of future charter schools in Chicago’s 49th ward. On Sunday night, the residents gathered at the Willye White Field House to discuss several issues, including charter schools.
The Northside POWER group, which hosted the meeting, invited Moore, but spokeswoman Kristi Sanford said Moore told the group he was out of town.
POVERTY IS THE PROBLEM: In a forceful essay in the Chicago Reader, Steve Bogira writes: "The most significant problem CPS faces is not too few kids, but too many poor kids. Eighty-seven percent of CPS children are low-income."
UNIONS AT UNO?: The United Neighborhood Organization, one of the largest charter networks in the city, is allowing teachers at its 13 charter campuses to unionize. UNO announced an agreement with the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff that will allow teachers and staff to decide if they want to join. Typically, privately run charters use nonunion teachers, which supporters say allows them to be more innovative and successful. (Tribune)
EMAIL SAVINGS: Switching to Google email is one of several ways Chicago Public Schools will shave an additional $17 million from its 2014 fiscal year budget, Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced Friday. (Sun-Times)
PARENTS SUE CPS: Heriberto Lopez Alberola and his ex-wife Elizabeth Nash filed a lawsuit against CPS last week, claiming the Ogden International school failed to make testing accommodations for their third grade daughter Isabella, who is dyslexic. (WBEZ)
DENYING DISCRIMINATION: Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he doesn’t think discrimination is behind the fact that most schools being targeted for closing at the end of this school year have mostly black populations. (CBS Chicago)
IN THE NATION
OBAMA'S FOCUS ON PRE-K TEACHER PREP: Amid the attention stemming from President Barack Obama's focus on early-childhood education in his State of the Union address, some advocates are wondering what the proposal will mean in the way of expectations for teachers. In particular, they are zeroing in on the president's call for "qualified" teachers—a term that carries baggage in a field where debates loom large about how to simultaneously improve the quality of instruction, increase the number of children served, and raise the prestige and pay of pre-K's approximately 1.8 million teachers. (Education Week)
GUNS IN SCHOOLS: South Dakota became the first state in the nation to enact a law explicitly authorizing school employees to carry guns on the job, under a measure signed into law on Friday by Gov. Dennis Daugaard. (The New York Times)
Teacher unions took another step into Chicago's charter world with the news that one of the city's larger charter networks, run by the politically connected United Neighborhood Organization, had agreed to allow its teachers to unionize.
The new agreement between Chicago ACTS, the city's charter teacher union which already represents teachers at 14 other schools, doesn’t mean UNO's 13 campuses and 300-plus teachers are unionized yet.
The agreement does establish that UNO will be neutral toward the unionization effort. “It protects them from things charter operators do most of the time when teachers try to organize – hold captive audience meetings where they make veiled threats and intimidation” and bringing in union-avoidance consultants, said Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff President Brian Harris.
It also sets up a broad process where an arbitrator will decide whether to recognize the union and will have the power to resolve other disputes – potentially avoiding years of costly legal battles. By using an arbitrator, the union and management can avoid using either the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board or the National Labor Relations Board to resolve their complaints.
Harris says teachers trying to organize a union at UNO didn’t necessarily face these obstacles before but that “a lot of UNO teachers are very unhappy with their working conditions.”
The agreement gives the arbitrator the task of determining whether a majority of teachers are interested in forming a union, but doesn't set the process. This could happen when teachers sign union cards or a petition asking for the union.
Chicago ACTS says that at two of its 14 campuses – Chicago Math and Science Academy, and Latino Youth High School – union efforts have been dogged by litigation asserting that charters aren’t covered by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act. Management at Chicago Math and Science Academy recently won a federal ruling dissolving the union there.
As a result, Chicago ACTS’ future efforts to unionize charters may face more roadblocks. The union will be subject to a lengthier federal process that requires a secret ballot election, with time for both management and the union to campaign. That’s very different from the easier state process that ACTS has relied on so far for its unionization drives.
“We first went under state law when we organized Civitas. We had 75 percent of the staff signing union cards before the employer even knew what was up,” Harris notes.
CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has three weeks before state law dictates that she announce the district’s final school closing recommendations, but time is running out if parents are to get time to weigh their school options before the end of the year.
The state law that dictates the process for closing schools requires 60 days between the time the CEO makes the official recommendations and the decisive vote by the Board of Education. When CPS officials went to Springfield to shift the recommendation back from December to March, they did not request a shorter time period between the announcement and the vote, according to a source familiar with negotiations.
As a result, the Board of Education vote cannot take place until May. If Byrd-Bennett waits until the last minute to announce her recommendations, the vote wouldn’t be able to take place until a mere three weeks before summer break.
The May board meeting is set for May 22, although members could decide to hold a special session to take up the issue of school closings.
Parents whose schools are on the recommended school closing list will have one of two choices: Spend the month of April either continuing the fight to save their school, or deciding where they will send their children in the fall. Teachers and staff in schools recommended for closure also will be torn, as they try to figure out where they will be teaching in September.
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll says that the public hearings and comments required by law between the recommendations and the vote will carry weight.
“These are merely recommendations by the CEO,” she says. “They are not final and won't be final until we’ve completed our next round of engagement with school communities and after the Board of Education has taken a vote.”
However, even before the vote, district officials will be working “proactively” with schools recommended for closure and the designated welcoming schools.
“There is a team of 40 subject-matter experts working to prepare transition plans for each school and its students before we launch the implementation phase of our transition work so we are prepared to move forward once final decisions are made,” Carroll says.
The timeline was noted in the final report of the School Utilization Commission, which was released Wednesday evening. The report gave CPS the green light to take action at up to 80 schools, but also lays out steps that commission members believe should be happening between April and June.
District officials should spend the spring advising parents of their options for the coming school year. The commission says assemblies should be held at each school, where district officials “allow parents or other caretakers to both enroll their child at a receiving school and submit applications for selective enrollment, magnet, or out-of-area schools.”
However, this recommendation is somewhat confounding: Acceptance letters for magnet and selective enrollment elementary schools are set to go out the week of March 18. Also, by May, the application and acceptance at most charter schools will have taken place. (Charters that are in less demand, however, often still have space.)
Byrd-Bennett has said that she will make sure that parents have options, but has yet to lay out how this will happen.
District officials seem to be holding off on letting neighborhood schools offer up their extra seats to applicants. Last week, parents were sent a letter saying that open enrollment seats at neighborhood schools won’t be offered until May 19.
The commission suggests that district officials also spend the spring looking at how displaced children will be getting from their homes to new schools and working with the community to figure out safe passage routes.
CPS should work with community members to identify resources, such as the YMCA, that could replace the support offered by the school, the report states.
On top of all this, the commission recommends that CPS hold camps over the summer for all the displaced students at their new school.
Commission chairman Frank Clark says he is convinced that CPS leaders can accomplish these tasks in the short time period they have before the summer. He points out that Byrd-Bennett hired Tom Tyrell, a retired Marine colonel, to handle the closings.
“She has hired new leaders with extraordinary logistics background,” Clark says. “This guy knows what he is doing.