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In the News: CPS principals speak of 'air of repression'

May 13, 2014 - 8:38am

Since a Chicago Public School principal wrote about what many say is a code of silence imposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s image-conscious schools administration, other principals have joined the chorus, WBEZ's Linda Lutton reports. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett calls it all a "perception" of retribution.

UNO SETTLES WITH FIRED TEACHER: Documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show that the taxpayer-funded charter-school network run by the clout-heavy United Neighborhood Organization paid a gym teacher $150,000 to settle a wrongful firing case.

DIFFERENT PERFORMANCE STANDARDS: Under a dramatic new approach to rating public schools, Illinois students of different backgrounds no longer will be held to the same standards—with Latinos and blacks, low-income children and other groups having lower targets than whites for passing state exams, the Chicago Tribune has found. In reading, for example, 85 percent of white third- through eighth-grade students statewide will be expected to pass state tests by 2019, compared with about 73 percent for Latinos and 70 percent for black students, an analysis of state and federal records shows. (Education Week)

OPPOSING TESTING CHANGES: Rebellion is brewing in the suburbs over Illinois' new school testing program. More than 30 high school and K-12 districts in DuPage, Cook, Kane and Lake counties have joined in opposition to testing changes next spring, when the state plans to launch a new exam called PARCC and expand the grades tested from third through 11th. (Tribune)

IN THE NATION
BIAS IN CLASSROOM OBSERVATIONS: New research illuminates a troubling source of bias. School principals—when conducting classroom observations—appear to give some teachers an unfair boost based on the students they’re assigned to teach, rather than based on their own instructional savvy. (Education Week)

PUBLIC, CHARTER CHASM: Two decades since charter schools began to appear, educators from both systems concede that very little of what has worked for charter schools has found its way into regular classrooms. (The New York Times)

How CPS turns promising ideas into harmful practice

May 12, 2014 - 2:08pm

A couple of years ago, in an effort to positively reframe its focus, Chicago Public Schools renamed its Human Resources department the “Talent Office.” The rebranding came with a clear message: We want to recruit and support talented individuals to be our employees. However, the true legacy of the past few years is better reflected in the loss of the word human from this department’s name. It is telling. Most policies enacted over the past two years demonstrate both a complete incompetence in the ability of this administration to implement anything effectively, and an intentional disregard and disrespect of those charged with improving the lives of our city’s children on a day-to-day basis. 

I am a CPS principal who believes strongly in many of the reforms being proposed in the national and local education discussion. I should be an unlikely critic of current policy. Yet the lack of principal and teacher voice in this dialogue—which my heroic colleague Troy LaRaviere has written about in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed—has turned promising ideas into harmful practice. When this is coupled with implementation so poor it borders on malpractice, it is time for significant changes in our approach. 

As CPS began implementing the first overhaul to the teacher evaluation system in 30 years, the initial efforts seemed promising.  CPS conducted a multi-year pilot of a nationally recognized and utilized tool, the Danielson Framework.  But when it came time to actually begin evaluating teachers using the framework’s 10-page form, there was little district-wide thought given to training and developing teachers on what level of performance was expected of them on each criterion. The bulk of the decisions related to this tool were made during summer 2012, so teachers had, at most, one to two days to understand this major shift in expectations. It was only through that fall’s strike that teachers were able to negotiate a much-needed practice year with the rubric.

It should not take the most extreme form of exercising collective voice to make common sense recommendations that multiple school level leaders and educators had advocated for during the process. 

As troubling as the introduction of the new teacher evaluation system was, the rollout of the revised principal evaluation system comparatively looked like operational excellence. The 18-page rubric evaluating 34 indicators of principal success was not finalized until the beginning of February of the year it would first be used.  It was provided to principals for the first time in the middle of February, and principals were told they would be evaluated on it beginning three days later.

This meant that school leaders were not even provided the expectations for their work until more than two-thirds of the school year had already passed. Common sense would suggest that CPS should have introduced the new tool the following school year to allow principals adequate time to understand it, but this was not the path it chose. CPS crammed two principal evaluations into the final three months of the school year and linked these ratings to job retention.

Lack of thoughtful implementation hurts children

It would be one thing if these policies and this lack of thoughtful implementation remained only in arenas that affect adults and professionals. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, that is not the case. The harm of this disregard of professionals is impacting children. Changes in substitute systems and teacher hiring have reduced the number of candidates available without any substantial changes in quality. I regularly have one to two substitute positions unfilled each day because no substitute is available. I have positions I cannot staff because I have fewer than three to four applicants for the positing, and none of them should be in front of children. The loss of instructional time is compounded over the year. 

The longer school day added 30 minutes to my school’s day.  Of that time, 15 minutes were allocated to “transition,” or moving through the hallway. Another 15 minutes extended teacher preparatory time and gave students additional time in art, music, physical education, technology, and library. The impact of this change was that it became more difficult to run after-school or before-school programs, and we lost 30 minutes of collaborative time each week. After two years of implementation, I would be hard-pressed to claim that our students have reaped any instructional benefit from this increased time, especially when I consider the strain on my school caused by the two-week strike. 

CPS now expects its schools to provide daily physical education classes and intervention blocks, as well as several hours each week of arts instruction and English Language Learning intervention. This instruction is obviously important, but CPS did nothing to enable principals to really enact these new initiatives. It has been incredibly difficult to find time in the instructional day on top of two-hour literacy blocks and other lengthened core subject times, much less the accounting around how to fund these positions when the resources are not provided to cover all the mandates.

CPS has left principals with the choice of where to fail students, rather than the choice of how to ensure each student has an education that is holistic, community-based, collaborative, evidence-based, equitable, and student-centered.

Disrespect, lack of collaboration drive away talent

Unfortunately, when systems stop considering the humanity of those working within them, employees with power in turn begin to disregard those working with them within the system. I have lost count of the number of times I have watched my colleagues and myself be disrespected in meetings or emails. I have sat through lengthy budget rollout meetings where principals were spoken to with empty platitudes about how they are the “levers of change,” while plans have not contained raises for administrators at any point in the past four years. These same presentations from leadership continued with sarcastic remarks that any school that wishes to give up its funds is welcome to do so, if we feel so strongly about how funds, such as those raised by schools through facilities rental, are distributed and thus negatively impact our colleagues’ schools.

When administrators have raised their concerns in these meetings, such as what to do when we see lunchroom employees in tears from being overworked as the district cut school positions by 33% to 50%, there is no response.  Instead, our employees are given veiled threats by nutrition service management to figure it out or find a new job.   I have routinely witnessed similar insensitivity to the uprooting of our schools’ custodial and engineering staff.  We are in the business of developing people, but these days, there is a lack of development and support for those doing that work. 

We need rigorous standards that prepare students for college and advanced citizenship. We need high-quality assessments that provide information on what each student knows and require students to demonstrate learning. We need evaluation systems that let teachers and administrators know where they are effective and where they need to get better. We need systems and policies throughout the district that will support this work and that are designed to put the student experience at the center. 

However, if we do all these things with a process that does not invite collaboration along with teacher and principal voices, we will not only fail in our efforts to retain talent--we will fail to act humanely both towards our educators and our children. 

Adam Parrott-Sheffer is principal of Mary Gage Peterson Elementary School 

How CPS turns promising ideas into harmful practice

May 12, 2014 - 2:08pm

A couple of years ago, in an effort to positively reframe its focus, Chicago Public Schools renamed its Human Resources department the “Talent Office.” The rebranding came with a clear message: We want to recruit and support talented individuals to be our employees. However, the true legacy of the past few years is better reflected in the loss of the word human from this department’s name. It is telling. Most policies enacted over the past two years demonstrate both a complete incompetence in the ability of this administration to implement anything effectively, and an intentional disregard and disrespect of those charged with improving the lives of our city’s children on a day-to-day basis. 

I am a CPS principal who believes strongly in many of the reforms being proposed in the national and local education discussion. I should be an unlikely critic of current policy. Yet the lack of principal and teacher voice in this dialogue—which my heroic colleague Troy LaRaviere has written about in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed—has turned promising ideas into harmful practice. When this is coupled with implementation so poor it borders on malpractice, it is time for significant changes in our approach. 

As CPS began implementing the first overhaul to the teacher evaluation system in 30 years, the initial efforts seemed promising.  CPS conducted a multi-year pilot of a nationally recognized and utilized tool, the Danielson Framework.  But when it came time to actually begin evaluating teachers using the framework’s 10-page form, there was little district-wide thought given to training and developing teachers on what level of performance was expected of them on each criterion. The bulk of the decisions related to this tool were made during summer 2012, so teachers had, at most, one to two days to understand this major shift in expectations. It was only through that fall’s strike that teachers were able to negotiate a much-needed practice year with the rubric.

It should not take the most extreme form of exercising collective voice to make common sense recommendations that multiple school level leaders and educators had advocated for during the process. 

As troubling as the introduction of the new teacher evaluation system was, the rollout of the revised principal evaluation system comparatively looked like operational excellence. The 18-page rubric evaluating 34 indicators of principal success was not finalized until the beginning of February of the year it would first be used.  It was provided to principals for the first time in the middle of February, and principals were told they would be evaluated on it beginning three days later.

This meant that school leaders were not even provided the expectations for their work until more than two-thirds of the school year had already passed. Common sense would suggest that CPS should have introduced the new tool the following school year to allow principals adequate time to understand it, but this was not the path it chose. CPS crammed two principal evaluations into the final three months of the school year and linked these ratings to job retention.

Lack of thoughtful implementation hurts children

It would be one thing if these policies and this lack of thoughtful implementation remained only in arenas that affect adults and professionals. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, that is not the case. The harm of this disregard of professionals is impacting children. Changes in substitute systems and teacher hiring have reduced the number of candidates available without any substantial changes in quality. I regularly have one to two substitute positions unfilled each day because no substitute is available. I have positions I cannot staff because I have fewer than three to four applicants for the positing, and none of them should be in front of children. The loss of instructional time is compounded over the year. 

The longer school day added 30 minutes to my school’s day.  Of that time, 15 minutes were allocated to “transition,” or moving through the hallway. Another 15 minutes extended teacher preparatory time and gave students additional time in art, music, physical education, technology, and library. The impact of this change was that it became more difficult to run after-school or before-school programs, and we lost 30 minutes of collaborative time each week. After two years of implementation, I would be hard-pressed to claim that our students have reaped any instructional benefit from this increased time, especially when I consider the strain on my school caused by the two-week strike. 

CPS now expects its schools to provide daily physical education classes and intervention blocks, as well as several hours each week of arts instruction and English Language Learning intervention. This instruction is obviously important, but CPS did nothing to enable principals to really enact these new initiatives. It has been incredibly difficult to find time in the instructional day on top of two-hour literacy blocks and other lengthened core subject times, much less the accounting around how to fund these positions when the resources are not provided to cover all the mandates.

CPS has left principals with the choice of where to fail students, rather than the choice of how to ensure each student has an education that is holistic, community-based, collaborative, evidence-based, equitable, and student-centered.

Disrespect, lack of collaboration drive away talent

Unfortunately, when systems stop considering the humanity of those working within them, employees with power in turn begin to disregard those working with them within the system. I have lost count of the number of times I have watched my colleagues and myself be disrespected in meetings or emails. I have sat through lengthy budget rollout meetings where principals were spoken to with empty platitudes about how they are the “levers of change,” while plans have not contained raises for administrators at any point in the past four years. These same presentations from leadership continued with sarcastic remarks that any school that wishes to give up its funds is welcome to do so, if we feel so strongly about how funds, such as those raised by schools through facilities rental, are distributed and thus negatively impact our colleagues’ schools.

When administrators have raised their concerns in these meetings, such as what to do when we see lunchroom employees in tears from being overworked as the district cut school positions by 33% to 50%, there is no response.  Instead, our employees are given veiled threats by nutrition service management to figure it out or find a new job.   I have routinely witnessed similar insensitivity to the uprooting of our schools’ custodial and engineering staff.  We are in the business of developing people, but these days, there is a lack of development and support for those doing that work. 

We need rigorous standards that prepare students for college and advanced citizenship. We need high-quality assessments that provide information on what each student knows and require students to demonstrate learning. We need evaluation systems that let teachers and administrators know where they are effective and where they need to get better. We need systems and policies throughout the district that will support this work and that are designed to put the student experience at the center. 

However, if we do all these things with a process that does not invite collaboration along with teacher and principal voices, we will not only fail in our efforts to retain talent--we will fail to act humanely both towards our educators and our children. 

Adam Parrott-Sheffer is principal of Mary Gage Peterson Elementary School 

In the News: CPS principal details treatment under Emanuel

May 12, 2014 - 8:32am

In a letter to the editor, a CPS principal takes on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his hand-picked school board, saying the mayor, district officials and the board have "ignored and even suppressed principals’ voices in order to push City Hall’s political agenda," that it insults principals and even tells them that their comments on school issues must "be in line with the Board's agenda. (Sun-Times) Principal Troy LaRaviere has published some of the responses to his letter in a blog.

PRIVATIZATION PUSH: When school starts next year, nearly 70 percent of the public schools in North Lawndale will be in private hands. Most of those schools were failing or under-enrolled when CPS turned the buildings over to charter operators, or fired staff and put the Academy for Urban School Leadership in charge. The shift has been attributed to everything from population decline to sporadic efforts to revitalize the neighborhood. "What we're seeing is a consolidation of our schools under private interests," says Valerie Leonard, a community activist and member of CPS' North Lawndale Community Action Council. (Tribune)

IN THE NATION
DEBATE ON FUNDING: Newly released figures that show downstate school districts gaining at the expense of suburban ones have fueled a debate among lawmakers about a proposed overhaul of the complicated school funding formula that Illinois has used for almost two decades. (Associated Press/CBS2Chicago)

SCIENCE IN COAL COUNTRY: Wyoming, the nation's top coal-producing state, is the first to reject new K-12 science standards proposed by national education groups mainly because of global warming components. (ABCNews)

LIVING ON LESS: The District Management Council is set to release a policy guide to help public school districts thrive, rather than just survive, within the constraints of their new fiscal realities. (Education Week)

In the News: Report catalogs charter fraud, waste, abuse

May 9, 2014 - 8:37am

An examination of charter schools in 15 charter markets across the United States has exposed nearly $100 million in losses due to fraud, waste, and abuse, says a report from Integrity in Education and the Center for Popular Democracy.

The report is from Integrity in Education, a newly formed nonprofit that aims to expose corporate interests in public education. The organization is decidedly anti-charter, likening school choice to "a euphemism for school closures" on its website. The report gathered court cases, media investigations, regulatory findings, audits, and other sources from Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania., Texas, and Wisconsin to examine the trends in charter school fraud, waste, and mismanagement. (Education Week)

BUDGET FALLOUT: Gale Math and Science Academy could be hit with a $310,000 cut in funding next school year, which would likely force school administrators to lay off two teachers and its sole librarian, officials said. Last year, the school's budget was reduced by $448,000 when Chicago Public Schools began basing funding on a per-student basis, resulting in cuts for many schools citywide. (DNAinfo)

IN THE NATION
RAMPANT CHEATING: The culture of cheating was so blatant at one Philadelphia school, authorities said, that the principal broadcasted orders to tamper with tests over the school's loudspeaker.

UNDER SCRUTINY: The Fairfax County (Virginia) Schools Superintendent Karen Garza was a key figure in the implementation of a controversial teacher evaluation and merit pay system that is now the focus of a federal lawsuit filed in Houston last week. (The Washington Post)

With gym class, schools try to get creative

May 8, 2014 - 4:38pm

Following a mandate to begin providing 30 minutes of physical education each day for students, some elementary schools are having a tough time as they prepare to meet the new requirement.

One such school is Blaine Elementary in Lake View, which has one gym teacher for around 950 students. The school, already at 138 percent capacity, will not receive no additional funding from the district to help implement the daily mandate.

According to an analysis by the Chicago Teachers Union, 28 elementary schools have no gym teachers, and overcrowding and budget cuts have left many elementary schools without adequate facilities and equipment for physical education classes.

Jon Sikes, the physical education teacher at Blaine, says he currently sees students once a week for an hour. But because of the size of the school, Sikes doesn’t see every class each quarter. He estimates that Blaine would need to hire at least one additional full-time gym teacher and one part-time teacher to teach every class each week.

 “We’re getting a similar budget to what we had last year, and that budget didn’t include an additional PE instructor,” he says. “Most of the funding being offered is being given to the high schools, so we’re trying to figure out how to work around the space and staffing issues. It’s tough.”

CPS plans to use part of a $21.5 million surplus in tax increment financing funds to hire physical education teachers for high schools. CPS has had a waiver since 1997 exempting junior and senior high school students from the physical education requirement. The waiver expires this summer. Although there has been no official waiver for elementary schools, many also routinely failed to meet the state’s requirement.

Realizing that many schools may struggle to implement the policy, CPS says it will phase it in; it will go into full effect in the 2016-2017 school year. This fall, school s will have to offer only an hour and a half of phys ed a week. CPS also says it will be flexible and allow schools to use alternative spaces, such as classrooms and cafeterias, for gym classes.

Blaine needs space, along with teachers, to meet the phys ed mandate. A special committee from Blaine has submitted a proposal to the state for $22.5 million to build an annex, including multi-purpose space that could be used for gym classes.

“We’ve got budget constraints and major space constraints,” says Kate Schott Bolduc, a Blaine local school council member and chair of the Blaine expansion committee. According to Bolduc, the school has cut its preschool program in half, and ELL and special education students are in the same space. Many support staff work out of closets.

The CPS mandate is part of a renewed focus on physical activity and student health, marked this week with the launch at Gunsaulus Elementary of the Be Active. Eat Right. Learn Better! campaign. CPS had previously rolled out its 30-20-10 program in 36 schools, in which students receive 30 minutes of physical education, 20 minutes of recess, and 10 minutes of classroom physical activity per day.

Creative solutions

In the past, CPS has made other efforts to spur schools to incorporate healthy living activities into the school day. Schools with more resources have, not surprisingly, made more strides in doing so.

“Holding out for the goal of daily, high-quality PE is a good goal,” says Rochelle Davis, President and CEO of the Healthy Schools Campaign, a group that was instrumental to bringing back a recess mandate to CPS schools. Schools have faced hurdles to this mandate, too. https://www.catalyst-chicago.org/news/2013/07/08/21557/recess-time-headed-rocky-road

Davis emphasized that it doesn’t have to be an “all-or-nothing” game, and good planning is key.

 “Most elementary students have one period of physical education,” she says. “Let’s double that. Then, let’s build on that and keep going from there. Employ the community, get everyone involved, and that can lead to some great results.”

Turning to the community might spark alternative solutions. Coaches and parents, for example, may be able to provide insight on how to engage kids in physical activity, even with space and equipment limitations.

Mario Cortez, a soccer coach whose children attend Benito Juarez Community Academy, says turning to coaches can be a great resource for schools.

“They know how to really engage kids in a short amount of time,” says Cortez. Quality physical education is key to helping kids focus and be successful in school, he says.

At Blaine, Sikes says the school is exploring different options—and that ultimately, everyone wants the requirement to work.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Sikes says. “More physical education can only benefit the kids. We just have to see how we can make that happen.”

With gym class, schools try to get creative

May 8, 2014 - 4:38pm

Following a mandate to begin providing 30 minutes of physical education each day for students, some elementary schools are having a tough time as they prepare to meet the new requirement.

One such school is Blaine Elementary in Lake View, which has one gym teacher for around 950 students. The school, already at 138 percent capacity, will not receive no additional funding from the district to help implement the daily mandate.

According to an analysis by the Chicago Teachers Union, 28 elementary schools have no gym teachers, and overcrowding and budget cuts have left many elementary schools without adequate facilities and equipment for physical education classes.

Jon Sikes, the physical education teacher at Blaine, says he currently sees students once a week for an hour. But because of the size of the school, Sikes doesn’t see every class each quarter. He estimates that Blaine would need to hire at least one additional full-time gym teacher and one part-time teacher to teach every class each week.

 “We’re getting a similar budget to what we had last year, and that budget didn’t include an additional PE instructor,” he says. “Most of the funding being offered is being given to the high schools, so we’re trying to figure out how to work around the space and staffing issues. It’s tough.”

CPS plans to use part of a $21.5 million surplus in tax increment financing funds to hire physical education teachers for high schools. CPS has had a waiver since 1997 exempting junior and senior high school students from the physical education requirement. The waiver expires this summer. Although there has been no official waiver for elementary schools, many also routinely failed to meet the state’s requirement.

Realizing that many schools may struggle to implement the policy, CPS says it will phase it in; it will go into full effect in the 2016-2017 school year. This fall, school s will have to offer only an hour and a half of phys ed a week. CPS also says it will be flexible and allow schools to use alternative spaces, such as classrooms and cafeterias, for gym classes.

Blaine needs space, along with teachers, to meet the phys ed mandate. A special committee from Blaine has submitted a proposal to the state for $22.5 million to build an annex, including multi-purpose space that could be used for gym classes.

“We’ve got budget constraints and major space constraints,” says Kate Schott Bolduc, a Blaine local school council member and chair of the Blaine expansion committee. According to Bolduc, the school has cut its preschool program in half, and ELL and special education students are in the same space. Many support staff work out of closets.

The CPS mandate is part of a renewed focus on physical activity and student health, marked this week with the launch at Gunsaulus Elementary of the Be Active. Eat Right. Learn Better! campaign. CPS had previously rolled out its 30-20-10 program in 36 schools, in which students receive 30 minutes of physical education, 20 minutes of recess, and 10 minutes of classroom physical activity per day.

Creative solutions

In the past, CPS has made other efforts to spur schools to incorporate healthy living activities into the school day. Schools with more resources have, not surprisingly, made more strides in doing so.

“Holding out for the goal of daily, high-quality PE is a good goal,” says Rochelle Davis, President and CEO of the Healthy Schools Campaign, a group that was instrumental to bringing back a recess mandate to CPS schools. Schools have faced hurdles to this mandate, too. https://www.catalyst-chicago.org/news/2013/07/08/21557/recess-time-headed-rocky-road

Davis emphasized that it doesn’t have to be an “all-or-nothing” game, and good planning is key.

 “Most elementary students have one period of physical education,” she says. “Let’s double that. Then, let’s build on that and keep going from there. Employ the community, get everyone involved, and that can lead to some great results.”

Turning to the community might spark alternative solutions. Coaches and parents, for example, may be able to provide insight on how to engage kids in physical activity, even with space and equipment limitations.

Mario Cortez, a soccer coach whose children attend Benito Juarez Community Academy, says turning to coaches can be a great resource for schools.

“They know how to really engage kids in a short amount of time,” says Cortez. Quality physical education is key to helping kids focus and be successful in school, he says.

At Blaine, Sikes says the school is exploring different options—and that ultimately, everyone wants the requirement to work.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Sikes says. “More physical education can only benefit the kids. We just have to see how we can make that happen.”

In the News: CTU joins growing opposition to Common Core

May 8, 2014 - 8:24am

Chicago Teachers Union says that it will join the growing national opposition to the Common Core State Standards because "the assessments disrupt student learning and consume tremendous amounts of time and resources for test preparation and administration." The union also said it will lobby the Illinois Board of Education to end Common Core for teaching and assessment and that it will work to organize  to increase opposition the expansion of nationwide controls over educational issues. (CTU, WBEZ) Illinois quietly adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010, with little opposition. But the standards have become a political football in the last year, and have faced opposition from both the left and the right. Indiana dumped the Common Core standards last month.

POSSIBLE PENSION COMPROMISE: Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis says she's prepared to offer pension concessions covering thousands of her members — but only under certain circumstances. Lewis told Crain's editorial board on Wednesday that the union is willing to consider reducing benefits for those who still are working, although she emphatically ruled out changes for members who already have retired. (Crain's)

ALSO: Karen Lewis said Wednesday that the union would be “very active” in next year’s mayoral election, but offered little insight into efforts to recruit a challenger to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Underscoring her long standing pledge to oppose the mayor’s re-election, Lewis told the Tribune editorial board that, “on a scale of one to 10,” the union’s efforts would rate as “15.” (Tribune)

FAILING SYSTEM: "Rather than continuing with the status quo of test-and-sanction accountability, states and school districts must act now to end the test-based, rote-memorization system that is failing our students, and shift to a system like the NY Performance Standards Consortium schools that includes well-resourced classrooms, project-based learning and assessments that are used primarily to inform instruction," American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a statement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress report of 12th-graders’ math and reading scores. (Press release)

DYETT DEMANDS: Supporters of Dyett High School rallied at City Hall Wednesday demanding a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his school chief to save and revitalize the Bronzeville institution. Calling Dyett "the poster child for the sabotage of a neighborhood school," dozens of protesters gathered outside the mayor's office on the fifth floor of City Hall. They presented petitions signed by 675 local residents and parents of students at elementary schools in a designated district feeding students to Dyett. (DNAinfo)

IN THE NATION
CHARTER LEGISLATION: A bipartisan group of senators planned to introduce a bill Wednesday meant to encourage the growth of charter schools across the country, mirroring legislation expected to be taken up in the House later this week. (The Washington Post)

Absenteeism, truancy up in elementary grades

May 7, 2014 - 7:20pm

Even as CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has pledged to find ways to reduce chronic truancy and absenteeism in Chicago Public Schools, her administration is quietly grappling with the fact that the problem is getting worse in the elementary grades.

Last year, a higher portion of students in kindergarten through eighth grade were absent from class – both with excused and unexcused absences – than in each of the previous two years, according to internal CPS data obtained by Catalyst Chicago and confirmed by the district.

Some 22.5 percent of kindergartners, for example, were considered chronically truant in the 2012 school year, a rate that was 4.6 percentage points higher than two years earlier. Meanwhile, nearly 20 percent of kindergartners were chronically absent in the 2012 school year, compared to 16.6 percent two years prior.

Students are considered "chronically truant" after missing at least 5 percent of the previous 180 school days -- or 9 days in a school year – without a valid excuse. “Chronically absent” students, meanwhile, have missed at least 18 school days, whether excused or unexcused.

In a Wednesday phone interview, Aarti Dhupelia, CPS’s Chief Officer of College and Career Success, who also oversees truancy and absenteeism, said the district is still trying to understand what caused last year's spike (click to see larger graphics).

“Obviously, with any attendance issue, we’re concerned with a trend in the wrong direction in any grade level,” she said. “The issues will vary school by school. We’re seeing that as we engage with schools and try to work with them on attendance and truancy challenges this year, in some cases it’s because of safety concerns; in others it’s lack of parent engagement.”

Dhupelia could not name any specific schools where the problem was most acute last year, although she explained that there are a number of schools “quite frankly across the city where we have seen specific challenges.” She did not provide information on chronic absences and truancy rates for this school year, but assured that internal monthly reports at the school level show “promising trends” so far.

Those who work with low-income families in Chicago say there isn’t enough public awareness of the importance of attendance in the earliest grades and that CPS needs to find non-punitive ways to work with parents who struggle to get their children to school.

“So many parents are focused on other needs that aren’t being met, like housing. Families are losing their homes, their apartments, could be living with a friend,” says Gloria Harris, a parent trainer at Community Organizing and Family Issues, known as COFI. “And with all the school closings, a lot of kids are no longer in walking distance of their schools. I think if a student is missing too many days in one week, we should find out what’s going on with that family.”

Positive trends at high schools

Catalyst learned about the increase in chronic absenteeism and truancy in the elementary grades after obtaining a copy of a December 2013 PowerPoint presentation that was marked “DRAFT and Internal Confidential” earlier this year.  Two of the slides specifically address chronic truancy and chronic absences, with charts showing the year-by-year statistics by grade level.

On Wednesday afternoon – nearly two months after Catalyst began asking about this trend – CPS officials confirmed that the data on chronic absences was accurate and provided updated statistics on chronic truancy. (The bar graphs contain information that has been verified by CPS.)

The data do show a positive trend: there have been significant reductions in chronic absenteeism and truancy in the high school grades, when students are the most likely to skip class. Nearly 62 percent of school seniors, for example, were considered chronically truant in the 2010-11 school year; that number dropped to 53 percent last year. Meanwhile, chronic absenteeism among seniors dropped by 6.5 percentage points to 47.5 percent.

Dhupelia pointed to two potential factors that have improved high school attendance: the district’s emphasis on improving freshmen “on-track” rates, which stress the importance of attendance and appear to have ripple effects on later year; and changes to the disciplinary policy made in the summer of 2012 that resulted in fewer suspensions at the high school level.

“We’ve made more significant efforts at the high school level over the past few years, using restorative practices as an alternative to suspensions,” she explained. “Suspensions do count as absences, after all.”

Detailed suspension data released earlier this year shows a decrease in suspensions at the high school level; on the other hand, suspensions increased at every elementary grade level. 

The increased number of suspensions, then, could partially explain the spike in absenteeism in the elementary grades.

Not sharing information

Privately, those in community agencies who work with families say they wish it was easier to obtain real-time, school-level data from CPS – including from charter schools –to better focus their own efforts and find solutions for students. During the interview, Dhupelia said the district is interested in exploring ways to share the data without compromising students’ privacy.

“Given the types of things that contribute to students not attending school, you often do need community partners assisting in this effort,” she said.

In recent years, CPS has focused heavily on using its real-time data to hold schools accountable for a variety of measures of student academic progress, including the much-lauded “on-track” rate  that helps determine whether high school freshmen are on track to graduate.

But that philosophy apparently has yet to be applied across the board, to all metrics.

Case in point: CPS has not shared the data in the December 2013 report with a state-appointed task force that is currently examining the issue and preparing policy recommendations for the state Legislature on how to ensure more students go to school.

The Truancy in Chicago Public Schools Task Force –which includes CPS administrators – was convened in response to a 2012 Chicago Tribune investigation on how absenteeism and truancy is crippling the education of the city’s youngest children. Catalyst first reported on chronic absenteeism in the early grades in 2011.

“We’re trying to make sure our recommendations are grounded in research, in the information available to us that drove the joint resolution in the first place, so we’re consistent in what we’re saying, regarding truancy and excessive absenteeism,” says Antoinette Taylor, who chairs the task force.  “One of the things we’ve been discussing is the need for preventative measures for families, for students and even for schools, to see how we can intervene before we get to that point [of chronic absences or truancy].”

On March 11, Catalyst began requesting interviews with CPS administrators about the increase in chronic truancy and absenteeism en the elementary grades, and seeking school-level breakdowns of the data. Catalyst filed a formal request for the data under the state’s Freedom of Information Act on March 25. Last week, after the legal deadline for releasing this data had passed, Catalyst asked the Illinois Attorney General to review whether CPS is in violation of the state’s public records laws.

On Wednesday, CPS spokesman Joel Hood said the district strives to be “pretty transparent about our data.” He said that the school-level data has been held up to address concerns about student privacy, verification of numbers and because “it’s not something we can turn around so quickly.”

CPS has still not released the data to Catalyst.

Fear of “embarrassing” principals

One reason for CPS’s reluctance to make the information public may be to avoid “shaming” or “embarrassing” principals at schools with high levels of chronic absenteeism or truancy, and because of worries that these principals will be “dis-incentivized” from accepting students who may be at risk of routinely missing school, including homeless students or those in temporary living situations, categorized as STLS.

Michael Seelig, another CPS administrator who sits on the task force, brought up both of these points during its April meeting.

“We want to be careful about putting this out there,” he said. “I just don’t want a principal to say, ‘I’m humming at 95 percent.’ I would never want them to shut the door [on students in temporary situations] to keep their numbers up.”

But Patricia Nix-Hodes, associate director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’ Law Project, cautioned against making the assumption that homeless students are more likely to miss class. School districts, after all, are federally mandated to remove barriers to these students’ attendance.

“Oftentimes for individual students, being identified as STLS helps their attendance because they can get various services, including transportation that they might not otherwise be eligible for,” she says.

She added: “We don’t have the data to show what the truancy rate is for homeless students compared to the overall population.That’s something we have asked about and are interested in.”

Absenteeism, truancy up in elementary grades

May 7, 2014 - 7:20pm

Even as CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has pledged to find ways to reduce chronic truancy and absenteeism in Chicago Public Schools, her administration is quietly grappling with the fact that the problem is getting worse in the elementary grades.

Last year, a higher portion of students in kindergarten through eighth grade were absent from class – both with excused and unexcused absences – than in each of the previous two years, according to internal CPS data obtained by Catalyst Chicago and confirmed by the district.

Some 22.5 percent of kindergartners, for example, were considered chronically truant in the 2012 school year, a rate that was 4.6 percentage points higher than two years earlier. Meanwhile, nearly 20 percent of kindergartners were chronically absent in the 2012 school year, compared to 16.6 percent two years prior.

Students are considered "chronically truant" after missing at least 5 percent of the previous 180 school days -- or 9 days in a school year – without a valid excuse. “Chronically absent” students, meanwhile, have missed at least 18 school days, whether excused or unexcused.

In a Wednesday phone interview, Aarti Dhupelia, CPS’s Chief Officer of College and Career Success, who also oversees truancy and absenteeism, said the district is still trying to understand what caused last year's spike (click to see larger graphics).

“Obviously, with any attendance issue, we’re concerned with a trend in the wrong direction in any grade level,” she said. “The issues will vary school by school. We’re seeing that as we engage with schools and try to work with them on attendance and truancy challenges this year, in some cases it’s because of safety concerns; in others it’s lack of parent engagement.”

Dhupelia could not name any specific schools where the problem was most acute last year, although she explained that there are a number of schools “quite frankly across the city where we have seen specific challenges.” She did not provide information on chronic absences and truancy rates for this school year, but assured that internal monthly reports at the school level show “promising trends” so far.

Those who work with low-income families in Chicago say there isn’t enough public awareness of the importance of attendance in the earliest grades and that CPS needs to find non-punitive ways to work with parents who struggle to get their children to school.

“So many parents are focused on other needs that aren’t being met, like housing. Families are losing their homes, their apartments, could be living with a friend,” says Gloria Harris, a parent trainer at Community Organizing and Family Issues, known as COFI. “And with all the school closings, a lot of kids are no longer in walking distance of their schools. I think if a student is missing too many days in one week, we should find out what’s going on with that family.”

Positive trends at high schools

Catalyst learned about the increase in chronic absenteeism and truancy in the elementary grades after obtaining a copy of a December 2013 PowerPoint presentation that was marked “DRAFT and Internal Confidential” earlier this year.  Two of the slides specifically address chronic truancy and chronic absences, with charts showing the year-by-year statistics by grade level.

On Wednesday afternoon – nearly two months after Catalyst began asking about this trend – CPS officials confirmed that the data on chronic absences was accurate and provided updated statistics on chronic truancy. (The bar graphs contain information that has been verified by CPS.)

The data do show a positive trend: there have been significant reductions in chronic absenteeism and truancy in the high school grades, when students are the most likely to skip class. Nearly 62 percent of school seniors, for example, were considered chronically truant in the 2010-11 school year; that number dropped to 53 percent last year. Meanwhile, chronic absenteeism among seniors dropped by 6.5 percentage points to 47.5 percent.

Dhupelia pointed to two potential factors that have improved high school attendance: the district’s emphasis on improving freshmen “on-track” rates, which stress the importance of attendance and appear to have ripple effects on later year; and changes to the disciplinary policy made in the summer of 2012 that resulted in fewer suspensions at the high school level.

“We’ve made more significant efforts at the high school level over the past few years, using restorative practices as an alternative to suspensions,” she explained. “Suspensions do count as absences, after all.”

Detailed suspension data released earlier this year shows a decrease in suspensions at the high school level; on the other hand, suspensions increased at every elementary grade level. 

The increased number of suspensions, then, could partially explain the spike in absenteeism in the elementary grades.

Not sharing information

Privately, those in community agencies who work with families say they wish it was easier to obtain real-time, school-level data from CPS – including from charter schools –to better focus their own efforts and find solutions for students. During the interview, Dhupelia said the district is interested in exploring ways to share the data without compromising students’ privacy.

“Given the types of things that contribute to students not attending school, you often do need community partners assisting in this effort,” she said.

In recent years, CPS has focused heavily on using its real-time data to hold schools accountable for a variety of measures of student academic progress, including the much-lauded “on-track” rate  that helps determine whether high school freshmen are on track to graduate.

But that philosophy apparently has yet to be applied across the board, to all metrics.

Case in point: CPS has not shared the data in the December 2013 report with a state-appointed task force that is currently examining the issue and preparing policy recommendations for the state Legislature on how to ensure more students go to school.

The Truancy in Chicago Public Schools Task Force –which includes CPS administrators – was convened in response to a 2012 Chicago Tribune investigation on how absenteeism and truancy is crippling the education of the city’s youngest children. Catalyst first reported on chronic absenteeism in the early grades in 2011.

“We’re trying to make sure our recommendations are grounded in research, in the information available to us that drove the joint resolution in the first place, so we’re consistent in what we’re saying, regarding truancy and excessive absenteeism,” says Antoinette Taylor, who chairs the task force.  “One of the things we’ve been discussing is the need for preventative measures for families, for students and even for schools, to see how we can intervene before we get to that point [of chronic absences or truancy].”

On March 11, Catalyst began requesting interviews with CPS administrators about the increase in chronic truancy and absenteeism en the elementary grades, and seeking school-level breakdowns of the data. Catalyst filed a formal request for the data under the state’s Freedom of Information Act on March 25. Last week, after the legal deadline for releasing this data had passed, Catalyst asked the Illinois Attorney General to review whether CPS is in violation of the state’s public records laws.

On Wednesday, CPS spokesman Joel Hood said the district strives to be “pretty transparent about our data.” He said that the school-level data has been held up to address concerns about student privacy, verification of numbers and because “it’s not something we can turn around so quickly.”

CPS has still not released the data to Catalyst.

Fear of “embarrassing” principals

One reason for CPS’s reluctance to make the information public may be to avoid “shaming” or “embarrassing” principals at schools with high levels of chronic absenteeism or truancy, and because of worries that these principals will be “dis-incentivized” from accepting students who may be at risk of routinely missing school, including homeless students or those in temporary living situations, categorized as STLS.

Michael Seelig, another CPS administrator who sits on the task force, brought up both of these points during its April meeting.

“We want to be careful about putting this out there,” he said. “I just don’t want a principal to say, ‘I’m humming at 95 percent.’ I would never want them to shut the door [on students in temporary situations] to keep their numbers up.”

But Patricia Nix-Hodes, associate director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’ Law Project, cautioned against making the assumption that homeless students are more likely to miss class. School districts, after all, are federally mandated to remove barriers to these students’ attendance.

“Oftentimes for individual students, being identified as STLS helps their attendance because they can get various services, including transportation that they might not otherwise be eligible for,” she says.

She added: “We don’t have the data to show what the truancy rate is for homeless students compared to the overall population.That’s something we have asked about and are interested in.”

Lindblom's Mather named first Golden Apple principal

May 7, 2014 - 2:04pm

As far as history teacher John Silva knows, Lindblom Principal Alan Mather has only cried twice at the school.

The first time was at the graduation of the class that was with him when he reopened the school in 2005, two years after CPS closed it because of low achievement and other problems. Under Renaissance 2010, Mather re-opened Lindblom with one class of freshmen. “It was a very special group,” Silva says. “They had a tight relationship.”

Silva says Mather was so emotional he could barely get through the ceremony.

The second time Mather cried was Wednesday morning, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel walked onto the stage at Lindblom to congratulate him as the first-ever recipient of the Stanley C. Golder Award, a new Golden Apple Award that honors principals.

When Emanuel arrived, Mather was in the middle of an assembly honoring seniors. Each senior got the chance to go to the podium and announce the college they planned to attend. The crowded auditorium erupted in cheers.  

The assembly culminated with the surprise award. Mather told the students, “You make my job so much easier. This is a wonderful place to come.”

Golden Apple officials on Wednesday also began their annual ritual of surprising teachers with the prestigious award. Teachers from Edgebrook, Pierce and Crown schools, as well as three suburban teachers, received the awards, with more to be announced on Thursday. Teachers who win get to take a sabbatical for a semester to study at Northwestern University, plus a $3,000 cash award.

Selective school facing challenges

Golden Apple President Dominic Belmonte said the organization decided to present an award to principals because “they are the ones that make great teachers operate well.” Mather gets $10,000, plus $2,000 for professional development and $8,000 for a project at the school.

Mather says he is not sure what the school project will be, but two ideas have popped into his head. One is to buy laptops for teachers, many of whom must move from classroom to classroom as the school’s enrollment has grown. Tasks such as taking attendance would be easier with laptops.

The second idea is to outfit a lab focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning.

Lindblom is a selective enrollment schools, but it has some unique challenges because it sits in Englewood, one of the city’s poorest, most violent neighborhoods. Top students from the community often don’t choose Lindblom because they want to get out of the area, Mather says. Some residents resent Lindblom and consider it isolated from the rest of the neighborhood. And parents from outside the area, worried about safety in the community, sometimes hesitate to send their children to Lindblom.

But under Mather’s leadership, Lindblom is making a name for itself as one of the city’s destination schools. It is now ranked Number 14 in the state by U.S. News and World Report. It has many special features, such as the only Arabic program in the state for non-native speakers. The school also offers Mandarin.

Before taking over at Lindblom, Mather was an assistant principal at Northside College Prep.

Lindblom Assistant Principal Wayne Bevis says that Mather does a wonderful job recruiting students, including being an active participant on CPSobsessed, a blog that caters to parents who fret about getting their children into selective enrollment schools.

Students say that during orientation, Mather assures parents that the school takes special care to address safety concerns, offering shuttles and having safe passage workers at bus stops.

They say the opportunities they have gotten at the school are unparalleled. Mayra Patino says she is going to China this summer, with a scholarship to pay expenses. Celeste Barajos just came back from helping to build a school in Haiti.

But what they like most about Mather is his personal style. On Halloween, he rides his unicycle and throws candy to the students. And he greets the students every day at the door, even when it is cold or raining.

“He knows every student’s name,” says one young woman. Other students nod in agreement.

(Mather is a member of Catalyst Chicago’s editorial advisory board.)

In the News: H.S. probed for altering attendance records

May 7, 2014 - 6:40am

Pilsen's largest high school, Benito Juarez, is under investigation by Chicago Public Schools' inspector general. The school experienced a dramatic jump in attendance, which helped it escape probation for the first time in a decade. In interviews, teachers charge that student attendance records were altered by the school's administration, and they say they felt pressured to bump up students' grades. (DNAinfo)

ENGLEWOOD'S SCHOLARS: Lindblom Math & Science Academy High School beat out every high school in Englewood and Chatham this year with four recipients of full-ride collegiate Gates Millennium Scholarships. (DNAinfo)

CPS STUDENTS STAR IN WEB SERIES: A documentary web series, "Central Standard: On Education," that premiered on WTTW follows a diverse group of five Chicago-area 8th grade students attending five publicly funded schools as they strive to make it into the top selective-enrollment public high schools. Along the way, viewers get to know the students, their parents, their neighborhoods, and their schools. There will be nine 15-minute episodes in total airing on the PBS Digital Studios YouTube Channel. Subscribe to the series here.

IN THE STATE
CPR TRAINING FOR STUDENTS: Illinois high school students would be required to take CPR and defibrillator training under a bill that's gaining steam in Springfield.

IN THE NATION
EXPLAINING ACHIEVEMENT GAP: A growing achievement gap between Asian American students and their white classmates is due largely to greater work effort and cultural attitudes, not innate cognitive ability, researchers say. (Los Angeles Times)

Keeping a faculty whole

May 7, 2014 - 6:00am

When the principal of Field Elementary left abruptly in April 2011 and a spry Brian Metcalf took over, math teacher Roger Gutierrez was not sure what to think. 

He didn’t know if Metcalf would want him to stay on at Field, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to stay on either. Metcalf was youngish—in his late 30s—and a fit, slightly built man with a lot of energy. Gutierrez thought Metcalf might want to hire up-and-comers in his own mold. 

Though it was only his third year of teaching, Gutierrez was a career-changer, old enough to have a receding hair line and three children. To get to work, he traveled from the Far Southeast Side to the Far North Side, so he half-way thought about finding a job closer to home. 

But Gutierrez had begun to develop a rapport with his students and their parents, especially the Mexican mothers and fathers who considered him an ally. 

“I had gotten to know the community,” he says. “I think people want to stay at a place, to get to know the kids and be able to make a difference. “

Gutierrez worried that Metcalf would not want him because he had been hired by the principal who just left so abruptly. Gutierrez was “that guy’s guy”—so much so, that Gutierrez suspected colleagues viewed him as a spy for the administration. 

Especially at low-performing schools like Field, principals often set about doing their own unofficial “turnaround,” pushing out existing teachers to bring on hand-picked hires to carry out their vision. 

And Field, in Rogers Park, was in desperate need of vision. The school had sunk to the bottom rung on CPS’ academic performance scale. Fewer and fewer students enrolled each year, and half of the children in the school’s attendance boundary didn’t go to Field, according to CPS data. Single-family homes in the area sell for as much as $650,000 and condos for $350,000, but the school is 98 percent low-income. 

Metcalf was Field’s fourth principal in the past decade. Plus, the school had higher-than-average teacher turnover. 

Gutierrez, whose brother is a principal, knew there was a good chance he would be gone. The one thing he believed might save him was his skill with technology. “I was the only one that knew how to fix the copy machine,” Gutierrez jokes. 

But to his surprise, rather than take a clear-the-decks approach, Metcalf went against the grain. He dug in deep with the idea that stability and good teaching were important to the school’s growth. Perhaps it was the naiveté of being a new principal, but Metcalf says he believed he could have both.

“I came in and looked at a number of things,” Metcalf says. “There was a sense of urgency, but I did not go around handing out pink slips or e-3ing (the process of firing a teacher). I just started talking to teachers, saying ‘How can we do that? How can we change? What do you need?’”

With only two years at the helm, it is too soon to say whether Metcalf will turn out to be the superstar principal who transforms Field into a consistently high-achieving school that attracts more neighborhood children. But under his leadership so far, students’ academic growth is far above average, as is attendance—of both teachers and children. The on-track rate, a collection of indicators that aim to predict high school graduation, has also improved.

Plus, only two teachers have left Field in that time. One returned to military service and the other left the school for personal reasons, Metcalf says.

Metcalf devotes much of his time to being “in the trenches” with his teachers, observing them in their classrooms and spending weeks at a time with those who are struggling. He believes they can improve, and he demands that it happen. 

“I have high expectations and I help them get there,” says Metcalf.

His background gives him a wealth of expertise and authority as an instructional leader: Metcalf was an assistant principal at another North Side school before coming to Field. Prior to that, he taught Spanish for more than a decade at Simeon and DuSable high schools.

At first, Gutierrez says he was nervous when Metcalf came to his room. But over time, he has gotten used to it and now, he even appreciates it. Gutierrez calls himself a “tinkerer” who always wants to know how he can fix things. He values Metcalf’s explicit feedback, as well as the fact that he will even teach a lesson himself to demonstrate how something should be done.

Though Metcalf believes teachers can improve, it isn’t always easy.

One day, he Metcalf points to April Harper and tells her, only half-jokingly, that she’s responsible for some of his gray hair. Harper responds that if it weren’t for him, she likely would have left teaching altogether. 

Harper is just in her second year of teaching and had a difficult time her first year. Metcalf hired her because of her passion for one of the toughest jobs in a school: teaching special education. 

Before enrolling at Northeastern Illinois University to become a teacher, Harper worked as an aide in a classroom for autistic children and fell in love with the job. “That was it,” she says. “That was my calling.”

At Field, she was placed in a special education classroom for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students who had a variety of learning or behavioral disabilities and different skill levels. Almost right away, she felt overwhelmed. 

An admonishment from a former professor stuck in her head: “He said that what you do as a child’s teacher changes his or her life,” Harper recalls. The weight of that responsibility was too much at times. 

At first, Harper had 19 students—more than the maximum allowed for special education classes. Scheduling was another challenge. The students attended different classes with non-special education students, so there was a flow of children in and out of the room. 

Metcalf hired another teacher to split up the class so Harper would have no more than 12 students. 

But she still found it daunting to teach to each student’s ability level, keep up with schedules and complete all the required paperwork. “There were many times that I was in tears, ready to leave,” Harper says. “There were so many blank spaces in their academic [background] that there was so much area to cover.”

Metcalf soon realized she was in trouble. So he camped out in Harper’s classroom, observing where she struggled and giving her teaching strategies to help. He also met with her for hours after school and on Saturdays, helping her plan lessons and put together systems to make her classroom run smoothly.

A year later, Harper is much more at ease. On the white-board at the front of her class, she breaks the day into 20-minute segments of time to keep track of the work to be done. 

Mid-morning one Monday, Harper has her students read a short passage on Cleopatra, each one taking a section. One boy stumbles on several words, such as “snake.” Without missing a beat, Harper tells him the word and then praises him for doing a good job. Then she reads the whole passage out loud and has students answer a few questions. Each of them appears to follow along, and they answer the questions correctly.

“So you all got it,” Harper says to the class. Without wasting any time, she tells three students, the seventh-graders, to go to their regular-education class with other students in their grade. She quickly starts a math lesson with the remaining three eighth-graders.

Harper says she could stay at Field for 20 years, doing the same thing. “I just love it. I just love the children,” she says. 

For more veteran teachers, Metcalf takes a different approach.

Last year, Saul Rodriguez, the fifth-grade reading teacher, and a colleague suggested to Metcalf that the students be split into an all-boys class and an all-girls class. “Our strength was working with boys, so we thought that splitting them up would force us to get better in working with girls,” says Rodriguez.

But Metcalf was not so sure. “I was not a fan. I was saying ‘No’ and they were saying ‘Yes.’ There was push-back, but it was never disrespectful. I have the ultimate veto power, but if they could frame it in a way [to show] that it is better for children, I was open to it.”

Metcalf had concerns, but finally agreed to let the teachers try it. 

Rodriguez says that the boys have skyrocketed under this approach, but there are still some concerns with the girls.

In addition to seeing teachers as collaborators and being open to their ideas, Metcalf also believes in treating them as professionals. For one, he seeks out opportunities to send teachers to conferences of the professional organizations for their subject areas. “It is a very sacred thing to attend conferences,” Metcalf says. “We want our children to be lifelong learners, so we need to be the first partakers of [learning].”

Gutierrez took a pass the first time Metcalf invited him to attend the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference, partly because it was such a foreign idea in CPS that he didn’t see how it could be valuable. But he has attended now for the past two years and raves about the experience. 

“They have been career-affirming,” he says. For one thing, Gutierrez gets a chance to kibitz with teachers from across the country, and realizes that he isn’t alone in the struggle to meet ever-higher expectations for teaching and learning. 

He also got a whole bunch of new ideas. “I came back with a suitcase full of resources,” he says. “It was really, really wonderful.”

Jumping the ship

May 7, 2014 - 6:00am

Call it the great migration.

Every year, on average, 18 percent of Chicago teachers leave their schools. Some are fired or laid off. Some take a job in another CPS school or, increasingly, in another district. Some abandon teaching altogether. 

Though teacher turnover in CPS remains higher than the national average, the good news is that it has decreased slightly in recent years. That’s likely because more teachers—like all workers—clung to their jobs during the recession. Nationally, about 15 percent of teachers leave the profession each year or go to a new school, according to the U. S. Department of Education’s 2008-2009 Teacher Attrition and Mobility survey, the most recent available. Cities, suburban and rural districts tend to lose about the same percentage of teachers, according to the survey. 

The price of turnover is high. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, which looked at several school districts nationwide, estimates that CPS spends $17,872 to fill each vacancy and recruit, interview and provide induction for new teachers. The price tag to fill about 4,000 vacancies between 2011 and 2012: $71.5 million.

Teacher turnover is highest in schools that are predominantly black and low-income: An average of 23 percent of teachers from these schools left between 2011 and 2012, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of Illinois State Board of Education teacher service records. Integrated schools and those that enroll more white and middle-class children retained the most teachers. 

What’s more, schools with a student population that is mostly black or Latino and low-income tend to have high turnover year after year. Between 2008 and 2012, 132 schools—about one in five of all CPS schools, and more than one in three of poor, predominantly minority schools—had to replace more than half their teachers.

Research on the importance of teacher retention and student learning has been mixed. But a newer study found convincing evidence of a correlation between high teacher turnover and stagnant achievement. When controlling for other factors, students in schools with high turnover have significantly lower test scores in language arts and math compared to children in schools with low turnover, according to the 2013 study.

“The harm is more pronounced in lower-performing schools that serve black students,” says Matthew Ronfeldt, assistant professor of educational studies at the University of Michigan and author of the study, which was published in the American Educational Research Journal. “We don’t know exactly why this is, but it is in the very schools with the highest turnover that the harmful effects are most pronounced.”

Barbara Radner, the director of the Center for Urban Education at DePaul University, points out that keeping teachers is not just about what happens inside the classroom. “Teachers build relationships in and outside of the building,” she says. “The connectivity adds an intangible value.”

Jennifer Phares reluctantly made the most common move: She went to another CPS school. About 40 percent of CPS teachers who leave their schools end up elsewhere in the district.

By all the evidence, Phares is a good teacher. She is National Board certified and, in 2009, she won a Golden Apple teaching award. Last year, 86 percent of her third-graders met standards in math and 93 percent in reading. 

Phares started her career at Bright Elementary, a school in South Deering on the Far Southeast Side where all the children come from poor households. Teacher turnover at Bright was dramatic, so much so that Phares almost didn’t bother to learn the names of new teachers. Most were young and inexperienced, and were quickly overwhelmed by the challenges of the environment.

At one point, Phares was that young, inexperienced teacher—and felt the weight of it. She laughs and says that during her first year, she only taught reading because she couldn’t figure out how to get through the rest of the curriculum. 

Her principal, for better or worse, didn’t bother her much. Phares recalls that she could have used more support, but she also didn’t feel a ton of pressure from a principal looking over her shoulder. She had a small class, only 24 students, and that helped keep the workload manageable. Phares shut the classroom door and tried her best. “The kids had nothing,” she recalls. “That time in our classroom was ours. We were in our own little bubble.”

She grew to love the students and their families, who warmed up to her once they saw that she wasn’t leaving. When she passed by moms and dads on her way to work, they waved to her. 

Phares didn’t see herself as another teacher who would quickly take off. But two years ago, she did. And she left for a reason that studies show is typical of why teachers leave schools like Bright: Most new teachers are white and middle-class and live far from poor black and Latino neighborhoods. When Phares had a baby, she wanted to work closer to her home in Lincoln Park. 

At just about the same time, Prescott, on the west end of Lincoln Park, was undergoing some major changes. Few families in the neighborhood sent their children to Prescott. But a new principal had come in and saved Prescott from being closed. He replaced almost the entire staff as he tried to improve the school. Phares became part of the transition.

Phares says she loves and misses the children at Bright. But she admits that some things are easier at Prescott. The parents can be more involved. The students are more prepared.

“These kids, for the most part, have a safe place to go to at night,” Phares says, looking at her wily class of third-graders. 

She also loves that Prescott is diverse. Children of all races mix and learn together, and Phares says they do not worry about differences. 

A small but growing number of teachers leave CPS for suburban schools. In 2005, Catalyst found that 1 percent did between 1999 and 2003. Then, between 2008 and 2012, that figure rose to about 4 percent.

Though she felt like a traitor, Cheryl Filipek eventually decided to make that move. 

Filipek was the band teacher at Lincoln Park High School for seven years before accepting a job at Niles North in solidly middle-class Skokie. In the end, the opportunity to work in a school with abundant resources convinced her to take the job. One example: Niles students had Google Chromebooks, while CPS teachers and students often relied on outdated textbooks. 

Filipek also loves the ability to get new instruments and take her band students to high-level competitions. “I couldn’t dream of doing the things I do here with my students from Chicago,” she says, noting that several former CPS employees work at Niles North.

Support from the administration has also been impressive. Filipek says she is observed eight times a year, compared to just once or twice a year in CPS. “This allows me to grow as a teacher,” Filipek explains. In areas where she wants to improve, she can take courses for free. “I find myself wanting to be a better teacher.” 

There’s also less isolation. Not only are Niles parents more involved, but if a student has problems, a team of social workers is on hand. 

“The biggest difference about working here is that I wasn’t called a bitch [once] all year,” Filipek says. “A student might roll their eyes at me, but they wouldn’t dream of calling me a bitch.”

CPS has never had a strong, districtwide program to retain teachers. Yet officials point to investments in initiatives like the New Teachers Center, which helps principals work with new teachers. Some teacher training programs, like the Academy for Urban School Leadership and Teach for America, offer their alumni support after they are placed in schools.

At individual schools, principals use their own strategies to keep teachers from leaving. When Donella Carter became principal at Gregory Elementary 13 years ago, she pushed out some teachers who did not meet her high expectations. But now that she has a faculty that she feels is on board with her goals, she wants to retain them. 

Carter gives teachers the chance to be leaders and mentors, encouraging them to participate in committees and make changes at the school. As Gregory has improved—the school earned the highest CPS rating this year—Carter sees teachers taking pride in their work. 

Carter says she makes teachers create an academic improvement plan for each child. If that plan doesn’t work, she has them develop a plan B.

Teachers like to work at a place where they feel they are effective, Carter says. “They know it is not just Mrs. Carter that is doing it. It is a team effort.”

Some educators, however, worry that turnover will worsen as test scores become a significant part of teacher evaluation. 

Teachers feel a lot of pressure regarding test scores, yet so many factors affect scores that teachers say they don’t have complete control over whether their students do well, says Carol Caref, research consultant for the Chicago Teachers Union. 

Caref says teachers are put in the untenable position of having their job threatened if they can’t raise students’ scores quickly. If a teacher receives an “unsatisfactory” rating, for instance, he or she has just 90 days to bring the rating up two levels to “proficient” to avoid being fired. 

One teacher who is on an evaluation committee at his school says that their network chief is questioning principals who gave teachers high ratings even though their students’ scores haven’t improved. This position is particularly disturbing, he says, because it “will push the best teachers away from the hardest to serve.”

Alfred Tatum, dean of the School of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says that the emphasis on testing and compliance squeezes out the power of teaching. 

Tatum started a leadership academy program for black male high school juniors in which they tutor fourth-grade boys. He hopes that some of these young men will see that they can make an impact and consider going into education.

Under Tatum, students in the School of Education complete service projects before they begin student teaching. Tatum’s hypothesis is that if they experience changing a child’s life, they will keep that memory as they experience the drudgery and challenges of teaching.  

“You have to ignite that fire in them, and you have to keep it lit,” says Tatum.

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

Slowing the revolving door

May 7, 2014 - 6:00am

Sometimes a telling story emerges virtually by accident. That’s what happened with our report on teacher attrition at turnaround schools, published in this issue of Catalyst In Depth

Deputy Editor Sarah Karp was poring over state teacher service records and noticed that, surprisingly, teacher turnover didn’t end once a turnaround was in place. Not only did most existing teachers disappear with the turnaround—a process that requires teachers and other staff to reapply for their jobs—but most of the hand-picked teachers who replaced the veterans quickly vanished too.

Karp interviewed a number of former turnaround teachers who described constant pressure to raise test scores, work long hours, adhere to checklists for how classrooms and bulletin boards should be decorated and maintain strict discipline. Hallways were to be at “zero,” completely silent, at all times.  

Though we were surprised by the findings, many of our readers were not. Dozens of them weighed in and posted comments on an abridged version of Karp’s article published in April. Many of the comments were written by former turnaround teachers who expressed relief at escaping from the high-pressure turnaround culture. 

In one comment, a reader questioned how such a mass exodus could be taking place given the contract requirements of the Academy for Urban School Leadership (the teacher training program that manages all but a few turnarounds). Teachers must agree to work in CPS for several years after completing their AUSL residency.

In reply, a reader who self-identified only as ‘Another anonymous former AUSL teacher,” wrote: “Many teachers would rather pay the hefty $3k-11k penalty than fulfill their contract.” 

A top AUSL leader interviewed for the story said high attrition wasn’t a pressing concern. The goal, he said, was to put “effective teachers” in front of students, “not necessarily the same teacher.”

Yet experts point out that high teacher turnover has the worst impact on poor children of color, the very children enrolled in turnarounds. On a broader scale, any good business leader—and today’s education reformers like to espouse business principles—will say that constant workplace turnover is costly and a likely sign of subpar management. 

AUSL was launched with great promise, featuring a year-long residency meant to train aspiring teachers for jobs in the toughest schools. In a 2007 op-ed published by Catalyst Chicago, AUSL founder and former venture capitalist Martin Koldyke wrote that “meaningful change will come only when talented professional educators are given the freedom and opportunity to truly change the circumstances for children in public schools.”

So far, most turnarounds have made only modest improvements on state tests.

How can teachers create meaningful change when they’re out the door almost as quickly as they arrive and never get the chance to become part of a stable community of dedicated educators, working with the community to create a truly high-quality school—not just a quick uptick in test scores?

As a respected educator observed, “It’s a shame because their [residency] model is exactly what our profession needs. … It’s not the model, it’s the execution.”

In CPS as a whole, annual attrition is 18 percent. Of those, about 40 percent of teachers transfer to another CPS school, but a growing number head for suburban districts. And as the Consortium on Chicago School Research has shown, turnover is worst where poverty is highest. Catalyst’s analysis found that among 132 schools where more than 90 percent of students are low-income minorities, a third of schools lost more than half their teachers between 2008 and 2012. 

Part of the problem is the stress and, for many new teachers, the culture clash of teaching in a school surrounded by entrenched poverty. Sending rookies, fresh out of school and usually white and middle-class, into a failing school in East Garfield Park or Roseland is almost inviting them to crash-and-burn. 

Smart educators know that it takes a particular outlook and sense of dedication to handle these jobs. The late University of Wisconsin professor Martin Haberman, for one, pioneered a protocol for selecting teachers with the personal qualities necessary for teaching in urban schools.

Cultural competence is essential, too.

At the University of Illinois at Chicago, students in the School of Education complete service projects before they start student teaching. Dean Alfred Tatum theorizes that showing students the power of changing children’s lives will help provide an incentive for them to stick with it when the going in urban schools gets tough. 

Tatum also recruits black male high school juniors for a leadership academy that includes tutoring for elementary students. The hope is to draw some of these young men into teaching, a profession that is in dire need of more black males. 

“You have to ignite that fire in them, and keep it lit,” Tatum says.

In the News: CTU contract talks could overlap 2015 mayor's race

May 6, 2014 - 8:20am

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis made clear Monday that the union is not likely to agree to an extension of a three-year contract signed after a seven-day strike in September 2012, opening the door to a confrontation over a new contract during next year's mayoral race. (Tribune)

SCHOOL SECURITY AGREEMENT: The Chicago Police Department would get $13 million in annual compensation from the Chicago Public Schools for the 152 police officers currently assigned to high schools, under an agreement quietly introduced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The price tag reflects an increase from the $8 million CPS had been paying up to 2011 and a reduction from the amount that Emanuel imposed when he took office that year. (Sun-Times)

CHICAGO'S GATES SCHOLARS: Forty-four Chicago Public School students have been were awarded scholarships by the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, a competitive, needs-based scholarship that provides  1,000 students across the country every year with grants that can be used to pursue a degree in any undergraduate major at an accredited college or university. This year’s class set a District record and for the fifth time in past six years CPS has more recipients than any other school district in the nation. Ten years ago, the District had four Gates scholarship recipients. The 44 students awarded this coveted scholarship attend 26 CPS high schools. (CPS press release)

IN THE STATE
INSURANCE TROUBLES: Illinois school districts find themselves on the hook for about $9 million to cover deficits in the state's largest insurance pool for districts, the Tribune has found. At the core of the controversy is the little-regulated but lucrative industry of school insurance pools largely funded by taxpayers.

IN THE NATION
PEARSON'S  BIG SCORE: The global education company Pearson has landed a major contract to administer tests aligned to the common-core standards, a project described as being of "unprecedented scale" in the U.S. testing arena by one official who helped negotiate it. The decision to award the contract, announced Friday, was made by a group of states developing tests linked to the common core for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of two main consortia of states creating exams to match the standards. (Education Week)

MATH MULTIPLIED: Starting with the Class of 2015, 12th-grade math is required for seniors who are seeking admission to Maryland’s system of public universities. Separately, all students in Maryland will soon be required to take math every year of high school in order to graduate, a change that will start with next fall’s ninth-graders. (The Washington Post)

CHOICE EXPANSION: Florida lawmakers have approved an expansion of its tax-credit scholarship program that would allow more students from higher-income backgrounds to become eligible for scholarship funds in the school-choice program. (Education Week)

For the Record: Summer learning loss

May 5, 2014 - 3:56pm

Bit by bit, CPS has chipped away at efforts to create a non-traditional school calendar that would make better use of time to improve academics. The last nail in the coffin came earlier this year, when the Board of Education quietly approved a new calendar that will have students once again return to school after Labor Day. The move reversed last year’s decision to begin classes in late August and give students an early start on the year.

Meanwhile, at the same time officials decided to start the year earlier, they scrapped the district’s much-hyped Track E “year-round” calendar.

For now, teachers, parents, and administrators have seemingly back away from the topic that prompted the district to launch a Track E option in 2009: summer learning loss.

“Because [Track E] maximizes a student’s opportunity to learn, we have agreed with many of our principals, parents and community leaders to spread their school attendance more evenly throughout the year,” said then-CEO Ron Huberman in an April 2009 press release. “This means that instead of one long summer break, students get several shorter breaks throughout the year, which means greater learning opportunities.”

Principals had to apply to be a Track E school, and about a third of schools ended up on the schedule. 

Shawn Jackson, principal of Spencer Elementary on the West Side, says his school “wanted to make sure we had less interrupted time with our students, and the mid-summer start time gave us that opportunity.”

Research suggests that summer learning loss is particularly problematic for low-income students. For example, a John Hopkins study found that two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap in reading between poor and middle-class students is closely tied to unequal access to summer learning opportunities in elementary school. Further, a study from a Duke University researcher found that low-income students who go to year-round schools outperformed their counterparts on a traditional schedule.

Last year, the National Summer Learning Association released a survey of 500 teachers from 16 school districts nationwide, with 66 percent saying they spent 3-4 weeks re-teaching the previous years’ skills due to summer learning loss.

“The shorter summer break of the Track E schedule is beneficial in that the kids have less time to forget the information, so teachers don’t have to waste time re-teaching material that’s already been taught,” says Sarah Pitcock, NSLA president and CEO.

Logistics problems

CPS cited family scheduling concerns when it scrapped the Track E option in January 2013.

In practice, schools did face hurdles to implementing the calendar. Families with children in different schools found it hard to organize breaks and arrange for childcare. “All four of my kids are at different CPS schools, and that can make scheduling a real nightmare when you’re not all on the same school-year calendar,” says Kim Henderson, principal at Mollison Elementary School.

Teachers, too, faced problems. Chicago Teachers Union Recording Secretary Michael Brunson says teachers gave feedback and expressed that it was difficult to adjust to Track E and many teachers were no longer on the same schedule as the rest of their families.

“We’re used to the traditional calendar, and it just makes more sense,” says Brunson. “The multiple weeklong breaks and three- and four-day weekends scattered throughout the calendar were more disruptive than I think people anticipated they would be.”

Though the district championed Track E, officials never took the big step of placing the entire district on the year-round schedule to combat summer learning loss.

Finding more learning opportunity

For several years, CPS summer school options have been limited and classes are mostly for students who are at risk of being held back.

The city has stepped in to try and fill the bill and increase access to high-quality summer learning programs. In April, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced an expansion of the Summer of Learning initiative. First launched last year, the Summer of Learning provides academic and job training opportunities during the summer through public and corporate or private partnerships.

On May 10, the city is holding Destination Chicago at Jones College Prep, a city-wide day-long fair where students can sample summer activities and programs.

As beneficial as they may be, these programs require students and families to take the initiative and sign up, while a year-round schedule or early start to the school year does not. 

Some schools are attempting to find ways to curb summer learning loss on their own. Spencer offers a technology “boot camp” over the summer and keeps its computer labs open for students and community members to use. Mollison hopes to resume a Step-Up program meant to prepare students for the next grade.

Pitcock notes that preventing summer learning loss and narrowing the achievement gap requires improving access to programs that are readily available for wealthier students.

“What it really comes down to how we’re getting [students] to use that time they are not in school,”says Pitcock. “You need to have high-quality, financially and geographically accessible programs in place for these kids so they aren’t stuck falling further behind each year.”

In the News: Majority teachers, minority students

May 5, 2014 - 8:16am

 U.S. teachers are nowhere near as diverse as their students. Almost half the students attending public schools are minorities, yet fewer than 1 in 5 of their teachers is nonwhite. (Associated Press)

LIBRARY INEQUITIES: The 800 students at Daniel R. Cameron Elementary School got a beautiful new library last week, but 252 of the 527 Chicago Public Schools that are staffed by union teachers lack a librarian, and 18 more schools have just a part-time librarian, according to the Chicago Teachers Union. By CPS’ count of 658 schools, which includes charters, 517 schools have libraries, according to district spokesman Joel Hood, who did not provide a count of librarians. (Sun-Times)

CONSTRUCTION BUDGET: Chicago Public Schools set its construction budget at $423 million for 2015, part of a broader five-year plan aimed at relieving overcrowding, adding specialized classrooms and modernizing buildings across the district. Through 2019, the district plans to spend $1.1 billion on capital projects, according to a Friday morning announcement. (DNAinfo)

GENDER SNUB: Last Wednesday, Mayor Emanuel brought Whitney Young's boys basketball team to City Hall to take a bow in front of the aldermen and receive a resolution honoring their "star-studded team" for winning the state championship. The only problem is that the boys are not the only members of a "star-studded" championship basketball team from Young. The Lady Dolphins, Young's girls' team, also won the state title.

LACROSSE BOOMS: Small but growing efforts in Chicago are bringing lacrosse—a sport usually associated with elite, white schools — to urban schools. (Tribune)

IN THE NATION
NCLB AT RISK: Indiana's efforts to set its own educational course could be at risk if the state fails to correct issues with the implementation of its No Child Left Behind waiver, the U.S. Department of Education said. (Post-Tribune)

ATTENDANCE, PERFORMANCE LINK: Data from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test administered every two years to fourth- and eighth-graders across the country, show that students who miss the most school tend to score lower in math and reading than peers who attend more regularly. (The Washington Post)

$423 million capital spending plan released

May 2, 2014 - 1:37pm

With four overcrowded schools getting much-fought-for additions, and the expansion or renovation of selective enrollment high schools, CPS will spend more than half of the capital improvement budget in the coming year on the North and Northwest sides of the city.

Edwards Elementary, which is in McKinley Park on the Southwest Side, is the only school not on the North or Northwest Side to get a major addition. The other schools slated to get annexes are Wildwood, Jamieson, Edwards and Canty.

Lincoln Elementary School also is set to get an addition. CPS says a state grant it received last year will pay for the addition so it is not listed as part of the $423 million capital improvement budget.

Among high schools, Walter Payton will get an expansion, the proposed Barack Obama College Prep will be built and Lane Tech will get $22 million in improvements. The latest assessment of the Lane campus called for about $60 million in upgrades.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett noted that Lane Tech is a “Blue Ribbon” high school that serves 4,100 students. “Without these investments, it becomes a safety issue for us,” she said.

Most of the major projects in the plan, released Thursday night, have already been announced. They include air conditioning for 55 schools, new labs in 10 schools and improvements in seven schools that are undergoing restructuring, such as the three new turnaround schools. 

It is worth noting that CPS plan to borrow just $260 million through bonds—one of the smallest amounts the district has financed for capital projects over the last decade. The rest of the money will come from state grants or other outside sources.

In fact, much of the investment on the North Side comes from tax increment financing funds, including the money for Payton, the recently announced Barack Obama High School and the addition for Wildwood.

Only $17 million of the capital improvement money will be spent on the West Side. Crane High School will get a new sports field and 15 elementary schools will have small projects done, including four play lots. 

Many of the smaller projects are art and science labs or air conditioning in elementary schools and just a small portion of the capital money will go to high schools. Bowen on the South Side will get a welding and manufacturing lab.

CPS also plans to put 20 “college and career suites” in high schools. Byrd-Bennett described these as places where students can research colleges on the computer, take virtual tours and get help filling out financial aid forms.

“Some high schools have these. Every high school should,” Byrd-Bennett said.

These projects are in line with the district’s 10-year master facilities plan, said Todd Babbitz, executive director of strategy management at CPS.  Some people have criticized the spending on North Side selective enrollment high schools.

“We talk in the plan about the need to increase seats and these schools are centrally located,” he said.

In the News: Aldermen demand selective enrollment hearings

May 2, 2014 - 8:23am

Two South Side aldermen are demanding City Council hearings into selective enrollment standards at Chicago’s most elite public high schools amid reports of surging white enrollment at the expense of African-American students.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that white admissions have been climbing over the last four years at the city’s most desirable college preparatory high schools: Walter Payton, Jones,  Northside and Whitney Young.

PENSION CRISIS SOLUTION: The Chicago Teachers Union is rolling out a plan they say will help solve the teachers pension crisis. CTU leaders say their proposals would raise much-needed money for the cash-strapped retirement fund that covers the city's educators. The fund is just under 50 percent funded. (WBEZ)

CPS SEEKS COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: After the sudden departure of Lake View High's principal, CPS officials emphasized the need to engage the community. Interim Principal Scott Grens, a former Lake View English teacher, said his top priority since stepping in on Monday had been listening to stakeholders. (DNAinfo)

IN THE NATION
STATEWIDE OPEN ENROLLMENT: Proposed legislation in North Carolina would require school districts to set up plans allowing families to request a seat in any school in their home district or in any of the state's other districts. (Charlotte Observer)

CERTIFICATION TEST DELAYED: Aspiring New York State teachers won't have to pass a new, tougher certification test this year or next year, thanks to a vote that resulted from last-minute negotiations with the state teachers union. (Chalkbeat New York)

CHRONIC PROBLEM: Truancy and absenteeism are a chronic problem in D.C. schools, with 32 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through high school missing more than 10 days of classes without a valid excuse, according to the district. Nine thousand of those students missed more than 20 days without an excuse. (The Washington Post)