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Updated: 54 min 37 sec ago

CPS "fiscal crisis" takes center stage

February 26, 2014 - 8:51pm

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett sounded the fiscal crisis alarm on Wednesday and made clear that the district would like the same pension changes applied to CPS teachers that the state imposed on other public employees.

Next year, CPS will owe the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund $696 million, which, following a pension “holiday,” is 83 percent more than the district was required to pay last year.

“In the absence of action from Springfield, this increase in pension costs will crowd out classroom spending, and we will see further cuts to school budgets,” she said.

Imposing the changes made to the state employee pension system on CPS would save the school district $250 million, Byrd-Bennett said.

The declaration that the district is in financial trouble is an annual ritual. This year, however, the alarm is louder because schools were hit hard with budget cuts last year—a point reiterated numerous times by parents at Wednesday’s School Board meeting.

Byrd-Bennett’s statement can be expected to kick off a prolonged fight both with the union and in the courts. The state public employee pension changes include reducing the amount of annual cost-of-living increases for both current retirees and future ones, as well as raising the retirement age for workers 45 years and younger. Also, some workers can now get out of their pension and participate in a 401(k)-style contribution plan.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said she has other ideas for how to reduce CPS’ teacher pension obligation, though she hasn’t detailed them publicly. “Please don’t take my mother’s or husband’s pension away,” Lewis told the board Wednesday.

Also, four lawsuits have been filed to stop the state pension changes.

These lawsuits could well be successful, said Amanda Kass, budget director and pension specialist for the Center on Tax and Budget Accountability.  She pointed to a recent supreme court ruling in Arizona to explain why. As in Illinois, Arizona’s pension obligation for public employees is spelled out in the state constitution, and Arizona’s Supreme Court recently ruled that cost-of-living increases are a protected benefit, she said. 

It is unclear whether the district has alternative plans, should the Legislature fail to approve the changes for CPS teachers. Under the state constitution, changes to pensions for any public employee, state or local, can be made only by state lawmakers.

Budget cuts

Meanwhile, parents from 17 schools explained to board members how last year’s budget cuts were hurting their schools, and urged members to increase funding in the coming year. “There is nothing left to cut,” they repeatedly told the board.

Many of the parents said their schools lost reading, bilingual and math specialists, as well as art and music positions. Parents from some schools, like Blaine and Audubon, said they had raised extra money to fill the gaps, but that they did not think raising more was possible.

Parents from other schools, like Salazar and Bret Harte, said their schools don’t have parents who can afford large contributions.  

The parents were especially critical of CPS for trying to implement daily physical education when schools hardly have enough money to pay for current teachers.  

Last year, CPS implemented a student-based budgeting system, and the parents urged CPS officials to increase the amount schools will get for each child.

“The per-pupil budget is too low, and it leaves principals to make awful choices,” said Victoria Bryant, a parent at Burr Elementary.

Wendy Katten from the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand, which helped set up the parent presentations, declined   to weigh in on the issue of pensions. She presented the board with a two-page memo suggesting places where CPS could find savings, including in central office departments that saw increases last year. She also said that parents are going to Springfield twice in coming months to lobby for a graduated income tax, which could produce more revenue for CPS.

“We love our schools, we love our neighborhoods, we love Chicago,” Katten said. 

In other action:

  • The board renewed five charter and contract school contracts. Chicago Tech Academy got a one-year-renewal, and Providence Englewood got a three-year renewal. Noble Street’s 14 campuses, Namaste Charter, and Chi Arts got five-year contracts.
  • The board approved the school calendar for next year. Classes will open Sept. 2, the day after Labor Day. This year, school started before Labor Day. Officials did not explain why they went back to the traditional post-Labor Day start.
  • The district posted online long-awaited school-by-school discipline data.




In the News: Charter expulsion rates exceed traditional schools'

February 26, 2014 - 9:28am

Chicago Public Schools on Tuesday released data showing privately run charter schools expel students at a vastly higher rate than the rest of the district. (Tribune)

The data reveal that during the last school year, 307 students were kicked out of charter schools, which have a total enrollment of about 50,000. In district-run schools, there were 182 kids expelled out of a student body of more than 353,000. That means charters expelled 61 of every 10,000 students while the district-run schools expelled just 5 of every 10,000 students.

RALLYING AROUND PRINCIPAL: The principal of a elementary school in Beverly whose contract was not renewed by the local school council, but several parents have come to her defense and the principal is taking the LSC to arbitration to try to keep her job. The LSC contends that Catherine Gannon’s work “does not meet expectations” — even though the school's test scores have remained high and Gannon won a $10,000 merit award from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett that Gannon used to benefit the school. (Sun-Times)

COMMON CORE REPORT: The Fordham Institute has released a new report on how Common Core implementation is going in four early-implementing districts:
·  The high-performing suburb: Schaumburg District 54
·  The trailblazer: Kenton County School District, Kentucky
·  The urban bellwether: Metro Nashville Public Schools
·  The creative implementer: Washoe County School District, Nevada
 School District 54 has taken a hands-on, focused, and collaborative approach to Common Core implementation. Teacher support of the standards has been spurred by several factors: a unified message from district leaders, a curriculum overhaul led by educators, dedicated time to collaborate, a focus on student performance data and continuous improvement, and the deliberate use of resources to support classroom instruction. (Press release)

COMMON CORE REVIEW ORDERED: The Georgia State Senate passed legislation calling for a review of the controversial Common Core.  Senate Bill 167 passed by 34-16 and has strong prospects in the House. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Teachers at Saucedo say "No" to state tests

February 25, 2014 - 4:55pm

With nearly 40 percent of their students already opting out of the ISAT, teachers at Saucedo Scholastic Academy—a high-achieving magnet school—took the bold step on Tuesday of voting to refuse to administer it.

In only one other instance—at a high school in Seattle last year—have teachers in one school made a unified group decision not to give a mandated test. National opponents of standardized testing applauded the decision and said it will send a signal across the country.

Late Tuesday, CPS officials released a brief statement, saying that employees who don't administer test will "face appropriate disciplinary actions." They did not specify what actions may be taken against employees.

"The District is committed to administering the exam and expects all CPS employees to fulfill their responsibilities to ensure we are in compliance with the law," according to the statement, which was attributed to CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. We also continue to encourage parents to support their children taking the exam, as the results help teachers tailor instructional planning for the following year."

The statement also noted that Byrd-Bennett has "maximized instructional time" by reducing the number of standardized tests and lengthening the number of hours students are in school.

ISAT testing is conducted for eight hours over two weeks, starting on March 3. Testing opponents have already launched a drive to urge families in CPS to “opt out” of the ISAT, which is being administered for the last time this year.

Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher at Saucedo, says that teachers were emboldened by parents and the student council, which voted unanimously against taking the ISAT. She said that all the 3rd through 8th-grade teachers voted to participate in the boycott.

“Our students are tested and tested,” she said on Tuesday, just hours after the vote. “They cry over the test. They get nervous over the test.”

Chambers said Saucedo teachers were not going to tell the principal until after school, but that the principal so far has been quiet on the opt-out issue.  

Saucedo teachers are hoping that other CPS teachers will join them. Saucedo is a Level 1 magnet school in Little Village.

The Chicago Teachers Union is supporting the Saucedo teachers and vowed to fight any repercussions that might the teachers might face. The union would “mount a strong defense of this collective action,” according to a press release about the vote. 

In general, teachers are “disgusted and overwhelmed” by the amount of testing that they are required to administer, said Norine Gutekanst, organizing coordinator for the CTU. The ISAT, the NWEA-MAP and REACH exams are required and, in addition, network chiefs and principals have teachers administer extra tests.

The CTU estimates that CPS elementary students spend anywhere from 11 to 21 hours on testing.

"Nation will be watching" the latest salvo in the testing battle

This year, parents and teachers are especially critical of the ISAT. As the district transitions to the new Common Core Standards, the ISAT is being phased out. Next year students will be taking a standardized test based on the Common Core, called the PARCC.

To get students, parents and teachers used to the Common Core, CPS is using the results of the NWEA-MAP as a basis for important decisions, such as which students are promoted, how schools are rated academically and for teacher evaluation. 

As a result, many have concluded that the ISAT is a waste of time. “We think it doesn’t make any sense for teachers to have repercussions for not administering a test that doesn’t mean anything,” Gutekanst said.

However, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has insisted that the ISAT is important. She issued two letters to parents urging them not to opt out of either the NWEA or the ISAT.

Byrd-Bennett and district officials point out that the ISAT is still used for the federal government’s accountability system under No Child Left Behind. They say that the district could lose out on federal funding if less than 95 percent of students take the ISAT or if too many schools fail to meet the federal benchmark, called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Those who favor opting out of the ISAT point out that AYP has become meaningless. This year, the law calls for 100 percent of students to meet standards on tests in order for a school to meet AYP—something that no school accomplished last year. Since 2001, only 11 schools have had all their students meet standards.

Cassie Cresswell, a leader with the group More than a Score, said it is now time for parents to stand with the Saucedo teachers and any others who refuse to administer the test.

“One thing is that CPS can really do nothing to a parent or a student who opts out,” she said. “But for a teacher, it is a much bigger deal. It might be seen as insubordination.”

Cresswell said that parents in 38 schools have opted out of the ISAT. At Saucedo, 300 of about 790 3rd through 8th graders opted out--the largest number--though about six or seven other schools have significant percentages, Cresswell said.

Cresswell and national anti-standardized test advocate Robert Schaeffer point to what happened in Seattle last year as an example for what could happen in Chicago. In Seattle, teachers refused to administer the NWEA-MAP test. Because parents rallied around them, the teachers did not face any consequences.

Schaeffer said the Chicago teachers could have an even bigger impact than the Seattle group, because CPS is such a big player in the education world.

“The nation will be watching,” he said

In the News: Standardized testing backlash hits CPS

February 25, 2014 - 9:14am

Hundreds of CPS students from more than 20 schools are refusing to take their annual state achievement test next week, according to a group opposed to some standardized tests. (Sun-Times)

But of the over 200,000 CPS elementary students, only a small percentage have opted out of the ISAT so far, according to a group of eight parents and teachers at a news conference Monday at CPS headquarters. Holding signs that read “Our children are more than a score!,” the group encouraged parents to not have their children take the test.

TESTING AND FEDERAL FUNDING: Critics in Chicago think it's a good time for students to opt out of the ISAT because CPS is using another national test for school and student assessments, promotions and eligibility for the most competitive schools. CPS still wants students to take the ISAT, however, because if fewer than 95 percent of all students take the test, it affects the district's ability to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law. That in turn could put federal funding at risk. (Tribune)

A RICH GIFT: Chicago investment executive Mellody Hobson and her husband, "Star Wars" creator George Lucas, are donating $25 million to the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools to support the construction of an arts building. (Tribune)

CHARTER GIFT LIST: In the last eight years, the Noble Network of Charter Schools has raised tens of millions of dollars from Chicago's wealthiest corporate leaders. Already the state's biggest charter network, Noble expects to teach 15 percent of Chicago public high school students by 2017. Bruce Rauner, a Republican gubernatorial candidate for Winnetka, has backed a number of charter schools, including the UNO Charter School Network now dogged by questions of cronyism. But he has given the most to Noble, just over $3.5 million. He not only funded the opening of Rauner College Prep on the city's West Side in 2006 but prompted Penny Pritzker, now U.S. secretary of commerce, and the family of his late mentor, Stanley Golder, to sponsor two more schools. (Crain's)

TEACHER DATA: Florida has become the latest state, after New York and Ohio, to release "value added" data on its teachers to news outlets, after losing an open-records battle in the courts to the Florida Times-Union. (Education Week)

For the Record: Arts education ratings

February 24, 2014 - 11:30am

As part of its arts education plan, CPS has rolled out the district’s first-ever effort to rate schools on the quality of their arts programs and linked the ratings to arts funding of $500 to 750 per school.

But the ratings system likely won’t do much, at least initially, to help many schools, especially those in black or Latino communities.

Overall, one-third of schools were given an “Incomplete Data” rating, taking them out of the running for arts funding or for arts education grants that will be announced later this year. The schools were rated “incomplete” because they did not have an arts liaison in place or failed to complete a district survey on arts offerings.

Schools with the most African-American and Latino students were more likely to miss out on funding because of incomplete ratings. Just 11 percent of schools with white enrollment of at least 20 percent received such a rating. But 46 percent of predominantly black schools and 31 percent of predominantly Latino schools lost out on the money.

The same disparities appear in which schools got top ratings. Among schools with a substantial proportion of white students, 38 percent received the highest possible rating, but just one in ten predominantly African-American or Latino schools did.

Over the next several years, CPS wants to increase arts instruction to two hours a week for all students. The district says there are now only 55 schools without a full-time arts teacher. And next year, CPS has pledged to spend $21.5 million hiring new arts and physical education teachers.

A survey by the parent group Raise Your Hand found that two-thirds of 170 schools that were surveyed don’t offer the two hours of arts education each week touted by the district.

Providing support, mentoring

The goal of the ratings system was to provide schools with tailor-made support to improve their arts programs. Schools with incomplete ratings will get extra help to designate an arts liaison to help forge partnerships with outside arts organizations. Also, principals at schools that received the lowest ratings are supposed to receive mentoring on how to improve arts education at their school.

The ratings for both high schools and elementary schools are based on criteria that include the number of arts staff and whether the arts are part of a school’s plans for its budget, parent engagement, teacher training, interdisciplinary teaching and outside partnerships.

In addition, high schools are rated on the number of disciplines and levels of coursework offered. Elementary schools are also rated on the percentage of students who can take arts classes and how many minutes of instruction students receive per week.

Gale Elementary in Rogers Park was one of the schools that received an incomplete rating. Principal Cassandra Washington says she’s not sure why, but she thinks the retirement of the school’s art teacher – and the lag time in finding a new one – played a role.

“I know plenty of principals were trying to get the survey in on time, but it is something new. So there might not have been as much understanding as [the district] thought there was,” Washington says.

Washington says there is only enough money in her school’s budget to pay for a half-time art teacher, so only half of her students have art classes.

“We try to at least write grants or partner with organizations to get their services for free,” she says. CPS has sent resources on partner arts organizations to schools.

Raising the schools ratings will depend, of course, on resources. “If it’s based on the number of art teachers we have, that’s based on how much money we have,” she notes. “We can only buy as much as our money allows us to buy.”

In the News: Charter proposes using shuttered CPS building

February 24, 2014 - 7:30am

Legacy Charter has approached the North Lawndale Community Action Council about taking over the former Pope Elementary School building at 1852 S. Albany Ave. But CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett assured state legislators in fall 2012 that no charters would move into the shuttered buildings, a vow repeated by board members during the months of debate over school closings last year. (Tribune)

CHURCH AND SCHOOL: A yet-to-be charter school, set to open in the Austin neighborhood in 2015 and affiliated with Moody Church, is raising questions about how a publicly financed charter school can comply with the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state, especially when both groups share some leaders. (Tribune)

PROMISE VS. REALITY: A new survey of 170 Chicago public elementary schools by Raise Your Hand Illinois found that 65 percent do not offer the expected minimum of two hours of arts education per week, as stated by both Mayor Emanuel and CPS officials. (Comcast SportsNet)

INCREASING READING: Two hundred students including those at John Hope College Prep, a South Side charter school, will benefit this year from a three-year-old reading program aimed at getting students to read more. The program runs from March 11 to May 8 at Hope and will meet for one hour every Tuesday and Thursday. Students will read the novel, "There Are No Children Here," by author Alex Kotlowitz. (DNA Info)

A MONTESSORI SURGE: Arguing that the traditional Jewish day-school model is outmoded and too clannish, many Jewish parents and educators are flocking to Montessori preschools and elementary schools that combine secular studies with Torah and Hebrew lessons. (The New York Times)

In the News: Report shows class size does matter

February 21, 2014 - 9:13am

"Class size is an important determinant of student outcomes, and one that can be directly determined by policy," says a report, "Does Class Size Matter?" by Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University.

"All else being equal, increasing class sizes will harm student outcomes. The evidence suggests that increasing class size will harm not only children’s test scores in the short run, but also their long-run human capital formation. Money saved today by increasing class sizes will result in more substantial social and educational costs in the future." The report is from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado.

URGED TO RUN: Chicago Teachers Union chief Karen Lewis went to Springfield on Wednesday to rally against possible pension cuts to city teachers but left town being urged to run against Mayor Rahm Emanuel—by her own and other union members. (Sun-Times)

EMPLOYEE DEBTORS: In 2011 Mayor Rahm Emanuel sent a not-so-subtle message to city workers who owed City Hall for parking tickets, water bills and other fees and fines: Pay up or you could be suspended or fired. Those scofflaws now collectively owe more than they did when Emanuel focused on the issue and the worst offenders are Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Transit Authority employees. They make up nearly 6 of every 10 city workers but account for almost 80 percent of the debt. (Tribune)

A NARROWER VOUCHER BILL: After rejecting a much broader schools measure, the Wisconsin Senate moved forward with a narrow bill that would apply existing state report cards for public schools to voucher institutions but not impose sanctions on schools receiving poor marks The Assembly plans to proceed with a broader bill that would sanction failing schools. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

COMMUNITY COLLEGES BENEFIT SOCIETY, STUDENTS: Community-college graduates receive nearly $5 in benefits for every dollar they spend on their education, while the return to taxpayers is almost six to one, according to  new report. The report seeks to quantify what happens when community colleges provide employers with skilled workers, the economy with consumers, and graduates with jobs along with better health and well-being. (Chronicle of Higher Education)

In the News: Common Core loses favor with teachers' unions

February 20, 2014 - 9:55am

Support for Common Core State Standards is starting to waver among some teachers' unions—the result flawed implementation in states, concerns about the fast timeline for new testing tied to the standards, and, in at least one instance, fallout from internal state-union politics. (Education Week)

Architects at JGMA won a second-place Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design for their work on the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy (IHSCA), a charter high school with a health sciences and college preparatory focus that aims to train the next generation of nurses, doctors, and scientists. JGMA repurposed an abandoned, three-story, 77,000-square-foot industrial building into a state-of-the-art facility that is now a focal point for community health issues in Pilsen. The award will be presented Thursday at the 20th Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards ceremony. (Press release)

SAFETY PLANS: State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) is sponsoring legislation to require all non-public schools to annually meet with local police and fire departments to update their safety plans. (Press release)

TEAM SUSPENSION: The Illinois High School Association on Wednesday suspended the top-ranked Homewood-Flossmoor girls basketball team and its highly regarded coach for rules violations hours before the team was to take the floor to begin its playoff march. The sanctions accuse coach Anthony Smith of improperly recruiting star players from other school districts in his first season at H-F. That prompted the school district to conduct an internal investigation that led it to acknowledge it had violated rules, though none for improper recruiting. (Tribune)

CURRICULUM CHANGE: In order for students to meet Common Core standards in math, a geometry class using high school curriculum will be taught at Arlington Heights School District 25 middle schools starting in the fall, officials said. (Tribune)

IN SEARCH OF A BETTER EDUCATION: Many parents in Washington, D.C., pull their children from the public school system after the fifth grade in search of a better education, leading to something of a brain drain in the district. Some students end up in the district's public charter schools, private schools or schools in the suburbs. The attrition embodies a looming challenge for the District’s school system and its next mayor: How can officials overhaul the city’s long-struggling middle schools to stop the exodus? It’s a test that comes as the first cohort of children to grow up with high-profile D.C. education reforms, including universal pre-kindergarten and mayoral control of the schools, reaches the end of elementary school and a decision about what comes next. (The Washington Post)

DATA LINKING: Only one state—Pennsylvania—currently links its K-12 data system and data from all of five key early-childhood education, health, and social services programs, although 30 states now link some of that information with their K-12 systems, a new report says. (Education Week)

In the News: DOE to act on placement of best teachers

February 19, 2014 - 9:18am

The U.S. Department of Education is developing a 50-state strategy designed to put some teeth into a key part of the No Child Left Behind Act that has been largely ignored for the past 12 years: the inequitable distribution of the nation's best teachers.

Central to the federal strategy will be a mix of enforcement and bureaucratic levers to prod states into making sure that poor and minority students are not taught by ineffective and unqualified teachers at higher rates than their peers. (Education Week)

PERSONAL STUDENT DATA: According to the first survey of how schools gather and use student data, there are no restrictions limiting private vendors use of that information, and most parents have no clue that schools let private companies store personal information about their children. (NPR)

STATS ABOUT SUPERINTENDENT SALARIES: Base median salaries for the nation's K-12 superintendents rose modestly this school year—1-2 percent—from 2012-13, and in most cases, salaries for female schools' chiefs were slightly higher than their male peers, according to a new survey. Among other top-level findings in the survey:

• Nearly half of responding superintendents said that economic conditions were "stable" in their districts, but 40 percent said that financial conditions were "declining";

• Nonwhite superintendents were more likely to report that they are managing school districts in a declining economic condition;

• More than 40 percent of respondents said that student outcomes and performance data are part of their annual evaluations; and

• More than 10 percent of respondents said they have been rehired as schools chiefs after retiring, a sign, the survey said, of an "aging superintendent population and potentially narrowing pool of individuals interested in entering the superintendency." (Education Week)

Lewis: CTU won’t renew contract for fourth year

February 18, 2014 - 12:42pm

After a bitter strike in fall 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools reached agreement on a three-year contract, with an optional fourth year under the same terms “by mutual agreement.”

In a recent interview with Catalyst Chicago, CTU President Karen Lewis laughed when asked whether the union plans to terminate the contract in June 2015 rather than renewing it for another year. She indicated that she is pretty sure that teachers would not want to extend the contract.

Negotiations typically start long before a contract ends. Tensions are already heating up between the city and its public sector unions, including the CTU, because of the current pension funding crisis and the city's push for financial concessions from union workers to help close the pension deficit.

Later, union Vice President Jesse Sharkey clarified that the union considers the language about renewing the agreement to be basically meaningless. He says it was added because CPS wanted a four-year contract and the union did not.

“If both sides wanted to do an extra year, we could. If both sides wanted to do an extra four years, we could,” Sharkey said. “But there’s a name for that, and it’s called bargaining a new contract. I think it’s extremely unlikely that our members are going to say, let’s just give us another year.”

He says the key issues on teachers’ minds include challenges with the new teacher evaluation system, the lack of resources for the longer school day, and a lack of substitute teachers to cover classes, which has led to some teachers missing their preparation time.

Bateman Elementary delegate Adam Geisler says he, too, expects the contract to end in June 2015.

“If I were to hazard a guess, I would say most teachers would prefer a stronger contract this time around, and so we probably will not go for the extension,” Geisler says, adding that class sizes, evaluations and job security are weighing on teachers’ minds.

“The shift to student-based budgeting this year has had a pretty extreme effect on how much leeway principals have in their budgets,” Geisler says. “Expensive teachers are feeling like they are not very secure, and they would like to see more protections in the contract.”

He adds: “It’s no secret CTU and the mayoral administration do not see eye-to-eye. CTU has certainly strategized around building its political influence, including the adoption of a resolution to begin an independent political organization, so I think that does factor in.”

Jay Rau, a delegate at Juarez High School, says he expects the same tensions could lead to another strike in fall 2015. And, he adds, the coming governor’s race will have an effect as well. If Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner is elected, teachers will likely not vote to re-open the contract given Rauner’s anti-union stance. But if Gov. Pat Quinn is re-elected, unions may feel more emboldened and take the risk of re-opening.

In the News: CTU blasts pension overhaul proposal

February 18, 2014 - 10:09am

A new study released by the Chicago Teachers Union on Monday said that using the same pension overhaul that passed last year on city pension funds would slash the pensions of city public workers, harm retirees and negatively impact the city’s economy. The CTU said the proposed cuts to Chicago retirees would amount to about $270 million slashed from retirement income over five years and hurt black, middle-class city workers the most. (Sun-Times)

FROM BANKER TO MATH TEACHER: Vernell Slaughter realizes he is a rare commodity within Chicago Public Schools: a black male who teaches math. Only 5.7 percent of CPS' 22,283 teachers are black men, and fewer teach math, CPS officials said. But the former banker went back to school and earned a master's degree in education from Dominican University before stepping into the classroom. "Working with children is something I have always thought about but did not develop an interest in until after college," he says. (DNA Info)

GETTING CONTROL OF FINANCES: Hinsdale Township High School District 86 is coming up short in some aspects of how it handles financial and business controls, according to an independent study. The report states that hiring a chief financial controller, director of financial controls, and coordinator of purchasing will alleviate the potential for financial malfeasance. (Tribune)

TEST CASES: A new study shows that high school performance, not standardized test scores, is a better predictor of how students do in college. "Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions," examined data from nearly three dozen "test-optional" U.S. schools, ranging from small liberal arts schools to large public universities, over several years. It found that there was virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test "submitters" and "non-submitters." Just 0.05 percent of a GPA point separated the students who submitted their scores to admissions offices and those who did not. And college graduation rates for "non-submitters" were just 0.6 percent lower than those students who submitted their test scores. (NPR)

TEACHER-EVALUATION DELAY: North Carolina is the first Race to the Top state to be allowed an extra year to tie teacher evaluations to personnel decisions—a measure of flexibility the U.S. Department of Education has offered to all waiver states but was reluctant to grant to winners of the Obama administration's signature education-improvement contest. (Education Week)

In the News: UIC faculty poised to strike Tuesday

February 17, 2014 - 10:10am

University of Illinois at Chicago faculty members are poised to strike Tuesday for the first time in campus history. The two-day walkout could cancel hundreds of classes at the Near West Side public institution. (Tribune)

BREAKING WITH TRADITIONS: A South Side Chicago high school is getting national press for breaking the mold of traditional schools. At Sarah E. Goode Stem Academy, students -- or, rather innovators as they're called -- attend for six years instead of four, ending up with a high school diploma and associate's degree.The school has only been open for 18 months, and emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math. (NBC5 Chicago)

SUPPORTING BLACK MALE ADOLESCENTS: The University of Chicago hosted a symposium, “Black Young Men in America: Rising above Social and Racial Prejudice, Trauma, and Educational Disparities,” Saturday that centered around research and developing strategies to support black male adolescents. Educators, social workers and youth service providers participated and panelists focused on to how communicate and build relationships with this population. They included Nia Abdullah and Elizabeth Kirby of CPS, Marshaun Bacon of Becoming a Man and Monico Whittington-Eskridge of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. (WBEZ)

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Protesters delivered petitions to Whole Foods’ Austin and Chicago offices Friday after an employee said she was fired after choosing to stay home with her special-needs child instead of going to work during cold weather on Jan. 28. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis was among those supporting Rhiannon Broschat, 25, during a protest last week. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

TOPS IN FEDERAL FUNDING: Illinois was one of five states that got the most federal funding in the 2012 fiscal year (the year for which the most recent data is available). These numbers reflect funding levels for programs including career and technical education, programs for homeless children and youth, special education, and other projects. The total amount of federal money that Illinois received in FY 2012 was $3,580,835,000 according to the most recent state budget report. The governor's budget office recommends that federal funding for the current fiscal year should be approximately $3 billion, while the state covers about $6,241,114,000. (Reboot Illinois)

SUPERINTENDENT OF THE YEAR: Alberto Carvalho, the schools chief in the Miami-Dade district in Florida, was named superintendent of the year today in Nashville. The announcement came during the annual conference of the School Superintendents Association. Carvalho, has been Miami-Dade's schools chief since 2008, and also serves as principal of two schools in the district. The district was the winner of the Broad Prize for Urban Education last year. (Education Week)

Child care centers forced to wait months to renew licenses

February 14, 2014 - 4:38pm

Staff shortages at the Department of Children and Family Services are causing some child care centers to wait months before their licenses can be renewed – causing problems for child care businesses and possibly putting children’s safety at risk.

In the fourth quarter of the 2013 fiscal year, just 53 percent of child care providers were able to renew their licenses on time, according to a report the department submitted to the Illinois General Assembly in September 2013.

Also, just 60 percent of providers received their annual monitoring visits on time (though in some cases this may be due to providers not responding to requests to set up the visits).

Karen Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the department, says there are currently 43 vacant licensing representative positions, plus 10 temporarily vacant positions due to staff on leave. Overall, at the time the report was issued, DCFS had just 125 licensing representatives statewide, compared to 155 in fiscal year 2010.

“We are looking at recruiting more staff. We are looking at whether we can be more efficient with technology,” Hawkins says. “It is budget season, so we are looking at ways to increase resources.”

She notes that the agency has long struggled with retaining its staff, who often move up the ladder into other state jobs.

But Sessy Nyman, Vice President of Policy and Strategic Partnerships at the child-care advocacy group Illinois Action for Children, says that the shortage of licensing representatives could be putting children in danger.

“What happens when a licensing process starts to falter is that some child care providers are eagerly waiting for their representative. [But] some of them are taking this as a free-for-all,” Nyman says. “[They’ll say to themselves] ‘I’m licensed for eight, but I’m going to take care of 12.’ The challenge is that you only find out about it after the fact, when it is, sometimes, too late. And that is what you desperately want to avoid.”

Altogether, the state is responsible for overseeing more than 8,500 home day cares and more than 3,000 child care centers.  The report shows caseloads for licensing representatives have increased dramatically in recent years. In Northern Illinois and in Cook County, there are currently an average of 104 home day cares and child care centers per licensing representative, up from around 90 in fiscal year 2010. The National Association for Regulatory Administrators recommends significantly fewer – 50 child care centers or 100 homes per licensing worker.

Though child care programs are allowed to continue operating with expired licenses, they are not able to access food subsidies for low-income children from the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program, which requires that licenses be current.

A report by ChildCare Aware of America ranked Illinois 21st in the nation for its oversight of child care centers. The state’s weak point: Infrequent visits by licensing representatives and other inspectors.

Finances pose barrier to hiring

One child care provider contacted by Catalyst Chicago, who did not want her name to be used, said she has been trying to get approval to open an additional child care room since December 2012.

Expanding would allow her to let in families off her waiting list and also allow her current students to attend for more days. 

“The DCFS representative has not been able to come out,” she said. “I have to keep turning [parents] down. We only have 16 children right now; for me to open this classroom would be another 10 children.”

Hiring licensing representatives can be a challenge for the cash-strapped department, Nyman says, because hiring for child protection positions is seen as a more urgent priority.

But, she notes, the state recently contracted with a licensing researcher to use a tool that will allow licensing representatives to check for “red flags” instead of verifying that every program meets every licensing requirements.

Under the new system that could start as soon as this July, licensing representatives will get a “top 10 list” of things to check which will show that “if that provider does those things well, statistically speaking, they do everything else well” – allowing licensing representatives to spend more time on child care centers where young children could be in danger.

She believes the new system will allow licensing representatives to give child care programs more attention – a crucial step to improving quality.

 “If you are building a quality (early childhood) system, but you have a faulty licensing system, it becomes very hard to succeed,” Nyman says.

In the News: Across nation, fights brew over testing

February 14, 2014 - 8:38am

This year's student testing season across the country is filled with tumult. Educators are questioning the purpose of testing, lawmakers in several states are pushing back against federal regulations and a standoff between California and the Obama administration looms. California is defying No Child Left Behind requirements to give annual tests in math and reading to every student in grades 3-8. (Washington Post)

LSC TRAINING: The Chicago Teachers Union and the Grassroots Education Movement are hosting a forum Saturday Feb. 15 at Westinghouse High School, 3223 W. Franklin Blvd., to train candidates for Local School Councils.

CHESS REFORM: Ted Oppenheimer, the president of the Oppenheimer Family Foundation and a major contributor to CPS, has joined those calling for a new chess program in the city's schools. Oppenheimer offered to help set up a new nonprofit that  would work in a partnership with CPS to spearhead a new program.


SNOW DAZE: Schools across the country are running out of the planned snow days they'd put in place to deal with bad weather. As winter's blast of frigid temperatures and snowy conditions drags on, some school districts have kids at home completing assignments online while others are figuring out ways to deal with lost school days. (NPR)

COLD DAYS, EMPTY STOMACHS: When cold snaps and blizzards shutter schools, kids miss more than their daily lessons. Some miss out on the day's nutritious meal as well. This recently became apparent to school administrators in rural Iowa, where extreme cold delayed openings two days in a row at Laurens-Marathon Community School, where 59 percent of students who eat school lunch qualify for free or reduced-price meals. On the first day, some students arrived on empty stomachs because parents thought breakfast would still be served that day. (NPR)

SNOW DAYS MAKE UP: The State Board of Education is encouraging Michigan public school districts that exceed six snow days to replace lost time with full days of instruction.

In the News: LSC elections draw less than 800 candidates

February 13, 2014 - 9:53am

To date, 769 candidates have turned in the required paperwork for Chicago Public Schools' upcoming Local School Council elections, according to CPS spokeswoman Jamila Johnson. (DNA Info)

CHARTER GROWTH: In the 2013-2014 school year, 600 new public charter schools opened their doors and an estimated 288,000 additional students are attending public charter schools, according to a report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Over the past 10 years, charter school enrollment has risen by 225 percent and the number of new schools has risen by 118 percent. In Illinois, 14 new charter schools opened during that time, enrolling 9,000 students.

LUNCHROOM DEBTS: A Salt Lake City cafeteria worker's decision to take school lunches away from students with unpaid lunch bills has prompted a call for federal guidance on how to handle students' debts. (Education Week)

TWEAKING TEACHER EVALUATIONS: After criticism from New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the State Board of Regents set aside a proposal to let teachers contest poor assessments by citing difficulties related to the new Common Core standards. (The New York Times)

WHITE STUDENTS GET BETTER TEACHERS IN L.A.: Black and Latino students are more likely to get ineffective teachers in Los Angeles schools than white and Asian students, according to a new study by a Harvard researcher. The findings were released lastweek during a trial challenging the way California handles the dismissal, lay off and tenure process for teachers. (Los Angeles Times)

Common Core tests a new starting point for Illinois schools

February 12, 2014 - 4:51pm

The Illinois State Board of Education recently signaled its intent to move toward a new generation of assessments - a move most educators would agree has been needed for years.  

This is a new starting point.

Four years ago, the state adopted the Common Core State Standards. Illinois now must put in place a state assessment system that better serves students by capturing whether they are developing the knowledge and skills they will need in an ever-changing world. This is an opportunity to replace current state tests with dramatically better assessments that work for students and educators. 

Illinois has played an active leadership role in a consortium of states working to develop new assessments called PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Initial analysis suggests questions on the new assessments will measure higher-order thinking through performance tasks and open-ended prompts that delve deeper than fill-in-the-bubble tests. By comparison, current state assessments often don't measure higher-order thinking. On average, 0 percent of U.S. students are assessed on deeper learning and conceptual understanding in math and 16 percent of U.S. students are assessed on deeper learning in reading, according to an analysis of current state tests - skills that students, families, educators and employers agree are critical to success in the world.

The Illinois State Board of Education last week requested $54.5 million to support assessments in the coming year. The state has an opportunity to invest in the best effort we've seen in generations to move beyond rote, fill-in-the-blank tests that are easy to score, relatively cheap and virtually unable to capture students' ability to handle complexity or synthesize information from multiple sources. By contrast, proposed new assessments have been designed to give teachers, school leaders, students and families significantly richer information. The caliber of sample questions have been encouraging and independent analysis has been strong. However, the work is ongoing, and we all should watch closely to see the ultimate quality of the endeavor.  If they live up to their promise, it marks a huge step forward and a worthwhile investment for our state.

At Advance Illinois, we spent more than a year speaking with educators statewide and visiting classrooms to observe the shift to new standards and assessments. Their insights deepened our own thinking and informed the report and video series we released earlier this month, titled Making Assessments Work. They also make clear that we all must be vigilant to ensure students, educators and schools have the resources needed - time, training and technology - to achieve these higher expectations. 

Key decisions will need to be made

Such a sea change raises several questions that Illinois will need to consider in the coming months. Some of these decisions include:

Should Illinois continue to administer the ACT and WorkKeys to all high school juniors if and when the state moves to a Common Core-aligned assessment system that spans grades 3 through 11? This is top of mind for Illinois high school educators. For more than a decade, Illinois has provided a universal college entrance exam, removing one of the traditional hurdles to higher education for many students. While PARCC may be used by 2- and 4-year institutions for placement purposes - enabling students who score well to matriculate directly into credit-bearing courses - it is too soon to know if and when it may be used as part of the college application process. Also of concern is the continuation of the Work Keys, a nationally-recognized career readiness indicator that Illinois has administered alongside the ACT. The value of an industry-recognized certification is clear, so here again it will be important to understand whether PARCC can or cannot provide similar value and then make decisions carefully. 

 Will Illinois invest in diagnostic assessments to inform instruction during the course of the year? On their own dime, many Illinois school districts currently administer mid-year assessments that provide an early window into teaching and learning, and enable teachers to tailor instruction to meet needs. The suite of new Common Core assessments includes diagnostics that aim to provide similar information early on. Done well, this could be an opportunity for the state to provide such assessment tools to school districts that cannot currently afford them. In a state plagued by funding disparities between school districts, such an investment in academic equity is significant.   

How will the state support school districts with the time, technology and training needed for the new standards and assessments? The new Common Core assessments are designed to be taken online, which means students and educators can get results within days, not months, and in a way that informs instruction. However, not all Illinois schools have the 21st Century technology to support this. While PARCC may be administered with paper and pencil, there is an increased cost that is estimated at $3 to $4 a student. ISBE's budget request presumes half of Illinois' 2 million public school students will take the new assessments with paper and pencil next year, thus contributing to the increased line item. 

Input from the field needed

The Illinois P-20 Council, in partnership with ISBE, plans to convene 18 focus groups of teachers, administrators, business leaders and others to gather input. This will inform the final decisions that will shape the next generation of assessments for Illinois students. 

Other issues will require a broader, national conversation given the overarching concerns about how the new assessments will meet the needs of students with special learning needs and students who are new to the English language, or whether a nationally-recognized indicator of career readiness is built into the new assessments.

No one enjoys spending money on assessments. But assessments matter. As one Chicago principal told us, quality assessments give a sense of “what our kids are capable of doing and what they have actually learned while they've been in our presence.”

Last month's budget request is part of the ongoing investment Illinois must make to support teachers and schools with the resources needed to help all students access the Common Core. Now more than ever, all means all.

 I’m anxious to hear what teachers, principals and others in the field have to say.  I know our current assessments do not capture students’ deeper learning or help inform instruction. Getting that right is a worthwhile investment.    

Robin Steans is executive director of Advance Illinois.

Making Assessments Work

Read about Illinois' shift to new standards and assessments in a new Advance Illinois report called Making Assessments Work.

Watch the Making Assessments Work Video Series:

In the News: CTU told to choose pension deal or layoffs

February 12, 2014 - 8:10am

Chicago Public Schools’ teachers will need to give up some benefits during upcoming pension system negotiations, or run the risk of “thousands and thousands” of layoffs, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said Monday. (Sun-Times)

MAYOR INVITES THE MEDIA: In what was supposed to be a “peer jury” of Wells High School classmates determining what to do about a freshman behavioral and academic struggles, instead turned into a media circus when Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration invited reporters to witness the peer jury showcase a revised student code of conduct that has produced, according to CPS, a 36 percent drop in school suspensions. (Sun-Times)

CHARTER EXCLUSIONS: Wisconsin's Forward Institute released a new study of the Milwaukee schools yesterday that shows charter schools' better performance on Wisconsin's new "school report cards" compared with regular public schools is due almost entirely to the fact that the charter schools are able to exclude habitual truants. (The Progressive)

STUDYING YOUTH INEQUALITY: The  William T. Grant Foundation has a new initiative that could pour up to $11 million per year into the study of inequality among youth. Adam Gamoran, a onetime University of Wisconsin sociologist who took the reigns of the foundation in September, is spearheading the effort to examine programs, policies, and practices designed to reduce inequality among young people between the ages of 5 and 25. May 6th is the deadline for the first round of initial proposals. (Education Week)

For the Record: Digging deeper into suspensions data

February 11, 2014 - 4:19pm

CPS has spent the last week touting what officials say is a big decrease in suspensions, culminating with a school visit and press conference by Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday, where the mayor declared that curbing suspensions was just the “right thing to do.”

But a confidential document obtained by Catalyst Chicago shows that suspension data from last year is more troubling than something to boast about. Last year, young elementary-age students were suspended far more than in previous years.

Plus, the racial disparity in suspensions of black students compared to whites and Latinos—long a problem in CPS and something that current CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett says she cares personally about—has widened over the past few years. (Catalyst Chicago has been covering the issue of racial disparities in discipline since 2009.)

The statistic that officials are playing up is a 23 percent decline in high school suspensions, from 46,000 in the 2010-2011 school year to 36,000 in the 2012-2013 school year. But the drop occurred at the same time that enrollment in traditional, district-run high schools has fallen by more than 6,000 students.

The enrollment decline in traditional school is a critical factor because of the simultaneous increase in students at charter schools--where CPS does not collect information on suspensions. Charter schools do not have to adhere to the CPS discipline code and often have tougher discipline than in traditional schools.

When asked about the current disparities at Tuesday's press conference at Wells, Byrd-Bennett said district officials have yet to analyze last year’s data and that she would not comment until she has “accurate” information.

Mariame Kaba of the group Project Nia, says the organization pushed for the district to provide detailed school-level information because overall data “tells us little.” CPS is supposed to release the school-by-school data broken down by race and gender within a few weeks. Project Nia won a huge victory by getting CPS to release the data. 

“We need to know where the issues are so we can address them,” Kaba says. “It is not enough to know that we are trending in the right direction. We need to know if we are trending in the right direction at certain schools, among certain racial groups. We need to know if we are addressing the issues where most of the issues are.”

CPS officials stressed that the PowerPoint dated December 2013 and obtained by Catalyst was a draft. However, the City of Chicago’s data portal has had school suspension rates posted for at least two months, and the data appears to come from the same source as the PowerPoint.

According to the PowerPoint:

-- Among pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, suspensions increased 48 percent between school year 2012 and school year 2013, even though the Student Code of Conduct does not allow the use of either in-school or out-of-school suspension among young children.

--Every elementary grade level posted an increase in suspensions.

--Areas with predominantly black elementary schools saw the biggest year-to-year increases, while areas with white and Latino student populations stayed about the same or experienced a decline. The Englewood-Gresham, Burnham Park and Austin-North Lawndale areas posted steep jumps in elementary suspensions.

--Among elementary school students who were suspended, 80 percent were black in 2012-2013, compared to 76 percent in 2010-2011. In comparison, just 40 percent of students in CPS are black.

 --Among high school students, 71 percent of those suspended last year were black, up from 66 percent in 2010-2011, according to state and CPS data.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood notes the long-standing problem of racial disparities and says the district clearly has more work to do reduce the gap. Hood also says that though much of the district’s effort to reduce suspensions has been aimed at high schools, district officials are concerned about reducing suspensions in elementary schools and preschools. 

At the press conference on Tuesday, Byrd-Bennett said she attributes the drop in suspensions at the high school level with a 2012 change in the student code of conduct. The change instructed principals to suspend students for only a maximum of 10 days for the most serious offenses, and reduced the maximum number of days allowed for lesser offenses. 

According to the PowerPoint, both elementary and high school students are missing fewer days due to suspension.

Byrd-Bennett says the district will further revise the code of conduct to ensure that no child is suspended for minor infractions, such as having a cell phone.

Byrd-Bennett and Emanuel also said there has been a change in philosophy since they took over the school system, saying that they have encouraged the use of strategies like peace circles and peer juries to address student misbehavior and avoid suspensions.

However, it is unclear how many schools have implemented these restorative justice practices, or what resources the district has put toward helping schools develop programs. At Wells, the school has extra resources as part of a three-year, $5.7 million federal School Improvement Grant. The grant will run out this year.

Tomale Williams, a junior at Wells High School, recalled that he often got in trouble and was suspended numerous times in elementary school and in his first years in high school. As a young black male, Williams felt targeted for harsher discipline.

But last year, the principal of Wells took him aside and got him interested in being a part of the peer jury.

“This taught me a lot of self-discipline and my grades increased from Ds and Fs to As and Bs,” Williams said.

Emanuel added: “Peer jury instilled in them a sense of who they are. It gave them ownership of accountability and responsibility.”

In the News: How IL funds education could change

February 11, 2014 - 7:24am

A proposal to overhaul Illinois' education funding system, made by the state senate education committee, aims to streamline how state funding flows to districts, provide weighted funding for "at-risk" students, and provide minimum state funding levels for districts. (Education Week)

AVERAGE GRADE: The National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy organization, has given Illinois a C-plus rating for its policies around teacher preparation, recruitment, ratings and firing. The state drew praise for factoring teacher evaluations into layoff decisions but criticism for a lack of merit pay and initiatives to retain the best teachers.

POLITICS AND EDUCATION: State elections involving 36 governors and more than 6,000 legislators this year could have major consequences for a variety of education policies, with the Common Core standards, school choice, collective bargaining and early education among the topics most likely to get time in the spotlight and on the stump. There also are seven state schools superintendent elections, as well as ballot initiatives related to K-12 education in a number of states.  (Education Week)

HEAD START CREATOR DIES: Dr. Robert E. Cooke, a pediatrician who helped Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson create major initiatives to benefit children, including Head Start, died on Feb. 2 at his home in Oak Bluffs, Mass., on Martha’s Vineyard. He was 93. (The New York Times)

SENTENCED FOR EMBEZZLEMENT: The former CEO of a Philadelphia charter school was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for stealing funds from the school. (The Notebook)

Elementary on-track rate has merit, but no sure-fire predictor of success

February 10, 2014 - 3:59pm

For the last two years, CPS has pioneered the use of an on-track indicator for students in 3rd through 8th grades that now counts for 10 percent of elementary principals’ evaluations.

It’s based on the more widely known “Freshman On-Track” indicator, which has been backed by years of research from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

A soon-to-be-released Consortium report has found evidence that grades and attendance in 6th through 8th grade predict high school success. But there is less evidence when it comes to 3rd through 5th grades, though a New York City study found that attendance and test scores can predict high school graduation in students as young as 4th grade. (LINK TO:)

And, says Consortium Director Elaine Allensworth, the indicators that CPS is using to determine whether younger students are “on track” are far from a guarantee of future academic success.

Students are considered on-track if they have “C” or higher grades in math and reading, a 92 percent or higher attendance rate and two or fewer write-ups for misconduct.

But 92 percent attendance “is not sufficient for getting good grades” in high school, Allensworth says. “[It] gives you 50-50 odds of being on track in 9th grade [and] is what you need to have a chance of graduating high school, but it’s not going to be enough to get the strong grades you are going to need to get into college.”

The same is true of middle-years students who get “C” grades, according to Allensworth.

Attendance works as a high school indicator because 9th-grade course failures are driven mainly by missed classes, Allensworth says, noting that high school students have weaker relationships with teachers and less monitoring from adults to make sure they actually get to class. “Students that are not in the habit of coming to school every day and seeing that as a priority… when things come up, adversities, issues, they are much more likely not to come, or to skip class.”

The Consortium may study how schools are actually using the new elementary on-track metric.

“Is it an indicator that schools are actually able to take action on? And how is it changing their practice?” Allensworth says. “In the high schools, just having the on-track metric made people aware of the importance of 9th grade, but people weren’t sure what they should do about it.”

At first, she says, many high schools did not act on on-track data. But when CPS began producing reports listing which students were veering off-track and which needed credit recovery, Allensworth says, it changed schools’ actions.

“I imagine different schools have different capacity [for] being able to pull the reports from the data system, and then having the time to pull your staff together and actually use the reports to reach out to kids,” Allensworth says, because that was the case with CPS high schools. “There is a capacity issue, always.”

Some schools see results

While the new metric generally lines up with the school district’s rating system--with Level 1 schools having the highest on-track rates and Level 3 schools having the lowest--there are a few exceptions. Six Level 1 schools have on-track rates under 65 percent, and six Level 3 schools have on-track rates over 75 percent.

The Level 3 schools Calmeca and Kershaw both have on-track rates above 80 percent, among the highest in the district. Gregory, McClellan, Prussing, Lowell, Pershing and Ronald Brown elementary schools, on the other hand, all have on-track rates lower than 65 percent despite being top-rated Level 1 schools.

Two principals said the new metric has been a boon to their efforts to improve their schools.

Matthew Ditto, the principal of Andrew Jackson Language Academy, says that having the data available has helped his school “align resources that need to be put in place to help (students) achieve their goals for the year.”

“With attendance, I can see on a daily basis what we are accomplishing,” Ditto explains. “Children who are having attendance issues, I can see that right away, reach out to them and see what is going on.” Staff use the data to arrange meetings with families whose children are struggling with attendance, Ditto says.

While principals have always paid attention to attendance data, Ditto says, “years ago… in order to catch these things it took hours and hours of human resources.”

Students who are getting grades of below “C” in reading and math get extra help in small groups throughout the day, Ditto says.

Brian Metcalf, the principal of Field Elementary, credits the on-track metric with helping him bring his school from a low Level 3 to a high Level 2 in just two years.

Metcalf says that he uses the data to see school-wide and grade-level trends, such as how many students are getting poor grades.

“Let’s say we see a disproportionate number of students receiving D’s or F’s in reading. It helps us as a staff look at, ‘What is our curriculum, and are we implementing it with fidelity?’” Metcalf notes.

The school is also using the data to customize students’ schedules, giving them extra time in math or reading if they are behind in a specific subject and targeting them for before-school and after-school enrichment, which is funded by Field’s community schools program.

“Students are more confident. We have an opportunity to fill in the gaps that they might have missed from all the way to first grade,” Metcalf says. “It caused me to be more intentional, more focused and more granular in our analyses of data."