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In the News: CPS called 'still separate, still unequal'

May 19, 2014 - 7:50am

On the 60th anniversary of the famed Brown v. Board of Education ruling, a group gathered Saturday outside a shuttered Chicago public school said the CPS system is "still separate, still unequal." Chicago Teachers Union members and community groups representing the South and West Sides spoke against handing over public school buildings to private operators, and school closings in general. (DNAinfo)

NAEP RESULTS: Only 39 percent of 12th–grade students have the mathematics skills and 38 percent the reading skills needed for entry–level college courses, according to results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. (Press release)

IN THE NATION
GROWING DIVERSITY: The nation's rural schools are growing in enrollment and serving increasing numbers of low-income, minority, and special education students, according to a new report released Monday. (Education Week)

60 YEARS LATER: Speaking on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, first lady Michelle Obama challenged high school seniors Friday to stand up to prejudice when they see it and not be afraid to talk about race. Obama also warned students that race-based inequality and racism still exist and said school districts have "pulled back" on efforts to integrate even as schools are becoming less diverse. (Tribune)

THE NEW JIM CROW?: Arguing that school closures in cities across the country disproportionately affect African American students, community activists filed three federal civil rights complaints last week challenging closures in Newark, New Orleans and Chicago and called on the Obama administration to halt similar efforts elsewhere. (The Washington Post)

OPPOSING APPROACHES: The two front-runners in the contest to lead California public schools represent opposing forces over how best to improve student achievement. Tom Torlakson, the Democratic incumbent, champions teachers and their unions, which dislike the nation's growing reliance on standardized tests.Marshall Tuck, also a Democrat and the favorite of a core of philanthropists and activists, wants more limited job security for instructors as a way to weed out weak performers and improve the teaching corps. Before raising new revenue, he said, he would spend existing dollars more effectively. (Los Angeles Times)

In the News: Teachers should approve merit pay, Tribune

May 16, 2014 - 9:21am

A Chicago Tribune editorial recommends Chicago teachers should consider approving merit pay as they renegotiate their contract this year. The editorial points out that teachers in New York are on the verge of okaying a contract that would give superior teachers bonuses of $7,500 to $20,000 for taking on extra work, including sharing their knowledge and classroom experience by mentoring other teachers. In New York, standardized tests will likely not play a major role in ratings, according to the New York Times.  

But studies on merit pay in teaching, even one on a federally-funded pilot program in Chicago, have shown mixed results and are certainly not a silver bullet.  Another thing to take note of, new teacher evaluations, required by state law, are based partly on test scores and teachers are concerned about how these evaluations will effect those teaching at schools serving low-income students.

SORRY. Mayor Emanuel’s political consultant John Kupper apologized to Chicago Principals and Administrators Association President Clarice Berry for calling her a “shill” for the Chicago Teachers Union. In a Catalyst opinion piece, Morrill principal Michael Beyer suggest a structure for the association to become more powerful. 

CONTINUED SEGREGATION. Marking the anniversary of Brown vs Board of Education, the Civil Rights Project released on Thursday a report entitled, “Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat and an Uncertain Future.” Segregation is most serious in the central cities of the largest metropolitan areas. Illinois with Chicago, as well we New York and California, are the top three worst for isolating black students. Also, as their population grows, Latino students are now significantly more segregated than black students.

COLLEGE PERSISTANCE. In the New York Times Magazine, Paul Tough has a piece entitle “Who gets to graduate?” College graduation data reveals that only 40 percent of students graduate within six year and “rich kids graduate, poor and working-class kids don’t,” according to the article. Very telling facts considering college persistence will be one of the measures in new CPS school ratings coming out this Fall.

SUMMER LEARNING. With private donations, Los Angeles is launching a major initiative to offer free classes in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Students who complete classes will get “digital badges.” Chicago has a similar initiative, only, instead of classes, children are directed toward activities, like visiting a museusm. 

A proposal to give school principals a voice

May 15, 2014 - 4:37pm

Having less than three full years under my belt as a principal, and at a neighborhood public school that has been on “probation” since the inception of No Child Left Behind, I’m probably not one who should speak out on the issues raised this week by my colleagues at Blaine and Peterson schools.  Without getting into the politics of these issues, I do see a potential solution that could help improve the Chicago Public Schools. 

Principals are the primary lever tasked to implement every policy CPS devises.  We are the critical link between Central Office and the classrooms.  What we want is a voice and a seat at the table when policies are designed and implementations are planned.  

In the public debate that has developed in response to op-eds by Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere and Peterson Principal Adam Parrot-Sheffer, Bateman Principal Pat Baccellieri mentioned that CPS has advisory panels in place to collect principal feedback. Unfortunately, few of us know which of our colleagues are on these advisory panels, when they meet, what they address, or that they even exist.  With more than 600 schools in CPS, there are many unique situations we encounter.  Having a handful of principals speak on everyone’s behalf and without our knowledge isn’t the most effective way to gather input on policies.  

Our only recourse for addressing ineffective policies is to follow our chain of command and inform our Chief, who then may or may not inform those above them.  I can’t entirely blame CPS for this; bureaucracies tend to have an inability to create internal structures that lead to thoughtful and honest dialogue.  Creating authentic feedback loops is difficult with a system so large.  We do, however, have an existing outside organization that could accomplish this for us.

The Chicago Principals & Administrators Association has been in existence for many years.  They aren’t a union but will offer assistance if a principal runs into legal trouble.  It costs nearly $1,000 a year to be a member.  In my three years as an administrator I have never bothered to join because I don’t see the cost-benefit of it.  If I get into legal trouble and I can’t sort it out on my own, I probably deserve whatever punishment is coming my way.  

Yet the CPAA claims to offer far more.  On their website they state they offer “leadership … in policy formation” and that they influence legislation.   If this is true, I am ignorant of what policies and legislation they have affected.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not a member, but I have spoken with CPAA members and they don’t know either.  This indicates that if the CPAA does have sway with policymakers, they aren’t gathering input from their membership.

We need a more effective CPAA.  We need an organization that speaks for us and that CPS takes seriously.  We don’t need a union or an organization that sides with the CTU on every issue.  We simply need an organization that can be a thought-partner with CPS to help guide policy design and implementation so that when the time comes for us to introduce the policies at our schools that we aren’t left bewildered how to accomplish whatever CPS has decided is necessary.  

The CPAA could be the most affordable and effective consultant CPS uses.  It doesn’t have to be an antagonistic partnership, and it will lead to a more effective school system.   Like any organization, the chain-of-command in CPS can dissuade people from speaking up when a policy or an implementation has flaws.  It’s much easier to blame those lower along the chain, rather than point the blame back up to those making the policy.  This is why teachers, and not politicians, have falsely suffered the largess of the blame in the ongoing debate over education reform.

As an organization not beholden to CPS, the CPAA could serve the role to help advocate for more intelligent policies, but it has to do so through a democratic process.  We need a CPAA leader that ensures all voices are heard prior to engaging in advocacy with CPS. The CPAA should have subcommittees of principals focused on various aspects of our job, from literacy to special education to budget.  

Every administrator, whether they are a member or not, should know who serves on the subcommittees.  The subcommittees could directly partner with CPS and devise policy, or make recommendations to revise existing policy.  The entire CPAA membership could then vote on whether to support the subcommittee’s recommendations.  If the recommendations are approved, the CPAA’s leadership would advocate at CPS on our behalf.  

Ideally their advocacy would be behind closed doors to maintain professionalism, but if need be, the CPAA could advocate publicly.  This would prevent principals from having to go rogue and endanger their own careers or reputations.  Ideally the CPAA could offer two membership choices, one that includes insurance if a principal feels the need for legal protection, and the second for those that just want to help shape policy.  The CPAA could even publish their own quarterly newsletter or website so that principals wouldn’t have to resort to advocating with colleagues via the press.  This is a CPAA I would readily join and support.

Like my colleagues, I have been extremely frustrated and disheartened by policy decisions in CPS.  I’ve heard teachers and even colleagues state their suspicion that CPS is intentionally causing havoc so that more schools can be closed and turned charter.  That’s not a healthy environment for our children.  

I have more than once considered quitting and fleeing for the greener pastures of the suburbs, where many perceive there are fewer issues.  Despite interview offers, I’m staying in CPS, and next school year I’m requesting a contract renewal because I believe in my school and the community we have developed.  I also firmly believe in CPS and the City of Chicago.   We have much to be proud of.  

Unlike the “higher performing” schools in the suburbs and even here in the City, many of our neighborhood “low performing” schools have authentic learning happening and we aren’t simply sorting students, resting on the laurels of serving a population of higher socio-economic status.  I have a mission to accomplish, which is to work with our community to make our school one of the best in the City.  All I want is an organization that will advocate on our behalf and help CPS become the best it can be.  

Michael Beyer is the principal of Morrill School in Gage Park 

 

A proposal to give school principals a voice

May 15, 2014 - 4:37pm

Having less than three full years under my belt as a principal, and at a neighborhood public school that has been on “probation” since the inception of No Child Left Behind, I’m probably not one who should speak out on the issues raised this week by my colleagues at Blaine and Peterson schools.  Without getting into the politics of these issues, I do see a potential solution that could help improve the Chicago Public Schools. 

Principals are the primary lever tasked to implement every policy CPS devises.  We are the critical link between Central Office and the classrooms.  What we want is a voice and a seat at the table when policies are designed and implementations are planned.  

In the public debate that has developed in response to op-eds by Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere and Peterson Principal Adam Parrot-Sheffer, Bateman Principal Pat Baccellieri mentioned that CPS has advisory panels in place to collect principal feedback. Unfortunately, few of us know which of our colleagues are on these advisory panels, when they meet, what they address, or that they even exist.  With more than 600 schools in CPS, there are many unique situations we encounter.  Having a handful of principals speak on everyone’s behalf and without our knowledge isn’t the most effective way to gather input on policies.  

Our only recourse for addressing ineffective policies is to follow our chain of command and inform our Chief, who then may or may not inform those above them.  I can’t entirely blame CPS for this; bureaucracies tend to have an inability to create internal structures that lead to thoughtful and honest dialogue.  Creating authentic feedback loops is difficult with a system so large.  We do, however, have an existing outside organization that could accomplish this for us.

The Chicago Principals & Administrators Association has been in existence for many years.  They aren’t a union but will offer assistance if a principal runs into legal trouble.  It costs nearly $1,000 a year to be a member.  In my three years as an administrator I have never bothered to join because I don’t see the cost-benefit of it.  If I get into legal trouble and I can’t sort it out on my own, I probably deserve whatever punishment is coming my way.  

Yet the CPAA claims to offer far more.  On their website they state they offer “leadership … in policy formation” and that they influence legislation.   If this is true, I am ignorant of what policies and legislation they have affected.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not a member, but I have spoken with CPAA members and they don’t know either.  This indicates that if the CPAA does have sway with policymakers, they aren’t gathering input from their membership.

We need a more effective CPAA.  We need an organization that speaks for us and that CPS takes seriously.  We don’t need a union or an organization that sides with the CTU on every issue.  We simply need an organization that can be a thought-partner with CPS to help guide policy design and implementation so that when the time comes for us to introduce the policies at our schools that we aren’t left bewildered how to accomplish whatever CPS has decided is necessary.  

The CPAA could be the most affordable and effective consultant CPS uses.  It doesn’t have to be an antagonistic partnership, and it will lead to a more effective school system.   Like any organization, the chain-of-command in CPS can dissuade people from speaking up when a policy or an implementation has flaws.  It’s much easier to blame those lower along the chain, rather than point the blame back up to those making the policy.  This is why teachers, and not politicians, have falsely suffered the largess of the blame in the ongoing debate over education reform.

As an organization not beholden to CPS, the CPAA could serve the role to help advocate for more intelligent policies, but it has to do so through a democratic process.  We need a CPAA leader that ensures all voices are heard prior to engaging in advocacy with CPS. The CPAA should have subcommittees of principals focused on various aspects of our job, from literacy to special education to budget.  

Every administrator, whether they are a member or not, should know who serves on the subcommittees.  The subcommittees could directly partner with CPS and devise policy, or make recommendations to revise existing policy.  The entire CPAA membership could then vote on whether to support the subcommittee’s recommendations.  If the recommendations are approved, the CPAA’s leadership would advocate at CPS on our behalf.  

Ideally their advocacy would be behind closed doors to maintain professionalism, but if need be, the CPAA could advocate publicly.  This would prevent principals from having to go rogue and endanger their own careers or reputations.  Ideally the CPAA could offer two membership choices, one that includes insurance if a principal feels the need for legal protection, and the second for those that just want to help shape policy.  The CPAA could even publish their own quarterly newsletter or website so that principals wouldn’t have to resort to advocating with colleagues via the press.  This is a CPAA I would readily join and support.

Like my colleagues, I have been extremely frustrated and disheartened by policy decisions in CPS.  I’ve heard teachers and even colleagues state their suspicion that CPS is intentionally causing havoc so that more schools can be closed and turned charter.  That’s not a healthy environment for our children.  

I have more than once considered quitting and fleeing for the greener pastures of the suburbs, where many perceive there are fewer issues.  Despite interview offers, I’m staying in CPS, and next school year I’m requesting a contract renewal because I believe in my school and the community we have developed.  I also firmly believe in CPS and the City of Chicago.   We have much to be proud of.  

Unlike the “higher performing” schools in the suburbs and even here in the City, many of our neighborhood “low performing” schools have authentic learning happening and we aren’t simply sorting students, resting on the laurels of serving a population of higher socio-economic status.  I have a mission to accomplish, which is to work with our community to make our school one of the best in the City.  All I want is an organization that will advocate on our behalf and help CPS become the best it can be.  

Michael Beyer is the principal of Morrill School in Gage Park 

 

Comings & Goings: Okezie-Phillips, principals

May 15, 2014 - 1:12pm

Erica Okezie-Phillips, an education program officer at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, is leaving the foundation at the end of May.  Okezie-Phillips, who has been with the foundation for the past seven years, is heading off to Grenada “for a brief adventure before she decides on a new path in her professional career,” reports Sara Slaughter, director of the foundation’s education program. 

Oak Park Elementary School District 97 has tapped Keshia Warner, currently the principal of Drake Elementary, to head up one of its elementary schools – which one has yet to be decided. (From Wednesday Journal via District 299.)

New principals: Ryan Belville, the assistant principal at McAuliffe, has been named the school’s principal.  Augusta Smith, the assistant principal at Mireles, has been named principal at Barton. 

Two Chicago Public School teachers have been named 2014 Golden Apple Award winners:  Anand Sukumaran, a music teacher at Peterson Elementary, and Rozy Patel, a middle school teacher at Edgebrook.   Sukumaran created a thriving music program, which includes a keyboard lab with a live video feed of the teacher’s keyboard, so students can visualize instructions.  Patel used his four years in medical school to share and guide her students to probe deeply into their scientific inquiry, which promotes higher-order thinking.   

Joseph Casanovas (8th grade Science/Math) from Peirce in Edgewater, and Luke Albrecht (Middle School Math) from Crown in North Lawndale, also received the award.

Ray Salazar, a Chicago Public School teacher who is the White Rhino blogger, has been nominated for a 2014 Bammy Award, which is presented by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences to people working in education.

Comings & Goings: Okezie-Phillips, principals

May 15, 2014 - 1:12pm

Erica Okezie-Phillips, an education program officer at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, is leaving the foundation at the end of May.  Okezie-Phillips, who has been with the foundation for the past seven years, is heading off to Grenada “for a brief adventure before she decides on a new path in her professional career,” reports Sara Slaughter, director of the foundation’s education program. 

Oak Park Elementary School District 97 has tapped Keshia Warner, currently the principal of Drake Elementary, to head up one of its elementary schools – which one has yet to be decided. (From Wednesday Journal via District 299.)

New principals: Ryan Belville, the assistant principal at McAuliffe, has been named the school’s principal.  Augusta Smith, the assistant principal at Mireles, has been named principal at Barton. 

Two Chicago Public School teachers have been named 2014 Golden Apple Award winners:  Anand Sukumaran, a music teacher at Peterson Elementary, and Rozy Patel, a middle school teacher at Edgebrook.   Sukumaran created a thriving music program, which includes a keyboard lab with a live video feed of the teacher’s keyboard, so students can visualize instructions.  Patel used his four years in medical school to share and guide her students to probe deeply into their scientific inquiry, which promotes higher-order thinking.   

Joseph Casanovas (8th grade Science/Math) from Peirce in Edgewater, and Luke Albrecht (Middle School Math) from Crown in North Lawndale, also received the award.

Ray Salazar, a Chicago Public School teacher who is the White Rhino blogger, has been nominated for a 2014 Bammy Award, which is presented by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences to people working in education.

Preschool teachers may get more time to meet bilingual requirements

May 15, 2014 - 10:55am

Preschool teachers in Illinois may get two more years to obtain the required qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English. 

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) voted on Wednesday to seek public comment on a proposal to delay a requirement that kicks in on July 1 for pre-school English language learners to be taught by educators endorsed in bilingual or English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction.

The proposed delay is a direct response to school district officials and early childhood advocates from across the state who anticipate staff shortages for the coming school year due to the requirements. According to ISBE, just 10.3 percent of early childhood teachers in Illinois are endorsed in bilingual or English as a Second Language instruction, even though more than 20 percent of preschool children are considered English learners.

In an effort to close achievement gaps between native English speakers and those who grew up speaking another language at home, Illinois became the first state in the nation to require bilingual education services for English learners in state-funded preschools in 2010. As part of the measure, the state set the July 2014 deadline for requirements for instructors at preschools with English language learners, which vary depending on the number of students who need instruction.

Joyce Weiner, policy advisor for the Ounce of Prevention Fund, said she and other advocates who supported the move toward bilingual instruction recognized there would be many challenges along the way – such as changing curriculum in teacher preparation programs to include pedagogy on language acquisition for the youngest learners.

“This has been system building at its finest, in terms of incorporating both government agencies and community partners and higher education institutions,” she said.” Did we really think we were going to be able to do this in time? Well you can always shoot for the pie in the sky. But I’m not surprised an additional two years is being recommended because of the complexity of having this all come together.”

Under the proposed modifications, ISBE has included an interim measure that requires school districts unable to meet the staffing requirements to submit an annual staffing plan that includes a description of how the needs of English learners will be met.

The public comment period on the proposed delay ends on July 14. 

Preschool teachers may get more time to meet bilingual requirements

May 15, 2014 - 10:55am

Preschool teachers in Illinois may get two more years to obtain the required qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English. 

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) voted on Wednesday to seek public comment on a proposal to delay a requirement that kicks in on July 1 for pre-school English language learners to be taught by educators endorsed in bilingual or English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction.

The proposed delay is a direct response to school district officials and early childhood advocates from across the state who anticipate staff shortages for the coming school year due to the requirements. According to ISBE, just 10.3 percent of early childhood teachers in Illinois are endorsed in bilingual or English as a Second Language instruction, even though more than 20 percent of preschool children are considered English learners.

In an effort to close achievement gaps between native English speakers and those who grew up speaking another language at home, Illinois became the first state in the nation to require bilingual education services for English learners in state-funded preschools in 2010. As part of the measure, the state set the July 2014 deadline for requirements for instructors at preschools with English language learners, which vary depending on the number of students who need instruction.

Joyce Weiner, policy advisor for the Ounce of Prevention Fund, said she and other advocates who supported the move toward bilingual instruction recognized there would be many challenges along the way – such as changing curriculum in teacher preparation programs to include pedagogy on language acquisition for the youngest learners.

“This has been system building at its finest, in terms of incorporating both government agencies and community partners and higher education institutions,” she said.” Did we really think we were going to be able to do this in time? Well you can always shoot for the pie in the sky. But I’m not surprised an additional two years is being recommended because of the complexity of having this all come together.”

Under the proposed modifications, ISBE has included an interim measure that requires school districts unable to meet the staffing requirements to submit an annual staffing plan that includes a description of how the needs of English learners will be met.

The public comment period on the proposed delay ends on July 14. 

In the News: Mayor Emanuel welcomes principals' ideas

May 15, 2014 - 10:17am

In response to principals' concerns about district policy and the ability to speak publicly aired this week in blogs and opinion pieces,  Mayor Rahm Emanuel says that he “welcomes the concerns of principals.” In fact, he told the Sun-Times, the expansion of the International Baccalaureate program into elementary schools was the idea of principals. Who knew?

PUBLIC SERVICE WORKERS VICTORY. A Sangamon County Circuit Court judge granted a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that will prevent pension law from being implemented, for now. A coalition of unions is arguing that the law is unconstitutional because it scales back benefits and raises retirement ages. The case is expected to reach the Illinois Supreme Court. (Chicago Tribune)

A STANDOFF. On Wednesday, a house committee approved a $13 billion education budget that is partly dependent on the income tax increase staying in place, reports WUIS.org. Democrats, of course, support keeping the 5 percent income tax and not letting it roll back to the pre-2011 level of 3.75 percent. Democrat House Speaker Mike Madigan says the spending plans for the departments “set the bar.” But Republicans are dead set against it. 

JUST A REMINDER: civil rights laws also apply to charters, writes a U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in a letter released Wednesday. The letter includes guidance for charter schools on issues related to admissions, students with disabilities, discipline and English language learners.

Along those same lines, a bill that is moving along in the Illinois legislature requires that charters follow the law as it pertains to students with disabilities and English language learners.  In 2012, Catalyst wrote about charter schools being the subject of a number of civil rights complaints stemming from alleged violations of the rights of special education students.

SPEAKING OF CHARTERS: The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) took a step on Wednesday toward establishing the official rules on what information charter school authorizers must report to the state, as well as a process to sanction authorizers that don’t comply with the law. ISBE voted to seek public comment through July 14 on the proposed amendments to the rules that govern charter school authorizers, which already provide most of the information to the state. The new rules follow a 2011 law on charter schools. (Catalyst)

CONTINUED TESTING PUSHBACK. Finally, the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet points to a roundup by FairTest.org of all the pushback against standardized tests. While here in Chicago parents and teachers protested the ISAT earlier this year, over the past month, students have been quietly been taking the NWEA. Yet the NWEA is tied to grade promotion and admission to selective enrollment high schools, so few parents will mess with that. 

In the News: Byrd-Bennett 'surprised' by principals' complaints

May 14, 2014 - 7:53am

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett vowed Monday to get to the bottom of a respected principal’s complaints — first voiced in an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times — that CPS bullies its principals, leaving them “paralyzed by fear.” In a telephone call Monday, Byrd-Bennett said she was surprised to read the op-ed by Troy LaRaviere, principal at Blaine Elementary School in Lake View, whom she called “clearly one of our most distinguished.”

CPS SUSPENSIONS: More than 50,000 Chicago Public Schools students got out-of-school suspensions last year, according to a WBEZ analysis of state and district data. That’s about 13 percent of the district's population. At about a dozen high schools, more than half of the students enrolled served at least one out-of-school suspension. All of those schools are majority African American and only a few are charter schools.

IN THE NATION
GOOD TEACHING, POOR TEST SCORES: In the first large-scale analysis of new systems that evaluate teachers based partly on student test scores, two researchers found little or no correlation between quality teaching and the appraisals teachers received. The study, published Tuesday in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, is the latest in a growing body of research that has cast doubt on whether it is possible for states to use empirical data in identifying good and bad teachers. (The Washington Post)

PRINCIPALS AND URBAN SCHOOLS: A seven-year study of a national principal-preparation program called New Leaders finds that urban schools where principals received rigorous leadership training and support experienced larger gains in student achievement than schools led by principals who did not participate in the program, according to a new RAND Corporation report. (Press release)

TAILORING THEIR TEACHING: More teachers nationwide have adopted blended learning — an instructional method that, in some cases, allows them to flip their classrooms, tailoring lessons to students' individual needs. (Christian Science Monitor)

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.”