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State delays requirement for teachers of preschool English learners

August 20, 2014 - 1:19pm

The Illinois State Board of Education voted on Wednesday to delay a requirement for preschool teachers to obtain additional qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English.

The decision comes three months after ISBE first put the proposed delay to public comment. The requirement was supposed to kick in on July 1, but now teachers of preschool students who are learning English will have until July 2016 to get endorsed in either bilingual education or English as a Second Language instruction.

ISBE asked for the delay because school districts were simply unable to find enough fully qualified staff for their preschool programs to work with English language learners (ELLs).

“A lot of personnel don’t have that endorsement,” said Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education during Wednesday’s board meeting. “At the very minimum we need these to be adopted to give schools more flexibility [in meeting the requirement].”

Most of the 23 public comments on the proposed rule change agreed with the delay, although many commenters “pointed out that it is cost-prohibitive for currently employed early childhood teachers or bilingual education teachers to complete preparation programs for the endorsement that they lack.”

The board also took a step on Wednesday toward creating a set of standards for the state’s “seal of bi-literacy” for graduating high school students who attain a high level of proficiency in a language other than English. After California and New York, Illinois became the third state in the nation to approve such a program last year.

Starting this fall, districts that opt into the program will certify graduates’ diplomas and transcripts if they attain “intermediate high” proficiency or better on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages assessment.

“This is a great way to support bilingualism and multiculturalism in the state,” Koch explained. “This is starting to see dual language as a valuable thing.”

The proposal now goes to a public comment period before the board takes a final vote.

State delays requirement for teaching preschool English learners

August 20, 2014 - 1:19pm

The Illinois State Board of Education voted on Wednesday to delay a requirement for preschool teachers to obtain additional qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English.

The decision comes three months after ISBE first put the proposed delay to public comment. The requirement was supposed to kick in on July 1, but now teachers of preschool students who are learning English will have until July 2016 to get endorsed in either bilingual education or English as a Second Language instruction.

ISBE asked for the delay because school districts were simply unable to find enough fully qualified staff for their preschool programs to work with English language learners (ELLs).

“A lot of personnel don’t have that endorsement,” said Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education during Wednesday’s board meeting. “At the very minimum we need these to be adopted to give schools more flexibility [in meeting the requirement].”

Most of the 23 public comments on the proposed rule change agreed with the delay, although many commenters “pointed out that it is cost-prohibitive for currently employed early childhood teachers or bilingual education teachers to complete preparation programs for the endorsement that they lack.”

The board also took a step on Wednesday toward creating a set of standards for the state’s “seal of bi-literacy” for graduating high school students who attain a high level of proficiency in a language other than English. After California and New York, Illinois became the third state in the nation to approve such a program last year.

Starting this fall, districts that opt into the program will certify graduates’ diplomas and transcripts if they attain “intermediate high” proficiency or better on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages assessment.

“This is a great way to support bilingualism and multiculturalism in the state,” Koch explained. “This is starting to see dual language as a valuable thing.”

The proposal now goes to a public comment period before the board takes a final vote.

Comings and Goings: Torres

August 19, 2014 - 11:32am

Jose Torres has been named president of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, succeeding Catherine Veal, who served as interim president after Dr. Glenn W. “Max” McGee retired last summer. Torres is leaving his position of the past 6 years as superintendent of the U-46 Elgin School District.  Previously he was regional superintendent for Area 14 in the Chicago Public Schools, where he oversaw 25 schools with more than 14,000 students.

Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catayst Community Editor Vicki Jones:

Take 5: Safe Passage expansion, closed, vacant buildings and more on Concept

August 18, 2014 - 6:55am

A meeting of parents and community members about a shooting in North Lawndale spurred CPS officials to finally divulge some information about how they plan to expand the Safe Passage program. In presenting the 2014-15 budget in July, officials said they would expand Safe Passage by $1 million to $10 million, but they did not say where the new routes would be. The Sun-Times now reports that a big part of the expansion will go to schools that received a lot of students from closed schools even though they were not officially designated as so-called welcoming schools. Four of the new schools getting new routes are, indeed, in North Lawndale. They are Penn, Crown, Mason and Lawndale. The other two are Langford in West Englewood and Metcalfe in West Pullman.

The Safe Passage program pays community organizations and churches to hire workers to stand along blocks where children walk to and from school to make sure they are safe. The program was started in 2009 by former CPS CEO Ron Huberman as part of his big safety initiative called Culture of Calm. For the first few year, the routes were only to and from high schools. The Safe Passage program was expanded last year to watch over students as they went from closed schools to new ones. There were no major incidents along the routes last year, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS officials credit the program.

About 60 percent of students from closed schools went to welcoming schools, which recieved extra resources. Parents in North Lawndale spurned welcoming schools more than parents in other communities, especially in the case of Paderewski, whose students were directed to two predominantly Latino schools in Little Village but chose predominantly black schools in North Lawndale instead.

2. About those closed schools… Fox News has a story about the condition of the schools closed last year. One of the big concerns when the closings were announced was that they would leave more eyesores in neighborhoods that already had too many. Also, neighbors worried that they would attract trouble. It seems like these fears are coming  true. King Elementary has become a hang out, Armstrong has broken windows, the playground at Henson is littered with a decaying mattress, and Paderewski was tagged with graffiti. Chief Operating Officer Tom Tyrrell says CPS has a roving group of engineers and custodians checking on the closed buildings.

Meanwhile, The Chicago Tribune weighs in with a story on CPS efforts to unload the schools. At least 57 buildings sit vacant--36 from 2013 closings and 21 of 29 that were put on the market in 2012. The article notes that CPS has asked aldermen to hold meetings to take the pulse of the community, but scheduling those meetings can be difficult. So far, community members have resisted bringing charter or alternative schools into vacant buildings.

DNAinfo has a story about Peabody in gentrifyng West Town.  There are more than 20 bidders for the school, including a tech firm and a developer interested in putting condos in it. However, the community would like to see the building taken over by the Northwestern Settlement House, a 120-year-old social service organization.

3. Also on school closings… The Chicago Students Union, a group that emerged last year in response to the mass school closings, is holding a press conference and protest march on Monday. The students are demanding an elected school board. They are also are working with ChicagoVotes to get students registered to vote.

Students from Whitney Young, Payton and Prosser are among the leaders of the group. In their press release, they say they met with CPS board member Jesse Ruiz to tell him that Prosser students were using 20-year-old books, though $100,000 was left in discretionary funds. They also met with CPS’ official Student Advisory Board to propose a system for students to communicate their concerns to district officials.

Catalyst will be live tweeting the press conference and march. Follow us at @CatalystChicago

4. More on Concept Charter schools… The Chicago Sun Times has a story about the FBI’s investigation into Concept Charter Schools. That’s the charter network whose Chicago and other Midwestern locations were raided earlier this year by the FBI. Concept runs three schools in Chicago and is set to open another two this year. A location change hearing for one of the schools will be held Tuesday evening.

When Concept was raided, its officials said the feds were investigating the federal e-rate program, which helps schools pay for Internet access and computers. The program requires competitive bidding, but, according to records, Concept funneled almost $1 million to three businesses run by men who had previous relationships with Concept. For example, Core Group Inc. got $550,000. Core Group Inc. in Mt. Prospect was started by a founding board member of Concept.

Concept Schools is run by Turkish immigrants and connected to the Turkish Gulen movement. An artcile in the Atlantic argues that the problems with the 120-some charter schools connected to the Turkish Gulen movement in the United States stem from the transparency problems with charter schools in general. (Many have run into issues around how they award contracts and use the public money.)

The Concept schools also have been sharply criticized for spending money to pay the immigration costs to bring Turkish teachers to teach at their schools. The article notes that some of this criticism smacks of xenophobia. The Turkish Gulen movement has been praised for providing schools around the world that focus on academics and not religious ideology--a rare institution in places like Pakistan. Quoting Diane Ravitch, a prominent educaiton researcher who is critical of chartes, the article notes that the charter school movement has fought to keep its books and dealings under cover. “In other words, it isn’t the Gülen movement that makes Gülen charter schools so secretive. It’s the charter school movement itself,” it says.  

5. By now… Most people have taken in the Chicago Tribune poll the gave Mayor Rahm Emanuel dismal ratings on his school performance. It showed that two-thirds of respondents side with the Chicago Teachers Union in how to improve schools and disapprove of Emanuel’s handling of CPS. What’s more, most respondents--poor or rich, black or white--are not keen on the idea of neighborhood schools being stripped of money, while charter schools get more.

The poll is interesting because respondents have a such a negative reaction to Emanuel doing exactly what he said he would do. Read an education questionnaire Emanuel filled out when he was still a candidate. He says he would lengthen the school day and, in response to a question about whether he would close schools, he says that he would take “drastic measures… to ensure our children are getting the education they deserve.” In so many words, he also says he would replicate charter schools that are working.

State preschool gains “erode” to 2005 levels

August 15, 2014 - 10:05am

After years of budget cuts, enrollment in state-funded preschool programs in Illinois has fallen to levels not seen in nearly a decade – before the state rolled out its ambitious Preschool for All initiative, according to a new report by Voices for Illinois Children.

Since 2009, state funding for preschool programs has dropped by more than 25 percent. In the same period, enrollment decreased from an all-time high of 95,000 to 70,000.

“Illinois has been a leader in early childhood education in the past, and after a long period of progress we’ve been watching these gains erode,” said Lisa Christensen Gee, a policy analyst for Voices for Illinois Children and co-author of the report. “We need to ensure that the General Assembly understands the significance and importance of making these investments, both in good and bad economic times.”

While the state kept funding for early childhood program steady for the 2015 fiscal year, it’s unclear how a projected $2 billion decline in income tax revenues set to take place in January would affect these and other programs.

Theresa  Hawley, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Education, said the report reflects the fact there is far greater need for services than there are resources in Illinois.

“I think it is a budget issue,” she said. “We have many people on both sides of the aisle who are committed to early childhood education who understand its importance […].For sure, the governor has expressed his support and understanding that it’s a critical issue.”

While state funds are limited, Hawley’s office has successfully pursued other federal grant opportunities related to early childhood education, including millions of dollars in Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants. She said Illinois will also be preparing an application for a new $250 million preschool development grant competition that was announced earlier this week.

The Voices report, titled “Disparities in Access to Preschool in Illinois,” also uses American Community Survey (ACS) data to analyze enrollment in all kinds of programs -- both public and private. Overall enrollment went up from 49 percent in 2005 to 56 percent in 2008, but has since remained steady at about 54 percent.

However, significant gaps exist between racial groups. About 58 percent of white children and 55 percent of black children attend some sort of preschool, yet only 40 percent of Hispanic children are enrolled. Research has suggested that the lower enrollment rates among Latino children can be partially attributed to income, language barriers and distrust of government programs. In addition, available preschool slots in Latino neighborhoods have simply not kept up with the growth of the population. Hawley said that’s one reason the state has made grants available in recent years to build or expand early childhood facilities in the communities that most need them.

Still, says Martin Torres, policy analyst for the Latino Forum, the state Legislature needs to reexamine its priorities in order to ensure that the highest-need communities are getting the limited resources that are out there.

“Latino children continue to be underrepresented and underserved in the state’s Preschool for All programs,” he said. “We need to look at different policies and solutions to address that disparity, both when resources are available for new slots and when they aren’t.”

The report goes on to note disparities in preschool enrollment based on family income and parental education levels. Children at the poverty level, for example, accounted for 23.4 percent of the population under age 5 but only 18.7 percent of those enrolled in preschool. “The decline in state preschool funding, which has coincided with rising child poverty rates, has exacerbated the situation,” the report notes.

In the City of Chicago, preschool participation rates vary widely, with the highest participation on the more affluent North Side, and the lowest in the Northwest and Southwest sides – both heavily Latino communities. Similarly, some of the communities with the lowest preschool participation rates in Cook County have high concentrations of poverty and Latino children.

Despite the enrollment decline in state-funded programs, preschool-aged children in Illinois are still more likely to be enrolled in some sort of early education program than their counterparts in other states, according to the ACS data. While the Illinois enrollment rate is 54 percent, nationally just 48 percent of children are enrolled in some sort of preschool.

Take 5: UNO making a break; Karen Lewis' loot and preschool information

August 14, 2014 - 9:02am

After this school year, the UNO Charter School Network will no longer be managed by the United Neighborhood Organization, the community organization that started it all, according to The Chicago Tribune. It is unclear what this will mean for the beleaguered charter school network, which runs 16 schools, mostly in Latino neighborhoods across Chicago. UNO and its charter school network have been embroiled in scandals over the past few years, with accusations of engaging in improper financial deals -- the organization recently settled an SEC investigation by agreeing to have an outside monitor.

The relationship between the charter school network and the community organization and the money that flowed between them has been questionable. Technically, the network was separate from the community organization, but the two shared the same CEO, Juan Rangel, and some of the same board members. Between 2009 and 2012, the network paid the parent organization $17 million, though it was unclear what the parent organization did for the network, according Chicago Magazine. Typically, charter school management companies take care of things like payroll and maintenance. In Spring of 2013, the charter school network’s board was overhauled as the group tried to convince the state to continue to provide funding. In a release sent to the Tribune, the UNO Charter School Network said parents and students will not be affected by a change in management.

2. Union salaries… Despite a promise that as the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, she would make no more than the highest paid teacher, Karen Lewis is roping in more than $200,000 a year, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Her Chicago Teachers Union salary of $136,890 is boosted by an additional $64,157 that she gets for being vice president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. Lewis makes the argument that her CTU salary is based on a 12-month, 50-hour work week; whereas teacher salaries are based on a 208-day school year and a 6.5 hour workday, exclusive of lunch. (Under the union contract, some teachers, such as lead teachers, are paid for a slightly longer workday). An IFT spokeswoman says it is typical for the CTU president to hold an officer position in the statewide union and Lewis’ predecessor, Marilyn Stewart, also did. According to the CPS employee roster, the highest-paid CPS teacher is a special education teacher with a doctorate who works at Nancy Jefferson School, which is located inside the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. She is paid $112,756.54 annually.

The issue came up because Lewis says she is considering running for mayor against Rahm Emanuel. (She’ll have to get used to her every step being news.) In related news, Lewis is starting a series of conversations on the state of the city. Her first will be moderated by journalist Walter Jacobson and will be at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 19, at the Beverly Woods Banquet Hall, 11532 S. Western Ave.

3. A little victory…Bronzeville activists are celebrating the word they got last week that the  Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into Mollison Elementary School and Dyett High School. In a complaint filed earlier this year, the activists charged that students’ civil rights were violated when Mollison became overcrowded because of a school closing and when Dyett students were forced to take physical education and art via online courses. The Sun Times quotes an Office of Civil Rights spokeswoman as saying that the announcement of an investigation only means that the department has determined it has jurisdiction and the allegations were filed in a timely manner.

This is just another chapter in the ongoing fight by Bronzeville activists against school closings. The Greater Bronzeville neighborhood has had the most schools closed over the past decade as public housing projects were taken down. Though the activists point to specific problems at Dyett and Mollison, they are generally against the movement to close schools and open new ones, mostly charter schools. What has happened to Dyett is particularly disturbing to them. Once a school seen to be on the upswing, Dyett’s phase out was announced in 2011. Dyett was the area’s last high school open to all students in an attendance boundary; unde the phase out, new students have had to travel to Phillips High School. Dyett is projected to have only 28 seniors next year, according to CPS. As the number of students has dwindled, it has become more difficult for the school to offer basic high school courses.

4. More information, please… Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett recently announced that  last year’s kindergartners had higher reading scores than the previous year’s kindergartners. They credited the improvements to the city’s improved and expanded pre-K programs under the mayor’s signature Ready to Learn! early childhood education initiative. The mayor says his next goal is to offer pre-K to 1,500 additional low-income 4-year-olds next year.

Ready to Learn! was announced in 2012 and didn’t really get off the ground until 2013, which means last year’s kindergartners wouldn’t have been affected by the changes. Also, fewer 4-year-olds were in CPS preschools last year than the previous year. The drop in enrollment was attributed to a new centralized enrollment process, which parents said they had trouble navigating, Catalyst reported. (Catalyst has requested additional data that would paint a clearer picture of the test-score increase.)

5. All charters…. NPR reports on the first day of school this week in New Orleans, the first district in the country to become all charter schools. Test scores are up and Kenneth Campbell, the president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, says that is extraordinary. Schools “were in, in many ways, an academic wasteland prior to Katrina. ... there was no accountability,” he says. About 20 percent of charter schools in New Orleans are rated a D or an F, among the worst schools in the state, according to the NPR report. Physics teacher Davina Allen argues that it is a false system because schools are competing for students.

Only about 14 percent of CPS students attend charter schools currently, but more charters are coming on line. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others no doubt will be watching New Orleans closely.



CPS principals: The voice you’ve been waiting for

August 12, 2014 - 9:05am

A few months ago, a group of CPS principals began work on what would become the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education (AAPPLE).  AAPPLE—pronounced “apple”—is a member-driven arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA).  Since introducing AAPPLE to school leaders two weeks ago, nearly every CPS principal we’ve talked to told us CPAA is not taking a strong enough stance on behalf of principals and their schools.  They want the organization to stand against policies and practices that are crippling the ability of principals to provide their students with the education they deserve; policies and practices that send throngs of talented principals, assistant principals and even network administrators limping away from the district each year.  

In surveys and conversations, principals voiced concerns about a lack of autonomy and an “endless daily barrage of direct orders, mandates, and deadlines” that hurt students by focusing principal time on activities that have no bearing on improving teaching and learning. In survey responses they protested “overbearing” network chiefs and their staff, whom principals felt were nothing more than “glorified compliance clerks” too busy with central office projects to offer schools any real support (Networks 1 and 11 were often cited as exceptions to this rule).  In addition, CPS passes on the work of understaffed central office departments to principals so that school leaders end up “working for departments that are supposed to work for us.” Principals also voiced strong concerns about CPS’s new budgeting system and its detrimental effects on their ability to provide students with the instructional resources and support they need.

Perhaps the loudest message was that principals and assistant principals wanted CPAA to be a “strong voice” for them and their schools.  They wanted CPAA to be an organization that is “at the table and in the press.” They want an advocate that “publicly vocalizes the many concerns of school leaders,” works to resolve them, and campaigns for effective policies that assist principals in their efforts to facilitate and support student learning.  The following comment is illustrative:

“I have often thought about quitting because I could not see the organization standing up against many of the outrageous backward policies put forth by Central Office Officials and the mayor’s office. CPAA needs to be more vocal.“

The clear message they sent us is that CPAA isn’t doing enough.  Their concerns are legitimate.  Not long ago, I had those same concerns.  In fact AAPPLE got its start when a group of principals went into CPAA and approached President Clarice Berry with these exact issues.  We asked the question, “What is CPAA doing?  What impact is it having?” We learned that CPAA has made significant accomplishments; that--as bad as things have gotten--they would be worse without CPAA’s efforts on behalf of school leaders.  The organization fought battles in the areas of administrator long-term illness policies, state legislation, salary, principal eligibility, and network abuse and harassment of school leaders.  CPAA fought some—but not all—of our battles. It won some and lost others.  Some fell through the cracks, and this must be addressed.  However, it is certain that CPAA was at the table fighting and winning victories for principals and their schools.

None of us knew anything about these accomplishments before that meeting. So we focused our frustrations on what we perceived as CPAA’s lack of communication with its members.  President Berry told us that she puts everything in the bi-montly newsletter.  We said this was not enough and began peppering the president with questions and ideas about how she can communicate better with CPAA members.  One idea that surfaced was for CPAA to send out regular short messages focused on one or two current issues it is working on, in addition to the lengthy bi-monthly newsletter.  Like all of us, she had quite a bit on her plate, and—like CPS does to us—we were asking her to pile even more on it without any additional resources or support.

At that point, I stepped back for a moment and listened to the president respond to our ideas about what she should be doing for principals through CPAA. After a few moments the words, “I’ll do it” came out of my mouth.

“I will do it,” I repeated.

There is a quotation from President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address.  All of us have heard it, but until that moment I had not thought so deeply about its meaning to my own life and work.

“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

With those words, President Kennedy encapsulated the idea that our nation is only as great as the dedication, passion, ideas, and sweat that “we the people” put into it. We must be a citizen-driven nation.

As I listened to the CPAA president respond to our complaints about what the organization hasn’t done, it became obvious that Kennedy’s principle must be put to work in our organization.  CPAA must be a member-driven organization.  It is our work--the work of on-the-ground school leaders--that will make CPAA a powerful force for positive change in our schools.

“I’ll do it.  I’ll write the bi-weekly update,” I said.

“I’ll help,” said another principal.  He continued, “Clarice, just give us a time that we can sit down with you and hammer out the first one.”  Other principals then stepped up to help implement various ideas that had been put on the table, including an idea for a citywide education forum that one principal had been working on with community members and university faculty.  Two principals stepped up to lead the work on a series of surveys and interviews that led to the current inquiry into CPS’s Student Based Budgeting.  Yet another principal stepped up to do the research for a framework for effective education policy—an evidence-based framework for AAPPLE’s policy advocacy work.

President Berry supported every one of those initiatives and even commissioned an official CPAA committee to help implement them.  We decided to focus our work on policies that affect our ability to provide our students with the instruction, learning climate, and resources they need and deserve (e.g., budget, autonomy, school closings, REACH, custodial privatization [Aramark], testing, etc.).  We gave the committee the name, “Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education” (AAPPLE) and moved forward with its work.

 We talked to—and surveyed—scores of principals and we believe their concerns about CPAA’s power to counter negative district policies and practices are legitimate. CPAA lost some of its strength over the years and there is certainly more it can do to advocate for principals as well as put principals in a position to advocate effectively for their schools, their students, and for each other.  However, in order to make that happen we must realize the depth of President Kennedy’s words.  More importantly we must come face-to-face with the truth of a statement our current President made famous:

 “We are the people we’ve been waiting for.”

 Troy Anthony LaRaviere is the principal of Blaine Elementary School, a parent at Kellogg Elementary School, chairperson of the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education and president of Auxiliary II - Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

Take 5: Concept Schools Chatham location, healthy food and standardized testing

August 11, 2014 - 7:46am

Concept Schools just can’t catch a break. The Chicago Sun Times reports that the building they are trying to rent for their Chatham location is being foreclosed on by the bank run by CPS board president David Vitale.

Originally, Concept planned to rent space from a megachurch being built by the Rev. Charles Jenkins, pastor of Missionary Fellowship Baptist Church in Bronzeville and a close ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Concept had agreed to pay the church $528,000 in rent annually. Then, after the FBI raided its charter school locations in Illinois and other places, church leaders said they weren’t so sure that they wanted to rent to Concept.

But Concept leaders say they already have students signed up for the new school, set to open this Fall. They then announced they were eyeing a location at 9130 S. Vincennes, an old Christian school building. Concept leaders say they are planning to pay $210,000 to rent the property on a one-year lease, with options to extend the lease for another year or two, according to the Sun-Times. The Sun-Times says the building is in foreclosure proceedings with Urban Partnership Bank of which Vitale is the president. So, according to the Sun Times, Vitale’s bank will benefit from having the building rented. CPS officials and Concept deny Vitale had any knowledge of the connections. Vitale did not comment for the story.

Also, on Saturday, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that Concept hired an Ohio-based public relations firm, Communications Counsel Inc,. that worked for the campaigns of Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and has been a spokesman for gambling interests and electric utilities, according to the newspaper.

2. Healthy snacks… As Catalyst reported in June, for the first time, new federal nutritional standards are being extended to all food sold in schools during the school day, including in vending machines and fundraisers. The Chicago Tribune writes about how suburban schools are approaching these new rules, while pointing out that Illinois has been quick to dole out exceptions to federal nutritional standards. With 36 high schools and nine elementary schools being allowed exceptions, Illinois is one of only four states that together allow more than 21 school districts to bypass the guidelines. CPS’ guidelines for fundraisers are more restrictive than the state's guidelines, allowing only two food fundraisers every year. Considering CPS schools are underfunded compared to some suburbs, it will be interesting to see whether these strict guidelines turn out to be another way city schools are at a disadvantage.

3. Protesting Pearson… As part of the “Public Education, Not Private Profits” campaign, New York union leaders plan to shred standardized tests in Albany Monday night to protest the dominance of textbook and test publisher Pearson, which develops tests for students and teachers. Last year, a television station in New York did an investigation into Pearson and found that the London-based company has a lock on administering tests in that state.

Illinois also funnels a lot of money toward Pearson, which created and administered both the standardized tests that the state is phasing out (the ISAT) and those it is putting in thier place (PARCC). Pearson also administers the test and performance assessment required for teacher certification in Illinois. The performance assessment is a new requirement and, earlier this year, some University of Illinois-Chicago students questioned why Pearson was awarded the single-source contract to administer it. They said they would rather have university professors grade them.

4. Speaking of testing … Jury selection begins today in one of the nation’s biggest school cheating scandals. Twelve former educators are on trial in Atlanta in connection with a 2011 state investigation that accused them of conspiracy to alter students’ standardized test scores to make it seem as though the students were meeting academic benchmarks.

The case raised questions nationally about what role standardized tests should play in education reform. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, “the pain has been felt particularly keenly among African-Americans, who make up 54 percent of Atlanta’s population,” the New York Times reports. “It is largely black educators who have been accused, and largely black students who have been harmed by bogus evaluations of their educational progress.” In a recent essay, the New Yorker magazine profiled one middle school caught in the investigation.

Such scandals have added fuel to campaigns in Chicago and elsewhere against high-stakes testing. Earlier this year, a group of teachers at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy and Drummond Montessori refused to administer the   standardized test the state is phasing out.

5. Libraries matter… The Atlantic Education channel has a moving video chronicling a day in the life of New York City libraries. The first image is a video of people lined up outside the library in the morning. Among the stories told are a shut-in who calls into a book club, a young mother using library computers to look for a job and a little boy who goes to the library for a quiet place to do his homework after school. Also, there are stories of immigrants who go to the library to learn English.

The video ends with the statement that the hours at the New York libraries have been cut and only eight are open on Sundays. Sound familiar? As you will remember, in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shortened the number of hours libraries are open.  He did this to save $11 million to help make up a budget deficit. These days only four Chicago libraries are open on Sunday and less than half have any hours beyond 6 p.m.

Comings and Goings: Lyons

August 8, 2014 - 10:30am

Matt Lyons, deputy chief in the Office of Strategic School Support Services (OS4) at CPS, is joining the Chicago Public Education Fund as chief operating officer. He is stepping into the post that Arnaldo Rivera left to become deputy chief of staff for education for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Lyons holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from The Broad Center and a master’s degree in urban education policy from Brown University.

Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones:

CPS touts rising NWEA scores

August 7, 2014 - 2:53pm

More students scored above national norms this past year on the new standardized tests CPS is using than in the previous school year.

About 51.5 percent of elementary school students are performing at national norms in reading and 49 percent in math, compared to around 46 percent in both categories in 2013, CPS officials announced Thursday. Scores improved in every grade, with 8th-graders scoring above national norms.

In contrast to past practice, CPS did not simultaneously release school-by-school scores, which allow for analysis that can show whether gains were largely at certain types of schools or across the board. Chief of Accountability John Barker said he plans to release school-level data next Friday.

The key is getting more detailed information, said Paul Zavitkovsky, leadership coach and assessment specialist at UIC’s Urban Education Leadership Program. “Anytime test scores go up it is promising, but until they break it out on family income and race and ethnicity, then we do not know what is going on,” he said. “Those demographics make a big difference.”

CPS did provide some averages for the schools designated to take in students from closed schools. In general, there was little movement, and the schools remained substantially below national norms. In math, scores decreased 4 tenths of a percent, and 34 percent of students were at national norms. In reading, scores increased less than 1 percent, and 38 percent of students were at national norms.

These so-called welcoming schools had extra resources that allowed them to keep class sizes small and provide additional support.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett described the citywide gains as “incredibly encouraging. … This is saying that a lot of hard work is going on at the schools.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also issued a statement. “Improvements in every grade demonstrate that we are building a strong foundation upon which Chicago students can grow and succeed.”

Byrd-Bennett said she thinks “welcoming” schools are headed in the right direction. “I think that in another year, we will see improvements,” she said.

NWEA replaced ISAT

In addition to the NWEA, CPS students had to take the ISAT this year, as it is still being used by the state for accountability. CPS officials say they just recently got ISAT scores from the state and will soon release them.

The ISAT is being phased out because it is not aligned with new Common Core standards, which are seen as more rigorous. Beginning in the upcoming school year, Illinois will use a new test aligned with Common Core, called the PARCC.

CPS officials decided to transition to the NWEA because it is aligned with Common Core and they wanted students to be ready for the PARCC. NWEA will still be used next year, even though PARCC scores will be available. 

Beginning next year, growth in test scores will be part of the CPS accountability system for teachers and principals as well as schools. CPS will use the NWEA for that.

However, Byrd-Bennett said she does not believe that NWEA growth being factored into evaluations had anything to do with the better test scores. Instead, she says that she, unlike other CEOs, have set a district plan. Her plan has lead to professional development being aligned with standards being taught in class, Byrd-Bennett said.

Also, the district is now using more “personalized learning instruments,” which are mostly computer programs that differentiate instruction based on what students are deficient in, she said. “Personalized learning instruments are not grade specific, but content specific,” she said. “… Technology is an incredible tool to do it.”

But Zavitkovsky also notes that CPS has been improving faster than the state for about five years. However, test scores are a lagging indicator, meaning that the reason for their change usually starts about five years before it happens.

Comings and Goings: Peters, Sheren, Swanson, Rivera

August 7, 2014 - 1:29pm

Harrison Peters, a former CPS chief of schools, is now the chief school officer for the Houston Independent School District in Texas. Peters was with CPS for the past four years.

Amy Sheren is leaving her position as executive director of the Chicago Foundation for Education and relocating to Singapore to be with her family. Sheren was at the foundation for five years.

In case you missed it:

Beth Swanson has resigned as deputy chief of staff for education for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Arnaldo Rivera, chief operating officer of the Chicago Public Education Fund, has succeeded her.

Swanson is moving to the Joyce Foundation, where she will serve as vice president of strategy and programs. Previously she was an administrator for the Chicago Public Schools and executive director of The Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation.

Before joining the Chicago Public Education Fund, Rivera was deputy chief of staff for CPS CEOs Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Jean-Claude Brizard. Rivera began his education career as a teacher at Disney Magnet School. 

Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones:

Take 5: Principal stability; elementary school drain and teacher licenses

August 6, 2014 - 9:14pm

It looks like Earle Elementary School in Englewood--one of the schools designated to take in students from closed schools--is once again going to get a new principal. DNAinfo first reported that CPS officials said that Earle principal Demetrius Hobson was resigning and then reported that he said he hadn’t resigned. Hobson took over Earle in January after Ketesha Melendez was reassigned. As Catalyst reported in our fall issue of Catalyst in Depth, parents of the shuttered Goodlow, whose children were assigned to Earle, were having a difficult time adjusting to Earle.

And now Hobson has emerged on a list of eight principals CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has asked to reapply for their jobs, while opening those posts for other applicants. Except for Hobson, all the principals are at high schools: Julian, Tilden, Kelyvn Park, Chicago Vocational, Marshall, Hirsch and Corliss. CEO spokesman Joel Hood says the eight principals are not being targeted for disimissal but, rather, that Byrd-Bennett wants contract principals at the schools, in part for stability. “The other part of it is that she wants to make sure these schools are on the right track,” says Hood.

CPS has lots of interim principals. The most recent employee roster shows 68 interim principals, including almost all of those at the helm in AUSL-run schools.

At schools on probation, as all of these eight schools are, CPS administrators have the power not only to name but also to remove a contract principal. If administrators remove a contract principal, then the LSC loses the authority to select a new contract principal until the school is off of probation. Hood says district officials are keeping LSCs informed about what is going on. 

2. A striking map… WBEZ’s Linda Lutton offers up another interesting story on how the mix of schools in the city has changed. In early July, she reported that incoming freshman test scores reveal that few high schools have student bodies with a range of academic ability. This time, she looks at neighborhood elementary schools and finds that fewer students in their attendance boundaries go to them. This change is the result of the district opening up so many schools that enroll students from anywhere in the city, including charter and magnet schools. A decade ago, 74 percent of students attended their neighborhood school; now only 62 percent do. The map that accompanies the story paints a stark picture of what is happening to neighborhood schools. 

In some neighborhoods, the effect is much more dramatic. For the Spring 2013 issue of Catalyst in Depth, we looked at the same set of CPS data and found that in 14 predominantly black South Side and West Side communities that CPS defines as “underutilized,” an average of 54 percent of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. In other communities, two-thirds of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. Of the 10 neighborhoods with the most children attending their neighborhood school, six are well-to-do neighborhoods on the North Side or Northwest Side. The other four are Latino neighborhoods--two on the Far Southeast Side and two on the Southwest Side of the city.

3. Licensed to teach… A Chicago Tribune investigation found that hundreds of classrooms are lead by teachers without the proper credentials. The teachers were qualified to teach, just not in the subjects that they were teaching. For example, in Barrington, a math teacher was teaching science and a young teacher was teaching economics, though she had no background in the subject.

It is not entirely clear that a teacher must be licensed in a subject in order to be good at teaching it, according to experts. Sara Ray Stoelinga, senior director of the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, argues in the article that teacher assignment is complex and that administrators should be allowed some flexibility. Studies have shown that knowledge of content area is important for improving achievement.

The Tribune investigation did not look at CPS teachers, though the article notes that federal data show that 900 of 23,000 are not fully licensed to teach any subject.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers quickly posted a rebuttal to the Tribune investigation. In it, IFT points out that the Tribune supports charter schools, at which only 75 percent of teachers have to be licensed. Also, the union notes that the Tribune doesn't mention Teach For America, which allows teachers to be in front of classrooms for two years without a license. 

4. Raising high school grad requirements…. alone won't increase achievement. A new study by ACT Inc. looks at the effect of a 2005 Illinois law that required students to take at least three years of math and two years of science.The study finds it didn't result in students doing better on the ACT in either math or science. But students did take more science classes, and college enrollment increased due to the math requirement.

The study did not include CPS. But a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research found in 2010 that with the increased science requirements, more students took and passed science courses. However, 83 percent got a C or lower. Consortium researchers concluded that taking these classes might have hurt students ability to get into colleges.

5. Raising the bar earlier… The New York Times writes about the growing trend of holding back students who cannot read properly by third grade. In 2012, 14 states passed laws requiring that children pass reading tests to move on to fourth grade, and another two--Arizona and Colorado--offered summer school for struggling readers. One of the big criticisms of these laws is that third grade is too late to start remediating reading problems, according to the article.

These laws sound a lot like CPS’ policy that sets reading and math grade and standardized test thresholds for promotion in third, sixth and eighth grade. As you may recall, under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago was seen as a leader in “ending social promotion.” At one time, thousands of students in Chicago were forced to repeat a grade. But research showed that retained students were more likely to drop out. Also, sending a lot of students to summer school was expensive.

Over time, the promotion policy has been scaled back. In 2002, more than 30,000 CPS students were required to go to summer school and 11,000 were held back. This summer, only 10,000 students were required to go to summer school. And in recent years, less than 2 percent of students were retained in elementary school. 




Absenteeism and truancy down, but not at welcoming schools

August 6, 2014 - 12:36pm

The spike in chronic truancy and absenteeism that CPS elementary schools experienced in the 2012-2013 school year was somewhat reversed last year, new preliminary data show. But welcoming schools that took in most of the children displaced by school closings on average saw a slight increase in chronic truancy and held steady when it came to chronic absences.

And despite the overall year-to-year improvements, chronic truancy remains higher in every grade,  compared to the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years. Chronic absenteeism, meanwhile, has barely budged when compared to those two years. (Click here to see the data on chronic truancy and chronic absenteeism.)

Community activists said they weren’t surprised that welcoming schools didn’t see the same kinds of improvements as other schools.

“What do you expect, it’s the distance and the new environment,” said Gloria Harris, a parent trainer at Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI). “Somebody comes along and says, ‘we have to take your children and put them here.’ Your kids are not going to feel safe until they get used to that environment.”

CPS officials did not dispute Catalyst’s analysis, but said that it was unfair to compare welcoming schools with other district-run schools because the welcoming schools have substantially different student bodies. Further, most new students came from schools with higher-than-average rates of truancy and absences.

(See an accompanying story on what CPS is doing to reduce chronic truancy and absenteeism here.)

Chronic truancy is defined as missing nine or more days of school without a valid excuse; chronic absenteeism, meanwhile, means missing at least 18 school days with or without a valid excuse.

Catalyst’s findings come as a state-appointed task force last week issued a set of non-binding recommendations for how Chicago can fix its “epidemic” of empty desks in elementary schools. The task force, which was convened in response to a 2012 investigation into the issue, suggests a variety of solutions that range from improved data collection and the hiring of attendance coordinators at struggling schools, to a public awareness campaign and the creation of a permanent state-wide task force on truancy.

 “Chronic absenteeism and truancy have consequences of untold proportions,” according to the task force’s report. “Any student who is not in school is not learning. The kindergarten student who is not in school is acquiring a habit that will affect future school attendance.”

 CPS shared preliminary district-wide data from the 2013-14 school year at the final meeting, in July, of Task Force on Truancy in Chicago Public Schools. CPS has not responded to a Catalyst request for the corresponding school-level data, but a community organization that obtained it separately from the district provided a copy.

 Catalyst analyzed the date a variety of ways to see both what happened this past school year, and what could have caused the spike in truancy and absenteeism in 2012-2013:

At welcoming schools:

-- Those schools did not see the reductions in chronic truancy and absenteeism that were seen at other district-run schools last year.  In fact, from the 2012-13 school year to the 2013-14 school year, chronic truancy increased at welcoming schools, from about 24.6 percent to 25.4 percent. At all other schools, chronic truancy fell from about 16.8 percent to 14.3 percent.

-- Chronic absenteeism barely changed from one year to the next, dropping slightly from 15.9 percent to 15.3 percent. Chronic absenteeism fell more at non-welcoming schools, from 14.6 percent to 11.6 percent.

At schools threated with closure:

-- The data from 2012-2013 shows that schools that operated under the threat of closure that year saw higher increases on average than other schools – regardless of whether they ultimately shut down. Schools on a list of nearly 130 schools that CPS considered closing saw chronic truancy rates jump from about 20 percent to nearly 29 percent that year. Meanwhile, schools that were never on that list to begin with saw a smaller increase from about 10 percent to 15 percent.

The data are in line with findings from a 2009 study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research Consortium on how the most precarious time for students of closed schools.

“Announcements about upcoming CPS school closings typically were made in January—about six months prior to the actual closings of schools and a few months before students took annual achievement tests,” according to the report. “These announcements often caused significant angst for students, parents, teachers, and other community members, and the disruption may have hindered student learning.”

At schools with increases in suspensions:

While the district hasn’t completely pinpointed what triggered the increase in chronic truancy and absenteeism in the 2012-2013 school year, officials say a parallel increase in suspensions and expulsions could be partly to blame, since they take students out of school.

The data Catalyst analyzed shows that most of the 25 elementary schools with the biggest increases in out-of-school suspensions in the 2012-2013 school year also posted increases in chronic absenteeism and chronic truancy.

“The discipline issues were also getting worse at the elementary level in tandem with the [chronic truancy and absenteeism],” said Aarti Dhupelia, CPS’s chief officer of college and career success, who also oversees truancy and absenteeism issues, in a recent phone interview.

 CPS has not yet released complete discipline data from this past school year. Charter schools are not included in this analysis because the suspension data is incomplete.

At all schools:

Elementary schools with predominantly black and poor student populations continue to have the highest chronic truancy and absenteeism rates. On average, 23 percent of students were considered chronically truant at schools where most of the student body is black. Meanwhile, the overall average for all elementary schools was about 15 percent.

Schools where at least 90 percent of students qualified for free or reduced price lunch reported an average chronic truancy rate of nearly 19 percent. At schools with fewer than two-thirds of low-income students, only 6 percent were considered chronically truant.

The findings are in line with previous research by another Consortium study on chronic absences in preschool. The 2013 report found that African-American students were almost twice as likely to miss class as other students. The report cited children’s health as the biggest factor, followed by logistical obstacles such as limited transportation or a sick relative.

A better picture overall

Overall, the district did post improvements in chronic truancy and absenteeism at every grade level last year, when compared with the previous year.

“CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett really announced [improving attendance] as a key priority for the district going into this past school year,” Dhupelia said. “And it’s not just saying it’s a priority. There were some intentional strategies that that were piloted this past year, a few things we really made traction on."

District officials credited the improvements to a new emphasis on attendance and a series of strategies piloted in this past 2013-14 school year, including targeted funds for struggling schools, the production of monthly data reports tailored to individual schools, and an emphasis on restorative justice programs as an alternative to suspensions or expulsions.

CPS first shared details on some of the district’s pilot strategies during the truancy task force’s June meeting. The CPS draft strategic plan shared that day generated some skepticism among several task force members. (See a copy of the district's draft plan.)

 “I truly believe this plan was created only in relation to the task force,” said Sarah Hainds, a researcher for the Chicago Teachers Union who sits on the task force. “They want to look like they’re proactive, ahead of the game. They came up with this plan to kind of stave off any kind of mandated policies from the state level.”

Dhupelia, who also sits on the task force, said she and the district took the group’s work very seriously, and implemented some of the research and ideas that were generated during the monthly meetings into the district’s own strategic plan.

“It wasn’t something we popped up at the last minute and said, ‘Hey, we’re done,’” she said. “This is a continuously improving effort. We certainly have a long way to go. I know we can get better. But it would not have made sense to wait; our kids cannot wait.”

How CPS is trying to improve attendance

August 6, 2014 - 12:35pm

Like many recent CPS strategies, data plays a big part in the district’s draft plan to reduce chronic absenteeism and absences. School administrators now receive monthly data reports that allow them to flag students who are off track early.

The district also wants to develop better data-sharing partnerships with the Archdiocese of Chicago, suburban districts and the Illinois State Board of Education to determine when CPS students transfer out.

“We don’t want to lose any children, right? When a student transfers out but we have no verification, we will spend resources trying to track them down,” said Aarti Dhupelia, CPS’s chief of college and career success, whose office also oversees attendance issues. “If they’ve already transferred, we obviously don’t need to spend those resources.”

(See accompanying story on how chronic truancy and absenteeism have changed at CPS elementary schools in recent years.)

Community organizers and advocates that work with schools, including members of the Truancy in Chicago Schools Task Force, have asked whether they too can access up-to-date information on chronic absences and truancy, in order to better target their own resources. Dhupelia said the district is looking into the possibility of sharing some data with outside groups, but has limitations because of laws protecting student privacy.

The task force recently issued its own set of broad recommendations to CPS. Those recommendations are non-binding. 

Last year the district also targeted about $3 million in funding at about 180 schools with the worst attendance problems, Dhupelia said. (Catalyst asked for a list of schools that received this targeted funding of about $16,000 per school.) Dhupelia said about the same amount of funding is budgeted to support schools with high truancy and absenteeism rates next year.

The money was used to develop tailored plans for each school. Some schools, for example, used the funds for training on restorative discipline practices or social-emotional supports for students.

“You have to look at the unique needs of each school,” Dhupelia said. “That’s why plans are tailored to each school […] There’s no cookie cutter requirement to do X, Y or Z.”

The CPS draft strategic plan for improving attendance notes how specific schools targeted the problem. At Armour Elementary, for example, missing students were “tracked in a Google spreadsheet by adults who followed up, documented their efforts and followed up again.” Parents of children with excessive absences were put on notice, and those with strong attendance received free tickets to a White Sox game. More difficult cases were referred to a case worker.

One strategy the district is also considering came from the task force’s review of best practices around the country. Officials in New York City started a city-wide marketing campaign to build awareness of the need for attendance improvement, even using “celebrity wakeup calls” to encourage good attendance.

“It’s something we’re still looking into,” Dhupelia said.

New principals group to weigh in on policy

August 5, 2014 - 9:07am

Led by the two principals who wrote editorials critical of CPS administration, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association has formed a new committee aimed at advocating for policy and amplifying principal voice.

The committee is calling itself Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education or AAPPLE. 

The committee plans to hold monthly forums, issue white papers and keep members better informed about what the CPAA is working on. It also has a discussion board on its website.

Topics for the first four forums are: Defining a successful school system; high quality teacher training and professional development; economics, poverty, segregation and education systems, and the role of schools and government in addressing the effects of poverty on school systems; and how do we build sustainable cities?

The first forum will be held on Aug. 21 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion.

Michael Beyer, principal of Morrill Elementary, said the forums are intended to help change the conversation and get at some core questions about the future of the CPS and the city. Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere says he thinks it is important that the new committee broadens the conversation.

“On the surface, some of the forum topics don’t have anything to do with school, but they have everything to do with school,” LaRaviere says.

The moderators will include Terry Mazany, president of The Chicago Community Trust, and academics Charles Payne of the University of Chicago and David Stovall of University of Illinois – Chicago.  Mazany served for about a year and a half as interim chief executive officer of CPS, bridging the Richard Daley and Rahm Emanuel administrations, and Payne was his chief education officer.

Beyer says the forum panels will include charter-school advocates, and the panel for the forum on sustainable cities will include mayoral candidates. “We want to have a professional debate on solutions,” he says.

LaRaviere has been outspoken in his opposition to Emanuel, and it would run contrary to standard political practice for an incumbent mayor to participate in a panel with opponents, particularly if it includes Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, a frequent, harsh critic who is weighing a run.

LaRaviere and Beyer say they want the committee to be non-political and that inviting mayoral candidates is meant to influence them rather than give them a platform.

“Our contributions to policy discussions will come from the experiences of CPS principals and assistant principals as they provide feedback on the very real effects of district and state policies,” LaRaviere says.  “Our contributions will also derive from an already large body of research on what has been proven to work for great school systems.”

While principals tend to be extremely busy, Beyer says organizers are hopeful that they will see the value of carving out a few hours a month to attend the forums, which will be open to the public.

The committee’s leaders are also working on white papers that outline some of the issues they are concerned about. The first one will be on implementation of the new physical education policy, which requires daily PE, and the second one will be on student-based budgeting.

Beyer says the group is hopeful that CPS leaders will take heed of the positions advocated in the white papers and eventually see the value in gauging the committee’s opinion before moving forward on policy. He notes that currently the CPAA is often informed about decisions a week before they are announced and has little chance of changing them.

Working with CPAA

LaRaviere and Beyer say they and a group of about eight other principals considered forming a new entity, but met with CPAA president Clarice Berry and decided that it would be best to work with the existing organization. “We saw no reason not to work with CPAA,” LaRaviere says.

LaRaviere wrote an editorial in May, criticizing Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS leaders for not listening to teachers and principals and for forbidding them from talking to the press about what is going on in their schools.Then, in Catalyst, Beyer laid out the type of organization principals need to represent them.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood did not want to comment specifically on the creation of the new committee, but says CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has a principals’ advisory committee and listens intently to what those principals have to say. “We greatly value working with principals,” he says.

But LaRaviere says he does not think the advisory committee, chosen by Byrd-Bennett, can fully represent principals. He says the advisory committee’s function is to offer thoughts on subjects that Byrd-Bennett wants feedback on, not necessarily to look at issues that affect schooling or advocate for policies principals are concerned about.

Beyer also says CPS’ principal advisory committee is problematic as the only voice delivering the principal point of view to CPS. For one, no one knows who is on it, he says, so if a principal wants to communicate a concern, he or she doesn’t know whom to reach out to. Also, he says, those on it might be afraid to say what they really think.  

Berry, the CPAA president, says she has struggled to get principals to speak out on issues and welcomes the new committee. “First and foremost, the issue is fear. Principals are paralyzed,” she says.

Berry says she thinks the move to student-based budgeting sent principals “over the cliff.” “You have all these unfunded mandates and a mountain of accountability. It was like a volcano.”

 “Their colleagues see them as beacons,” Berry says. “They have confidence in them.”

LaRaviere says the feedback he has gotten from CPS principals is that they are hungry for such an entity. “I am hopeful,” he says.



Take 5: Absenteeism task force, principal eligibility and "lost" children

August 4, 2014 - 7:21am

The Chicago Tribune calls the reforms recommended by a state task force on absenteeism sweeping. The task force was created after a Tribune investigation found that about 13 percent of Chicago’s elementary school students miss more than a month of school or vanish without anyone in CPS knowing where they went. The recommendations include the return of truancy officers, changing the way districts report absenteeism and sharing real time information on absent students with other entities, like the Chicago Housing Authority.

But then, in the ninth paragraph, the story points out that since the series was published in November 2012 -- and based on data from the 2010-2011 school year -- chronic absenteeism has gotten worse in the elementary grades. As Catalyst reported in May, in every grade level during the 2012-2013 school year there was a substantial increase--an average of 5 percent. The Tribune notes that this past school year, the rates have gone down a bit, but are still higher than 2010-2011.

CPS officials say they do not know what caused the increase, according to the Tribune. One thing that was different in 2012-2013 was that school officials were threatening to close more than 100 schools, which caused some instability.  Ultimately, they closed 50.

2. Policy or political…. Despite failing the CPS’ principal eligibility test twice, Ald. Pat O’Connor’s sister Catherine Sugrue will serve as Gray’s interim principal, according to the Chicago Tribune. Many saw this coming when the agenda for the Board of Education included an item that gave CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett leverage to override the principal eligibility process. One change is that interim principals don’t have to meet the eligibility requirements, whereas before they did. Also, the CEO can now determine how long a candidate is excluded from consideration after failing twice; whereas the old policy called from them to be excluded for three years. 

CPS officials say the policy change was not pushed specifically for Surgue and that her brother, the alderman, did not intervene on her behalf. In fact, CPS officials say that Sugrue is the second principal appointed under the policy change, but the Tribune article does not name the second principal.

But the fact that leaders are willing to put more flexibility into the principal eligibility process is surprising. Making it harder to become a principal was one of the key provisions of the district’s “comprehensive, multi-tiered Principal Quality Strategy,” unveiled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett in February 2013. The new process includes a “Day in the Life” simulation and criteria for assessing how well candidates interact with parents and communities.

However, having a stringent principal eligibility process erodes the power of Local School Councils to choose whomever they want. In the case of Gray, the LSC chose Sugrue. While not being specific, district officials told DNAinfo that Sugrue did not make it past the first stage of the process, which entails being interviewed by a two-person panel of experts.

3. Lost and found… Barbara Byrd-Bennett penned an op-ed for the Chicago Sun-Times patting herself and her administration on the back for locating the 847 students “identified by our critics as `lost.’”  Byrd-Bennett says that CPS found these students had transferred to the suburbs, out of state or to private schools. She writes that the location of these students was confirmed by ISBE, though ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus told Catalyst that she doesn’t know who at ISBE confirmed the information.

CTU President Karen Lewis raised the issue of "lost children" at the March board meeting, referencing the fact that CPS’ own information identified these students as “inactive.” At the time, CPS spokesman Joel Hood told Catalyst that CPS was working with ISBE to locate the students and that the information would be provided as soon as it was available. But rather than provide the data to Catalyst, CPS officials decided it would be better to write an editorial. Catalyst is still waiting for more detailed information, not only about where students went, but where the information came from.

4. Immigrant children and school districts... Children who have fled the violence in Central America are enrolling in Illinois public schools. Officials in Waukegan say 77 children from Honduras have enrolled as of the last week of July for the 2014-15 school year, bringing the total from the last two years to nearly 100, according to the Lake County News-Sun.

District officials here in Chicago can also expect to receive more of these students as Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently agreed to provide shelter to 1,000 children fleeing the gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

School districts from Miami to Houston are preparing for an influx of students, who frequently require special -- and expensive -- resources such as English language and mental health services. Obama administration officials recently reminded districts of a decades-old Supreme Court ruling that ensures all children the right to enroll in school, regardless of their immigration status.

5. As Chicago opens its doors… to children fleeing violence, the  city also is struggling to protect its own children from it. A Fenger Academy High School graduate featured on CNN’s“Chicagoland” was shot and wounded over the weekend. Lee McCollum Jr. was highligted as a young man who turned his life around. The 20-year-old was shot twice in the leg as he headed into work at a Wendy’s at 7:30 a.m. Saturday from his grandfather’s home in Roseland. He had graduated last year and was working to save money for college, family members said.

Fenger’s principal, Liz Dozier, who was also featured prominently in the CNN series, told the Tribune she’s kept in touch with McCollum since graduation, and hopes he enrolls in college this fall. "We are still trying to get him off to school … It's just better to get him out of the city," she said. "We're working on it for him."


Scalding school closing report unlikely to get a hearing

July 31, 2014 - 9:09pm

A scalding report that criticizes CPS for the way it handled the mass closing of schools last year likely will not get a public hearing as requested by state task force members. 

As for why, that’s in dispute. 

State Rep. Linda Chapa La Via, chair of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, said she requested a hearing but has little hope that it will ever be held. “Everything is politics,” she said with a sigh.

However, Steve Brown, House Speaker Mike Madigan’s spokesman, said that Chapa LaVia doesn’t need permission to hold a hearing. He was incredulous as to why she doesn’t just move forward.

Chapa Lavia did not respond when re-contacted. Also, representatives Cynthia Soto and Esther Golar, both of whom sit on the task force, did not respond to calls and emails on the subject.

Members of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force said they are convinced that Madigan’s office—with the encouragement of Mayor Rahm Emanuel—is preventing the hearing. They suspect that Emanuel wants to avoid a discussion on the school closing process during an election year. 

“It was shut down,” said Clarice Berry, a task force member and president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.  “There is tremendous political pressure not to hold a hearing.”

Cecile Carroll, chair of the task force, said she was told the request for a subject matter hearing was denied and was given the impression that it was over Chapa Lavia’s head. 

The final report criticizes CPS on a range of matters, from not announcing the school actions in time for students to apply to magnet or selective enrollment schools to not taking heed of the opinions of Independent hearing officers, some of whom recommended—to no avail—that a school not be closed. 

Mike Rendina, who at the time was CPS’ Chief of Policy, wrote a three-page rebuttal to the final report, accusing task force members of not consulting district officials as they were writing it. He said there are several instances where the report is inaccurate or misleading. 

One point of contention is that the report says CPS has not developed a defined system or policies to evaluate the school actions. Rendina notes in his letter that CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett issued a mid-year preliminary report that looks at attendance and other issues.  The task force report acknowledges Byrd-Bennett’s report, but notes that it is not online for the public to review. 

Catalyst reported that the gains touted by Byrd-Bennett in the mid-year report are minuscule. Catalyst also has asked for a final report now that the school year is over. 

The Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force was created after community activists, frustrated by earlier school closings made their case to state lawmakers. Based on the task force’s recommendations, state lawmakers passed a bill in 2011 that established a process for school actions as well as forced CPS to come up with a master facilities plan. Newly in office, Emanuel grudgingly supported the bill after getting a provision removed that would have allowed the task force to override school actions.

Ever since, the task force has been responsible for monitoring CPS’ implementation of the bill, and task force members have often grilled CPS officials. They also have drawn a lot of information out of CPS that had not been made public. Rendina, now in the mayor’s office, attended most of the meetings. 

What the task force’s next step is unclear, Berry said that even without a hearing, she is hopeful the task force’s report will send a lasting message.  “I am hoping to never see this kind of mass closings again,” she said. “It does not serve the children well.”