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Cover Stories

December 01, 2005

While the district's curricular models for math and science have won praise from teachers and experts, the models chosen for English have earned criticism.

Many students enter high school with below-average reading skills, skills that are particularly crucial when it comes to reading and analyzing nonfiction text. The current English curriculum does little to address the problem, teachers note. Yet the new curriculum models may not do much more: The district's request-for-proposals states only that new curricula should be developed "with attention to nonfiction text."

November 29, 2005

Shenice began cutting classes at Tilden High in New City shortly after Christmas break last year. She can't think of a reason other than "I just got bored." The 15-year-old failed four classes that semester, greatly boosting the chances she would not graduate on time.

November 02, 2005

Three years ago, Chicago Public Schools began to subdivide its most troubled high schools—Orr, Bowen and South Shore. The idea was that smaller learning environments would allow students to get more personal attention and closer supervision.

To a large degree, these objectives have been met: In a study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, kids in these small schools reported closer relationships with teachers, more academic help and less violence among peers.

November 02, 2005

Anita Andrews, assistant principal at Gage Park High, likes to tell this story about her boss, Principal Wilfredo Ortiz:

Driving on 55th Street to a central office meeting, Ortiz spotted a group of truant Gage Park students strolling down the sidewalk. He pulled over, collected their ID tags and ordered them back to school. He went back, too, and called their parents. When he couldn't get through, "He got back in his car, went to their houses, and brought their parents back to the school building," Andrews recalls with amazement. "I don't know where he gets all that energy."

October 05, 2005

This summer, Principal Patricia McCann was in a quandary over the state pre-kindergarten program at Mays Elementary.

In June, Chicago Public Schools sent principals a memo announcing that full-day state pre-kindergarten programs would be converted to half-day in the fall. The move would serve more children and save money, district officials said at the time. Back then, Mays operated two full-day classrooms that served 40 low-income children, and had a waiting list of another 30 parents clamoring to get in.

October 04, 2005

Testing young children is a dicey proposition. On one hand, educators and policy-makers agree that finding out what preschoolers know and building on those skills is important. It is also essential, they say, to determine whether preschool programs are delivering the goods and sufficiently preparing youngsters for grade school.

Yet, early childhood experts warn that much is unknown about how best to teach reading and early math to 3- and 4-year-olds, and that too much emphasis on these academic skills could be detrimental.

October 04, 2005

This fall, CPS unveiled at South Loop Elementary a new all-day preschool program for poor and middle-class children—a three-part mix of Head Start, state pre-kindergarten and the district's own tuition-based preschool. Before the opening, however, CPS Early Childhood Education Officer Barbara Bowman had eliminated all full-day state pre-K programs, a move that affected some 900 children.

October 04, 2005

Nationwide testing of pre-kindergarteners is intended to gauge how well Head Start agencies are preparing youngsters to begin school, but the tool currently being used is far from being ready for such a high-stakes purpose, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

Developed two years ago, the National Reporting System (NRS) aims to measure literacy, language and early math skills of 4- and 5-year-old children who are headed into kindergarten. It is administered in English and Spanish.

October 04, 2005

Four-year-olds at Midway Head Start are sitting in a circle singing a song about five green, speckled frogs that are disappearing one by one. Following the teacher's lead, the children use hand motions and their fingers to count down until no speckled frogs are left.

Flashcards and worksheets are nowhere in sight. "That's not developmentally appropriate," says Ruth Prescott, who oversees Head Start programs for Metropolitan Family Services.