As CPS prepares to close a record number of schools, the fate of students and communities is in question.
Feb. 4: Free lunches
CPS has lost as much as $3.5 million a year by handing out free meals to students who were not eligible, or had not been certified, for the federal free lunch program. The latest annual report from CPS Inspector General James Sullivan shows that one school failed to collect as much as $18,000 in lunch money in October and November 2005. Some students who got the free lunches qualified, but never filled out the paperwork, so CPS cannot be reimbursed for the cost.
Feb. 13: English only
Parents of non-English-speaking students protested a plan from state education officials that requires their children to take the regular state achievement test. Parents threatened to keep their children home on test day if the plan did not change. Previously, students still learning English took an alternative test with simpler English. But federal education officials said that test did not meet No Child Left Behind standards. Students will be given extra time, have some directions read in their native language, and be given other accommodations.
Feb. 27: Hand-picked
The School Board has approved a plan that would allow principals of CPS’ “elite eight” college prep high schools to hand-pick up to 5 percent of incoming freshmen. The change, proposed in the wake of an admissions scandal at Sabin Magnet, would give principals flexibility to let in students who don’t meet strict admissions standards but who meet one of four other criteria, such as leadership ability. Principals would have to prove the students could succeed in a tough academic environment.
N.C., MD.: Dropouts
Faced with a rising number of dropouts, North Carolina and Maryland want to raise the age of mandatory school attendance from 16 to 18, according to the Feb. 8 Raleigh News-Observer and the Feb. 11 Baltimore Sun. In North Carolina, the number of dropouts increased 6 percent between 2006 and 2007. Two committees of business leaders, educators and legislators have awarded dropout prevention grants and will evaluate prevention programs. In Maryland, a new state task force report says raising the dropout age to 18 would cost $200 million a year. Among the task force proposals are adding a fifth year of high school for struggling students and creating “truancy courts” to keep kids in school.
Los Angeles: Charter facilities
The L.A. Unified School District will have to inventory space in its school buildings and do more to help charters find facilities, potentially forcing some teachers to give up their classrooms and become roving teachers, according to the Feb. 13 Los Angeles Times. The agreement was made in the district’s settlement of two lawsuits filed by the California Charter Schools Association under a state law that requires school campuses to be “shared fairly.” Overcrowding has already forced some teachers to move from classroom to classroom as space permits. Board opponents of the settlement said charters can move into storefronts and other facilities, and that forcing charters into campuses would aggravate overcrowding and hinder school improvement efforts.
“The unfortunate thing is, [ineffective teachers] will go somewhere else and teach someone else’s children.”
Jarvis Sanford, principal of Dodge Elementary, explaining that he has created a school culture focused on high performance that drives out unproductive teachers. Sanford spoke at his school during a Feb. 20 tour organized for Sen. Dick Durbin and other top officials.
I believe that our neighborhood school is a “failing school” under No Child Left Behind. Does that mean I can enroll my children in another neighborhood school?
Anonymous parent, Northside Parent Network
The federal No Child Left Behind law allows children to transfer out of schools designated as “in need of improvement.” But the majority of schools in Chicago are struggling, so there are not enough good options for transferring.
“Our first priority is to get the lowest performers out of the lowest-performing schools,” says Ginger Reynolds, chief officer of research, evaluation and accountability. In the past, the district has given priority to students whose schools were closed for poor performance, but Reynolds is not sure what will happen this year.
Last year, only about 400 students transferred out of underperforming schools although at least 10,000 students were eligible. Designations are based on the standardized test scores and parents are sent letters, usually in August, notifying them their child has the option of transferring, Reynolds says. The best way to find out whether your local school has been characterized as a “failing school” is to go to the Interactive Illinois Report Card which has a searchable data base of schools at www.niu.edu/iirc/default.html.
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This year, 157 CPS principals are new to their schools. This is what they look like: Nearly 70% have previous experience as an assistant principal and 5% have held positions as principals previously. About 30% are men; of those, 46% are African American and 27% are Hispanic. Their average age is 46. Only 11% are from the district’s principal preparation program, while 22% are from outside programs and 3 are from outside the district.