2004 News Briefs
January 15: ISBE controversy
Gov. Rod Blagojevich ignites a firestorm, calling the Illinois State Board of Education a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" and announcing plans to scrap it for a cabinet department he would control. Weeks later, he makes a pitch for a law gutting most of ISBE's power, leaving it mainly as a consulting body. Supt. of Education Robert Schiller goes on the defensive, saying Blagojevich targeted ISBE because it refused to make political hires and accusing the governor of trying to deflect attention from a more pressing issue: school funding.
January 28: Dropout policy
Aiming to cut the dropout rate, the Chicago Board of Education amends its absenteeism and truancy policy and includes specifics regarding when schools may drop students from enrollment. Some activists cry foul, however, over a provision allowing schools to drop students "when advised orally by a student over the age of 16 or his/her parents."Critics note that with a single telephone call, students who are not yet adults could drop out without their parents' knowledge or consent. The legal age to drop out is 16.
February 12: Budget deficit
With the governor preparing to announce his state spending plans, Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan announces the district may have to cut up to 1,000 school-based positions to help close a $200 million budget gap for next year. Chicago Teachers Union President Deborah Lynch, up for re-election this spring, threatens to sue to keep teachers and aides from losing their jobs. The board says it hopes to make most cuts through attrition and the need for fewer teachers because of declining enrollment.
March 1: Deseg decree
U.S. District Court Judge Charles Kocoras says he may end federal oversight of Chicago's desegregation consent decree by 2006. The School Board and the U.S. Department of Justice agree to an interim plan until then, under which the board must meet a number of conditions, including considering new standards for admission to magnet schools and issuing public reports on school-by-school spending.
March 17: LSC update
Thanks to last-minute recruiting, nearly 6,900 parents and community members signed up to run for 5,698 seats in April's local school council elections. It's the lowest number of candidates ever. Three-fourths of schools will have contested elections, and two schools did not have enough candidates for a quorum. Meanwhile, community groups call for legislative hearings on the status of LSCs.
March 18: Hiring policy
To boost teacher recruitment, especially in shortage areas such as math and science, CPS announces new hiring policies. Principals can now make guaranteed job offers to teachers as early as March, and new hires will no longer lose their jobs after the 20th day of school if enrollment does not meet projections. The board also expects to hire more teachers from alternative-certification programs.
March 24: ACT Charter
The School Board recommends renewing the charter for the Academy of Communications and Technology, a month after threatening to shut it down because of low test scores. A statistician hired by ACT showed that, despite its low scores, the charter was performing better than other West Garfield Park schools. ACT students and supporters turned out to lobby for the school in February. ACT serves 6th- through 12th-graders.
April 21: NCLB
The 2004-05 school year will be the worst year yet for elementary school children trying to transfer out of failing schools. An estimated 190,000 students will be eligible to transfer to better-performing schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, but only 500 seats will be available-one seat for every 380 students. No open seats are available in better performing high schools. A lottery to decide who can transfer will be held in June.
April 22: Gifted slots
CPS announces plans to add 300 more 1st- and 2nd-grade slots for gifted children at 12 elementary schools: Andersen, Cook, Deneen, Curtis, Gale, Henderson, Fairfield, Nixon, Oglesby, Spencer, Ninos Heroes and Parker. The move is aimed at keeping high-achieving students in neighborhood schools. CPS also will offer 500 new slots for fifth-year seniors through its Virtual High School program, which allows students to take courses over the Internet.
May 3: Summer jobs
To encourage struggling 8th-graders to sign up for Step Up to High School, CPS announces it will provide two-week, $5-an-hour summer jobs to participants. Step Up is for 8th-graders who meet promotion standards but are still performing below national averages on standardized tests. Students will tutor younger children and perform other work. CPS says freshmen who enrolled in Step Up were more likely to pass algebra and English than students who were eligible but didn't participate.
May 13: Deseg plan
A federal judge rebukes CPS lawyers for failing to meet an April 1 deadline for submitting materials to the U.S. Department of Justice on its desegregation consent decree. U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras rejected CPS' claim that it met the deadline by submitting drafts of material. The board must finish a list of actions, including a review of magnet school admission policies, by the end of the 2005-06 school year. Kocoras will decide then whether to end the decree.
May 24: Budget cuts
CEO Arne Duncan announces that 2,180 teaching positions will be eliminated to help trim a $100 million budget deficit. Duncan says the positions will be cut at schools that are being closed or have declining enrollment. Officials say the net loss will amount to only 130 jobs, since 2,050 vacant or new teaching positions have yet to be filled. Another 1,300 non-teaching positions in schools will be cut. The announcement sparks protests at the School Board meeting two days later.
June 1: Testing gains
Scores for the Iowa Test of Basic Skill are announced and more than half of the city's 8th-graders meet national norms in reading and math. Citywide, reading scores are up two percentage points, after a two percentage-point drop last year. Math scores fall half a percentage point from their all-time high in 2003, but students remain close to reaching national norms.
June 4: School closings
School officials announce 10 school closings concentrated in neighborhoods that are clearing out as public housing high rises are demolished and residents are being displaced. The move sparks community backlash. Two of the elementary schools will be consolidated with an existing school into a single facility. Other displaced students will be moved to schools operating under capacity.
June 12: CTU election
By only 566 votes, Marilyn Stewart and the Union Progressive Caucus ticket defeat incumbent President Deborah Lynch in a runoff election. Lynch lost support from some teachers following a contract battle with the School Board last fall over pay raises and health benefit costs, but at the end of the month, the election results are invalidated following allegations of vote fraud.
June 23: No school shutdowns
In response to the June 4 announcement of 10 school closings on the South and West sides, hundreds of angry parents confront the Board of Education, accusing it of racism and acting without input from parents and community members. School officials cite nearby available space and the condition of the closed schools as the basis for their decision. The demonstration is the first in a series of protests over school shut-downs in the Mid-South area.
June 24: Renaissance 2010
Mayor Richard M. Daley announces his plan to shut down dozens of schools and create 100 new ones, most of them charter and contract schools, by 2010. He cites chronic poor performance and calls on businesses to 'step up' as school sponsors. Activists gear up for battle, citing lack of community and parent input into the sweeping proposal, which was largely based on a 2003 proposal by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, a business group.
June 28: Summer school
The number of low-scoring students required to attend summer school to avoid being retained is down by 9,000, in part because the Board of Education stopped using low math scores as a factor to trigger enrollment. CPS also contends that higher test scores this year contributed to the decline. The board also launched another mandatory summer program for 800 low-scoring 2nd-graders.
July 8: State aid stalled
School officials from Chicago and the surrounding area hold a press conference to discuss Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposal to increase state school funding by $250 per pupil, but legislators won’t come to an agreement till almost the end of the month.
July 12: CTU Investigation
The American Federation of Teachers announces that it will review fraud allegations from the June 12 CTU election. The investigation will be conducted by union leaders from New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.
July 24: State aid agreement
Almost two months past the traditional deadline, lawmakers finally agree on a state budget, but instead of the $250 increase in per-pupil funding that Gov. Rod Blagojevich wanted, legislators only agree to a $154 per pupil increase. A CPS spokesman warns that budget cuts will be needed.
July 26: Tests Cut
To save some $6 million, students will no longer take state tests in social studies or writing beginning in 2005, state education officials announce. Because the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires testing only in reading, mathematics and science, legislators elected to stop the tests to help pay for the $154-per-pupil increase in state funding for local school districts. Some education experts express concern that cutting the tests will result in fewer resources and less classroom time being spent on the subjects.
Renaissance 2010 protestors camp out overnight at CPS headquarters to ensure they can speak at the School Board meeting. This first major protest is followed by more public outcry.
August 2: Crackdown
Citing poor academic performance at their schools, the School Board fires principals at Cregier Multiplex, Fenger High and Bouchet Elementary. Several others reportedly agree to quit, but the board does not name them. Some 20 principals are given new plans for improving their schools. The leader of the local principals’ group says principals are being "scapegoated" and criticizes the board for failing to inform local school councils. A CPS spokesman says the actions were "an employee performance evaluation."
August 10: More taxes
In response to a less-than-expected increase in state per-pupil funding that left the district with a $45 million deficit, Schools CEO Arne Duncan announces a 2.4 percent increase in school property taxes. The increase will raise $40 million, but more cuts will have to be made throughout the year to make up the remaining $5 million. The district’s total budget reaches $5 billion and targets more money toward early childhood, reading and dropout prevention. Critics later question whether the budget is as lean as CPS claims.
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless asks a federal judge to stop school closings so homeless students won’t be illegally displaced from their home schools.
September 10: Retention
The number of kids who will have to repeat a grade drops, but the percentage rises. About 7,900 students were retained after they completed mandatory summer school, down from about 10,800 last year, but that figure is 32 percent of summer school students, which is up from 30 percent last year. Students with substandard math performance were not required to attend summer school this year, and no student could be retained twice in the same grade grouping, even if their test scores remained low.
September 14: E-rate ruckus
Mayor Richard M. Daley defends Schools CEO Arne Duncan's efforts to implement the federal E-rate program in the wake of an August federal probe. Government records revealed a program fraught with odd billing practices, dubious no-bid contracts and general disorder, according to an investigation by the Chicago Tribune. The district was heavily criticized for allowing about $8 million in equipment to sit unused in storage. In October, a House subcommittee will hear testimony on the E-rate from CPS officials.
September 23: Probation
A third of schools, 212 are placed on academic probation because too few students met state standards or national norms on standardized tests. To avoid probation, 40 percent of students at elementary schools and 30 percent of students at high schools had to meet the standards or norms. Last year, the thresholds were 25 percent and 15 percent respectively. Schools on probation must spend their discretionary funds on designated programs, such as full-day kindergarten or reading specialists.
October 5: Naval academy
A noisy crowd of about 300, mostly students and anti-war demonstrators, forced district officials to cut short a presentation of plans to open a naval academy inside Senn High School in Edgewater next year. Following intense heckling, officials stopped a promotional video for military schools and adjourned early. Protestors decried the plan as military recruitment of poor, urban youth. CPS says it wants to provide parents and students with more choice. Senn officials say they fear the academy will take up too much space.
October 6: Capital funding
Schools CEO Arne Duncan makes a plea for state legislators to approve $500 million in school construction matching grants. If the program is not approved during the November veto session, Chicago stands to lose about $110 million slated for repairs, renovations and new construction for overcrowding relief. Suburban and Downstate education leaders joined Duncan to make the plea. The School Board last month approved a $369 million capital budget. CPS' capital budget for 2004-05 is $660 million.
October 14: After-school
Thirty-four schools will share a $3.1 million 21st Century Community Centers federal grant and $1.8 million in private funds to become community schools; 32 schools are already in the program and offer after-school academics and activities. A new report from Mathematica Policy Research found that elementary students in the 21st Century program, which is nationwide, improved their attendance, reported feeling safer after school and had high expectations for finishing college. There was little impact on test scores.
November 9: Desegregation
The U.S. Justice Department sues CPS, demanding that the district offers minority students more chances to transfer to white neighborhood schools. CPS says the 25 schools that are majority white on the Northwest Side and in Mt.Greenwood on the Southwest Side, have no space. But federal attorneys say hundreds of white students were allowed to transfer into those schools, taking seats that could have been offered to black and Latino students to enhance integration.
November 12: Kids shut out
The West and South Sides have the greatest need for schools that meet strong academic standards, according to a new report by the Illinois Facilities Fund. About 228,000 students are shut out of schools where at least 40 percent of elementary students or 30 percent of high school students meet state standards. The five communities with the greatest need are South Shore, Greater Grand Crossing, Austin,Washington Park and Brighton Park.
November 17: Closings forum
CPS unveils a website for residents to submit criteria they think should be used to pick schools that ought to close. Critics called the website a charade, while School Board President Michael Scott called it an effort to be transparent about school closings. He promised a "very public" discussion of closings policy. The site is at www.ren2010.cps.k12.il.us. Residents can also fill out input forms at libraries or aldermanic offices, or call (773) 553-1000 to have a form mailed to them.
Proposals from parties interested in opening Renaissance schools are due.