2003 News Briefs
January 9: Teacher quality
In its annual "Quality Counts" special report, Education Week reports that Illinois has the worst teacher-quality gap in the country, with at least half of the state's high-poverty and high-minority schools employing teachers who do not have minors in the subjects they are teaching.
January 10: Desegregation plan
U.S. District Judge Charles Korcoras threatens to pull the plug on the district's 22-year-old desegregation consent decree, claiming it is "passe" because the school district is now more than 90 percent minority. He delays making a final decision, giving CPS, the U.S. Department of Justice and groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund until October to present plans to modify the decree. Meanwhile, consultants hired last year by the School Board release reports that raise questions about the district's efforts to desegregate schools.
January 30: Teacher quality
In its annual "Quality Counts" special report, Education Week reports that Illinois has the worst teacher-quality gap in the country, with at least half of the state's high-poverty and high-minority schools employing teachers who do not have minors in the subjects they are teaching. School rebirth School officials announce plans to restructure the shuttered Williams school into three small schools (most of which are contract schools) and refashion Dodge as a professional development school for teachers. The schools are the first to seat transition advisory councils comprised of community leaders who provide input in the planning process. Both schools, closed at the end of last school year for poor academic performance, are on track to open this fall.
February 3: Changing of the guard
In an effort to hire more business experts in central office, CEO Arne Duncan names former Chicago Board of Trade director David Vitale as his senior advisor. Vitale, who agreed to work for $1 a year, will help Duncan hire replacements for top-level staff who recently were fired or resigned including Philip Hansen, chief accountability officer; Timothy Martin, chief operating officer; and Elaine Williams, chief technology officer.
February 18: More money, time for math and science
CPS announces a new $14.5 million math and science initiative to boost performance in those subjects. CPS will hire math and science coaches to help teachers bolster instruction, and will require elementary schools to spend an additional 20 minutes a day on math. The initiative follows a similar yet more pricy effort launched two years ago to improve reading instruction.
March 5: Second round of small schools
Orr, Bowen and South Shore high schools, which opened five small schools among them in September 2002, will add four more small schools over 18 months. Curricula at the new schools will be based on four themes: leadership; technology; foreign languages and international studies; and the Paideia program, which uses Socratic seminars to teach analytical thinking.
March 10: Budget cuts
Facing a severe budget crisis, CEO Arne Duncan orders department heads to trim budgets by 15 percent for the next fiscal year, for central office cuts totaling $30 million. The following day, Duncan lobbies the Illinois Legislature for $250 million for the district. In early May, the legislature approved $73 million in additional funding to the district.
April 3: New deal
CPS agrees to postpone closing schools for poor academic performance, striking a deal with the Chicago Teachers Union to provide extra money and support. In June, CTU and the district select eight elementary (Attucks, Bass, Burke, Chalmers, Delano, Hartigan, Medill and Raymond) and two high schools (Collins and Richards) to participate. Each school will have one year to improve its academic standing by using research-based reform models. The program is the first to arise from a new agreement (signed into law April 16) that requires the School Board and the union to work cooperatively in improving schools. A year ago, the board angered CTU officials when it abruptly closed three failing schools.
April 10: Teacher quality
CPS sends letters to 55,000 parents whose children are being taught by teachers who do not have minimum teaching credentials mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind act. A districtwide audit finds that 13 percent of the district's 15,343 classroom teachers do not meet the law's guidelines for competence in core academic subjects. Of those whose credentials fell short, half are bilingual education teachers and, by grade level, 22 percent are middle school teachers. Also, the audit finds that 77 percent of paraprofessionals do not meet certification requirements. Teachers and paraprofessionals must be fully qualified by 2006.
April 16: Done deal
Gov. Rod Blagojevich signs into law a measure that restores some bargaining rights to the Chicago Teachers Union. The measure also includes a provision to double the number of charter schools in Chicago to 30.
April 21: More funds for small schools
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awards $7.6 million over five years to CPS to create 12 new small high schools. The district will open two new small schools by 2004, and plans to open a total of 32 by 2007. An earlier grant from Gates funded small school conversions at four low-performing high schools.
May 1: Overcrowded schools
To relieve overcrowding for nearly 6,000 CPS students, CEO Arne Duncan announces a $53 million project to build additions or new facilities for three schools, install modular classrooms at 17 others, and to lease and convert three closed Catholic schools into CPS facilities.
May 6: Contract talks begin
The Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union officially begin contract negotiations. The current 4-year contract expires June 30. Top priorities for the union are pay raises that exceed 3 percent, and expanding the types of teacher income-pay for summer school and after school, for instance-that can be counted toward pension contributions.
May 22: Help for freshmen
Mayor Daley announces a new $3.5 million effort to help stem freshman failure and high school dropout rates in CPS. The program includes a three-day orientation for parents and 8th graders to help students make a smooth transition into high school, and summer coursework aimed at bolstering the math and reading skills of students who test well enough to be promoted but fall below the national average in these subjects.
June 2: Math up, reading down
CPS students score higher in math compared to year-ago results on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. However, reading scores drop despite a costly districtwide reading initiative.
June 16: Expanding choice
CPS announces a new plan to allow students enrolled in any failing school to transfer to better performing schools, as required by No Child Left Behind. However, students may only transfer to schools within certain geographic boundaries, and some requests may be denied due to overcrowding. Last year, students at only 50 of 179 failing schools were eligible.
June 26: Teacher turnover
One in four CPS teachers in selected high-poverty schools quit at the end of their first year-a rate that is 15 percent higher than the national average, according to a study by the Illinois Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).
June 25: New budget
The School Board approves a $4.8 billion budget for the 2004 fiscal year, an increase of $209 million, or 4.5 percent. School officials say the increase will be funded, in part, by raising property taxes and cutting 450 jobs at central office. Also, it anticipates an additional $70 million in state revenue.
Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago issues a report, “Left Behind,” calling for 100 new charters in Chicago.
July 1: Summer school attendance up
The highest number since 1996, 35,508 students—nearly 32 percent of 3 rd-, 6 th- and 8 th-graders—begin mandatory summer school because they failed to meet Chicago Public Schools promotion standards. Students who score below the 24th percentile in reading and math on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills must successfully complete summer school and retake the test for a higher passing score before they may are promoted to the next grade in the fall.
July 23: State watch list triples
The Illinois State Board of Education labels 627 schools statewide as failing to achieve adequate yearly progress on test scores under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Last year, 245 schools were named to the list, including 179 elementary and high schools in Chicago .
July 27: ISAT scores released
Chicago elementary grades show some progress on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, but continue to score below state averages. Preliminary data suggest between 245 and 350 of the city's elementary and high schools must allow students to transfer to better-performing schools, under No Child guidelines. Last year, the number was 191.
August 15: School choice dwindles more
Schools CEO Arne Duncan says the district can only accommodate up to 1,035 of the estimated 250,000 students that could opt to transfer from failing schools to better performing ones under No Child Left Behind. The competition will be especially tight in high schools, where nearly 48,000 students can vie for only 123 seats in three schools. (Even before No Child Left Behind, Chicago had an extensive choice program at the high school level.) Duncan also promised to give receiving schools $2.6 million in aid so they are not overburdened.
August 19: ACT scores up
The average ACT test score for Illinois’ high school seniors rose to 20.2, from 20.1. In Chicago, the average rose to 16.7 from 16.5. Scores are on a scale of 1 to 35.
August 26: Beefed up security
CPS officials announce a $53 million plan for school safety and security. Although no student was killed in school last year, gun seizures on school grounds doubled, and an audit of 44 of the district’s most troubled schools showed security lapses. Officials say they will spend an extra $1 million for security this coming school year to increase the number of high schools with x-ray machines and add security personnel.
August 29: Retention policy eased
CPS officials reveal that fewer kids will be retained this year, due to changes in the Board’s promotion policy. This year, 10,839 students will repeat a grade. Without the policy change, the number would have topped last year’s record high of 13,308. The new policy drops math scores as a criterion, requiring only that students score at least at the 24th percentile in reading and have good classroom grades.
September 2: Schools’ 1 st day
Despite an elaborate back-to-school campaign that offered Chicago Bulls tickets and gift certificates as incentives for students to attend the first day of school, the 2003-04 school year begins with attendance up only 326 students from last year. However, school officials note that opening-day attendance has gone up steadily since the system switched back to a post-Labor Day opening in 2001.
September 3: School construction
Illinois Go. Rod Blagojevich announces state construction grants to 71 school districts, including nearly $300 million to Chicago. Cash-strapped districts are to use the funds only to build and improve schools, and are restricted from using the money to operate schools. The funds are dispersed as part of the state’s school construction grants program, which aims to reduce overcrowding.
October 24: New High School for Little Village
After years of community protests and even a hunger strike, the Board of Education approves the new construction of Little Village High School for an estimated $61 million. The new school is slated to open in the fall of 2005.