1998 News Briefs
January 13: Terrell escorts
After sporadic gunfire around Terrell School kept over 200 pupils home, 70 neighborhood men escort children to and the from school, resulting in near perfect attendance. The escorts were organized by Rev. B. Herbert Martin of Progressive Community Church. A week later, Jan. 20, the School Board would form the Parent Patrol, hiring 83 parents at $8 a day to escort children to and from Terrell. For details, see story "Terrell: Getting out of the hole."
January 16: Special education settlement
The School Reform Board settles a lawsuit filed on behalf of 53,000 special education students. The board agrees to redirect as many special education students as possible to their neighborhood schools and to have them spend as much time as possible with non-disabled children, following the standard curriculum. That's what federal law has required since 1975, but the Chicago Public Schools hasn't followed the law. The suit, Corey H. vs. the Chicago Board of Education, was filed by the Northwestern University Law Center and Designs for Change in 1992. A parallel suit against the state will go to trial. The settlement calls for an eight-year phase-in.
January 27: Retention results
A third of the 8th-graders retained in transition centers have scored high enough to graduate to high school, the Reform Board reports. Of the 1,170 students enrolled in nine transition centers, 34.3 percent scored a 6.9 or higher in reading on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and a 7.0 or higher in math.
February 11: Test questions
The Consortium on Chicago School Research recommends that the Chicago Public Schools replace the Iowa Test of Basic Skills with a locally designed standardized test that is tied to the systems learning goals. It argues that the Iowa test cannot measure individual school impact on student achievement, year-to-year gains or the effect of new central office policies, such as retention and bilingual testing. A summary and school-by-school results can be found at the Consortium web site.
February 25: Bilingual policy amended
The School Reform Board approves a controversial revision of its policy on bilingual education. The new policy limits most children to a maximum of three years in bilingual programs, with provisions for an extra year, if necessary. The plan draws fire from some policy groups and community organizations, who argue that a three-year limit may force some children out of bilingual programs before they are ready for English- only instruction. Board officials say that some students spend too long in the program-- a few for 12 years or more. About 71,000 of the district's 425,000 are affected by the programs, according to reports in the Chicago Sun Times.
March 11: Final indictments
A former School Board employee and six vendors are charged with financial crimes, including kickbacks on a $100,000 contract and embezzlement of $9,000 by a school clerk. The charges include fraud, money laundering, bribery, overcharging for carpeting, and theft. The indictments come less than four months after the School Board and the Cook County State's Attorney's Office began joint oversight.
March 13: LSC candidate count
A total of 7,289 candidates file nomination petitions for the city's fifth local school council election, the lowest sign-up since the first election in 1989; there are about 5,700 seats to be filled. School CEO Paul Vallas claims some parents may feel so satisfied with current reform measures that they are choosing other forms of school activism, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Others say the small number of candidates may highlight the frustrations caused by central office policies that curtail the councils' powers, such as academic probation and new requirements for spending discretionary funds.
April 8: LSC election turnout
Two days of local school council elections begin. The School Board's Office of School and Community Relations later reports the following voter turnout: 52,611 parents, 25,739 staff members, 15,948 community members and 39,413 students. The turnout was down in every category from 1996 elections, with an overall drop of 23 percent.
April 9: Census project
The Chicago Public Schools, in partnership with the Illinois Ethnic Coalition, plans to put counting centers in all 565 schools for the 2000 U.S. Census, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. An undercount could cost the school system millions of dollars in federal grants that are tied to population, especially low-income population. Students who work on the census can use that time toward their community service graduation requirement.
April 9: Jones switch
The local school council at Jones Metropolitan High School, located in the South Loop, rejects the Reform Board's plan to change Jones from a two-year career academy to a four-year magnet school, the teacher newspaper Substance reports. LSC members, students, parents and others opposed to the change say Jones provides important job training for its low-income students; the school boasts near-perfect graduation and job- placement rates. But the board sticks to its plan, arguing that the growing middle class in the South Loop warrants a high school with selective enrollment.
April 13: Capital budget hearings
Reform Board officials convene the first of six public hearings on a draft of an updated budget for its long-range capital improvement plan-- $3.2 billion over seven years. Before the plan is formally adopted in late May, officials add or accelerate $259 million in projects requested by speakers at the hearings.
April 21: Early childhood dollars
Mayor Daley and Schools CEO Paul Vallas unveil a $1.6 million program that will dispatch teachers to 20 more day-care centers next fall, providing early childhood education for 50 percent more children, bringing the total number to 5,100, Chicago Sun-Times reports. The city and the School Board of Education will split the costs, the mayor said.
April 29: Charter approvals
The School Board approves charters for an Afrocentric elementary school in Grand Crossing and a West Town high school whose focus will emphasize character development, bringing the number of city charters to the 15 authorized by state law
May 14: Reconstitution reprieve
The Chicago Tribune reports that the School Board has given teachers who lost their jobs at reconstituted high schools last summer an additional four months to find new teaching jobs in the system. Under board policy, so-called reassigned teachers have 10 months to find a principal who will take them; during that time, they work as day-to-day substitutes four days a week and collect their full salaries. The announcement comes on the eve of Chicago Teachers Union elections, in which challenger Deborah Walsh accuses incumbent President Tom Reece of complicity with what she calls the School Board's "anti-union" policies, especially reconstitution. Board president Gery Chico calls the extension a "one-time" fix, with an eye toward "good labor relations," the Tribunereports. In October, the board grants another extension, to Jan. 22, 1999.
May 15: Teachers union election
Chicago Teachers Union President Tom Reece wins re-election, but challenger Deborah Walsh makes the best showing in recent history, garnering 41 percent of the vote. In addition, six members of Walsh's slate, the candidates for high school functional vice president, are elected to the union's 40-member executive committee, making them the first challengers to win in recent history. Both Reece and Walsh attribute her slate's strong showing in the high schools to anger over reconstitution.
May 16: Teacher's union election
Incumbent officers of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association who failed to win official slating win re-election as challengers. President Beverly Tunney, Secretary Doris Scott and Treasurer Joe Garvey had been forced to run as challengers after poor attendance put control of the nominating committee into the hands of a group that was unhappy with their leadership.
May 17: Middle-class bonuses
CEO Paul Vallas tells the Chicago Sun-Times that he will send extra money to largely middle-income schools to ensure that they, like low-income schools, have discretionary funds. Almost all discretionary funds come from federal and state programs aimed at low-income children. Vallas's pledge came in reaction to complaints from schools that were losing poverty funds because of changing demographics. Subsequently, according to a report in the Lerner Times, Vallas told representatives from those schools that instead of creating a systemwide policy, he will make specific arrangements with individual schools, such as permitting them to keep a teaching position that is not justified by the board's staffing formula.
May 18: scores up
The School Board announces that citywide scores in reading and math on nationally standardized tests increased for a third year in a row. Testing experts subsequently question the size of the gains, noting that the new practice of holding back especially low-scoring students likely inflated the scores.
May 27: Busing controversy
Magnet school parents show up in force at the monthly School Board meeting to protest a board proposal that would require 72 schools—many of them magnets—to start classes an hour earlier in order to save money on busing. In a first, Mayor Richard Daley criticizes the board publicly. Ald. Patrick O'Connor, chair of the City Council Education Committee and a father of magnet-school children, joins in. In the following weeks, the board accepts alternative cost-cutting proposals from many schools; the number of schools slated for an early start drops to 20.
May 28: Retention results
The School Board releases figures showing that 522 of the 1,077 8th-graders enrolled in the board's high school transition centers failed to hit test-score targets required for promotion to high school. The centers were created to serve 8th-graders who didn't score high enough for high school but were considered too old to be held back in 8th grade.
June 5: GED program changes
In a letter to Chicago aldermen, schools CEO Paul Vallas announces that CPS and City Colleges will jointly offer GED preparation to 2,400 adults age 18 and over. Twelve CPS high schools will house the classes, which will be taught by instructors from City College's Adult Learning Skills Program. Two days earlier, Michael Hernandez, general counsel for the Illinois State Board of Education, issued an opinion that GED programs operated by the Youth Connection Charter School, an umbrella charter covering programs at 25 sites throughout the city, could not be claimed by CPS for general state aid.
July 6: LSC training change
School Community Relations Director James Deanes sends a memo to all newly elected LSC members informing them that they must get their mandatory training at board-sponsored sessions. This decision drastically reduces the role of independent non-profit organizations whose staff wrote much of the curriculum and had performed much of the training in previous years. Deanes subsequently says greater accountability was needed; LSC advocates charge politics.
July 22: ComEd building costs
The School Board quietly allocates $25 million in bond funds to rehab its new offices at 125 S. Clark St., bringing the total cost of the new space to over $33 million, a 39 percent increase over previous estimates. Later, the board adds another $8 million to rehab satellite offices at a former middle school. The additions are approved as part of omnibus reports that include dozens of minor changes to the system's capital budget.
July 30: GED program, continued
After receiving a letter from the Lawyers' School Reform Advisory Project, ISBE general counsel Michael Hernandez amends his opinion precluding GED programs in the Youth Connection Charter School from receiving general state aid. He says GED programs whose students receive instruction comparable to that provided by diploma-granting programs in the charter are eligible to claim general state aid "regardless of the credential they receive at the end of their education." Seven of nine GED programs in the Youth Connection Charter appear to meet this standard.
July 31: Principal training
The first class of LAUNCH (Leadership Academy and Urban Network for Chicago) completes principal training at Northwestern University; it includes 36 teachers and administrators. In mid-August, the majority of participants are assigned to work as apprentice principals alongside successful principals who had volunteered to be mentors for a five-month internship. Eight of the LAUNCH fellows agree to assignments as associate principals in schools on probation.
July 31: Latino Institute collapse
Officials of the Latino Institute announce that the organization has ceased operations and dismissed its entire staff because of financial problems. Education issues, especially bilingual education and school overcrowding, had been primary concerns for the Institute, a policy and advocacy organization founded in 1974. The Institute had also incubated several other organizations that played important roles in school reform, including the Chicago Association of Local School Councils (CALSC). An audit later reveals a deficit of $442,752, including $167,367 the Institute was managing for CALSC. CALSC continues its operations without interruption in the space it shared with the Institute. Rebuilding was underway by the end of the year.
August 4: Clemente LSC ruling
A Cook County Circuit Court judge rules for the School Board in a legal dispute with former members of the Clemente High School LSC. Judge Ellis Reed rules that Irene DaMota, installed by the board as interim principal and approved by the current LSC, shall remain principal; the former council members had attempted to appoint a different candidate days before their terms in office expired.
August 6: Gale LSC ruling
In a separate case dealing with similar issues, another Circuit Court judge rules against the School Board and declares that the principal contract offered to Beverly Martin by the former LSC at Gale School is "valid and enforceable." The judge later rules, however, that the board is not obligated to install Martin as Gale's principal. For details, see story "Gale mess becomes a cause celebre."
August 21: Summer Bridge results
The School Board releases the results of its Summer Bridge program for low-achieving 3rd-, 6th- and 8th-graders. Students at those grades are required to meet minimum scores on standardized math and reading tests for promotion to the next grade. Those who fail in the spring are assigned to Summer Bridge and retested in August. Of more than 24,000 elementary Bridge students tested in August 1998, 54 percent earn promotion to the next grade. More than 11,000 are held back.
August 27: Clemente committe wrap-up
The state legislative committee investigating state Chapter 1 spending at Clemente High School holds its final meeting. The panel's chair, State Rep. Edgar Lopez (D-Chicago), later says that additional "guidelines" are needed on how schools may spend this discretionary money. Schools CEO Paul Vallas and staff for the School Reform Board echo Lopez's statement in interviews with CATALYST; LSC advocates dispute the need for additional controls on the funds. The state committee issues a report in November, but the legislature takes no immediate action.
September 1: Chapter 1 lawsuit
A Cook County Circuit Court judge gives a green light to a 1988 lawsuit alleging that the Chicago Board of Education misspent hundreds of millions of dollars in state Chapter 1 funds between 1978 and 1995. Plaintiffs represented by the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) hope to get the School Board to provide money to compensate in some way for the misspending; they also hope the court will order the state to monitor spending more effectively.
September 7: Expulsions increase
The number of students expelled from Chicago Public Schools has jumped dramatically in the last three years, largely because of the School Board's zero tolerance policy regarding weapons and drugs, Natalie Pardo reports in The Chicago Reporter, an investigative newsletter. However, five students tell the Reporter that they continue to smuggle weapons into school, and school officials concede that their policies do not guarantee safe schools.
September 22: CASE results
The School Board announces that most students failed three of the four course exams piloted last spring with 9th-graders. The Chicago Academic Standards Exams (CASE) are intended to measure achievement of the academic standards the board set in 1997. Eventually, they are to count toward final grades. On the multiple-choice portion of the exams, 25 percent of 9th-graders passed algebra, 35.5 percent passed biology, 42.7 percent passed World Studies, and 75.8 percent passed English.
September 23: High school requirements
In the wake of a high no-show rate, the School Board drops mandatory summer school for freshmen who fail courses or post especially low scores on standardized reading and math tests. Chief Education Officer Cozette Buckney says the board decided that the $9.3 million it spent on summer school for freshmen in 1998 could be better spent elsewhere. The board also adds new requirements--including minimum standardized test scores, passing grades on districts exams, and 11 course credits-- for high school students to enter what it calls a "senior academy." Senior academy students will be eligible for advanced placement courses and other programs.
October 14: Reconstitution reprieve redux
The Chicago Teachers Union announces that "reassigned" teachers ousted from reconstituted schools in the summer of 1997 again have been given extra time to find jobs inside the system. Previous deadlines were the end of June and the end of October. The new deadline is Jan. 22, 1999. Of the 179 teachers who were not invited back to their schools during reconstitution, about 40 have not found permanent positions, according to CTU spokesperson Jackie Gallagher. The CTU says it will sue if any loses a job. The board granted this extension as negotiations for a new four-year, teacher contract neared completion.
October 16: LSC training questioned
The School Board's June 1998 decision to exclude non-profit reform groups from LSC training comes under question. By law, the board's decisions on LSC training must include consultation with the Council of Chicago Area Deans of Education (CCADE). In a letter to the board's LSC training committee, council chair Pamela Adelman states the council is "concerned that decisions were made without the required consultation." She asks them to submit comments by Nov. 15.
October 22: State watch list
The Illinois State Board of Education removes 37 Chicago public schools from its Academic Early Warning List, based on the results of standardized tests administered last spring. In 1997, 93 Chicago schools had appeared on the list because more than half their students failed to meet state goals on the tests; with one such school closed and two Chicago schools added to the list, Chicago now has 58 school's on the state watch list. Outside Chicago, there are 13 schools on the list.
November 5: Research on teaching
The Consortium on Chicago School Research releases three studies on the quality of instruction in Chicago public elementary schools. Key findings: Students typically receive far less than the 300 minutes of daily instruction required by the state. Student assignments cover the basics but fall short of demanding intellectual work. Students learn few new math concepts after 4th grade. Schools CEO Vallas criticizes the studies, noting that the data were gathered before the Reform Board instituted new academic standards and instructional guides for teachers, the Chicago Tribune reports.
November 10: CTU contract approved
Chicago Teachers Union members approve a new four-year contract with the board nine months before the current contract expires. The vote is 13,501 to 9,942, with 75 percent of eligible members casting ballots. The agreement is the union's second, consecutive four-year pact and will supercede the current contract two months before it expires at the end of August, 1999. The contract drew criticism from CTU opposition leaders over raises, a new high school schedule and rights of reassigned teachers.
December 11: Riley offers praise
U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley calls the Chicago school system a "model for the country," applauding the city’s combination of local control and a strong central office. The city has "the best of both worlds," Riley says, addressing a local gathering of parents, educators, politicians and business leaders; the meeting marks the 10th anniversary of the signing of the 1988 Chicago School Reform Act.
December 16: No pass, no play
The School Board beefs up its requirements for high school students who participate in sports and other extracurricular activities. To be eligible, students will have to pass at least four classes each semester, and if they don’t maintain at least a "C" average, they will have to work with school staff on a plan to improve. Previously, only students in Illinois High School Association sports programs were subject to the "no pass, no play" policy, which was the only academic benchmark in place. Last year, the state Legislature passed a law requiring all districts in the state to set academic requirements for extracurricular activities by December 31.
December 30: Charter failure Under pressure from School Board officials, the board of Chicago Prep Charter School votes to close the 16-month-old school, making it the first of Chicago’s 13 charter schools to fail. Chicago Prep tied for lowest reading scores citywide on the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (TAP) and faced problems beyond academics. Founded by an official from Mayor Daley’s Office on Substance Abuse Policy, the school was designed to serve teens with drug and alcohol problems; however, according to Greg Richmond, the board’s director of charter schools, marijuana smoke often wafted from school washrooms. The students will be transferred mid-year to other high schools, though they will receive no academic credit for their time at Chicago Prep.
December 31: Parochial charter proposal
The Chicago Tribune reports that Chicago Public School officials and the Rev. Michael Pfleger are discussing the conversion of St. Sabina School, a South Side Catholic school, into a charter school. To get around the state prohibition on charters for religious schools, the school would have to shut its doors and re-open as a secular non-profit, with religious instruction optional and offered only after school, Chicago school officials told the Chicago Tribune. Critics, including the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Midwest chapter of the American Jewish Congress, raise the constitutional issue of separation of church and state. St. Sabina officials say they want to make the switch to a charter school to bolster flagging teacher salaries and to make enrollment possible for students who cannot afford the current $2,435 tuition. Greg Richmond, Director of CPS Charter Schools, says St. Sabina has not submitted a proposal.
ComEd deal closing
School Board officials close the purchase of the Commonwealth Edison building at 125 S. Clark Street, which will become the board's new headquarters, the Sun-Times reports. The board's return to the Loop is scheduled for the spring but does not take place until the fall.