2005 News Briefs
CPS chooses school provider finalists.
January 30: Tutoring
CPS and the state will chip in $5 million to keep the district's No Child Left Behind tutoring program up and running till the end of the school year. The U.S. Department of Education told CPS in December to stop using federal money for the program, which provides tutoring at schools, by teachers, to about 42,000 students. Another 41,000 students are tutored by private providers. CPS will pay $4 million, using funds typically spent on summer school programs. The state will pay the other $1 million.
February 1: Deseg transfers
Following a federal judge's order that CPS offer more seats to minority students at mostly-white schools, 190 students were expected to begin classes in their new schools. CPS found 288 seats in 33 schools, mostly on the Northwest Side. CPS said in the spring that mostly-white schools had no open slots. But the U.S. Justice Department said in November that hundreds of white students were allowed to transfer into white schools, taking seats that should have gone to black and Latino children to improve integration.
February 2: Graduation
The CPS high school graduation rate is improving, but it's still worse than state data show, according to a report by the Consortium on Chicago School Research. Only 54 percent of freshmen graduate, the report states, while the latest state report card puts the rate at 70.7 percent. African American boys fared worst; only 39 percent graduate by age 19, compared to half or more of Latino, white or Asian boys. The Consortium report includes data by race, gender, community and school.
February 23: Closing ‘option’
The School Board votes to close three low-performing schools this fall but says it may not shut them if the community can develop plans for new schools in the next four months. The board says its move provides options for communities, but critics call it unrealistic. “How can we recreate a school in four months when CPS has been unable to do it for years?” asks teachers union President Marilyn Stewart. Previously, the district closed schools for a year before re-opening them and accepting students.
February 24: Parochials
The closings of 23 parochial schools could lead to an influx of hundreds of students at CPS schools that are already overcrowded. Many of the schools that will close are in Latino communities, where schools are already overcrowded. Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of CPS enrollment. Principals are bracing for more students but say they are worried about how to serve newcomers. Only 27 percent of children whose parochial schools close enroll at another Catholic school, according to an Archdiocese of Chicago spokeswoman.
March 3: Desegregation
Federal attorneys take CPS back to court, saying the district is doing such a poor job of complying with the desegregation decree that an outside monitor is needed. CPS contends a monitor isn’t necessary. Federal lawyers say CPS has not offered sufficient bus transportation to minority students to attend largely white schools, and has not reallocated enough desegregation money to racially isolated schools. Court documents also cite other concerns, including the racial makeup of faculty. (See related story)
March 6: Tutors fired
One of the nation's largest private tutoring companies is fired from seven elementary schools following complaints at those schools about oversized classes, lack of teachers and other problems. New York-based Platform Learning provides tutoring for 14,000 children in 76 CPS schools under a $15 million contract. Similar complaints about Platform surfaced in other large districts, but Chicago is the first to remove the company from problem schools. Children from the seven schools will be placed with other private tutors or the district's own program.
March 10: Pershing
Parents at a local school council meeting protest a decision to "de-magnetize" Pershing Magnet school and turn it into a K-3 school called Pershing East. Low-scoring Douglas would become a 4th- through 8th-grade school called Pershing West. CEO Arne Duncan says dozens of children are turned away from Pershing each year and that his plan will make the school's high-quality curriculum available to more students. But one parent questioned why Pershing was "dragged into this mess," referring to efforts to transform failing schools.
March 23: Principals
Calling their 2 percent pay raise an insult, the head of the principals' association said the group wants to change state law and allow principals and assistant principals to organize as a union. Principals traditionally have received the same percentage raise as teachers and expected to receive a 4 percent increase. "The principals simply feel disrespected and very oppressed. We are tired of it," said Clarice Berry, head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. The average principal salary is $115,000.
April 15: Teacher firings
About 1,100 non-tenured teachers—12 percent of non-tenured teachers in CPS—have been fired under a new policy that allows principals to get rid of them without lengthy hearings. The policy brings Chicago in line with other Illinois school districts, where teachers can be fired for any reason during their first three years, and gave principals flexibility to decide which teachers to let go pending budget cuts that could eliminate up to 800 teaching jobs. Most were fired for poor performance in the classroom.
April 19: $50 million school
The West Side will be home to two new schools housed in a single $50 million building: a selective-admissions school with a college-prep curriculum, and a school focused on vocational education. The new building will replace Westinghouse, which is expected to be phased out over five years. CPS officials say combining college prep and vocational schools assures residents that the new school will accommodate neighborhood kids who would not be eligible to attend a selective-admissions, magnet-style high school.
April 26: CTU schools
Leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union want to expand a partnership with the district and take over an additional eight to 10 failing schools. In 2003, the union took over 10 schools for two years; two of the 10 schools were later closed due to low enrollment, despite academic gains. Most of the rest made some progress by 2004. Union leaders want to continue the partnership at the original schools for three more years, and are asking for five-year contracts for the new schools. Schools CEO Arne Duncan supports the idea.
May 24: 2010 plans
CPS begins accepting proposals for the next round of Renaissance 2010 schools. District officials say they are looking for proposals for high schools with curricula focusing on technology, math and science, vocational education, performing arts and language immersion. The district also says the Seed Foundation, which operates a residential charter in Washington, D.C., has expressed interest in opening a charter in Chicago. A residential school could cost $20,000 per pupil, compared to $5,000-$6,000 for other Renaissance schools.
June 2: Budget cuts
To save $25 million, the district lays off 156 central office workers, eliminates consultants and cuts raises for central office staff from 4 percent to 2 percent. CPS Budget Director Pedro Martinez warns of more cuts to come, including fewer janitors and aides, and cuts in after-school sports, music and busing. As a last resort, the district will increase class sizes in high schools. CPS will receive $82 million in state aid following a last-minute budget deal in Springfield, but still must close a $90 million budget hole.
June 2: Charter trouble
Parents of students at the Chicago Children’s Choir Academy Charter are upset about the group’s decision to pull out of the school. Choir officials say the group does not have the expertise or resources to run a school and never should have applied for the charter. Parents and school staff have submitted a proposal from a local business group to take over the charter and keep its music-oriented curriculum. But CPS and choir officials are reportedly considering a competing plan that would change the school’s focus.
Aug. 9: Jones expands
After years of litigation, the Board of Education agrees to pay $13 million for the Pacific Garden Mission homeless shelter next door to Jones College Prep High School. The shelter will be razed to make way for the high school’s $20 million expansion project, expected to break ground in 2008. Jones Principal Don Fraynd says that the high price of the Pacific Garden property may have cut into the project’s budget. Pacific Garden’s new facility will be built at Canal and 14th streets.
Aug. 10 Tutoring study
Children who received tutoring offered by CPS under the No Child Left Behind Act made academic gains comparable to children who were tutored by other large, private companies, according to a district report. Children in the CPS program gained 1.08 grade levels, compared to a citywide gain of 1.09. The district is appealing a decision by the federal government to bar CPS from providing tutoring because of the system’s failure to meet NCLB standards. CPS served about 30,000 students.
Aug. 19: Iowas gone
At a meeting of administrators, CEO Arne Duncan announces that the district is scrapping the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. CPS will rely on the ISAT to determine whether schools are placed on probation and whether students in grades 3, 6 and 8 will be promoted. Instead of the ITBS, CPS will administer a shorter reading assessment called Stanford Learning First in October, January and May. CPS says the Stanford is intended solely as a diagnostic tool to help improve instruction.
First wave of Renaissance schools—between six and 12—open.
Sept. 7: First day
Although enrollment has declined by about 5,000 students since last year, attendance on the first day of school reaches 92 percent, one percentage point higher than a year ago. Businesses announce prizes that schools, students and families can earn—including groceries, rent or mortgage payments and movie tickets—for high attendance. CEO Arne Duncan admits he may face criticism for offering incentives, but says “not everyone has the mentality” that school is important.
Sept. 12: Dropouts
The district announces that its current one-year dropout rate of 10.4 percent is the lowest in a decade, and credits a new Department of Dropout Prevention. But it’s unclear how accurate the figure is, since the district calculates it by simply dividing the number of students who left school by total enrollment and excludes alternative high schools. The Consortium on Chicago School Research tracked individual freshmen and found a four-year dropout rate of 30 percent in 2004.
Sept. 19 High schools
CEO Arne Duncan announces a 10-year, $50 million to $100 million plan to jumpstart academic achievement in neighborhood high schools. The district and a management consulting firm spent six months analyzing data and gathering advice for improvement from teachers, students, parents and dropouts. Among the elements of the plan are new three-year curriculum sequences in math, science and English; and creating schools to serve average and lower-performing students.
Oct. 1: Truancy march
State Sen. James Meeks leads a group of teachers, parents and school officials through West Englewood, looking for 160 truants from Harper High. Most of the kids aren’t home. But Meeks, who is also a minister, persuades one young man who missed a year of school to re-enroll. Other missing students had moved, weren’t in school because of medical problems or were in jail. Several teachers at Harper were in danger of losing their jobs because the truant students caused a drop in enrollment.
Oct. 11: Year-round
Mayor Richard Daley says summer vacation is “ridiculous” and calls for year-round school, suggesting that the district offer educational camps during the summer. But School Board President Michael Scott says the district can’t afford to keep teachers on the payroll over the summer months. Most Chicago students attend school 180 days per year, but some charter schools have longer years and longer days than regular public schools. The state requires 176 days of school per year.
Oct. 13: Community schools
The district announces plans to open 35 new community schools, which stay open on evenings and weekends and provide both academics and recreation for students and programs for parents and residents, such as ESL and GED courses. The latest list of schools includes charters and new Renaissance schools. Officials say the added schools will insure that the district meets its goal of having 100 community schools by 2007.
Oct. 24 Renaissance changes
Under a revised Renaissance schools policy, new schools created through avenues other than the established Renaissance process will still count as Renaissance schools. Other changes include provisions stating the following: Only nonprofit organizations will be eligible to submit proposals for contract schools; design teams will be allowed to apply for more than one school at a time without filing separate applications; students attending schools that close will have the right to return to the school when it reopens; performance schools will not be required to use per pupil funding; and transition advisory councils will not be subject to the Open Meetings Act.
Oct. 26: Math and retention
The School Board votes to restore math scores as a criterion for retention in 3rd, 6th and 8th grade. In announcing the proposal, CEO Arne Duncan noted that student performance on the math ISAT—now being used to determine retention—is lower than on the Iowa test, which the district recently scrapped. Students who score below the 24th percentile in either reading or math will have to go to summer school and may have to pass a retest to be promoted. Students who score between the 24th and 36th percentile may have to go to summer school, depending on their grades and attendance. Students will now be allowed only nine unexcused absences before being denied promotion, rather than 18 unexcused absences. The district dropped math as a retention criterion in 2003, the year a record number of low-performing students were set to go to summer school using both reading and math as criteria.
Nov. 14: Deseg dollars
An additional 13,000 students will get after-school tutoring, and racially isolated schools will get more classroom staff, under an agreement between the district and the federal government over desegregation spending. CPS will set aside another $8.5 million for tutoring and $1.5 million to hire aides and teachers. Most of the money will come from federal grants. The district has been under a desegregation consent decree for over two decades. A hearing on whether to release the district from the decree is set for next year.
Nov. 16: Capital money
The district announces plans to borrow an additional $75 million for capital projects, bringing the 2006 capital budget to $325 million. But board President Michael Scott won’t specify which capital projects will benefit, saying “we have 600 schools and a lot of needs.” This past spring, cuts were announced in the capital improvement budget after the state cut $110 million in funds, putting a number of school additions and new construction projects on hold. The 2005 capital budget for new projects was initially $369 million.
Nov. 16: New schools
A school modeled after a parochial school and an online school are among the Renaissance 2010 proposals accepted by CPS. Providence-Englewood, modeled after Providence-St. Mel, will require some students to take admissions tests, and parents to attend workshops. It is slated to take over the shuttered Bunche Elementary building at 65th Street and Ashland. The company that will run the online school was co-founded by William Bennett, the former U.S. education secretary who recently came under fire for making racially insensitive remarks.
Dec. 1: NAEP scores
Chicago students trail those in other major cities in math and reading proficiency, according to the latest scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. African American students have the lowest scores. Chicago is one of 11 urban districts to take the NAEP. Only 11 percent of 8th-graders in Chicago are proficient in math, compared to 20 percent in other major cities. In reading, only 12 percent of Chicago 4th-graders scored at a proficient level, compared to 19 percent in other urban districts.
Dec. 1: Score card
The district unveils its high school score card, which ranks neighborhood high schools and selective high schools against each other on measures such as attendance, school climate, course offerings and test scores. The card also includes student gains on the ACT sequence of tests, given starting in 9th grade. The district chose the measures being used to rank schools after conducting focus groups with parents, students and teachers.
Dec. 22: Attendance incentive
The district had announced a raft of incentives to improve attendance, but the number of students attending school during the first three months of the year is virtually unchanged from a year ago. Between September and November, attendance fell slightly to 93.6 percent compared to 93.7 percent last year. The district has offered cash and prizes to persuade children to attend school.