2008 News Briefs
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.
March 6: Power limits
A bill that would strip Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s power over the Illinois State Board of Education sails through a House committee and awaits the vote of the full House. The bill, sponsored by perennial Blagojevich critic Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), would take away the governor’s right to choose the state superintendent and members of the board and give the Legislature more control. The bill must also pass the Senate, which is controlled by Blagojevich ally Emil Jones (D-Chicago).
March 13: Pension suit
CPS sues the state, charging it has failed to meet its funding goals for the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund. As a result, Chicagoans are taxed twice, once to pay the pensions of teachers across the state and again to pay the pensions of CPS teachers. A 1994 law set a state goal for contributing to the Chicago fund at a rate that is 20 to 30 percent of the contribution to the statewide teacher pension fund. In FY08, the state contributed just 5.3 percent, the suit says
March 14: Boarding
CEO Arne Duncan announces he wants to create public boarding schools for students who are homeless or who “should not go home at night.” A pilot residential program for 15 to 20 students could start as early as September 2009, although it’s unclear how the expensive program would be funded or who would care for the kids. Josh Edelman, head of the Office of New Schools, spent four years as principal of The SEED School in Washington, D.C., the nation’s longest-running urban residential school.
April 4: Write on
Chicago Public Schools 8th-graders posted the fourth-highest average writing scores among 10 big-city school districts tested on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Education experts hailed it as “the best news yet for Chicago.” Illinois State Board of Education officials attributed the state’s No. 7 showing to a history of testing writing annually for most of the last 15 years. Illinois 8th-graders averaged 160 on the 300-point test, while Chicago students averaged 146, up from 136 in 2002.
April 8: Bad picks
CPS has an “abysmal” record of picking principals to invigorate high schools, according to Designs for Change. The group reviewed state test scores at the 20 schools in which CPS chose the principal and found that fewer than 23 percent of students passed reading in 2007 and fewer than 13 percent passed math. CPS said junior-level test scores might not be a fair measure of principal effectiveness; freshman scores and other indicators might be better.
April 23: New schools
CPS approved plans to spend $455 million over the next five years to build two new high schools and six elementary schools. A $100.5 million school would relieve Southwest Side overcrowding at Kelly, Curie and Gage Park high schools, while a $90.35 million building would replace the aging South Shore High. The six elementaries—to replace Hughes and Powell and relieve overcrowding—would cost between $39 million and $50 million each.