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Teacher turnover

CPS has never had a strong, districtwide program of teacher induction and mentoring to stem an attrition rate that is higher than the national average. Instead, efforts to retain teachers depend on smaller-scale programs and individual principals who make it a goal to empower—and keep—their teachers.

Common Core standards tests starting this fall

Chicago Public Schools will begin testing 2nd- through 8th-grade students on the new Common Core State Standards this year, although no one knows yet what official tests based on the standards – which are being developed by a multi-state consortium and will likely replace current state assessments starting in fall 2014 – will look like.

Chicago Public Schools will begin testing 2nd- through 8th-grade students on the new Common Core State Standards this year, although no one knows yet what official tests based on the standards – which are being developed by a multi-state consortium and will likely replace current state assessments starting in fall 2014 – will look like.

The first of new quarterly assessments will be given to students between Oct. 17 and Nov. 4, according to a CPS document. In exchange, the district has made some other benchmark tests optional – for instance, the winter administration of the Scantron Interim Assessment – and has eliminated reading and math benchmark assessments.

According to a Council of the Great City Schools study that CEO Jean-Claude Brizard cited in a speech at the City Club of Chicago on Tuesday, just 19 percent of CPS students would meet Common Core literacy standards and just 17 percent would meet Common Core standards in algebra.

The Common Core State Standards became Illinois’ official learning standards in June 2010. Illinois State Board of Education spokesman Matt Vanover says that although he hasn’t heard of other districts testing students on the standards, it’s time for administrators to start talking with teachers about the changes.

Starting in fall 2013, districts are required to actually begin teaching to the new standards, Vanover says. CPS plans to start that in fall 2012.

Starting this year, Vanover says, the ISAT will include a few pilot test questions that won’t count towards students’ scores but will help researchers design the new common core assessments.

Brizard also announced the other steps the district is taking to implement the standards. They include:

*Monthly training for school network (area) staff in the new standards, so they’re able to communicate them to principals and teachers.

*Quarterly instructional leadership team meetings in each network office. The instructional leadership teams will be tasked with helping teachers at their schools understand the new standards, and begin using them. The first training will be held Sept. 20.

*Optional Saturday trainings for teachers who are interested in learning more.

What’s more, the district is asking interested schools to apply for additional training on the standards and extra district-funded teacher planning time (classes will be covered by substitute teachers). Known as “Early Adopter Schools,” they will also help the district develop a new common curriculum and will serve as models to the other schools in their areas.

At least 30 schools will participate, according to the district. Applications are due Sept. 6. CPS is looking for schools that already have some understanding of the new standards. The district is screening schools by giving surveys to staff about “their existing level of standards-based curriculum design and instructional practice.”

The Chicago Teachers Union will also be part of the effort. The union’s Quest Center announced Monday that it received a three-year grant, totaling $600,000, from the American Federation of Teachers. The money will help the union also create curriculum, assessments and materials to help teachers implement the Common Core.

But Brizard used the standards’ roll-out to make the case for a longer school day, a key bone of contention between the district and the union. Schools may find that without a longer day, it’s difficult to meet the new standards.

“They’ll need a longer school day to actually make it happen,” he said.

Brizard also outlined a broader vision for the district his speech, including changes to teacher compensation.

“This generation of teachers does not like the current system,” he said, citing Harvard researcher Susan Moore Johnson’s work. “Today’s teacher does not come into our office and say, ‘Hmm, in 40 years I will be making this much money.’ I want the top-tier college graduates in our classrooms.”

Instead, he says, teacher compensation should be based partly on market factors, such as paying teachers more if they are in hard-to-staff fields like math or special education; partly on evaluations and students’ gains; and partly based on a “career ladder” model that offers master teachers opportunities to advance or work as coaches.

Young teachers who see their friends earning more as doctors and lawyers may feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick, Brizard said.

“We don’t expect that bonuses or performance pay will improve achievement, but it keeps people in the profession,” he said.

He also complained that many educators and policy makers will admit in private that they don’t believe inner-city students can learn, though he noted that research has shown that poverty and other factors do pose a serious obstacle.

“This is a difficult pill for many of our teachers, many of our principals to swallow,” he said. “I told my principals, if you don’t believe, you are in the wrong job.”

To improve student achievement, he said, the district will use a management model he calls “bounded autonomy,” where curriculum is consistent across the district – a must, he says, for a system with high mobility – but where principals still have autonomy over how to implement district programs and direct resources in their schools.

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