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The race for City Hall

Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

In the News: CPS changes selective-enrollment tiers

The chances of getting a child into a selective-enrollment school will change for about a quarter of Chicago’s families next year under the latest update of the public school tier system, according to the Sun-Times.

Tiers that went up tended to be in gentrifying communities such as Logan Square or West Town. Declining tiers were spread across Bungalow Belt neighborhoods on the Northwest and Southwest Sides.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has named Carlos Azcoitia, a former teacher, principal and administrator with more than 30 years of experience to serve as a member of the Chicago Board of Education. Azcoitia currently serves as Distinguished Professor of Practice in Educational Leadership at National Louis University. He also served as the founding principal of John Spry Elementary Community School in the Little Village community, which is the first school in Chicago to include a pre-kindergarten through high school program in one building. Azcoitia will replace Rod Sierra, who Emanuel appointed to the Chicago Housing Authority Board of Directors. (press release)

Lawmakers are getting set to debate teachers’ and state workers’ retirements once again, but some caution that a previous cut to benefits actually could cost the state money years from now. (Daily Herald)

The Wall Street Journal has a highly critical piece on teachers unions, saying, "Unions fight as hard as they do because they have one priority—preserving their jobs and increasing their pay and benefits. Students are merely their means to that end."

A new teachers' contract in New Jersey's largest city, funded in part by a donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, should be a model for the nation on how to remake a struggling public school system through private-public partnership, Gov. Chris Christie said. (Philadelphia Inquirer)


CPS tiers wrote 2 years 8 weeks ago

Chicago Public School Tiers an Open City app

map of the difference between 2012 and 2013 tiers

Chicago Public School Tiers an Open City app

Anonymous wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

Dear Ms. West, Of all the

Dear Ms. West,
Of all the excellent reporting on national education stories which you could have chosen, I have to wonder why you selected a WSJ editorial entitled The Evil Empire Strikes Back that bashed unions?

This editorial could be supporting its owner's new education test and data business venture, Amplify. It doesn't mention the potential conflict of interest. It should and so should you. Btw, the Chicago strike and the parents' support of it long dispelled the claim that the CTU strike was only about job security and wages.

No one believes that stuff now.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 7 weeks ago

Union is only concerned with job security and wages? Really.

Kurt Hilgendorf, a CTU researcher and legislative activities staffer, spoke November 20, 2012, at the Chicago City Council Education Committee Hearings on School Closings.

Kurt Hilgendorf taught history, economics and psychology at John Hope HS in Englewood and Von Steuben HS in Albany Park. Below is an edited version of his comments.

Executive Summary

School closings are wrenching and demand careful decision-making. The district needs additional time to chose the schools it will close. But it must also ask for a delay in implementation of the closings. That crucial step cannot be rushed.

For that reason, we recommend that CPS take no school actions until at least December 1, 2013. The law does not require school closures, and the public is solidly opposed to them. It would be far better for CPS to take a year to develop a stable utilization plan before destroying school communities.

We are concerned that CPS has created a new commission to solicit input from the community on the closings. The existing Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force (CEFTF) was created by state statute in 2010. CEFTF represents the community and is made up of a representative range of stakeholders: legislators, CPS officials, CTU members, local school council members, community organizations, and community members

The new CPS commission, however, is a confusing duplication of effort with a focus that is much too narrow. It will avoid discussion of charter school openings on CPS utilization rates. Ordinary common sense dictates that the CPs commission must develop a plan that includes the new charters it plan to open. Also it is not possible for the community to provide the new CPS commission with useful input if the commission will not say which schools CPS will close.


There are four reasons for a hold on school actions until December 1, 2013.

First, CPS -- with more than 600 facilities -- has no master plan on how to use them. It will not have a plan in place at the end of March 2013, when CPS plans to close up to 100 schools. Without proper planning, if the district closes 60 neighborhood schools but adds 60 charters in the next few years, it will end up with the same problem it has today -- continued underutilization.

Second, CPS’ projected cost savings is minimal. Even at the inflated number of $500,000 to $800,000 per building -- savings could at most reach $80 million. That is only 1.5% of the district’s operating budget; a small gain for the large amount of distress closing 100 schools will cause.

Third, CPS created the utilization problem by aggressively expanding charter schools. Over the past 10 years, CPS added 50,000 charter seats, while Chicago lost 8% of its population. Opening charters causes underfunded neighborhood schools to lose students, and the vast majority of underutilized neighborhood schools are near charters. Even some charters are underutilized, according to CPS’s formula.

The fourth and final reason we oppose the district’s proposal is that a legislative amendment is unnecessary. School actions are not required by law. Rather than change the rules in the middle of the game, the district should take the time to do the process effectively.

It is useful to remember the following examples of problems with earlier CPS closings.

CPS has not tracked the 7,700 students who were
part of last year’s school actions. The district has little information about these students, even though state law required tracking and support. Of those 7,700 students, almost 1,000 were homeless.

School actions have been concentrated on the South and West sides of the city, and African American students make up 88% of those children affected by school actions. Remember, school actions destroy stability in school communities, and the district has targeted only certain communities.

Students displaced by school closings, especially those tied to performance, have ended up at schools that perform no better than the schools they left. The district’s actions have failed the “educationally sound” test that the facilities law established.

Truancy is a more pressing issue than school closings. During the period that CPS undertook school actions, it went without truant officers. As a recent Tribune series outlined, chronically truant students are a significant problem for the city, both in terms of worse student outcomes and the loss of millions in state funding. CPS has not proposed a reinstatement of truant officers.

CPS is asking teachers to create new curricula aligned to new tests that students must master at the same time it proposes major facility reorganization. Any of these initiatives would individually require several years to analyze the process and assess. When these initiatives are combined, the district is creating a logistical nightmare.

Despite the complexity of these actions, there is little evidence to suggest that the current leadership has the capacity to simultaneously complete a master plan, work with schools to combine instructional staffs and merge organizational cultures, develop a safety and security approach, organize new transportation schedules and routes, and solicit input from community members.
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