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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.

CPS wants 20,000 dropout seats in 5 years

Amid protests over slashed school budgets, CPS announced plans on Wednesday to open new schools for current and potential dropouts.

Jennifer Vidis, the district’s Chief of Alternative Schools, says there are about 60,000 students in Chicago who aren’t in school, or who are so far behind that they have little chance at graduating from a traditional high school.

The alternative schools, rebranded as “options schools” by a district seeking to erase the stigma, will be targeted at specific groups of students: some for younger high school students who are behind on credits; some for older students who are far behind on credits; and some for older students who have left school but are only a few credits away from a diploma.

CPS will also target students who are currently enrolled in schools but are so far behind they have little chance at graduating. “Student transfer specialists” will help principals place these students in the accelerated schools, Vidis said.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett explained the importance of the schools by saying that “many of our principals did not, or don’t, have alternatives or options for young people when they find they’re off track. When principals don’t have these options, children disappear.”

Board member Mahalia Hines said educating charter school principals about these options will be key. “I saw as many children who came from the charter community” who were not in school as from regular schools, Hines said.

New schools announced

Typically, CPS alternative schools have been run by nonprofit groups and community organizations, but the new batch shows a shift toward outside for-profit groups like Camelot as well as Banner, Ombudsman and Edison, approved in January.

Board members voted Wednesday to give Camelot, which runs Excel Academy, a contract for a second school that will serve 375 older students who are far behind on credits. It will open this fall in the building of Guggenheim Elementary, in Englewood. Guggenheim was closed last June.

Later on, CPS will seek approval for two more Camelot contract schools as well a multi-campus charter school to be run by Pathways in Education (which will serve students who are closer to being able to graduate.) When they open, the district will have nearly 9,500 spots in alternative programs.

Over the next 5 years, Vidis said, the number of seats in alternative schools could increase to as many as 20,000.

To fill those seats, CPS opened three “re-engagement centers” to serve as points of entry for students seeking to re-enroll. (Mayor Rahm Emanuel first announced the centers in Oct. 2012.) The district’s strategy around dropouts was first thought out years ago by consultants from the Parthenon Group.

Students themselves will also be sought out by CPS, Vidis said.

“We currently have outreach workers across the city, looking for lost children, children who have disappeared from our rolls,” Vidis said. Developing community ties will be key in the district’s outreach effort, she explained: “I f we don’t have the right phone number, someone in that community knows who that child is – or knows a family with a child who’s not in school.”

She noted the cost to the district is steep: 15 percent of high school dropouts are in jail or prison; among African-American men, that number is 30 percent.

Vidis said there are nearly 19,000 young high school-age students who are very far off track from earning a high school diploma. There are about 10,000 students who are older and just a few credits behind.  

But the biggest group of students faces the largest obstacles: nearly 27,400 students are old, some of them over 18, but have just a few high school credits.

In the long run, Vids said, CPS needed to take a look at other policies that may be contributing to the dropout problem – among them, inflexible rules on the seat time required for courses, graduation requirements, and a lack of supportive services.

School closings, budgets take center stage

As the board voted to double the size of the district’s Safe Passage program, which hires community members to oversee students’ routes to school, Byrd-Bennett also outlined the steps being taken to promote “cultural integration” between students at closing schools and receiving schools.

Principals have organized horseback riding, laser tag, picnics, and ice cream social events to draw students and families in, she said.  

Also at the meeting, school budgets drew fiery protests from parents, teachers and local school council members, who charged that CPS should have saved enough money from school closings to avoid the cuts. At one point, different audience members took turns shouting about the cuts until each was escorted out by security; then, another one would start.

Mather High School English teacher Gabriella Fonzetti said that the school’s budget this year is $1 million less than last year.

The school already cut its reading program, support staff and security this year. Next year it will lose 9 staff positions including “things like a clerk in our attendance office to call students and call home.”

Board President David Vitale said that “we will look into those accusations and the facts behind them.”

But he added: “There is no budget that has been approved.” The school budgets, he said, are just “proposals.”

“Nobody that I know has said that cuts to meet our budget responsibility wouldn’t impact the classroom,” he continued. “What we have said is that we will try to minimize the impact.”

Also, board members criticized protesters who are asking CPS to renegotiate interest rates on its “swap” credit deals and return tax-increment financing district dollars to the schools.

Board member Henry Bienen said that he had heard “a lot of things that are just nonsense and rantings.”

Said board member Andrea Zopp: “It is wishful thinking when people think there’s a pile of money at Bank of America and in a TIF file that’s going to fix this problem,” she said. “…The idea that this board would walk away from some pile of magical money and give it to the mysterious rich and wealthy, is magical thinking.”


Kimberlyn wrote 1 year 29 weeks ago

Keeping Kids in School

I applaud CPS for wanting to lower dropout rates and lure kids back to school. But my applause ends there.

If you want to keep kids in school, you have to get them excited about school. And there is little to be excited about in American public education today under the current reform movement. CPS is taking a step in the wrong direction by outsourcing schools to companies like Edison, who, I assume, will create schools that look very much the same as the schools these students left in the first place. Rather than spend the bulk of the day on reading and math, have a day that is balanced across many different subject areas, including the arts and music. Rather than segment the day into subjects, give students the freedom to work on projects that span across many different disciplines. Rather than tell students what they should learn, rather than expect that all students will learn exactly the same thing at the same time, Picture a Montessori type of setting.

Rodestvan wrote 1 year 29 weeks ago

CPS repeats mistakes of the past

It is not clear to me whether or not Winston Churchill was the first to say this: "Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” But we have been though this alternative schools or as they are now being called “options schools” push before, particularly under Paul Vallas. CPS can bring in Camelot or whoever they want and the graduation results for these programs are likely to be dismal.

I honestly don't care what benchmarks are written into alternative schools' contracts or what Camelot or other providers will claim to be their track record in other districts have been, the percentage of students who effectively dropout for a second time or never recover credits sufficiently to graduate by the age of 21 will continue to be significant in these alternative settings. Case in point being Youth Connections Charter Schools which in 2012 according to ISBE had a formal dropout rate of 48.2% with a five year graduation rate of only 41.2%. Of those students who do approach graduation and take the ACT their average composite score in 2012 was only 14.9. Can Camelot do better? I suspect so, but enough to justify the costs of increasing alternative school seats, that I doubt seriously.

These failing students, no matter what the program will be, are very challenging and with CPS' current fiscal situation pumping extra money to significantly increase the success rate of these students is unlikely. This proposed expansion will however remove students from the general high schools who are academically collapsing. The so called student transfer specialists may be able to clear out many weak students before they would take the new common core assessments and thereby probably significantly improve the statistical profiles of these schools, and as Dr. Hines comments in Ms Harris's article indicate the student transfer specialists will also be weeding out some students in charter high schools too.

We have been through this before and not only under the leadership of Mr. Vallas. This same historical mistake was made by the Chicago Teachers Union back in 2009 when President Marilyn Stewart proposed to the City Club of Chicago pushing numerous failing and disruptive high school students into alternative settings which in her vision would have been CTU schools covered by the master contract. Access Living opposed President Steward's push as we did that of Mr. Vallas and we are opposed to the expansion being proposed by the current Board. History is repeating itself and CPS apparently is doomed to repeat it.

Rod Estvan

Jill W wrote 1 year 29 weeks ago

Magical Thinking = Millions for Mariano's

I think the subject line pretty much says it all.

Don wrote 1 year 29 weeks ago

I wonder to what extent level

I wonder to what extent level 3 principals have asked for "student transfer specialists". This is a further redefinition of the neighborhood school.
Tracking continues its return. CPS repeatedly makes choices to segregate by performance. I think this is mostly a good thing, considering the average CPS student. But the cost to some students who don't fit expectations will be significant.

".....15 percent of high school dropouts are in jail or prison; among African-American men, that number is 30 percent." Wow. I wonder if they really meant "in jail", or rather have been in jail at some point.

Paulette wrote 1 year 29 weeks ago

Recruitment of 20,000 Alternative Youth is all about Lost Money!

We have one in our community and criminal activity is spilling from it. A student at Youth Connection was shooting down our business corridor. I disagree that "Alternative Schools" should be placed in residential communities. Many of the students are in and out of the criminal justice systems and they come into a community and trespass, vandalize, loiter and like I just mentioned, shoot. The crimnal culture that many of them are involved in actualy follows them in cars to wherever they are sent in terms of a school and the conflicts end up in the community that CPS places them in.

I'm not convinced that CPS is in the business of educating these lost students. Howver, I do believe that CPS is really trying to recoup the money lost when they initially left school after a long string of absences. I just bet the absences caused CPS to lose millions of dollars and now CPS wants the lost souls back just to recoup as much money that was lost as possible. After that the students can become lost souls again.
I also believe that CPS knows that success will be dismal and that why I believe that thw 20,000 sets is really about recouping money, not education the students!!

Paulette Lane

Falls a'comin wrote 1 year 29 weeks ago

Ironic-Chicago charter schools were founded to demonstrate

what they could do with problem students. Instead, they are cannibals.

Chicago dad wrote 1 year 29 weeks ago

Underutilization and the need for new schools?

The hypocrisy of closing schools because of declining populations and then opening schools for current and "potential" drop outs is a new low for CPS. "We can open new schools as long as we don't call them charters!" Add to this the fact that these are to be run by for profit companies at a time when there is a budget crisis? And that charters will get to send their lowest performing kids to these programs and thereby increase the lie that they do a better job for students? Getting rid of union teachers to make them available for hire at privately run schools that pay less and offer fewer benefits, but pay more to the few shareholders and pay higher CEO salaries? This is all part of the giant sales pitch of lies being handed down from above by those trying to destroy public education in America and make us pay for them doing it. This is how you destroy a nation.

Chicago dad wrote 1 year 29 weeks ago

Moving the goal posts on test scores

I think that one of the primary reasons for this is as you said, removing problematic kids as a way of boosting test scores to allow CPS and charters to declare victory. They don't mind spending the money on this if it leverages their lies about the success of their policy, the "options schools" are just a way to warehouse kids, to cut the bottom of the ladder off while pretending not to. In this way they prepare the ground for more charters and other bad but highly profitable policies in the future. No surprise that this comes out at the start of summer break.

Falls a'comin wrote 1 year 29 weeks ago

another outsider coming to CPS labor relations--more $$waste
Yet another guy with no CPS experience, with all the principals being laid off; none from within? he better move into the city-required!
If you had any business sense you would not sit on theCPS Board of Ed.
How dare they buy more central office folks.

David Wolfe wrote 1 year 28 weeks ago

CPS drop out school.

It seems to me the CPS Board and the Mayor are insane. Doing the same thing and expecting different results.

MaryB wrote 1 year 28 weeks ago

This is about diverting

This is about diverting hundreds of millions of tax dollars to charters, charter management operators and ed tech companies -- and recruiting regular CPS students to a program that is set up to make a profit from them. These schools will have fewer teachers, huge class sizes and kids sitting in front of tablets using Pearson software to drill themselves to pass the much harder GED test. Much harder. Why? Because the student will likely have to re-take the test more than once, and that is more profit. The American Council for Education a nonprofit had developed the GED decades ago, and it had serve the US well. Recently Pearson purchased a controlling interest in ACE. The cost of the GED was a reasonable $40 fee v aper and pencil. Now the cost of the test is tripling, and the test will be given on tablets.

MaryB wrote 1 year 28 weeks ago

Why does our media insist on

Why does our media insist on not asking questions of CPS?

Chicago An wrote 1 year 28 weeks ago

To Mary B

That was some very interesting information about the new GED. I knew it was changing, getting harder, but didn't know why. I figured it was to align with common core standards. Should have known it was about money.

Still Scared wrote 1 year 28 weeks ago

The new Pearson GED requires

The new Pearson GED requires the school to spend money to invest in technology to develop a test taking site. There are hundreds of other tests Pearson could also deliver via this site.

The changes are so onerous that MOST states have opted to not institute the Pearson test, or to provide an alternative test as well. But NOT Illinois.

Still Scared wrote 1 year 28 weeks ago

Pearson also sells districts

Pearson also sells districts the online test prep for the GED, btw. So it is only in its interest to make the GED much harder.

That Pearson has the access and clout to carve out of the public good a private sector market for itself should tell you a lot about our political system in Chicago and in Illinois.

Chicago dad wrote 1 year 28 weeks ago

Actually this is nation wide

Pearson, a non US corporation is behind this everywhere in America, so it actually says little about Illinois or Chicago in particular other than the fact that our politicians have sold us out just as so many others all across America have sold out their constituents.

Mary B wrote 1 year 28 weeks ago

Yes it is nationwide.

Yes it is nationwide. However, some states are permitting competition, and McGraw Hill has a GED test that is not so onerous. I don't believe that is true for Illinois.
And other states permit the student to take the GED on paper, which is cheaper.
But some states now insist that a student must show state residency to take the GED, and cannot, for example, go to a nearby state that still offers the GED on paper.

mohamad walid wrote 1 year 11 weeks ago


ازيك عامل ايه كويس الحمد لله

mohamad walid wrote 1 year 11 weeks ago



isingiam wrote 49 weeks 6 days ago


The district’s strategy around dropouts was first thought out years ago by consultants from the Parthenon Group. [need a different link, please].

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