19th Ward Parents – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop https://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.13 Perspectives on the teachers contract talks https://www.newstips.org/2012/08/perspectives-on-the-teachers-contract-talks/ https://www.newstips.org/2012/08/perspectives-on-the-teachers-contract-talks/#comments Wed, 22 Aug 2012 21:20:12 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6571 As everyone gears up for a new school year (or maybe not), here are a few extra-credit readings that illuminate issues in Chicago’s drive for school reform – and in contract talks under way with Chicago’s teachers.

In the Sun-Times, Lauren Fitzpatrick looks in depth at the success of Spencer Elementary Technology Academy, a high-poverty, neighborhood school in Austin, a community beset by unemployment and violence.

The school is trending up under the inspiring leadership of a home-grown principal, Shawn Jackson, who’s focused on involving parents with his own version of a community school: “parent scholars” who volunteer in classes along with a parent center featuring GED and computer classes and job search help for parents.  There’s a strong sense of teamwork here, and “teachers are trusted” and given autonomy to find the best ways to get material across.

While it has a ways to go, the school fits the profile of 33 high-poverty elementary schools performing above the citywide average identified in a report by Designs for Change earlier this year (more here).

High-poverty, high-achieving

These schools have school-based democracy – local school councils selecting principals and approving school plans and budgets – and supportive teamwork involving parents, teachers, and the community.  They out-perform all of the city’s “turnaround” schools, even those in place now for four and five years – and they do so without the millions of extra dollars each turnaround gets.  (Spencer, which lacks an art program and a decent gym, does better than all but three turnarounds.)

While turnarounds have gotten extensive media coverage,  high-poverty, high-achieving schools have been largely ignored, according to Designs; thus the Sun-Times is due special commendation for this report.

Designs proposes the extra money now going to turnarounds be shifted to allow these high-performing neighborhood schools become resources for other schools.

There’s the hypocrisy of the claim by Mayor Emanuel and his CPS minions that they have to close neighborhood schools and open charters because “we can’t wait” to offer a high-quality education to every child in the district.

It’s a non sequitur: they’re opening twenty charters and ten turnarounds a year, and diverting resources from the neighborhood schools that the vast majority of students actually attend in order to do so.   These students’ education is being sacrificed to fund experiments which increasingly appear to be unsuccessful.

According to the New York Times Magazine‘s look at extreme poverty this weekend, Austin is the kind of neighborhood where repeated school reform initiatives have utterly failed.  (The article looks at the work in Roseland of Youth Advocate Programs, which CPS is now defunding, another turn in the administration’s revolving door of new strategies.)

A kindergarten teacher knows

The number of children living in extreme poverty has grown dramatically in recent decades, and children in areas where it’s concentrated face major challenges, often including community and family dysfunction.  Neuroscientists and developmental psychologists study the way early stress and trauma and family difficulties inhibit brain development and cognitive skills.

But “you don’t need a neuroscientist to explain the effects of a childhood spent in deep poverty,” writes Paul Tough. “Your average kindergarten teacher in a high-poverty neighborhood can tell you: children who grow up in especially difficult circumstances are much more likely to have trouble controlling their impulses in school, getting along with classmates and following instructions.

“Intensive early interventions can make a big difference, but without that extra help, students from the poorest homes usually fall behind in school early on, and they rarely catch up. When you cluster lots of children with impulse-control issues together in a single classroom, it becomes harder for teachers to teach and for students to learn.

“And when these same children reach adolescence — unless someone like [YAP’s] Steve Gates has managed to intervene — they are more likely to become a danger to themselves, to each other and to their community.”

Here’s where the CTU’s contract demands for expanded social services and smaller classes  – detailed in a report issued as negotiations were getting under way (more here) – come into play.

CTU proposed bringing the woefully inadequate number of social workers, counselors, and psychologists up to national standards, starting with schools on probation.  Noting research showing that smaller classes are particularly important for low-income children in the earliest grades, the union proposed reducing K-3 class size from 28 to 20.

That would cost a lot – about equal to what CPS spends on developing new charters and turnarounds.  But it would be a real step to helping every student succeed.

We may know more soon, but we can infer from the lack of progress in contract talks – including the large gap in salary proposals, where compromise might be possible if other issues were negotiated — that CPS isn’t moving much in these areas.

We do know that in his previous position heading Rochester’s schools, CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard increased class sizes; fired hundreds of art, music, gym and language teachers; eliminated art, music, or library programs in many schools; and heavily cut counselors and special ed teachers.  Rochester’s new superintendent has begun restoring the positions, so more students can have access to electives.

Brizard and Broad

Of course, Brizard is a graduate of the Broad Superintendent Academy, which promotes larger class sizes along with school closings, high-stakes testing, merit pay, and charter schools.

In Detroit, a Broad academy alumnus successfully proposed raising class sizes to 61 in high schools.  (It turned out that the Broadie, Robert Bobb, the city’s emergency manager for the past two years, received a $145,000 bonus from the Broad Foundation on top of his $280,000 salary.)

But as PURE and Parents Across America note, in his latest weekly address President Obama decried the loss of 300,000 education jobs in the U.S. since 2009, cuts which “force our kids into crowded classrooms.”

“While average class size has decreased statewide over the last ten years, it has increased in [Chicago’s] public schools,” commented Becky Malone of the 19th Ward parents. “This is simply unacceptable if we are going to provide equitable learning conditions to all children, but especially our most at-risk students who need small classes the most.”

In Mother Jones this month, Krintina Rizga “embeds” in a “failing school” in San Francisco and offers a fascinating account of the growth of standardized testing and its impact on struggling students.

Maria is a Salvadoran immigrant who’s escaped the violence she grew up with, and at Mission High School, finds dedicated and creative teachers under whom she blossoms.  She’s done research papers ranging from the popularity of Latin dance in the U.S. in the 1920s to the defeat of Reconstruction to equal access to education (she discovers a 1946 case brought by Latino parents that laid the groundwork for Brown v. Board of Education); she talks with her favorite teacher every day about her work.

And we sit with her as she struggles through a practice state exam – the test that will help decide whether her school is sanctioned as “failing” – and see how she gets nearly every answer wrong.  I don’t know the right answer to the question she ponders in the article.  Do you?

Here we come to another big issue in the contract talks: CPS’s plan to base teacher pay on student performance on standardized tests.  CTU is strenuously opposed to this idea; this could be one of the big issues.  (Under a new law, CPS can unilaterally implement its plan, but if the administration wants a contract, it will negotiate on this issue.)

As the Tribune reported in March, 88 education professors at 15 local universities associated with CReATE wrote Brizard warning him that methods of measuring teacher performance based on standardized tests are statistically unreliable and will have a detrimental impact on classroom instruction.

Schools Matter has pointed out that, since standardized tests now measure only reading and math, the new evaluation system will require a whole series of new tests – as many as eight more a year, probably costing tens of millions of dollars, not to mention class time and an increased focus on test preparation.

Punishing success

Last year Colorlines looked at standardized testing, telling the story of a high school student in East LA whose grades dropped when he went into depression amid a family crisis.  Teachers rallied to support him and got him through the year; he didn’t drop out, he passed his tests, barely.

But his scores went down – and under the proposed system, they would be penalized for all that work, for that heroic success of saving a student from the streets.  Indeed, they would be incentivized to let him go.

Fordham professor Mark Naison explained the thinking of the business leaders –like his tennis partners — who are pushing school reform in an opinion piece in the Sun Times last month (it’s available here).  “The only things they take seriously as motivation are material rewards and fear of losing one’s job or business.

“They are convinced that schools in the U.S. can be improved only if a business-style reward-and-punishment system is given primacy.  They love the idea of performance evaluation based on hard data (with student test scores being the equivalent of sales figures and/or profits), of merit increments for those who succeed and the removal of those who fail.”

They don’t understand teaching or learning, he explains.  And their approach is demoralizing teachers and driving the better ones out of high-poverty schools, where scores are lower.

“The Great Recession should have shattered once and for all the idea that the measurement and motivation systems of American business are superior to those in the public sector,” he argues.

“Do we really want the same quality of teacher ratings as Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s applied to mortgage-based derivatives?”

“I have seen about twenty rounds of classroom reform in my teaching career,” Maria’s history teacher, Robert Roth, tells Mother Jones.  “You know what I haven’t seen?  Serious dialogue with teachers, students, and parents.  They can identify successful teaching, but they are rarely a part of the discussion.”

Let’s hope there’s some serious discussion about these issues in Chicago this week.

 

An earlier version had an incorrect identification of Mark Naison.

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It’s Rahm’s strike https://www.newstips.org/2012/07/its-rahms-strike/ https://www.newstips.org/2012/07/its-rahms-strike/#comments Sun, 22 Jul 2012 23:03:11 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6473 If there’s a teacher’s strike in Chicago this fall, it will be the result of Rahm Emanuel’s approach to implementing the longer school day.

And the simplest – and perhaps only – way to avert a strike will require Emanuel to take another look at the plan.

That’s the clear implication of the fact-finder’s report issued last week by mediator Edwin Benn (and rejected by CPS and the CTU).

Emanuel isn’t mentioned by name in Benn’s report, but since he controls the school board, every option Benn outlines for the board is one that will ultimately be decided by Emanuel.

In comments on the report, the mayor did not seem inclined to consider its suggestions for settling the dispute.

According to Benn, the board “has a very straightforward option” to reduce the monetary impact of recommendations to pay teachers for the longer day and year, which he calls “the major flashpoint” of the dispute: it “can simply reduce the length of the school day and/or the school year from its stated expansion.”

Although the media has downplayed this dynamic – and the Chicago Tribune has editorialized against compromising on the longer day (or on charter expansion) — parent groups involved in the issue are picking up on it.

Can we afford it?

In an analysis of the fact-finding report, Raise Your Hand points to the longstanding failure to address school funding issues and says, “RYH does not believe we can afford a seven-hour day that comes with a 14.5 percent raise at this time.

“A 6.5-hour day that works by moving the teacher lunch [break] to the middle of the day would be affordable,” RYH argues.  “If you can’t afford something, don’t do it.”

A 6.5-hour day “is a ‘full day'” and is in fact the national average, RYH adds.  And “longer or shorter, CPS has still not sufficiently addressed the issues of quality in the school day – class size, fine and performing arts, violence prevention, foreign language, physical education, etc.”

Finally, “until we get real about the state of education funding and do something to change it, we won’t make real improvements in the school day.”

Before this, RYH has called for including parents in planning and for focusing on the quality of schooling, but hasn’t taken a position on the optimal length of the day.  Other groups including 6.5 To Thrive and the 19th Ward Parents have called for expanding the school day to 6.5 hours in elementary schools.

(In high schools – despite Emanuel’s announcement that he would scale back the longer day to seven hours — he’s still planning to expand the day from 6 hours and 45 minutes to 7.5 hours.  He’s also adding ten days to the school year.)

Expanding the day to 6.5 hours is essentially a no-cost option, since it involves shifting teachers’ lunch break and adding recess for students.  Staffing lunch and recess would still be an issue – an issue CPS has yet to seriously address – and the extra days would still be a factor.

6.5 To Thrive argues that a seven-hour day is too much for kids – “children need school-life balance” – and that the quality and content of learning is at least as important.

“It’s really about resources and quality,” said Tracy Baldwin of 6.5.  “It’s about quality, not quantity.”

Top scores at 6.5-hour schools

While CPS (along with the Tribune) touts the marginally-higher gains of Pioneer Schools that adopted the 7.5-hour day last year – despite highly mixed results; half of the 12 schools actually performed worse than the CPS average – Baldwin shared data showing that last year, 12 CPS neighborhood schools with 6.5-hour days far outperformed 24 charter schools with days ranging from 7 to 9 hours long.

The 12 schools with 6.5-hour days averaged 90.47 on the ISAT composite – nearly 15 percent higher than the CPS average.  The 24 charters averaged 75.8 percent – just 0.2 points above the average. And again, half of the longer-day schools scored below the CPS average.

KIPP Ascend, with a nine-hour day (from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) scored nearly 5 points below the CPS average.  The school has a level 3 performance rating – not making adequate progress.  If it weren’t a charter school, it would be on probation.

[Now KIPP is getting a second campus — with a $13 million renovation — while better-performing schools in the area crumble.]

That backs up national studies that show the content and quality of schooling has much more impact than the length of the day, Baldwin said.  She says she’s heard from Pioneer School parents that “children can’t handle all that time in school – there were a lot of behavior issues.”

Pointing to statements by CPS officials about the need to focus on new common core standards, Baldwin worries that the additional time will be spent on test preparation – the opposite direction from the richer curriculum desired by parents.

The 19th Ward Parents share that concern, said Maureen Cullnan.  She’s especially concerned the longer day will open the door to for-profit companies selling computerized test prep programs to school districts.

She’s heard from school administrators that CPS plans to use the longer day for computerized test prep.  She stresses support for what’s called “blended learning” by the Gates Foundation, always a weathervane for the flavor of the month in the corporate reform movement.

Two months on test prep

If CPS wants more instructional time, one place to start would be reducing standardized testing and time spent on test prep, Cullnan said.  She said in her daughter’s 8th grade class, “when they got back from winter break they started doing test prep instead of language arts” and continued until the ISATs in March – more than two full months.

But with common core standards and a new teacher evaluation system based on student scores, CPS continues to increase standardized tests.

CPS could also save some of the millions of dollars spent on standardized tests, Cullnan said.

Emanuel responded to Benn’s report saying it wasn’t “tethered to reality.”  What he meant was that it proposed a salary increase – between 14 and 18 percent in the first year, largely to compensate for the longer work schedule – that CPS can’t afford.

In fact the report is firmly anchored in a complex reality. It explicitly acknowledges that CPS can’t afford the raises to pay for the longer school day and year, and points out that the school board has the option of adjusting the proposed schedule.

Under state labor law the mediator must consider a range of factors “as applicable,” including the district’s financial situation, prior collective bargaining agreements, and the cost of living.

Benn accepts the board’s budget projections, and he takes into account the board’s argument that it’s already paid for the additional hours and days with 4 percent annual raises in the previous contract.  He reduces the salary recommendation by the amount teachers gained over the cost of living in the previous contract, which went into effect just before the economy tanked.

Something for nothing

But the board can’t extend working hours by 20 percent and expect teachers “to effectively work the additional hours for free or without fair compensation,” he said, noting the long hours teachers work outside of class time.

It turns out that, according to Benn, it is Emanuel who is not tethered to reality, thinking he could extend the school day without paying for it.  “The board cannot expect much weight, if any, to be given to a budget deficit argument to defeat the recommendation for additional compensation…when the board created the problem by unilaterally implementing the longer school day and year to the extent it has.”

This makes sense to parents.  “We believe teachers should be compensated for their time,” said Christine McGovern of 19th Ward Parents.

“Our state doesn’t have the money and our city certainly doesn’t have the money,” said Baldwin.  “We can’t do something that we can’t afford.  I want a bigger house, but I can’t afford it.  Does that mean I’m entitled to it?

“In our state and in our city we are in debt because of decisions like this, adding on programs that we can’t afford,” she said.  “It’s so irresponsible.  As a parent, as a taxpayer, it makes me mad.”

[From Catalyst:  “(CPS) chief administrative officer Tim Cawley gave an overview of the budget and was asked if the district would be willing to scale back the longer, seven-houur day given its fiscal crisis.  Cawley said no, saying district officials believe that the longer day is the ‘right thing’ to do for students….(Board president David) Vitale said CPS revenue is down this year and will decrease again next year.”]

For its part, CTU has indicated flexibility on economic issues if it can get some consideration on classroom issues.  With school closings and turnarounds costing hundreds of experienced teachers their jobs every year, job security is also a key issue.  CTU wants laid-off teachers to have first crack at new positions.

If CPS wants to avoid a strike, it will offer something on this.  So far it hasn’t.

“At this point it’s not clear what we’re negotiating with,” said Xian Barrett, a teacher who’s active with the Caucus of Rank and File Educators.  “[CPS doesn’t] want to give up anything, they don’t want to pay for anything.”

The parents’ experience with this issue – in which their concerns about the quality of the school day and about resources to back it up have been roundly ignored – have led them all to take up the current campaign for an elected school board.

Raise Your Hand, 19th Ward Parents, and 6.5 To Thrive are all working with Communities Organized for Democracy in Education on petition drives to get an advisory referendum calling for an elected board on the ballot in precincts across the city in November.  They’ve also won support for the referendum from several aldermen.

McGovern said they’re finding support for the campaign among neighborhood residents – particularly since CPS released a budget that drained its reserve fund.  “So many people are just shocked at that budget,” she said.

“Parents are not at the table on decisions,” said Baldwin.  “We have all these rich corporate people coming in saying we want to make changes, and they just bulldoze things through.”

She adds: “I don’t want to be protesting and petitioning, but they don’t give us any other option.”

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