class size – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.13 In Hyde Park, parents plan ‘Camp Solidarity’ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/in-hyde-park-parents-plan-camp-solidarity/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/in-hyde-park-parents-plan-camp-solidarity/#comments Sun, 09 Sep 2012 19:33:56 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6616 In the event of a teachers’ strike Monday, Hyde Park parents and supporters are planning a free day camp – called “Camp Solidarity” – to show support for teachers and give families an alternative to crossing picket lines.

Parents, community members, and local artists will offer “a free full day of informal, engaging childcare – nature walks, art activities, silent reading, free play – with lunch provided” at Nichols Park, according to an e-mail to community members.

At 55th and Kimbark, the park is a couple blocks from Ray School, 5631 S. Kimbark, which CPS has designated as one of 144 “contingency sites” where students can get meals and supervision.

One difference:  while CPS sites will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Camp Solidarity will be open until 3:30 p.m.

At CPS sites, children will be in “a babysitting situation with tons of kids they don’t know, and for just a half day,” said local artist and Ray parent Laura Shaeffer.  “Where are the kids going to go after lunch?”  Other childcare options cost money, she pointed out..

Activities planned for day one include tree identification, gardening, singing and drumming, sign painting and chalk painting, and storytelling, she said.

Parents will be leafleting outside Ray to inform families dropping children off that they have a local alternative, said Joy Clendenning, who has children in three CPS schools including Ray.

“I don’t blame families who need to make sure their children are in a safe environment, but I don’t like how CPS is putting people in the position of having to cross a picket line,” she said.  “I wish they’d worked with churches and park districts and not decided to open schools during the strike.”

She added: “I think solidarity with the teachers is really important.”

According to the e-mail notice, “In their fight for a fair contract,” CTU “is advocating for better learning conditions for all of our school children.”

At Ray, “teachers have really been talking to parents – the PTA and LSC have held coffees for parents and teachers, so parents really understand the issues,” said Hannah Hayes, another CPS parent.

“Parents understand the issue of class size,” she said.  “That’s something parents really get.”

Class size “is a big issue at Ray,” said Clendenning.  Because class size guidelines are based on school-wide averages, there have been classes there with as many as 40 students, she said.

Ray was attended by the children of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan when he was chief of CPS.

]]>
http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/in-hyde-park-parents-plan-camp-solidarity/feed/ 2
Perspectives on the teachers contract talks http://www.newstips.org/2012/08/perspectives-on-the-teachers-contract-talks/ http://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.

]]>
http://www.newstips.org/2012/08/perspectives-on-the-teachers-contract-talks/feed/ 3
In contract talks, teachers challenge CPS priorities http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/in-contract-talks-teachers-challenge-cps-priorities/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/in-contract-talks-teachers-challenge-cps-priorities/#comments Sun, 08 Jul 2012 21:05:29 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6416 Since Chicago teachers voted to authorize a strike last month, contract negotiations “appear to have broadened to include items once thought off the table, possibly including class size,” the Tribune reported recently.

That’s a significant development.  Prior to the strike vote, CPS had reportedly refused to entertain CTU proposals on class size and other issues, including appropriate staffing levels.  The union has proposed providing art, music, and world language teachers for every school, in addition to badly needed counselors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists.

Those are among the key issues that grassroots parent groups have raised, too.  Raise Your Hand has called on CPS to negotiate over class size and other issues, and Chicago Parents for Quality Education petitioned Mayor Emanuel to address issues like a fuller curriculum and more social supports in planning the longer school day.

By law, CPS is only required to negotiate over economic issues.  In the past the district has agreed to consider these optional classroom topics; this year, it took a strike authorization vote to force them to do so.

It’s a setback for the agenda of corporate reform groups like Stand For Children and Democrats For Education Reform, which as Ramsin Canon points out have no real popular base here but outsized influence due to huge bankrolls.  They opposed the strike vote.

Smaller class sizes: for and against

Classroom issues do not appear to be on the agenda of these groups.  As Erica Clark of Parents For Teachers pointed out here in February, they never talk about the issues that matter to parents – class size, curriculum, less standardized testing – but focus solely on trimming collective bargaining rights and increasing testing in the name of “accountability.”  If you want a better curriculum or better facilities, you can try to send your kid to a charter school.

The issue of class size is revealing.  In forums earlier this year, SFC said the issue wasn’t a priority for them.  In fact, most corporate reformers follow Bill Gates, who has called for lifting limits on class sizes.

For them the problem isn’t large classes or underresourced schools, it’s bad teachers.  If you could put 60 kids in front of a great teacher, she could work miracles.  Actual teachers, who work with actual students, are skeptical of that view.

In a report issued earlier this year, CTU laid out the choice in clear terms.

The report reviews the research that consistently shows the difference smaller class sizes make in every measure of student achievement, especially for low-income students.  It’s particularly valuable in the early school years.

No limits

Unlike most states, Illinois has no legal limits on class size.  Chicago has had the same guidelines since 1990, ranging from 28 students in lower grades to 31 in high school.  But they are easy to get around, and many CPS classes are actually far larger; class sizes in the upper 30s are common, and there are kindergarten classes with 40 kids.

In contrast, Florida limits range from 18 to 25 students.  Private schools average 18 students in a class, often fewer in high schools.

CTU estimates it would cost $170 million to lower K-3 class sizes from 28 to 20.  But CPS is broke.  Where to get the money?

It turns out that’s just half the amount budgeted for CPS’s Office of New Schools (now the Portfolio Office), which funds charters and turnarounds.

While CPS is broke and classroom spending has been cut every year, that office has seen its budget steadily grow. It’s growing again this year, with charters getting an additional $76 million.

The union asks: why not shift spending away from unproven and all too often unsuccessful experimentation and fund a widely accepted, research-supported solution, aimed not at a select few but at all students, especially those most in need of help?

No art, no playgrounds

The CTU report looks at other classroom issues given short shrift by corporate reformers.  Like smaller classes, the academic and social benefits of art, music, language and physical education are widely documented.  Those subjects are universally available in suburban and private schools.  Yet only 25 percent of CPS neighborhood elementary schools have both music and art teachers; 40 schools have neither.

In addition, over 20 percent of elementary and middle schools have no playground, and CPS annually receives a waiver from a state mandate requiring four years of physical education in high school.  Then there’s the lack of libraries at 140 CPS schools, the sparsity of language programs, and a lack of “functioning, up-to-date” computers at many neighborhood schools.

CTU estimates it would cost $200 million to hire enough new music, art, phys ed, language and technology teachers to allow each CPS student to have two such classes per day.  That’s less than the amount diverted to TIF subsidies each year.

The numbers of social support staff in the district is shockingly low.  Just 202 nurses serve 684 schools; 370 social workers are available to provide 400,000 students with help, working with kids who are abused, neglected, homeless, or involved with gangs or drugs.  In some schools counselors have five times the caseload recommended under national guidelines.

CTU recommends that “bringing the number of social workers, counselors, nurses, and psychologists up to the numbers recommended by professional organizations” in schools that are on probation would be “a logical first step” for CPS.

The report looks at a range of additional issues – racial segregation, standardized testing, punitive discipline, early education, special education, teacher turnover (especially high, and especially harmful, in low-income schools), as well as salaries and facility spending.

No air conditioning

On facilities, one example is timely: previous to the strike vote, CPS reportedly refused to accept union proposals on air conditioning for all schools.  According to CTU, 90 CPS schools don’t have functioning air conditioning. (And, I’m told, in some schools listed as air conditioned, it’s limited to the principal’s office).

Last week CPS was forced to close 18 schools without AC when temperatures soared.  For teachers it’s both a health and safety issue and an educational issue.  They point to a study by the Council of Educational Facility Planners that found students in air-conditioned buildings outscored their peers by 5 to 10 percent.

But CPS has slashed capital spending while funneling millions of dollars into buildings for turnaround and charter schools.  Six turnaround schools being taken over by AUSL next year are getting $25 million in capital improvements.  (Here’s another case.)

So while CPS pleads poverty — with annual Chicken Little budget projections that more often than not end up in year-end surpluses – there is clearly money in the district’s $6 billion budget for politically favored priorities.

Neighborhood schools just aren’t one of them.  Maybe the contract negotiators can talk about that.

One upshot of the classroom cuts reflecting CPS priorities is that the proportion of total operating funds going to teachers’ salaries has steadily declined, from 48 percent in 2004 to 41 percent in 2010, according to a union analysis.  That’s over a period when teachers got healthy raises, too.

This makes it hard to argue that CPS can only afford a 2 percent raise over the next five years.  But CPS’s credibility on salary issues was seriously damaged last summer when it offered teachers a 2 percent raise to teach longer hours, a day after negotiations concluded over its claim that it couldn’t afford a scheduled pay hike [– and now this].

The CTU report includes a series of proposals for “fair school funding” – real TIF reform, progressive taxation, and a novel idea: a flat tax of 15 percent on capital gains for those with incomes over $200,000.  That could generate $367 million for Chicago schools, the union estimates.

Other states do it.  It’s a lot of money.  What would happen if powerful politicians took up such an initiative in Springfield?

But don’t expect the millionaires and billionaires funding SFC and the hedge fund traders behind DFER to stand up and cheer.  “Fair school funding” doesn’t seem to be a priority for these groups either.

]]>
http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/in-contract-talks-teachers-challenge-cps-priorities/feed/ 2
Contract talks should include classroom issues, parents say http://www.newstips.org/2012/06/contract-talks-should-include-classroom-issues-parents-say/ Fri, 15 Jun 2012 03:23:20 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6370 A parent group is calling on Mayor Emanuel to expand negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union to include class size and other issues which CPS has so far refused to consider.

A new petition by Raise Your Hand (available here) calls on the city “to open up talks beyond pay and benefits and find ways to compromise with our teachers on issues that are critical to our schools.”

“We believe that the only way to come to a decent contract and avoid a strike is to give the teachers a contractual voice in some of the work-rules that impact their day and profession,” said RYH in a recent statement.

In negotiations under way since last November, CPS has refused to consider issues it is not legally required to negotiate, including subcontracting, layoff procedures, class size, staffing and assignment, and —  with passage of SB7 last year – the length of the school day and year.

It’s the first time CPS has ruled those issues off the table.

CPS’s refusal to negotiate on non-economic issues is a big reason teachers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, said teacher and union activist Xian Barrett.  “We would never have gotten a 98 percent ‘yes’ vote if it had only been about pay and benefits,” he said.

“If you ask teachers what how they would improve their jobs, they don’t start with better pay, they start with class size, they start with wanting an administration and leadership that works with teachers instead of dictating to them,” Barrett said.

The union has offered proposals on class size; on including art, music, languages, and gym in the longer school day; and on increased social services for at-risk students, an area in which Chicago lags other cities.

Those are the same issues parent groups have articulated about the longer school day – and a big reason Chicagoans overwhelmingly back the union’s plan for the longer day over the mayor’s, according to a recent Chicago Tribune poll.

Parents and teachers are particularly concerned that without a plan for funding the longer day, it will be paid for with larger class sizes.

By allowing CPS to rule out key areas – and encouraging CTU to make a large salary demand as its only leverage for pressing nonsalary issues – SB7 set up the dynamic behind the current stalemate, said Rod Estvan of Access Living at an RYH forum in Logan Square on Monday.  Under sections of the law which apply only to Chicago, mediators now evaluating the two sides’ proposals are restricted to topics deemed acceptable by CPS, he said.

The way to avert a strike, to provide room for compromise, is by opening talks to include the full range of issues, Estvan said.

]]>