Designs for Change – 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=4.4.12 AUSL turnarounds called ineffective, expensive http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/ausl-turnarounds-called-ineffective-expensive/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/ausl-turnarounds-called-ineffective-expensive/#comments Fri, 17 May 2013 01:19:45 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7214 Why is deficit-challenged CPS proposing to spend over $1 million a year to “turn around” each of six schools, using a program that’s produced mediocre results — especially when teachers at four of the schools have voted to support a far cheaper and more effective turnaround proposal?

Could the political connections of the Academy for Urban School Leadership — whose big-dollar donors include major contributors to Mayor Emanuel, like David Vitale, Penny Pritzker and Bruce Rauner — have something to do with it?

***

Of twelve turnaround schools listed on AUSL’s website which the group took over between 2006 and 2010, ten of them are on academic probation today.    Only one of them is rated as Level 1 — “high performing” — by CPS.

Of those twelve schools, eleven were below the CPS district-wide average for ISAT composite scores.  AUSL’s top-scoring school had a composite score that was equal to the CPS average, which is lower than half its schools.

Three AUSL turnarounds at CPS high schools are abject failures, with scores far below district averages and negligible growth.

AUSL did not respond to a request for an interview.

A study last year by Don Moore of Designs For Change of Chicago elementary schools with poverty rates above 95 percent — there were 210 of them — found 33 scoring above the CPS average on ISAT reading scores (the most rigorous test and the most fundamental skill, experts say).  None were AUSL schools.

All the successful schools followed what Designs called the “school-based democracy” model, with Local School Councils selecting principals, approving the budget, and monitoring school improvement — a stark contrast to the “top-down” strategy represented by AUSL.

Only three  out of ten AUSL schools were among the top half of high-poverty schools in reading achievement, Designs found.  That’s despite over $1 million a year in additional resources given to AUSL turnaround schools.

The additional money includes management fees and annual per-pupil payments, in addition to large capital investments in turnaround schools.  The CPS supplementary capital budget for this year includes $11 million dollars for improvements to six schools slated for AUSL takeovers.  Among other resources, AUSL schools get a second assistant principal and a full-time social worker.

A couple years ago, annual spending on turnarounds was $20 million.  It’s growing steadily.

“The resources now used for turnaround schools need to be shifted to helping effective schools become resources for other schools,” Designs concluded.

***

Moore’s study was released shortly after a report by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, which found that turnarounds and other aggressive school interventions in low-performing schools had “closed the gap in [reading] test scores with the system average by almost half.”

This was touted by editorial writers and politicians as proof of AUSL’s success.  But was it?

Citing statisticians, Catalyst said the report “showed only a small amount of progress,” particularly given “the upheavel and financial investment in turnarounds.”

Pressed by the Sun Times to clarify the report’s results — which were given only in terms of standard deviations — one author explained that after four years of intervention, sixth graders in a turnaround school are 3.5 months ahead of their peers in the lowest-performing schools.

That’s what the Tribune calls “dramatic academic progress,” and what Mayor Emanuel calls “academic excellence.”

The school board went on to approve six AUSL turnarounds.

***

There’s another model for turnarounds in Chicago — one which has often outperformed AUSL, without replacing teachers and principals, and at one-fifth the cost.

Strategic Learning Initiatives developed its “focused instruction process” approach in a demonstration project with CPS that started in 2006, the same year as AUSL’s first turnaround.

In the four-year program, involving eight low-income elementary schools in Little Village and Garfield Park — each of which had been on probation for ten years or more — each of the schools dramatically increased their annual achievement growth rates, most within one or two years.

The program is based on decades of management studies of high-performance organizations and on the “five essential supports” identified by Moore and validated by the Consortium — effective leadership, family-community partnerships, supportive learning environment, ambitious instruction, and a culture of trust and collaboration.

(The Consortium has found that schools measured strong in all five supports were ten times more likely to achieve substantial gains in reading and math; remarkably, in CPS reports on the five supports, only three AUSL turnaround schools are rated “organized for improvement” or “highly organized.”  Its oldest turnarounds are rated “not yet organized.”)

Working with SLI, principals and teachers get in-school coaches, and teachers run their own problem-solving sessions in school and across school networks.  A family engagement component focuses on teaching parents how to support their children’s learning.  The whole process aims at developing a sense of ownership among school community members, says SLI president John Simmons.

According to Simmons, the biggest lesson from the group’s collaboration with CPS was that, far from being the root of the problem, existing staff and parents “form a large and untapped reservoir of energy, ideas and commitment” for school improvement.

“The idea of replacing the entire staff is completely foreign to the corporate turnaround model,” he points out.

SLI won’t come into a school unless 80 percent of its teachers vote for the program in a secret ballot.  (Because it doesn’t replace the staff, the program is eligible for federal funding as a “school transformation” rather than a “turnaround.”) Teachers at four of the six schools slated for AUSL turnarounds have voted to request that CPS let them apply for an SLI-led transformation.

***

CTU activist Debby Pope, who attended hearings for five of the school proposed turnarounds, says she noticed a pattern:  most of the schools being targeted had new principals who seemed to be inspiring the staff, and who were achieving significant increases on test scores.

An analysis shows that annual reading score gains at the six proposed turnarounds are eight times higher in the past two years than they were over the previous four.

The change is particularly striking at four of the schools:  under new principals, Barton went from an average yearly decrease of -0.1 percent for four years, to an average yearly gain of 4.7 percent in the past two years; Chalmers went from 0.4 to 4.5; Dewey from -1.9 to 3.2, and Carter from 0.4 to 2.3.

Could it be that, in an effort to goose its own success rate, AUSL is looking for schools where a turnaround in student achievement is already under way?

At the hearing for Chalmers, Pope said, “As a union representative I have to say, it’s not every day you have a staff extolling the leadership of a principal the way you do here.”

Parents and teachers praised principal Kent Nolan, a focused, intent young black man who cuts an impressive figure.

One mother expressed her amazement on coming home and finding her 13-year-old son reading a book.  “My six-year-old daughter reads books,” she said.  “This school has been excellent.”

Another described the turnaround in her two sons’ attitudes toward school.   A third told of being impressed when she saw Nolan disperse a group of drug dealers from a corner near the school.  “What other principal would do that?” she said.

Another parent pointed out that, with an LSC, “we have a say in naming a principal.”  Under AUSL they wouldn’t.

In thirteen years in five CPS schools, “I have never seen an administration as supportive and dedicated,” said a math teacher.  “The school was in trouble” before the new principal, said a case manager.  “We have a fresh start.”

Under Nolan, in two years, Chalmers’ ISATs have risen 10 points.  They’re still far below the district’s average, and the school is still on probation, but it’s only a few points from moving to the next level, according to testimony.

And in the CPS report card on the “five supports,” Chalmers is rate “highly organized for improvement.” It really does seem to have turned around already.

“I have experience with AUSL,” said one mother.  She said her daughter, a student at Collins Academy, was being told she had to find a new school “because of her behavior.”  (I asked her later what the behavior issues were.  “Girl stuff,” she said.)  “Are you going to kick out all the kids with behavior problems?”

She added later that she had a nephew at one of AUSL’s elementary schools who was being told to go to another school.

“We have homeless children, children with parents who are unemployed or incarcerated, parents with addictions; we have children who have been rejected from turnaround schools,” said third grade teacher Louis Lane during the hearing.  “As educators we rise to the occasion daily, we respect our students and care for them.  We are teachers who teach, not kick students out because they have problems.”

***

It seems immensely, tragically disrespectful to educators like Nolan and Lane and their colleagues to wantonly replace them in order to deliver a payoff to political cronies.

The only real purpose for firing and replacing staff in turnarounds appears to be “to discriminate against experienced educators, especially educators of color,” said CTU president Karen Lewis in a statement last month.  Younger teachers cost less.

CTU found that in six turnarounds of elementary schools with majority-black teaching staffs last year, including three by AUSL and three by CPS, the proportion of blacks on the staff dropped dramatically.  In AUSL’s turnaround of Stagg, the percentage of teachers who were African American dropped from 80 to 35 percent when AUSL took over.

More dramatic was the increase in inexperienced teachers.  While none of the schools had first-year teachers before the turnarounds, after the turnarounds a whopping 57 percent of their teaching staff were first-years.

On top of that, the Designs study revealed that AUSL has huge levels of teacher turnover.  Only 42 percent of teachers at turnaround schools in 2008-09 were still there three years later.

With Chicago taxpayers footing the bill for AUSL’s vaunted teacher training program, that’s s a concern.  In addition, “it creates a constant need to identify new teachers, and makes the goal of fundamentally changing a school’s culture more difficult,” according to Designs.

“High teacher turnover is damaging to a school’s ability to build collaboration among teachers, relationships with students and parents, and continuity in the school’s curriculum.”

Maybe that’s one reason AUSL schools are having trouble getting organized for improvement.

***

It looks like AUSL will emerge as the big winner in North Lawndale if proposed school actions are approved, said Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance.

She says four of five school actions will benefit AUSL, which will end up controlling all the schools in Douglas Park, where its under-performing high school, Collins Academy, is located.

Pope Elementary is proposed for closing, with its students sent to Johnson, an AUSL school. Bethune, which was turned around in 2009, is slated for closing, allowing AUSL to jettison one of its more challenging schools, where results have not been impressive.  Leonard expects Bethune students will be encouraged to go not to the designated receiving school but to Johnson or to Chalmers, if it’s also taken over by AUSL.

And in a curious maneuver, current Henson students would be sent to Hughes, a Level 2 school, but Henson’s attendance boundaries would be redrawn with half its area assigned to Herzl, a recent AUSL turnaround that’s still Level 3 and on probation.

Leonard point out that even after being in place for several years, AUSL schools in North Lawndale still underperform Lawndale schools generally.  On ISAT reading scores, North Lawndale schools average 65.6 percent meeting and exceeding standards, while AUSL schools in the neighborhood average 51.7.

“The school action policy is being driven for the benefit of well-connected people,” she said.

One of AUSL’s strategies seems to be taking over elementary schools feeding the high schools where it’s under-performing, said Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together, which works with parents and students at Orr Academy and local elementary schools.

“They seem to be thinking, if we can push out and counsel out students from the elementary schools, we can end up with fewer special ed and bilingual students and children with discipline issues at the high school,” she said. “They can get the cream of the crop.”

BT has dealt repeatedly with large numbers of Orr students who were told not to return to school after the turnaround there.  Carroll thinks that with BT’s persistent pushback, the school has backed off its strategy of dumping.

(Rod Estvan of Access Living has reported that the proportion of students with disabilities has dropped at AUSL schools; at Morton Academy, AUSL’s top-scoring school, it’s dropped by one-third since the turnaround.  He’s also noted that enrollment declined by 15 percent from 2006 to 2012 at ten AUSL schools, during a period when CPS enrollment declined by 4 percent.)

According to Carroll, school actions in BT’s area also seem to favor AUSL in curious ways.  School closings are passing by Piccolo, which AUSL took over last year, though it’s a Level 3 school with a 40 percent utilization rate (Carroll says it’s lower now) — and with $26 million in capital needs, according to CPS.

Instead two Level 2 schools with much higher utilization rates and lower capital needs assessments — Ryerson and Laura Ward — are being combined.

And while 53 schools are closed, two AUSL schools, Morton and Dodge, are co-locating.  That means that each school gets to keep its administrative staff — including a second assistant principal for each school, though with enrollments of 362 and 423 respectively, Morton and Dodge are no bigger than many schools that are being combined.

“This isn’t about money,” said Carroll.  “Clearly these decision are not dictated by what’s fiscally prudent.”

It doesn’t seem to be about education either.  It seems to be about money and power.

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Don Moore’s legacy http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/don-moores-legacy/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/don-moores-legacy/#comments Fri, 07 Sep 2012 01:06:12 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6606 Don Moore’s life had an impact far greater than many more famous and powerful people:  more than anyone, he was responsible for creating and defending Chicago’s Local School Councils, while demonstrating their value as the most effective vehicle this city has seen for improving urban education.

He was among the first to push democratic school governance as the solution to Chicago’s schools crisis in the 1980s, and in the following decade, as politicians and CPS administrators sought to recentralize power – and brought the city’s business and philanthropic elites back under their sway – he defended LSCs from legislative attacks and mobilized community involvement in LSC elections.

Meanwhile, in a remarkable body of research, he demonstrated that while central office interventions from probation to turnarounds had little effect, the high-poverty schools that showed steady long-term improvement in Chicago were those with what he termed “school-based democracy.”

“It’s not a stretch to say that had he not been doing this work, Local School Councils would have disappeared from the scene – and we would have lost one of the most important engines of educational improvement in the nation,” said Ray Boyer, who directed public affairs for the MacArthur Foundation until 2004 and collaborated on projects with Moore after that.

As reported by Substance, Catalyst and the Sun Times, Donald R. Moore died last week at age 70.

In 1977 Moore founded Designs For Change, a multi-faceted organization that housed his rigorous research along with organizing, training, and advocacy efforts.  When a decade-long school crisis came to a head with the 1987 teachers strike, Moore seized the opportunity to rally community groups and business leaders to his vision of school-based democratic governance.

Critical role

Amid a vast and often conflicting array of groups pushing reform, Moore “played a critical role” in creating and pushing legislation that established LSCs in 1988, according to Mary O’Connell’s fascinating account of that struggle.  As Catalyst notes, when O’Connell asked participants in that movement who was “most responsible” for school reform, Moore was named most often.

He was “brilliant” in “bringing a theoretical concept into reality,” said Rod Estvan of Access Living, a former Designs board member, and he was commited to the idea that even in a society scarred by poverty and racism, “if people had some democratic control over their schools, they could make them better.”

In the following years – especially as LSCs came under attack from the mayor and CPS administration — Moore amassed what Boyer calls “an amazing body of work,” a series of studies showing that high-poverty schools with sustained academic improvement were overwhelmingly open-enrollment neighborhood schools led by effective LSCs.

His 2005 report, The Big Picture, identified 144 such schools (with 100,000 students) with 15 years of steady improvement, while showing that schools where CPS appointed principals under probation had “no significant improvement.”  Those 144 schools’ success should be studied with an eye to replicating it in other schools, he argued.  While new top-down reform efforts aimed at creating a network of successful schools that could serve as models for others, he pointed out, “that network already exists,” he wrote.

Those 100,000 students, and all those who’ve followed them, owe much to their parents and teachers – and much  also to Don Moore, who helped build and defend the local governance model under which their schools are able to come together and thrive. (Contrary to the media image, most LSCs function well, according to research; they certainly function better than the Board of Education, where no committees meet and decisions are routinely rubber-stamped.)

Moore also identified the key elements contributing to school success, which he termed “the five essential supports”:  effective leadership, family-community partnerships, a supportive school environment, teacher development and teamwork, and a focus on the instructional program.  The Chicago Consortium for School Research subsequently tested and validated Moore’s framework for school success.

Transformative

“It was a transformative idea,” said Boyer.  “You’re not talking about personnel changes – you’re not saying we need a new principal, or replace all the teachers – you’re talking about changing the structure of the school, how it works.”

“It’s a lot smarter than just looking at test scores from one year to the next,” said Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education, another group with roots in the late-’80s reform movement.

Moore’s “user-friendly reports were truly the ‘wind beneath the wings’ of the LSC reform movement,” Woestehoff commented in a PURE blog post.

His research had little impact on CPS policies, however, which have veered from one expensive fad to the next, disrupting schools, communities and students’ schooling without measurably impacting student achievement.

His most recent study identified 33 high-poverty neighborhood schools performing above the city average on reading scores, and compared them to turnaround school, not one of which meets that standard, even after several years and millions of additional dollars.  It recommended that “the resources now used for turnaround schools …be shifted to helping these effective [neighborhood] schools become resources for other schools.”

Moore was at the forefront of successful fights against a series of legislative attempts by Mayor Daley, CPS chief Paul Vallas, and others to take away LSCs’ power to hire principals, and he was among those raising awareness of LSC elections every other April and mobilizing community groups to recruit candidates.

Last April he spearheaded a protest when CPS for the first time refused to routinely release candidate information to community groups and neighborhood news sites.

“I wonder what’s going to happen at the next election, when he’s not there to beat the drum,” said Boyer.

As the Sun Times notes, his groundbreaking work on high-school dropouts revealed that Chicago’s drop-out rate was far higher than claimed; his research on CPS’s failure to meet its obligations to special education students led to a major civil rights lawsuit and consent decree.

Last November he raised the concern that CPS was closing schools based on their probationary status, decided by very questionable use of data — while failing to meet its legal obligations to assist schools that were placed on probation.  That led to a civil rights lawsuit by LSC members at schools being closed by CPS.

‘He cared’

Maria Hernandez was referred to Moore in 2009 after her alderman blew off a meeting at his office with 100 parents and children from Carpenter Elementary School.  They’d just learned that CPS was planning to phase out their school.

“He cared,” she said.  “He really cared.  He listened to us.  He came to our school, he met the parents, he talked to the children.”

It was a marked contrast to her alderman or to CPS officials, as she tells her story.  Parents testified at the school board, but “they ignored us.”  CPS chief Ron Huberman promised to come to a meeting but didn’t show.  When they then scheduled a meeting at his office, “he was there three minutes,” she remembers.  “He came in and shook our hands and said thank you for coming, pleased to meet you, we’re going to work this out. And now I have another meeting to go to.”

Moore threw himself into the fight by parents to save Carpenter and nearby Andersen Elementary.  They were the kinds of schools he’d championed:  academically successful, LSC-run schools in low-income communities of color.  Carpenter had an effective principal, a strong program in fine and performing arts and a thriving special ed program; its students were to be sent to a school that was on probation. Both schools were being displaced to accommodate new campuses for Gold Coast schools.

“He was with us throughout the entire fight,” Hernandez says.  After the school board ignored arguments that CPS’s claim that the schools were underutilized overlooked the needs of special ed students, Moore helped parents file a complaint with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights.

She remembers him calling late in the evening, still working on the complaint, asking one more question, nailing down one more detail.  They didn’t win that battle, but he shared their outrage and helped them speak truth to power.

That fight led to another that Moore threw himself into: State Rep. Cynthia Soto’s legislation to increase transparency and accountability in CPS facility planning.  Along with Valencia Rias, his colleague at Designs, he served on the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force created by the bill.

A week before his death he was at a task force hearing with CPS officials, demanding greater clarity on the district’s criteria for closing schools, said Jacqueline Leavy, a consultant with the task force and longtime community activist.

“Don was passionate about the persistent, inequitable pattern of inadequate resources for neighborhood schools,” she said.  “He never gave up.”

What amazed me about Don Moore was his sheer tenacity in the face of so many frustrations.  His data was so strong, yet it was ignored by politicians and bureaucrats with agendas impervious to on-the-ground realities. He kept cranking it out.  The school board voted to close schools despite the most compelling arguments.  The attacks on LSCs never ended – but he knew the people who serve on the councils, and he knew what they are capable of accomplishing.

He had a quiet sense of righteous indignation that was anchored by a vast patience and unfailing sense of humor – and a meticulous attention to detail.  Wisdom, is what it was.

Moore faced many defeats and never gave up – but looked at historically, considering the 100,000 kids learning every year in thriving neighborhood schools that he helped make possible, recognizing the model of successful urban education that he helped create and keep alive in the face of such odds, his life was one of great success and accomplishment.

 

More on Don Moore:

Del Valle backs LSCs on principals

School closing numbers challenged

Recruiting LSC candidates

Complaint: Olympic bid discriminates

LSCs celebrate 20 years

Promoting segregation (on changes in magnet school admissions)

Emanuel wrong on charter performance

School closings, the law, and alternatives

West Side parents fight ‘education apartheid’

Charge CPS obstruction on LSC election

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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.

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West Side parents fight ‘education apartheid’ http://www.newstips.org/2012/03/west-side-parents-fight-education-apartheid/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/03/west-side-parents-fight-education-apartheid/#comments Thu, 15 Mar 2012 20:51:32 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6008 A successful neighborhood school on the West Side is fighting “disinvestment” while a failing charter nearby gets millions of dollars worth of renovations, parents charge.

On Friday, March 16 at 8 a.m., the Emmet Elementary School LSC and the Austin group Progressive Action Coalition for Education will hold a press conference and rally against “education apartheid” at the school, 5500 W. Madison.

Emmet’s scores have improved dramatically in recent years and its performance rating is currently Level 2 (“good standing”) and headed toward Level 1 (“excellent”), said Dwayne Truss of PACE.  In a recent Designs for Change study, Emmet was one of 33 very high poverty schools performing above the CPS average on the ISAT reading test.

Emmet’s success is the result of “the LSC, the teachers, and the principal working together,” Truss said.

Hazards 

But the school is badly in need of capital improvements, he said.  Students are served lunch in the hallway and eat their lunch in the same room used for physical education and assemblies.  This creates scheduling difficulties, and the lack of space and the presence of permanent seats creates a hazard for kids in gym class, he said.

The school’s fieldhouse is decaying and dangerous, with “paint chips all over the place,” and while CPS is planning to implement recess next year, the school’s playground is pocked with potholes, Truss said.

In addition CPS recently cut the school’s librarian.  The school has 450 students in Pre-K through 8th grade.

The charter advantage

Meanwhile CPS is spending $13 million to renovate an annex at Nash Elementary, 4837 W. Erie, for a revived ACT Charter school.  ACT’s low-performing high school suspended operations in 2010; the new school plans to serve 5th through 8th graders.

It will be operated by KIPP, whose Ascend charter school now serves 5th through 8th graders – and like ACT, is rated at Level 3 in performance.  (If charters were subject to probation, KIPP Ascend would be on probation.)

“CPS likes to talk about quality schools, but here’s a quality school that’s not getting the investment it needs,” said Truss, speaking of Emmet.  He said the school has been seeking repairs from CPS for many years.

Effective schools

The Designs report looked at all 210 very low income elementary schools, including turnarounds, and found that all of the most successful ones – 33 schools, including Emmet, that topped the CPS average on reading scores —  had elected LSCs hiring and evaluating principals and approving the school budget and plan.

Of twelve turnarounds, none bested the citywide average and only three ranked in the top half of the high-poverty of schools on performance – despite an additional investment averaging at least $7 million per school over five years.

The report notes that while turnaround schools have received extensive news coverage, successful neighborhood schools rarely get publicity.  It recommends that “the resources now used for turnaround schools …be shifted to helping these effective [neighborhood] schools become resources for other schools.”

At a press conference on the report last month, Dunne Math and Science Academy LSC chair Bernard Kelly spoke of that Far South Side school’s academic success – and  presented slides showing damaged ceilings and walls due to roof leaks, a crumbling exterior, and a small multipurpose room used for lunch, gym, and assemblies.

The building was originally intended to be temporary, and the community has been seeking a new facility for thirty years, he said.

“This school, if given the opportunity, the sky’s the limit,” Kelly said.  “We don’t need to keep building new schools somewhere else.”

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School closings, the law, and alternatives http://www.newstips.org/2011/11/school-closings-the-law-and-alternatives/ Tue, 29 Nov 2011 21:08:50 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4981 School closings to be announced by CPS on Thursday—expected to be unprecedented in scope — are the first under a new state school facilities planning law, intended to bring transparency and accountability to decisions over school buildings.

But does the school district’s new guidelines for school actions, which must be finalized by November 30, abide by the spirit of the law?  Many of its proponents – and some of its legislative sponsors – say no.

Meanwhile community groups continue to call on CPS to work with communities to improve struggling schools, rather than imposing top-down strategies that have no record of success.

“I don’t see them as being really ready to adhere to SB 630,” said State Representative Esther Golar, a member of the legislative task force which developed the bill.   The legislation “was intended to require CPS to work as partner with parents, teachers, and the community.”

She adds: “That’s something they haven’t been doing….And they’re still saying we’re going to run the schools the way we want to, and you don’t have any say-so.”

“It’s the same failed policies,” said Dwayne Truss, co-chair of the Austin Community Action Council, established by CPS.  “They just want to open up buildings for more charter schools.”

‘Too vague’

The guidelines for actions are so broad that they leave nearly a quarter of CPS schools open to action, circumventing SB 630’s attempt to encourage transparency in school closing decisions and limit the administration’s ability to act in an arbitrary manner, supporters of the law say.

The guidelines are “too vague,” said Golar.

By using school performance and probationary status as the basic standard for school actions, CPS relies on statistically questionable measurements – and risks exposing its own failure to meet obligations to schools on probation, said Don Moore of Designs for Change.

The number of schools on probation, now amounting to 42 percent of CPS schools, mainly reflects “erratic changes in the CPS probation policy from year to year,” said Moore.  “A large number of Chicago’s probation schools are scoring very well and carrying out good practices,” he said.

Probation standards are currently set to include nearly all schools with significant low-income enrollment, he said.  Schools making steady progress can end up on probation if they slip a couple of points one year.  Due to complex (and controversial) “trend” score calculations, some schools on probation actually have higher scores than schools that aren’t.

Nor does the performance policy account for many challenges faced by neighborhood schools.  Truss points to two Austin schools:  Louis Armstrong Elementary and Plato contract school, located nearby.  Armstrong has 27 percent of its students getting special education, versus 11.4 percent at Plato; the mobility rates are 24.6 percent versus 8.5.  “And Armstrong takes in third graders that Plato doesn’t want,” he said — just in time for tests.

Charter schools, most of which have scores comparable to neighborhood schools, are exempt from the district’s performance policy.

Schools on probation neglected

Moore underscores a common complaint by critics of the guidelines:  “CPS has consistently failed to carry out its own obligations under the probation policy.”

“The schools on probation, what help have they received from CPS?” asked State Reprentative Cynthia Soto, who co-chairs the facilities task force, talking with the Tribune.

At a recent hearing on the school action guidelines held by CPS on the West Side, parents at Marconi Elementary argued CPS has never addressed the problems which led to probation for the school, Catalyst reported.

“The school’s air conditioning is broken, they don’t have a gym, there’s no computer lab, no science lab, ceilings are falling in – there are a lot of issues,” said West Side activist Carol Johnson, who works with Truss in the Progressive Action Coalition for Education.  “CPS officials did a walk-through, they have a list of everything that parents said they needed, but they haven’t done anything.”

“If you’re going to turn around a school and then put in resources, that doesn’t seem right,” she said.  “If you’re going to give resources, do it before you close the school.”

CPS has failed to follow the mandates of state law governing probation – a possible ground for opposing school closings based on probationary status, said Moore.

State law requires that schools placed on probation – under which control over school improvement plans, budgets, and principal hiring is taken from local school councils and given to the central administration – must get a plan from the school district outlining specific steps to be taken to correct identified shortcomings, with specific expenditures in the school budget targeting educational and operational deficiencies.

Supporters of schools facing closing could file freedom of information requests for documentation that these steps have been taken, Moore suggests.  CPS failure to comply would constitute grounds for independent hearing officers to determine that the district hasn’t met legal requirements to close the school.

What about charter performance?

The school action guidelines include a range of factors, and Golar said the legislative task force has written CPS raising a number of questions and concerns.

Some of these include: how do they measure student safety?  Are there any specific criteria for “co-locating” schools, or is that decision entirely up to the whim of CPS?  Will school actions result in smaller class sizes?  Why was the previous policy of exempting schools with new principals dropped?

And a big one for her:  why are charters and turnarounds not subject to the same performance requirements?

Golar has been pushing for accountability for charters since she was elected in 2006.  “Charter schools have the same issues traditional schools have, yet they don’t have the same performance measures,” she said.  “They have all these computer labs, longer school days, better books, all the things parents are asking for, and with all that, they’re still failing.”

It’s quite possible for students from closing schools to end up at charters that are performing no better, CTU has argued.

A neighborhood agenda

There’s an alternative.  Instead of disinvesting from and closing neighborhood schools, community organizations recently proposed an agenda to invest in and improve them.

It’s a comprehensive program – the proposal for college preparation and readiness begins with pre-school for all and full-day kindergarten in every school.  It’s based on the successes of community organizations that have worked in schools for years.

The agenda proposes that all neighborhood schools follow the community school model.  It includes programs like parent mentors in the classroom, smaller class sizes, arts education and recess, restorative justice and mental health services, local teacher development and improved bilingual education.  It stresses partnerships with community groups and community governance, including local school councils with decision-making power at every school, and support and training for LSCs.

In Bronzeville, community groups have worked for two years on a plan for Dyett High School and five elementary schools that feed into it.  Dyett would  become a Community High School of Green Technology and Leadership, and the elementary schools would focus variously on math, science, engineering, languages and global citizenship.

There would be curriculum alignment throughout the “village,” says Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, along with health centers, a social worker and nurse, social-emotional and leadership programming, restorative justice, safety patrols, and pre-K for all.

The groups have called for a moratorium on school closings in Bronzeville, which has been hard hit by closings over the past decade, and which has a large number of schools which meet the new criteria.

“We’ve had ten years of closings, consolidations, and turnarounds, and they have not helped our students,” said Andrea Lee of Grand Boulevard Federation.

Brown points out that Dyett was under-resourced when it was turned into a high school to serve students who couldn’t get into the new King College Prep;  a couple years later it was “completely destabilized” when Englewood High was closed and students were sent to Dyett.

Constant destabilization

“We have to defend ourselves against our own school district,” which is “setting up our schools to fail,” he said.

“We’re looking at schools being constantly destabilized with models that just don’t work – just moving children around – and no accountability when they don’t work,” he said.

There’s evidence that the alternative strategy works.  Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s community schools are nationally acclaimed, and in a high-poverty, high-crime area on the Southwest Side, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council has worked for eight years in schools and seen steady improvement in  achievement levels.

BPNC’s full-service community schools provide afterschool academic support for struggling kids and homework help for others, followed by two hours of enrichment activity – music, art, drama, sports, “everything you can think of,” said Patrick Brosnan.

There’s ESL, GED, citizenship, and computer classes for parents, aimed at assisting them in supporting their children in school. There’s parent and student leadership development.

Each school has a resource coordinator and a social worker.  Funding comes from the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program and other public and private sources.

“It’s building ownership over the school and trying to promote the school as a center of the community,” Brosnan said.  “We’ve seen tremendous results in schools that have a lot of challenges.”

Soto has announced the legislature’s Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force will hold a hearing on CPS school actions on Thursday, December 1 at 10 a.m. at the Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle.

The Chicago Teachers Union is holding a teach-in on stopping  school closings for teachers, parents, and community groups on Saturday, December 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at King College Prep, 4445 S. Drexel.

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Whittier sit-in dramatizes CPS inequities http://www.newstips.org/2010/09/whittier-sit-in-dramatizes-cps-inequities/ Thu, 23 Sep 2010 21:14:31 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=2229 For over a week, parents at Whittier Elementary in Pilsen have been sitting in to block demolition of the school’s fieldhouse and demand a library for the school.  Tomorrow morning they will rally with supporters (Friday, September 24, 10 a.m., 1900 W. 23rd Place).

The sit-in is sharply dramatizing issues of transparency and accountability in CPS facilities planning, long raised by advocates for neighborhood schools (see last year’s Newstips report) and now under examination by a task force of the state legislature.

The task force has hearings scheduled for Saturday in Garfield Park and Tuesday in Humboldt Park (details here).

For years Whittier parents have organized for improvements to the school including a library.  When TIF money was allocated for Whittier earlier this year, it turned out $356,000 had been budgeted to demolish the fieldhouse long used for community programs including ESL.

They’ve requested that CPS provide a breakdown of the demolition budget and a copy of the engineering assessment that is said to have deemed the fieldhouse structually unsound, to no avail.  An independent engineering assessment arranged for by the parents found the building to be sound but in need of a new roof, projected to come in at around $25,000.

That’s typical of information available about CPS facilities planning, said Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together, who is a member of the legislative task force.  Since Ron Huberman took over leadership of CPS, the capital improvement budget has been presented as a single lump sum with no itemization, she said.  Before that, the 2009 capital improvement budget showed millions of dollars being spent on schools that were being closed and turned over to Renaissance 2010, she said.

How many Chicago public schools lack libraries?  It’s not generally known, she said.  “I can guarantee, though, that schools serving more upscale residents have it all, libraries, math labs, science labs, everything,” she said.

In August the task force toured Whittier as well as Attucks Elementary in Bronzeville, relocated suddenly in 2008 (as reported here), and Carpenter Elementary in Humboldt Park, which is being phased out to make room for an elite high school (more here).

Parents at Carpenter and at Anderson Elementary, working with Designs for Change, have filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, charging that CPS violated the students’ civil rights – not just in the process of deciding to close the schools, but in “gross inequities” in the allocation of classrooms and learning resources during the phasing-out period, including “indignities reminiscent of the Old South,” such as separate entrances and separate bathrooms.

Carpenter is now getting millions of dollars in renovations – far beyond anything noted in its official building assessment, Carroll said.  And Whittier is still waiting for a library.

The task force hopes to propose legislation that would reform facilities planning in CPS in next year’s session in Springfield, Carroll said.

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Soto school bill enacted http://www.newstips.org/2009/10/soto-school-bill-enacted/ http://www.newstips.org/2009/10/soto-school-bill-enacted/#comments Fri, 30 Oct 2009 19:37:36 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=862 The State Senate voted today by a  48-0 margin to override Governor Quinn’s amendatory veto of State Representative Cynthia Soto’s school facilities bill, enacting the bill into law, Don Moore of Designs for Change said.

The bill establishes a legislative commission to hold hearings and formulate proposals for a school facilities policy for CPS.  It was backed by supporters of neighborhood schools who say school closings and capital spending decisions have favored charters and other Renaissance 2010 schools.

Soto introduced the bill after CPS promised to reform its school closing policy, including providing six-months notice for closings, and didn’t follow through – and after parents in her district objected strenuously to the closing of two schools there last winter.

A moratorium on school closings and consolidation, which would have covered decisions made earlier this year, was stripped from the bill prior to its initial passage.  But as Newstips noted in a February report, the demand for a school facilities policy goes back to the now-defunct Neighborhood Capital Budget Group.

Most recently school advocates and community groups have focused on  the CPS’s failure to heed repeated warnings from parents and educators that school closings would increase the risk of violencee in Chicago schools.

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Quinn vetoes school facilities bill http://www.newstips.org/2009/08/quinn-vetoes-schools-bill-3/ Thu, 27 Aug 2009 06:00:00 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=3091 Governor Quinn announced Tuesday evening an amendatory veto of legislation to establish school facilities planning guidelines for CPS. Contacted today, the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Cynthia Soto, vowed to override the veto.

The bill, known as House Bill 363, passed both the House and Senate unanimously this spring.

“I was shocked and appalled” by the veto, Soto said. “I am really upset.” She said neither Quinn nor CPS raised the concerns in the governor’s veto during extensive negotiations over the legislation this spring.

Quinn reduced the number of state legislators and community representatives appointed by legislative leaders to a Chicago School Facilities Task Force and gave several task force slots to Mayor Daley and himself to fill. The task force is to consider school facilities policies, possibly proposing legislation to the General Assembly.

Soto vowed to work hard to override Quinn’s veto when the General Assembly reconvenes. Legislators could confirm or override Quinn’s changes — or take no action, allowing the bill to die.

Quinn’s changes “fundamentally undermine the likelihood that any meaningful changes will result from this process,” said Don Moore of Designs for Change. “It’s the policies of the Mayor and his board of education that are at the root of the inequities” which the task force is to address, he said.

“The Governor has hijacked a year-long Chicago school facility improvement campaign at the last minute, by stacking the task force and watering down its ability to come up with a strong fair policy,” said Valencia Rias of Designs. “He has disappointed many who thought he was different from the typical Illinois politician.”

Quinn’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Soto said good neighborhood schools were being closed and their buildings given over to outside entities to run schools which aren’t open to local residents. “It’s segregation by gentrification,” she said.

“It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to the taxpayers of the city of Chicago. It isn’t fair to the families whose children are being shifted around where they could be at risk. It isn’t fair to the principals and the teachers who work so hard. It isn’t fair to the parents who volunteer, who give so much of their time to make the schools better. They deserve a voice.”

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