CPS magnet programs uniting ethnic groups

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The December 2000 issue of CATALYST featured an article that, in the Chicago Public Schools’ view, placed racial overtones on our efforts to expand magnet high school programs. In the article titled, “South Side playing catch-up; Board gives North Side preps lavish facilities, ample time,” Debra Williams implied that the CPS’ college preparatory high schools are supported and publicized primarily based on their location and the ethnicity of their student population. The article highlighted the publicity surrounding the Walter Payton College Preparatory while alleging that of the six new regional college preparatory high schools, Lindblom College Preparatory was not given enough time to develop a new curriculum, identify quality teachers, enhance school facilities and recruit high-achieving students.

As acknowledged by CPS Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas in the article, Lindblom’s full transition into a college preparatory has gotten off to a slow start. This challenge can be attributed in part to the school’s recent history of declined student enrollment and local school council conflicts. However, we have not viewed these issues as road blocks to Lindblom’s potential success, and instead have chosen to maintain high expectations for Lindblom’s future. Our goal is to restore Lindblom to its previous position as one of the premier public schools in the City of Chicago.

Improvements have already been made since the school was converted to a college preparatory in 1999. Lindblom’s Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (TAP) results showed that in 1998, 31.8 percent of students were reading at or above national norms, with an increase to 53.4 percent by 2000. These test scores are just the beginning of improvements at Lindblom and, as the school becomes acclimated to the transition, undoubtably more changes will be underway.

In the meantime, instead of incorrectly labeling the slower paced development of one school as the representation of a racial “north-south divide,” let’s look at how CPS magnet high school programs are uniting ethnic backgrounds citywide.

An example of this are the 13 high schools that are participants of the International Baccalaureate Program, which will ultimately be in 15 schools. This program attracts students from all over the city and offers rigorous college preparatory courses toward an internationally accepted high school diploma.

Another magnet program offering students more challenging curricula is Advanced Placement. The popularity of this program is growing among students. In 2000, the number of Hispanic students taking AP tests increased 44 percent, from 694 in 1999 to 996. Also, the total number of African-American students taking AP tests increased by 46 percent, from 579 in 1999 to 845.

The various programs mentioned here, and others like them, have had a tremendous impact on Chicago’s neighborhoods. In fact, some have helped to diversify neighborhoods where students were never exposed to different cultures. Even CATALYST’s article gives an ethnic breakdown of the college preparatory high schools that shows an emerging trend of diversity. What is even more unique about these schools is their open enrollment. Students from all over the city and those from minority backgrounds can apply to any of these schools. There also are several cases where more than one magnet high school is available in an area, an example being the John Hope College Preparatory High School, which is located in the same region as Lindblom, and the Chicago Military Academy – Bronzeville located just one region away.

In other instances, our programs have helped to stabilize communities where families once felt the need to relocate to suburban school districts in order to give their children the quality education they deserve. A recent report from The Consortium on Chicago School Research found that in 1995, 27 percent of CPS’ highest-performing 8th-graders left the school system for private or parochial high schools. By 1999, however, that number had decreased to 17 percent.

Being deemed the nation’s model for school reform, we have come to expect both praise and criticism for our efforts, but either way, we want our endorsers and critics to know that we view school reform as a step-by-step process. Our ultimate goal is make all of our schools the very best they can be, even if it takes some longer than others to reach that goal.

Cozette Buckney, Ed.D,

Chief Education Officer

Chicago Public Schools

Editor’s note: The reporting for our December issue focused on the Board of Education’s program of creating special high schools for only the highest-scoring students. A future issue will assess the board’s program of creating special programs inside regular high schools for students who don’t score high enough to get into the college prep schools or choose not to apply. We stand by our findings that board’s North Side college prep schools enjoyed advantages of time and money that the South Side schools didn’t. On all measures, Lindblom was given the weakest sendoff.

Article biased, ignored

needs of gifted students

“Catalyst: Independent coverage of Chicago school reform since 1989.” I think you can now change the above tag line that is on your publication’s web site. This is more appropriate: CATALYST: Independent coverage of Chicago school reform until 2000.

Your articles on Chicago’s college prep high schools were hardly independent and free of bias, especially the one headlined “Some see elite schools as drain on system,” by Brett Schaeffer. Obviously your editorial board member, Sokoni Karanja, who was quoted several times, had a large influence. (Why didn’t the writer disclose Mr. Karanja’s involvement with your publication until several paragraphs after his first quote?)

Your writer should have contacted the parent groups that begged for these schools and asked them why they were needed. He should have contacted national experts on gifted students and asked them why such schools are necessary.

Instead he relied heavily on Mr. Karanja, who is seriously misguided. First of all, programming for talented students does not mean that “you’re catering to the talented tenth, the top 10 percent.” His word choice shows his prejudice. It’s not catering. It’s called providing an appropriate education. Students who score at the 9th stanine are as divergent from the norms as a child scoring at the 1st. Would Mr. Karanja deny that child extra help, teachers trained in that specialty, a curriculum geared to their level? Of course not.

High-achieving kids are often used as mentors and junior teaching aides. They are denied the opportunity to work hard for a grade like everyone else, because the work is just too easy. They are at greater risk of dropping out later because they never develop the study skills that come with working at learning.

And then there is society’s prejudice against the gifted. Geeks. Eggheads. Nerds. What teenager wants those labels? In these college prep programs, there is no pressure to be mediocre, to hide their talents to “fit in.” They meet a real need in our city.

Finally, there is the assertion that these schools drain the top students. True, but this shows another common problem in our schools—using students for what they can do for us instead of what we can do for them. These kids aren’t here to prop up school test scores. We are here to provide them with an education appropriate to their needs.

The next time you want to write an article about high-achieving students, call me. I can put you in touch with resources and experts that can add some well needed balance.

Anne M. Sullivan, parent, LSC member

Northside College Preparatory High School

Editor’s note: Since you mention our editorial board, I would like to point out that it is advisory, serving as a sounding board and resource. The staff make all decisions about editorial content and operations.

Bravo for courage

to expose gaping wound

I applaud your December article regarding the inequities of the college preparatory magnet schools. I think it is about time that we call a spade a spade so that we can work on some solutions. Magnet schools are not created by just changing the name of the institution. The advantages given on the North Side are not even comparable to those on the South Side. That starts with the creation of state-of-the-art facilities, compared to old decrepit structures that will now be rewired. I mean really, Who are we trying to kid?

Even with King High School having all these months to plan, it still is an operating school and needing leadership while this transition occurs. That is so much different than having nine months of only creating and designing. And think about teacher recruiting: Is King Principal Pamela Dyson going to be able to start fresh with a brand-new, hand-picked staff? And what will she have to deal with in terms of those seniors who are not part of the “magnet” program?

We make so many excuses for wrong, and it is what it is: Wrong! I hope that I live to see the day when blatant division and ignorance of the facts is switched to the other side, so that they can feel how wonderful it is to fight and struggle for what is right, yet never be understood! Bravo to you for your courage to reopen the never-stitched-correctly gaping wound.

Lynda Parker, math teacher on leave

Chicago Public Schools

More going on

at Collins than reported

Thanks for your article on intervention at Collins High School (December 2000). Because I know you are fair and attempt to be unbiased, I offer some comments on your interpretation of the facts. Your editorial stated that school improvement at Collins means hall sweeps and holding pens, students signing contracts to get free spiral notebooks and the specter of gates being installed in washrooms to keep kids from hiding out in them. Yes, it does. But why did you focus on those facts instead of these: monitoring student achievement and attendance; monitoring teacher effectiveness, attendance and preparation; and curriculum design? The crackdown at Collins is on students, staff and teachers. Why did you choose only teachers?

The following statement, attributed to students in your editorial, is incorrect. You said: “As with reconstitution, however, intervention ran many of the school’s better teachers out the door.” Teachers began leaving Collins after Associate Principal Learna Brewer-Baker left. The first contingent transferred to Tilden High School with her. The second contingent applied to Tilden at the end of last school year, but transfers were denied. Recently, about 12 teachers asked to transfer to Austin High School, where Brewer-Baker is now principal. Their request was denied. These teachers want to be with Brewer-Baker; they would have requested transfers even without intervention. Although many who are opposed to the public school administration of Paul Vallas and Gery Chico may want to add teacher transfers to their complaints about intervention and/or reconstitution, Collins is not the appropriate example.

I do agree with your recommendation that the board create a pool of strong school leaders and support community-based improvement efforts. Some of that is happening at Collins. Diane Dyer-Dawson, the only principal of an intervention school with experience as a high school principal, is extremely well qualified and competent. Jerlyn Maloy, the intervention team leader, is intelligent, intuitive and reflective. But a team leader is a staff position; to be an active, participating administrator, it should have been a line position, associate principal. The intervention team is conscientious, committed, hard-working and creative, but its schedule is overwhelming.

Intervention Officer JoAnn Roberts gives invaluable direction and guidance because she understands the complexities of change. Regional Education Officer Hazel B. Steward gives support to the principal, the team and Roberts. Your article described the work being done in the community by James Deanes and the Rev. Janette Wilson; more is being planned.

As a people, we refuse to admit that our experiment with desegregation failed primarily because people believe in neighborhood schools. As long as there is class and race segregation in housing, we must face the reality that schools serving only the poor and only minorities will remain.