Schoolwide programs catching on fast

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Over the past four years, the number of Chicago public schools using their federal Title I dollars for schoolwide programs has soared from 11 to 262, with 165 schools joining the trend this year.

Instead of spending the money only on their lowest-scoring students, these schools now are spending it to bolster their schools as a whole or to expand the range of students who get special attention. Hiring more teachers to reduce class size has been a popular use. And computer labs and other programs that once were restricted now are open to all students.

“I prefer schoolwide without argument,” says an enthusiastic Everett Edwards, principal of Byrd Community Academy on the Near North Side. “It allows you an opportunity to impact 450 students [his entire student body].”

The increase in schoolwide use of Title I stems largely from a change in federal law that went into effect shortly after schools had drawn up their budgets for last school year. Previously, schools whose enrollment was less than 75 percent low-income could spend the money only on students with the lowest standardized test scores. Now that restriction applies only to schools whose low-income enrollment is less than 50 percent, which means that all 430 Chicago public schools currently eligible for Title I can use it schoolwide.

“The point is to give schools the flexibility in resources to overhaul the core instructional program of the school as a whole,” explains Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust in Washington, D.C. Haycock was on a task force that pushed for more flexibility.

Haycock notes that beginning in 2000, schools with schoolwide programs will be required to submit detailed plans showing how their federal Title I funds are being used to measurably improve schooling; they also will be required to document progress.

A number of the uses Chicago principals described to Catalyst sounded like peripheral activities—field trips and assemblies, for example. However, Haycock notes that such activities can have a significant impact on student learning if they are planned as an integral part of a focused educational program.

Reacting to some of the Chicago examples, she says: “I can’t tell if that particular expenditure is part of an overall plan, or one of 44 other ping-pong balls bouncing around the school.”

Karen Berman of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights adds that the schoolwide option is meant to inspire creative problem-solving. “There’s little that is illegal, as long as it’s supplemental,” she says.

Still, Haycock stresses that the purpose of schoolwide projects is “to get all kids to the same high standard of achievement.” That would preclude, she says, programs that segregate low-scoring students and those for gifted students.

Principals interviewed by Catalyst say they see no concrete evidence that going schoolwide has increased students’ test scores, although a few say they’ve sensed a slow improvement. But they attribute other improvements to the new use of money.

Frances Oden, principal of Beethoven Elementary in Grand Boulevard, says she saw tardiness plunge 58 percent last year, when she began using Title I to pay for extra gym periods for students with good attendance. At Jenner Elementary on the Near North Side, Principal Sandra Satinover says that attendance is up because students feel they are getting more attention than before. “By being in school, they do achieve,” she says. Betty Greer, principal of Hartigan Elementary, also in Grand Boulevard, says her school has been on an “upward trend” the last four years in student motivation and attitude, and she expects to see test scores reflect that this year.

The following are examples of how Chicago schools are using their federal Title I dollars schoolwide.

Reduced class size

Byrd Academy, whose poverty measure is close to 100 percent, is in its fifth year of schoolwide spending; increasingly, it has used the money to keep class size down in the primary and intermediate grades. Edwards points with pride to the school’s average class size of 20—down from 30 five years ago. He accomplished this by hiring four extra teachers, at a cost of $142,000 a year, or 68 percent of his total federal Title I budget.

This year, Byrd discontinued the highly regarded Reading Recovery program because it felt it ate up too much Title I money for too few children— about $75,000 on teacher training and one-on-one tutoring for 15 1st-graders. Instead it is using part of that money to add a reading specialist, who focuses on grades 3, 6 and 8 because those children must attend summer school if they fail to make a cutoff score on standardized achievement tests.

Shoop Elementary School, in Morgan Park, also reduced class size throughout the school, bringing the average down to 22 students, reports Principal Lee Brown. Previously, only low-scoring students had small classes.

Shoop is among the schools that have targeted higher achievers, too. For a few periods each day, 100 students from 1st through 6th grade leave their regular classes and go to another room to receive Great Books instruction and do individual work on computers. Children are selected for the program on the basis of their scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS); they must place in at least the 5th stanine, which straddles the national average. Brown defends her program against critics like Haycock who deem it exclusive: “All the kids have the same opportunities,” she says, referring to the identical computers in each classroom. “It’s not like they’re utilizing things the other kids aren’t privy to.”

In the past, Arts of Living High School, which serves pregnant girls, used Title I for remedial, pullout classes for three to five girls. Now it has an extra math teacher instead, who teaches regular, for-credit classes. “The kids are much more focused on a credit class,” says Pat Finegan, a teacher who handles the school’s budget. Besides, she adds, pulling the girls out of class only worsened the sense of discontinuity they felt after leaving their regular high schools.

In a variation on reduced class size, Bright Elementary School in South Deering hired classroom aides for 3rd, 6th and 8th grades, the target grades in the School Board’s promotion policy. It also installed a computer lab in the library.

“I really believe the way to go is … pull out the least number of people as possible,” says Principal Victor Tocwish. “We’re going to go to total inclusion in the building.” The principal’s goal is to assign a wide range of students, including those with emotional or behavioral problems or physical handicaps, to each classroom. The school recently won a $10,000 grant from the board to hire university consultants to help implement this goal.

Computer labs

Simeon Vocational High School, in Chatham, purchased 24 new computers this year and now offers all students both a reading lab and a writing lab “across the curriculum.” Before, says Principal John Everett, the labs were open to students scoring just below a test cutoff score but not to those scoring just above. “Usually there was not much difference between them,” he notes.

Everett plans to train teachers this summer in computer-assisted teaching. “A lot of them can’t turn on computers,” he jokes. “This may be the only time in history when the students are further ahead in technology than the teachers.”

One of the first schools to go schoolwide, Beethoven has a writing lab with 30 computers that targets 6th-graders and special education students. In addition, there are at least two computers in every classroom. They’re used for improving reading skills and as an incentive for students to complete work—students who get their work done may play educational video games.

Dewey Elementary in New City, a K-5 school, still uses its computer lab for its neediest students, but need is determined by teachers, not by test scores. There is generally “not much difference” in the students targeted this way, says lab teacher Mary McKee, but teachers can use factors other than ITBS stanines to decide which students need extra help. In addition, she says, a child is not excluded from the lab if his or her test scores go up, as happened routinely with pullout programs. “I have materials for up to 9th grade,” she says.

Dewey used some of its Title I money to expand its summer school to include higher-achieving students as well as those who lag behind. “Some children enjoy going to summer school,” explains Principal Howard Jackson.

Parent involvement

Schoolwide programs generally include various forms of parent activity, too.

At some schools, like Near North Career High School, parents are given stipends to attend presentations on topics like homework requirements, keeping children out of gangs and the school’s goals. “The outgrowth of that was a Parent Patrol,” says Near North Principal Faye Grays. Parents in burgundy jackets can now be seen strolling the premises, keeping the peace.

Everett of Simeon Vocational brings parents into the school on Saturdays for “focus groups” detailing school operations; in the process, he grooms future LSC members.

Shoop also trained parents for leadership through group meetings. “I believe we have more parent participation now than at any school in the system,” Principal Brown says enthusiastically.

And David Morgan, principal of O’Toole Elementary in West Englewood, ran workshops on such basics as parenting and supervising homework.

At other schools, the focus is on hiring parents as school aides. Greer, of Hartigan, says this practice has fostered “a change in attitudes. We see children more involved in the academic environment. I think it’s because of the nurturing environment, the additional staff.”

At Byrd, Edwards has hired 20 parents to work in classrooms 15 hours a week.

Beethoven’s parent involvement program is among the more ambitious. Teachers and teacher aides conduct classes for parents in entrepreneurial skills, resume writing, arts and crafts, dancing, stress management, preparing children for the IGAP tests and earning a GED diploma. “We think it takes a community to educate a child,” explains Principal Oden.

Other uses

Thanks to schoolwide Title I money, students at Harper High School in West Englewood who are behind a credit or two can get after-school tutoring. Principal Richard Parker also uses the money to work with Youth Guidance, an outside agency, to provide mentoring to male students, college scholarships and even a trip to Africa for 15 to 20 students. And he has brought in a Sylvan Learning lab for reading remediation.

Harper also uses the money to pay for two detention teachers and for three-hour individualized “attendance workshops” on Saturdays for students with poor attendance. Parents must accompany their children.

Beethoven created a science lab that includes a greenhouse, a skeleton, glassware and microscopes. “Everybody’s getting something,” says Oden.

Field trips also enjoyed a resurgence in schools with schoolwide federal Title I programs. For example, Donna Clayton, principal of Dulles Elementary School in Washington Park, set aside about $20,000 in a “field trip fund” to allow all children to participate in trips to the Medinah Circus, zoos, museums and an all-black rodeo. “For our children to see the black cowboys, it is fantastic!” Clayton says.

Similarly, Satinover, of Jenner, also put money aside for field trips. “If we have a trip, every child can go on that trip,” she notes. At Jenner, trips are often scheduled after days of standardized testing, to let students unwind.

Near North High School used some of its money for monthly multicultural assemblies, including dancers and speakers. In April, the theme was women’s history.