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illustration by Kurt Mitchell

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TIMELINE

May 3: Summer jobs

To encourage struggling 8th-graders to sign up for Step Up to High School, CPS

announces it will provide two-week, $5-an-hour summer jobs to participants.

Step Up is for 8th-graders who meet promotion standards but are still performing

below national averages on standardized tests. Students will tutor younger children

and perform other work. CPS says freshmen who enrolled in Step Up were more

likely to pass algebra and English than students who were eligible but didn’t

participate.

May 13: Deseg plan

A federal judge rebukes CPS lawyers for failing to meet an April 1 deadline

for submitting materials to the U.S. Department of Justice on its desegregation

consent decree. U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras rejected CPS’ claim

that it met the deadline by submitting drafts of material. The board must finish

a list of actions, including a review of magnet school admission policies, by

the end of the 2005-06 school year. Kocoras will decide then whether to end

the decree.

May 24: Budget cuts

CEO Arne Duncan announces that 2,180 teaching positions will be eliminated to

help trim a $100 million budget deficit. Duncan says the positions will be cut

at schools that are being closed or have declining enrollment. Officials say

the net loss will amount to only 130 jobs, since 2,050 vacant or new teaching

positions have yet to be filled. Another 1,300 non-teaching positions in schools

will be cut. The announcement sparks protests at the School Board meeting two

days later.

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ELSEWHERE

Voucher schools unaccredited

Florida—Ten of 34 schools that received vouchers this year under an education

bill touted by Gov. Jeb Bush were unaccredited, according to the May 26 Palm

Beach Post. Last year, six of 24 voucher schools were unaccredited. Lt.

Gov. Toni Jennings says the law does not demand accreditation. But members of

Bush’s own Republican party are demanding an investigation. “I know

what I meant. The schools had to be accredited,” said Sen. Anna Cowin,

who sponsored the bill.

Reading readiness improves

Arizona—Kindergarteners in the state’s 63 lowest-performing schools

showed dramatic improvements in reading readiness over the school year, thanks

to new reading programs and intensive teacher training, according to the May

20 Arizona Republic. Last year, only nine percent of full-day kindergarten

students at the 63 schools had adequate pre-reading skills. Nine months later,

more than half those students had improved their skills and were ready for 1st

grade.

Teacher tests may be dropped

North Carolina—Lawmakers are considering dropping subject-area exams to

make it easier for more out-of-state teachers to obtain in-state licenses, according

to the April 28 News & Observer. Gov. Mike Easley opposes the idea,

saying he does not want to lower standards to meet federal No Child Left Behind

mandates, which state that schools must have fully licensed teachers in every

class. A third of some 10,000 middle and high-school teachers hired every year

in North Carolina are recruited from out of state.

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IN SHORT

“Arne, your projections of 20 years of labor peace are premature.

You’re not going to fund our contract on the backs of teachers.”

Chicago Teachers Union President Deborah Lynch to Schools

CEO Arne Duncan at his May 24 press conference to announce a plan to cut 2,180

teaching positions.

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ASK CATALYST

I was told my daughter, whom I identified as Asian, was not selected

for a magnet school because so many minorities applied. Why are all minorities

lumped together in the lottery?

An anonymous parent

For years, CPS did consider each racial or ethnic group separately in magnet

school lotteries and selected students according to the school system’s

demographics. But in 2002, the district placed all minority applicants in one

category. That practice is consistent with U.S. Supreme Court rulings prohibiting

quotas for specific racial groups in hiring and school admissions, according

to the CPS Law Department.

Under the 1980 federal desegregation consent decree, CPS magnet schools must

strive for student enrollment that is 15 percent to 35 percent white and 65

percent to 85 percent minority. Since only 9 percent of CPS students are white,

whites generally have an advantage in magnet school admissions.

E-mail your question to

or send it to Ask Catalyst, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 500, Chicago,

IL 60604.

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CAPITAL DISPATCH

Lawmakers haggle over state aid for schools

SPRINGFIELD—Despite last-minute negotiations

over the Memorial Day weekend, the House and Senate remained at odds over how

much to raise the basic ‘foundation level’ of per-pupil funding

for schools and how to pay for it.

Earlier this spring, lawmakers passed a bill that would increase

the level by $250. But a second bill that would pay for the increase by closing

corporate tax loopholes passed in the Senate, then failed in the House by a

vote of 23 to 81, despite support from House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Opponents said they feared the bill would alienate businesses.

At Catalyst press time, Madigan had proposed a spending plan to keep

state government operating, but the plan did not address school funding. Increasing

the foundation level to $5,060 from $4,810 would provide another $105 million

for Chicago schools next year.

Daniel C. Vock

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Notebook

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TIMELINE

Jan. 15: ISBE controversy

Gov. Rod Blagojevich ignites a firestorm, calling the Illinois State Board of Education a “Soviet-style bureaucracy” and announcing plans to scrap it for a cabinet department he would control. Weeks later, he makes a pitch for a law gutting most of ISBE’s power, leaving it mainly as a consulting body. Supt. of Education Robert Schiller goes on the defensive, saying Blagojevich targeted ISBE because it refused to make political hires and accusing the governor of trying to deflect attention from a more pressing issue: school funding.

Jan. 28: Dropout policy

Aiming to cut the dropout rate, the Chicago Board of Education amends its absenteeism and truancy policy and includes specifics regarding when schools may drop students from enrollment. Some activists cry foul, however, over a provision allowing schools to drop students “when advised orally by a student over the age of 16 or his/her parents.” Critics note that with a single telephone call, students who are not yet adults could drop out without their parents’ knowledge or consent. The legal age to drop out is 16.

Feb. 12: Budget deficit

With the governor preparing to announce his state spending plans, Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan announces the district may have to cut up to 1,000 school-based positions to help close a $200 million budget gap for next year. Chicago Teachers Union President Deborah Lynch, up for re-election this spring, threatens to sue to keep teachers and aides from losing their jobs. The board says it hopes to make most cuts through attrition and the need for fewer teachers because of declining enrollment.


ELSEWHERE

New York City: Contract talks

The first bargaining session in months between the teacher’s union and the city ended after barely two hours, with union President Randi Weingarten blasting the city’s contract proposal as an insult to teachers and “a total kick in the teeth,” according to the Feb. 7 New York Times.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration wants a streamlined contract eliminating most work rules and ending virtually all seniority rights, giving the city wide latitude to manage the system’s 1,200 schools. The city also wants to pay higher salaries to teachers in shortage areas like math and science and in troubled schools, and to teachers “who demonstrate the ability to positively impact student performance. The union wants raises for all teachers.

Talks resumed Feb. 12.

Oregon: School finance

Five foundations are taking matters into their own hands—and turning to the general public to make the case for reform of the state’s school funding system.

The Chalkboard Project, organized by Foundations for a Better Oregon, plans to hold town hall meetings, focus groups and Internet discussions to get input from the public on how to improve schools, according to the Jan. 19 Business Journal of Portland.

The first target will be school funding, says Doug Stamm, executive director of the Meyer Memorial Trust, one of the five foundations. “We feel that our kids are being shortchanged. There is no strong leadership on this issue,” Stamm said in the Jan. 7 Education Week. “There is a general consensus that [school funding] haunts the state as one of its top issues.”


IN SHORT

“I’m not one to blame others for what I did, but if the school had steered me the right way, it could have helped.”

Phillip Parker, an alternative school student and former dropout, in a Jan. 9 Sun-Times article on the ongoing dropout crisis


ASK CATALYST

In December, a No Child Left Behind after-school program started up at Kozminski Elementary. How is it different from the after-school program that [CPS] has been running for years? And why did it take until December to start?

Donald Everhart, Kozminski LSC Chair

The program is the result of NCLB, which requires districts to offer tutoring to low-performing children at schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress. By October, only 16,300 students—about 12 percent of the 133,000 students who were eligible, had signed up, so CPS asked the state for permission to use some of its tutoring funds for its own academic, after-school program instead. CPS didn’t get the go-ahead until mid-November; hence the December start-up.

The board replaced an existing math and reading curriculum that was mostly drill and remediation with more engaging activities, such as teaching reading and writing through journalism projects, according to Beth Swanson, CPS director of after-school programs. Most schools have combined the NCLB initiative with the existing after-school program, and switched to the new curriculum and materials, she adds.

E-mail your question to or send it to Ask Catalyst, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60604.


MATH CLASS

$24 million. That’s the likely minimal cost to the Chicago Public Schools of a proposed law that would raise the required attendance age, also called the dropout age, to 17. The calculation assumes that 16-year-old dropouts—who totaled about 2,400 last school year—would stay in school for at least one more year. It also assumes per-pupil spending of $10,000, which is what it was last year in Chicago’s public high schools. Extra state and federal money would help cover the cost.

Sources: Consortium on Chicago School Research and the 2003 CPS Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.