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TIMELINE

June 8: Rising costs

To help close an $80 million budget gap, the School Board announces it will raise the cost of school lunches for the second time this year and lay off about 150 teachers. Transportation costs, which have been cut in recent years from about $120 million to $80 million, will take cuts of another $14 million, meaning many buses will have to increase their service to run for three schools instead of one or two.

June 9: Scores mixed

More than half of schools posted gains on the Iowa reading test, but citywide scores showed only slight improvement since last year, going from 42.9 percent to 43.7 percent of students at or above national norms. However, the percentage of students reading at the lowest level fell to 23.8 percent, the lowest ever. For the second year in a row, more than half of all 8th-graders scored at or above national norms in both reading and math. Math scores declined slightly, to 46.6 percent from 47.5 percent.

June 22: Special ed quota?

The Illinois State Board of Education says it is investigating allegations that some CPS schools may have an “illegal quota system” to limit the number of screening tests for students suspected of having learning disabilities. CPS officials defended the special education testing system, saying schools do not want to unfairly label children as learning-disabled. But teachers and state assessors both reported measures, such as “locks” on computers that kept teachers from placing students into the testing pipeline, thus keeping down the number of referrals.

June 23: Writing is back

Starting in 2006, students will again have to take the ISAT writing test. Lawmakers reinstated it a year after cutting it to help balance the state’s budget. But social studies tests, which were also eliminated, will not be reinstated. Tests in arts, physical education and health were removed this year, as part of last year’s cost-cutting move.

June 22: Summer school

The fewest number of elementary students in almost a decade—24, 234, about a third of all 3 rd, 6 th and 8 th-graders—will have to attend summer school this year after scoring poorly on the Iowa reading test. That’s the lowest number since the district ended social promotion in 1997. About half of those attending summer school will have to improve their scores at the end of summer or else repeat a grade.

June 23: Fresh Start

CTU and CPS announce a plan to launch up to 10 “Fresh Start” schools, underachieving schools that will give teachers more authority. The initiative will replace the partnership schools program, begun under former CTU President Deborah Lynch. “Fresh Start” schools will receive additional funds, and will have an instructional leadership team that includes the principal, a local school council member who is either a parent or a community resident, and at least three teachers. The team will craft a five-year plan for improvement and be held to a performance agreement.

July 8: Tax increase

CPS unveils its proposed $5 billion budget for 2006, which includes raising money by increasing the property tax by 1.9 percent, the maximum percentage allowed under state law. Taxes will increase by $7.61 for every $100,000 in assessed property value. The increase will produce $45 million, enough to erase the district’s projected deficit for the upcoming school year.

July 13: Renaissance 2010 proposals in

Six all-boys schools, the first in the city for almost three decades, are among the ideas outlined in 44 “concept papers” submitted for Renaissance 2010 schools. Full proposals are due on August 19.

July 15: Preschool funds

CPS will use an additional $11 million of state aid to improve the quality of community-based preschools it operates with private institutions that serve at-risk children. The money will be used to raise teacher salaries, hire certified teachers, buy supplies and train staff. No new preschools will be opened, however. But officials say the plan will increase services by converting day-care slots in private programs into preschool slots.

July 18: Triumphant closes

Triumphant Middle School loses its charter over allegations of financial mismanagement. District officials will continue to investigate the school’s financial history. This fall, Betty Shabazz International Charter will take over the Triumphant site and provide guaranteed spots for students.

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ELSEWHERE

Los Angeles: Mayoral control

New Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says he is postponing his efforts to take over the city ‘s schools while he and his new education council have the chance to bring about reforms, according to the July 19 Los Angeles Times. Villaraigosa has said the mayor ‘s office should control the seven-member school board, but the idea is strongly opposed by the teachers union, which ran TV ads on Villaraigosa ‘s behalf during the mayoral election. Villaraigosa says he wants the city to do more to help the district and will convene an education council of parents, teachers and education experts to come up with a collaboration plan.

New York: More retention

Seventh-graders who perform poorly on reading tests next year, and on reading or math tests in 2007, will be retained under Mayor Michael Bloomberg ‘s proposed expansion of the district ‘s retention policy, according to the July 19 New York Times. The policy now applies to 3 rd- and 5 th-graders, and Bloomberg contends it sparked record increases in test scores in those grades. Bloomberg says reform efforts should now focus on middle schools, where 8 th-graders posted dismal results on reading tests this year. Bloomberg has pledged to spend $40 million on middle-grade reforms. Officials said that over 16,000 7 th-graders would have been eligible for retention this year under the expanded policy.

Minnesota: Test changes

Legislators are considering adding “value-added assessments ” to the state ‘s testing system, according to the Minnesota Public Radio website. The new tests would measure each student ‘s academic growth from year to year, which proponents say is a more accurate, fairer way to judge school performance. Education bills that passed in both the state House and Senate call for the development of a trial program. Democrats and Republicans both support the idea.

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