Grants boost Quest Center, Chicago Learning Outcomes

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The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Quest Center has been awarded $175,000 from each of two major foundations to promote teachers use of the Chicago Learning Outcomes.

The grants from the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The Joyce Foundation are the third in a series aimed at focusing all Chicago schools on a common set of learning outcomes that are tied to the states academic learning goals. Chicago’s outcomes, pegged to grades 4, 8 and 11, were developed two years ago by teachers under a joint project of the CTU and the previous Board of Education; the Council for Basic Education, based in Washington, D.C., assisted.

The new grants will support the training of teachers to teach fellow teachers how to use the outcomes in their classrooms, and to subsidize two new courses being offered in cooperation with the School Board’s Office of Professional Development. In Learning in Overdrive, teachers will study theories of student learning and new ways of teaching that involve alternative assessments. In Pathways to Achievement, teachers will look at national best practices research and teaching models that align with their schools’ school improvement plans.

The courses are underway at six sites across the city. The next term will begin at the end of February. The cost for each course is $135, plus $10 for registration. Teachers will receive three hours of lane placement credit or can apply the courses toward a master’s degree that the Quest Center plans to offer.

The center recently received authority from the Illinois Board of Higher Education to organize a master’s degree program. Governors State University will grant the degrees until the Quest Center receives accreditation.

Students completing the graduate program will be qualified to take the exam for certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, according to Connee Fitch-Blanks, the center’s assistant director. The National Board was created in 1987 to establish rigorous standards for teaching; teachers apply for certification on a voluntary basis.

Fitch-Blanks says that the graduate school will differ from a regular university in that the coursework will be based on developing teacher leadership getting teachers to take the lead in writing curriculum and school improvement plans and collaborating with principals and parents.

The school will be named after the late Jacqueline B. Vaughn, who was CTU president when the Quest Center was created. It is expected to accommodate 200 students and open next June.

The center also is continuing its work with groups of teachers who are working to transform teaching and learning in 50 schools, reports Allen Bearden, the center’s new director. (Previously assistant director, Bearden succeeds director Deborah Walsh, who resigned this summer to challenge CTU President Thomas Reece in the union election next May. See story on page 29.)

However, the center is struggling to make good on its pledge to reward successful restructuring efforts. While rewards of up to $5,000 had been promised, the center is unsure how much it will be able to afford, Bearden says, adding, We’re working on it.

The center also offers free classes to teachers and other school staff on effective communication with parents and how to assess the needs of parents and the community. We can’t do it without the parents and communities says Fitch-Blanks. We have to get schools to open up in order to get parents involved.

The Quest Center was launched three years ago with a $1.1 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

For more information, contact Allen Bearden or Connee Fitch-Blanks at (312) 329-9100.