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Illustration by Kurt Mitchell

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Timeline | Elsewhere

| In Short

Ask Catalyst | Math Class


TIMELINE

Aug. 6: School aid

Gov. Rod Blagojevich directs the Illinois Finance Authority to make $175 million in no-interest loans available to school districts if lawmakers don’t come up with a budget, now almost six weeks late. Money would be allocated based on the state aid a district received last year. Meanwhile, CPS releases a $5.8 billion budget that includes an expected $98 million in state aid, and legislative leaders continue to debate expanded gambling—specifically, a land-based casino in Chicago—to provide more money for schools.

Aug 7: Union pacts

Six unions representing 8,000 non-teaching employees, from custodians to special education aides, reach a new agreement with CPS for raises totaling 15.75 percent over five years. The annual raises are in line with the 3 percent raise for teachers that CPS included in its $5.8 billion budget for 2008. CPS is still negotiating with the Chicago Teachers Union, which received 4 percent raises in the last round of negotiations for the current contract. The labor agreement puts pressure on the CTU to reach a settlement.

Aug. 8: Freshman help

Citing the need for “a laser-like focus” to keep freshmen from eventually dropping out, CEO Arne Duncan and Mayor Richard Daley announce a new program to get them into school by making personal connections. Counselors and other school staff will call and make home visits to help them prepare for the first day of school and principals will prepare transition plans for incoming 9th-graders. Freshmen’s grades will be checked after the first three weeks of school; students who are struggling will get extra help.

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ELSEWHERE

Colorado: Diploma options

High school students would be able to choose one of three options for their education under a proposal from Gov. Bill Ritter, according to the Aug. 6 Denver Post. College-bound students could choose to aim for a so-called “governor’s diploma,” while those wanting to enter the workforce could opt to receive a diploma with a “workforce-ready” distinction or a trade certificate, such as in plumbing or mechanics. A task force will consider the proposal as it studies ways to reform education.

Texas: Teacher bonuses

Fewer than half of the 1,150 schools that received bonuses during the first year of the state’s new $100 million performance-pay plan will be eligible again this school year, according to the Aug. 6 Dallas Morning News. Most of the schools failed to maintain their performance ratings as the standards for passing state tests rose. Teachers received bonuses of $3,000 to $10,000. Critics say it will be difficult to determine the program’s effectiveness if eligibility changes significantly from year to year. Earlier this year, the Texas House voted to scrap the plan and use the money to raise teacher salaries across the board, but negotiations with the Senate led to the program’s restoration. Some eligible schools turned down the grants because of teachers’ opposition.

Tennessee: School takeovers

Seventeen struggling Memphis schools will have a 30-minute longer school day and must come up with a merit-pay plan as a result of a state takeover, according to the Aug. 1 Memphis Commercial Appeal. The schools failed to meet state standards for the past six years. The district must consult with the state before changing principals, and the superintendent must designate a new manager solely to monitor performance at the schools.

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IN SHORT

“You have to start thinking it right now: College.”

Peggy Korellis, principal of new Team Englewood High, on the importance of focusing on college readiness as early as 9th grade. Korellis spoke at freshman orientation on Aug. 14, held at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

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ASK CATALYST

Does school funding vary by size, location and type of school, such as magnet, classical or gifted?

Conswaila Syndor-Davis, Murray Language Academy

Funding is not based on a school’s location or size. But other factors do come into play, says Jeff Donoghue, a finance analyst for the Office of Management and Budget. The district’s staffing formula uses enrollment, class size limits and caseloads (such as those for social workers) to determine how many teachers and auxiliary staff a school is entitled to. A school with 30 veteran teachers, for instance, would receive more money than a school with the same number of less-experienced teachers, because veteran teachers earn more. Magnet, classical and gifted schools do get more cash to pay for special programs, Donoghue says. A language school like Murray, for instance, gets extra money to pay for foreign language teachers. To see a specific school’s funding, go to the budget page of the CPS website and click on “School Segment Reports.”

E-mail your question to askcat@catalyst-chicago.org

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

IL 60604.

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MATH CLASS

A report from the Food Research and Action Center found that CPS would reap an additional $25 million in federal funding if it increased the percentage of students who get a free breakfast. Nearly 80% of CPS students qualify for free or reduced-priced meals, but just 29% of those who get a free lunch also take a free breakfast. CPS would gain the additional federal funds if it increased participation to 70%. The federal government pays the district $1.27 for each free breakfast served, $0.97 for each reduced-price breakfast served and an additional $0.24 for each breakfast served at those schools where at least 40% of students qualify for subsidized meals.

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TIMELINE

June 29: Magnet admissions

For now, CPS magnet schools will not be affected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that severely limits the use of race in school assignments. CPS magnet schools operate under a federally mandated desegregation consent decree, while the court ruling applies only to schools covered by voluntary integration programs. The decision will affect CPS if a federal judge frees the district from the mandatory decree, which has been in place since 1980. If the decree is lifted, students would likely not be affected until next year, when they begin applying for school admissions in 2009.

July 1: Principal ouster

Harper High Principal Ronn Gibbs is removed from his job and transferred to central office. Gibbs was hand-picked in 2003 to turn around the failing Englewood school, which got building repairs, new computers and other resources after Rev. Jesse Jackson used it to illustrate the impact of school funding inequity among Illinois school districts. But test scores declined and fewer than 4 percent of students passed state tests last year. Attendance and graduation rates also fell. Kenyatta Butler-Stansberry, assistant principal of Dyett , takes over at Harper. Nate Mason, a former Harper principal, will serve as her mentor.

July 6: School closings

The school year is over and the last class of seniors graduated in June, but the district still holds a final round of public hearings on the phase-outs of Austin, Calumet and Westinghouse high schools. All three stopped accepting freshmen in 2004. Late last month, Ald. Isaac Carothers and community leaders demanded that CPS open a new state-of-the-art high school to replace Austin, which is slated to open a second small school this fall, Austin Polytechnical Academy; a third will open in 2008. Calumet will open two additional Perspectives charter schools; one is already housed there. A new building is under construction for Westinghouse.

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ELSEWHERE

Arizona: Learning English

This fall, English-language learners will have to spend at least four hours each day in courses that teach English grammar, phonics, conversation, reading and writing, according to the July 14 Arizona Republic. The new requirement is based on a law passed last summer. Arizona eliminated bilingual education in 2000, banning instruction and the use of textbooks in any language other than English. Most districts then began offering English instruction for an hour a day during the summer or after school, putting ELL students in regular classrooms during the regular school day. Supporters say the new model will provide more structure for students who are learning English, while critics warn that it segregates non-English speakers and limits their instruction in core subjects such as math and science.

Los Angeles: Reforms OK’d

A new School Board dominated by mayoral allies has passed a reform package with new accountability initiatives, including tracking school performance, cutting the dropout rate, training principals and increasing parent involvement, according to the July 11 Los Angeles Times. The reform package originated with the office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who lost his bid to take substantial control of the L.A. Unified School District when legislation setting up the takeover was thrown out by the courts. The mayor then raised money to help elect political allies to the board, including the new board president and three other newly elected members.

New Orleans: Teachers wanted

The state-run Recovery School District has launched a national campaign to find teachers to fill up to 500 teaching jobs this fall, according to the July 3 New Orleans Times-Picayune. New hires will earn a $5,000 bonus for the first two years they teach, a monthly $400 housing stipend for a year and $2,500 to help cover moving expenses. Current teachers and auxiliary staff, such as nurses, who return to the district and receive a positive performance evaluation will receive a $5,000 bonus. The recruitment campaign includes outreach to former teachers who have retired or who relocated after Hurricane Katrina; and newspaper ads in cities across the country. The district operated 22 schools this year and plans to reopen about a dozen this fall.

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ASK CATALYST

What do prospective kindergarteners need to know to test into a gifted program? Can children who are admitted to a gifted program swap places with another child to gain entry to a school in a preferred location?

Collins Yearwood, vice president, Hyde Park Parent Cooperative for Early Learning

According to Denise Gallucci, CPS director of gifted and enriched academic programs, there’s no way to actually ‘teach’ children to do well on the test. Tests for gifted programs measure verbal and non-verbal thinking, reasoning and problem-solving. For example, children will be asked to solve a riddle or to tell the similarities and differences between objects.

In Gallucci’s view, a child’s skills in these areas are either highly developed at an early age, or not.

However, prior experience with similar tests may well make a difference because children who take such tests on multiple occasions invariably improve their performance, says George Peternel, associate director of Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development. He concedes that practice tests are hard to come by, since assessments for gifted programs are proprietary.

Peternel suggests conducting a Google search on “instrumental enrichment,” a method for building intelligence by improving cognitive abilities. Activities associated with this method might be helpful, Peternel says. One example: Teaching children shapes by having them touch figures, draw them, and then learn to differentiate between them by sight.

As for the second question, Gallucci says it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where a swap of seats would work, given the admissions process for gifted schools. Admission to gifted, magnet and classical schools is governed by the desegregation consent decree as well as test scores, so a swap would have to be with children of the same race and ethnicity and similar test scores. It’s unlikely that two families of the same ethnic and racial background would get each other’s first choice of schools, says Gallucci.

E-mail your question to askcat@catalyst-chicago.org

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

IL 60604.

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MATH CLASS

The cost to replace each of the 4,844 teachers who left Chicago Public Schools in 2003 was $17,872, or $86 million, according to a June report from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, which analyzed turnover in Chicago and four other districts across the country. At the 119 CPS schools with the highest turnover, nearly half of the new teachers hired in 2002 quit by the following summer. A high-quality induction program in those schools, at a price tag of $6,000 per teacher, would have cost CPS less than $3 million and would have largely have paid for itself. Cutting turnover in half at those schools—a legitimate target, according to the commission—would have retained 109 teachers and saved the district $1.9 million.

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