WebExtra: Low-income elementary schools most likely to have inferior middle-grades instruction

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In the November 2007 issue, Deputy Editor Lorraine Forte states in an editorial on page 2 that “the majority of CPS elementary schools are K-8… It just doesn’t work to keep students locked in the one-teacher-for-all subjects, one classroom-all day model.”

Associate Editor Debra Williams further emphasizes this thought on page 7: “Indeed, most of Chicago’s elementary schools are K-8 with self-contained classes taught by one teacher. Often math and science are not taught well this way, CPS officials note, because teachers are not specialized in these two subjects. Among elementary teachers, only 5 percent have a math endorsement and only 6 percent have a science endorsement.”

Schools operated as described are organized in violation of a policy adopted by the Board of Education of the City of Chicago (87-0527-PO1) regarding the organization and staffing of elementary schools.

That policy states that “elementary schools be organized on a departmental basis, at least in grades 7 and 8 for instruction in reading, mathematics, science, social studies, art and music, and that as vacancies occur in schools, positions be staffed…with the following kinds of teachers: holders of intermediate-upper grade certificates who have an endorsement in reading or mathematics or science or computer science or who have 18 semester hours in social studies or art or music.”

Schools for the gifted, magnet schools and racially integrated schools do implement this policy. The majority of the schools that are organized and staffed in violation of this policy are schools with a predominantly low-income, black enrollment.

Stephanie Posey, a high school student, is quoted on page 4 of the November issue, stating “The reason why black youth feel they receive a poorer education is because they do.” She is absolutely correct. They are not receiving what the Board of Education has prescribed that they should be receiving. Instruction cannot be delivered effectively in upper-grade classrooms organized on a self-contained basis. This was noted in the board policy cited above. It is recognized by Forte and Williams, and yet so many schools continue to be organized and staffed in this ineffective manner. Why is this permitted by the chief executive officer, the chief education officer, area instructional officers and principals, all of whom are charged with implementing Board of Education policies?

Indeed, by ignoring this policy, they are enabling this “poorer education” Posey refers to year after year after year in low-income black neighborhoods. Some schools that report that they are organized in accord with this policy are not. Site visits will reveal that.

Why are more black students not getting into selective high schools? They are being served up a “poorer education” in the elementary schools they attend in contrast to what is experienced by students in schools that are organized and staffed in accordance with this board policy for the more effective delivery of instruction. Why does this board policy not prevail in all CPS elementary schools? Why are schools found in breach of the policy [most often] in low-income black neighborhoods?

Margaret M. Harrigan

Former Associate Superintendent

Chicago Public Schools