A little bit of high school transformation left

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As private support winds down, CPS will continue scaled-back support of its High School Transformation project.

Board members recently approved $12 million over two years for consulting services from seven companies that supplied curriculum packages for the project and an additional one that provides assessments. Those packages—called IDS for Instructional Development Systems—include materials, assessments, professional development and coaching; they were to be the starting point of the district’s comprehensive plan to improve neighborhood and some magnet high schools.

As private support winds down, CPS will continue scaled-back support of its High School Transformation project.

Board members recently approved $12 million over two years for consulting services from seven companies that supplied curriculum packages for the project and an additional one that provides assessments. Those packages—called IDS for Instructional Development Systems—include materials, assessments, professional development and coaching; they were to be the starting point of the district’s comprehensive plan to improve neighborhood and some magnet high schools.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation originally pitched in $21 million for the effort, which Catalyst estimated would end up costing a total of $80 million over three years. The project was to reach 50 schools, but so far, only 43 have signed on and the district has no plans to add more. This last school year was the last year of Gates funding.

With the grant money running out and so much restructuring in the central office, it’s been hard to get a handle on what’s going to happen to this project. An interesting point in the contract: The curriculum companies will be required to also work with 150 elementary schools, but there are no details on what the companies will provide.

Plus, it’s anyone’s guess how this fits into the district’s larger high school strategy. When High School Transformation was first announced, the project had an office unto itself, with its own executive director, Allan Alson, who had been superintendent of Evanston Township High School. Last summer, Alson left and the Office of High School Transformation was subsumed into the general Office of High Schools. Karen Boran, formerly the manager of high school literacy, then became the director of IDS curricula.

Now, Boran says she is transitioning to another job. Mike Lach, head of high school teaching and learning, is left as the contact person on IDS curricula.

Some of the high schools using IDS are also part of the turnaround process. Don Fraynd, the head of the Office of Turnarounds, says those high schools—Fenger, Harper and Orr—will continue to use the curricula, though he adds that he will not be using the ids program’s method for receiving assessment data as he want it to teachers in a more timely fashion.

It is worth noting that the curriculum packages featured assessments designed by the companies and meant to give teachers good, timely data on student performance. This echoes CEO Ron Huberman’s data focus for the district, and I wonder if there could be some lessons here for Huberman on problems that may lie ahead on this front.

Principals report that some of the curriculum companies were better than others at getting the data to the teachers quickly. Also, my observation from visiting schools is that some teachers didn’t know what to do with the data, or felt torn between going back to re-teach skills and moving forward to teach skills that would be tested on the next assessment.