Take 5: Avoiding budget reality, discipline disparities, problems with choice

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1. The Chicago Tribune blasts CPS in an editorial today for the plan to spend 14 months of revenue in the next 12 months in order to balance the 2015 budget. Now that it is increasingly clear that CPS won’t get pension relief, the Tribune says CPS should just deal with reality, instead of borrowing against the future. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has readily admitted that this was a one-time fix that does not solve structural budget problems. And officials admit that for at least five years, they have used one-time fixes to close budget gaps–which makes it harder to believe their claims that next year they will really be in trouble. Yet Byrd-Bennett said she doesn’t see any other one-time fixes showing up  to save CPS next time. One thing that the Tribune mentions is the underlying–and yes, cynical –reason most people assume the district won’t tackle the problem this year: Mayor Emanuel is up for reelection.

2. We’ve said it before, but … the teaching workforce here in Chicago and the rest of the country is disproportionately white when compared to the student body. The left-leaning Center for American Progress issued a report last month on how districts must do a better job of getting teachers of color in front of students. 

Nationally, students of color make up nearly half of the public school population, while only about 18 percent of teachers are of color. In Chicago, 86 percent of students are of color, but less than half of all teachers are minorities. The report stresses the fact it’s a matter not just of recruitment, but of retention as new teachers leave the profession at disproportionately high rates.

Catalyst wrote about the shifting demographics of Chicago’s teaching force, and school closings and turnarounds in black communities have likely shifted the demographics even more, especially given the lack of black students in teaching programs and entering the teaching profession in Illinois–though Latinos are making progress on this front. 

3. Disciplining children of color… Minorities are underrepresented as teachers, but overrepresented when it comes to suspensions and expulsions in schools across the country.  Andre Perry, founding dean of urban education at Davenport University, says schools are giving up on black children “by expelling those who are considered not ready to learn. While zero-tolerance expulsions myopically help the school and the majority of students in it, they destroy the student — and, ultimately, the community, too.”

School officials in Chicago recently rewrote the student code of conduct policy. Byrd-Bennett says she made this a priority because she is personally disturbed by disparity in CPS. (For example, about 75 percent of suspended CPS students are black, though they make up only about 40 percent of the student body.) While advocates of restorative justice practices applauded CPS, many are cautious and still worry about skewed statistics that cloud the truth about discipline. You may recall last week’s public celebration by Mayor Rahm Emanuel of a drastic drop in expulsions that turned out not to be true.

4. Choice is great, but… More parents in cities are getting the chance to choose their children’s schools, but they report some substantial difficulties, according to a survey from the Center for Reinventing Public Education, a Seattle, Washington-based group that supports choice. Among the problems: parents understanding options, getting students to schools and making sure children with special needs get the right services.

Parents in CPS have complained about similar problems. Most charter schools don’t offer bus service, putting parents without cars at a significant disadvantage. Also, charter schools in Chicago serve way fewer students with more significant special needs and parents say they don’t choose charters because of problems they’ve had with getting needed services.The report calls on city and state leaders to try to solve these problems, instead of continuing to be tangled in the charter vs. district debate.

5. A summer reading reminder … As part of former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s “Too Small to Fail” campaign, parents are being urged to read, talk and even sing to their babies to develop literacy habits early on. As part of that effort, the Illinois-based American Academy of Pediatrics has asked its members to talk with parents about the benefits of reading on early brain development and even to incorporate reading into office checkups. Dr. Pamela High, who wrote the Academy’s new policy, told the Hechinger Report that reading is so powerful because “ it’s often a one-on-one experience between parents and children where children have your full attention.” It can also be a language-enriching experience and a reassuring routine that nurtures the relationship between parents and children.

Some classrooms in Chicago, including Cardenas Elementary in Little Village,  got special federal funding starting in 2010 to improve literacy in the earliest grades. This is important because poor readers from poor families face among the worst educational outcomes. Overall, CPS officials have been working on a district-wide literacy initiative that has yet to be rolled out.

On a related note, the New York Times’ Opinion section has dedicated a “Room for Debate” to whether children’s books should address politics, race, gender, sexual orientation and other potentially controversial issues. What do you think?