Take 5: Principal stability; elementary school drain and teacher licenses

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It looks like Earle Elementary School in Englewood–one of the schools designated to take in students from closed schools–is once again going to get a new principal. DNAinfo first reported that CPS officials said that Earle principal Demetrius Hobson was resigning and then reported that he said he hadn’t resigned. Hobson took over Earle in January after Ketesha Melendez was reassigned. As Catalyst reported in our fall issue of Catalyst in Depth, parents of the shuttered Goodlow, whose children were assigned to Earle, were having a difficult time adjusting to Earle.

And now Hobson has emerged on a list of eight principals CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has asked to reapply for their jobs, while opening those posts for other applicants. Except for Hobson, all the principals are at high schools: Julian, Tilden, Kelyvn Park, Chicago Vocational, Marshall, Hirsch and Corliss. CEO spokesman Joel Hood says the eight principals are not being targeted for disimissal but, rather, that Byrd-Bennett wants contract principals at the schools, in part for stability. “The other part of it is that she wants to make sure these schools are on the right track,” says Hood.

CPS has lots of interim principals. The most recent employee roster shows 68 interim principals, including almost all of those at the helm in AUSL-run schools.

At schools on probation, as all of these eight schools are, CPS administrators have the power not only to name but also to remove a contract principal. If administrators remove a contract principal, then the LSC loses the authority to select a new contract principal until the school is off of probation. Hood says district officials are keeping LSCs informed about what is going on. 

2. A striking map… WBEZ’s Linda Lutton offers up another interesting story on how the mix of schools in the city has changed. In early July, she reported that incoming freshman test scores reveal that few high schools have student bodies with a range of academic ability. This time, she looks at neighborhood elementary schools and finds that fewer students in their attendance boundaries go to them. This change is the result of the district opening up so many schools that enroll students from anywhere in the city, including charter and magnet schools. A decade ago, 74 percent of students attended their neighborhood school; now only 62 percent do. The map that accompanies the story paints a stark picture of what is happening to neighborhood schools. 

In some neighborhoods, the effect is much more dramatic. For the Spring 2013 issue of Catalyst in Depth, we looked at the same set of CPS data and found that in 14 predominantly black South Side and West Side communities that CPS defines as “underutilized,” an average of 54 percent of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. In other communities, two-thirds of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. Of the 10 neighborhoods with the most children attending their neighborhood school, six are well-to-do neighborhoods on the North Side or Northwest Side. The other four are Latino neighborhoods–two on the Far Southeast Side and two on the Southwest Side of the city.

3. Licensed to teach… A Chicago Tribune investigation found that hundreds of classrooms are lead by teachers without the proper credentials. The teachers were qualified to teach, just not in the subjects that they were teaching. For example, in Barrington, a math teacher was teaching science and a young teacher was teaching economics, though she had no background in the subject.

It is not entirely clear that a teacher must be licensed in a subject in order to be good at teaching it, according to experts. Sara Ray Stoelinga, senior director of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, argues in the article that teacher assignment is complex and that administrators should be allowed some flexibility. Studies have shown that knowledge of content area is important for improving achievement.

The Tribune investigation did not look at CPS teachers, though the article notes that federal data show that 900 of 23,000 are not fully licensed to teach any subject.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers quickly posted a rebuttal to the Tribune investigation. In it, IFT points out that the Tribune supports charter schools, at which only 75 percent of teachers have to be licensed. Also, the union notes that the Tribune doesn’t mention Teach For America, which allows teachers to be in front of classrooms for two years without a license. 

4. Raising high school grad requirements…. alone won’t increase achievement. A new study by ACT Inc. looks at the effect of a 2005 Illinois law that required students to take at least three years of math and two years of science.The study finds it didn’t result in students doing better on the ACT in either math or science. But students did take more science classes, and college enrollment increased due to the math requirement.

The study did not include CPS. But a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research found in 2010 that with the increased science requirements, more students took and passed science courses. However, 83 percent got a C or lower. Consortium researchers concluded that taking these classes might have hurt students ability to get into colleges.

5. Raising the bar earlier… The New York Times writes about the growing trend of holding back students who cannot read properly by third grade. In 2012, 14 states passed laws requiring that children pass reading tests to move on to fourth grade, and another two–Arizona and Colorado–offered summer school for struggling readers. One of the big criticisms of these laws is that third grade is too late to start remediating reading problems, according to the article.

These laws sound a lot like CPS’ policy that sets reading and math grade and standardized test thresholds for promotion in third, sixth and eighth grade. As you may recall, under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago was seen as a leader in “ending social promotion.” At one time, thousands of students in Chicago were forced to repeat a grade. But research showed that retained students were more likely to drop out. Also, sending a lot of students to summer school was expensive.

Over time, the promotion policy has been scaled back. In 2002, more than 30,000 CPS students were required to go to summer school and 11,000 were held back. This summer, only 10,000 students were required to go to summer school. And in recent years, less than 2 percent of students were retained in elementary school.