Take 5: Emanuel on risky bond deals, charter closure, selective segregation, teacher ed

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In response to the Chicago Tribune series detailing how CPS is paying millions more as a result of risky bond deals, Mayor Rahm Emanuel tells reporters it’s too late to do anything about it: “Unfortunately there’s a thing called a contract.”

But as the Tribune points out — and as the Chicago Teachers Union has been arguing for some time now — the city could do as other government agencies around the country have done and seek legal recourse to recoup some of the money. “A federal rule requires banks to ‘deal fairly’ with governments when they underwrite government bonds,” the article notes. The investigation showed how bank officials failed to fully disclose the risks of the deals and drew a parallel to a suit filed by New Jersey’s Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. The suit alleges that its underwriter, UBS, “fraudulently urged the agency to temporarily change the terms of its contract so there would be no cap on the interest rate.” Attorneys for the state agency say the issue that came to light only after the contract was signed. That case is awaiting trial.

The story ends with a quote from Brad Miller, an attorney who has worked with the CTU on urging the city to take action on related deals known as interest-rate swaps: “I don’t think CPS needs to show fraud, just that the banks left out information about what could go wrong that might have scared CPS off.”

2. Easy come, not so easy go… An Ed Week story on charter school closures reminds us of another reason it would be good for the district to release school ratings that have been delayed with little explanation. These ratings help determine whether charter schools will be placed on academic warning or, if already on the warning list, allowed to stay open. Schools on the warning list get one year to improve. Last year, four campuses were put on the warning list and parents don’t yet know if the schools will remain open.

The story points out the difficulties of closing any school, charter or not, and highlights one instance in which an Indianapolis charter school was shut down after a cheating scandal. There, the mayor’s office, which serves as the authorizer, reached out to each family and held enrollment fairs where parents could talk to other schools and enroll their children on the spot.

One question for districts is the timing of announcements if charters are to close. If a closure is announced in the fall, sometimes teachers check out for the rest of the year. But waiting till spring cuts close to the deadlines to apply to new schools for the coming fall.  

Parents in Chicago would likely want to know soon because the application deadline for selective enrollment and magnet schools is December 12.

3. Where are the white kids? “Curious City” on WBEZ asks why so few white children attend public schools in Chicago and notes that just half of white children in the city attend public schools. The district’s white enrollment is just 9 percent.

The story doesn’t raise any new points about Chicago’s long-standing racial segregation. It features two white families to tell the larger story. One white family sent its children to the University of Chicago Laboratory School – an expensive private school where Mayor Rahm Emanuel sends his own children. The other family sent its children to public school, Ray Elementary in Hyde Park. The first family said it has nothing against public schools, but that the elite Lab School was more convenient because one parent works at the university. The second family chose public schools for political reasons, saying they “believe in public education and always knew their children would attend CPS.”

In both families, at least one child attended the public Whitney Young for high school. The story reiterates the point that white children are disproportionately represented at elite selective and magnet schools. Other public schools are hyper-segregated, high-poverty and close to 100 percent African American.

4. Not just a Chicago problem… Chicago isn’t the only big city with selective public schools that disproportionately enroll white and Asian students.

A story from the Gotham Gazette looks at the admissions policies of districts with the highest number of elite public high schools — Chicago, New York and Boston. Of the three, New York City has the biggest demographic mismatch. Nearly 60 percent of students at these high schools are Asian and another 24 percent are white, though whites and Asians are just 30 percent of the total student body.

Chicago is the only district of the three that reserves seats for students from low-income areas, so the racial makeup of these schools does more closely match the overall demographics. (The end of Chicago’s federal desegregation decree led to a whitening of CPS’s top schools.)

Ultimately, the article points out, the debates around admissions policies across the nation boil down to equity. “Are the terms of access to these scarce and coveted institutions fair – and where does the measurement of fairness begin?”

5. Teachers get easy As… A new report by a group that some educators love to hate, the National Council on Teacher Quality, says that it’s too easy to get A’s in university schools of education. The report states that an average of 44 percent of education majors qualified to graduate with honors, while only 30 percent of all graduating students got that distinction. One reason is that education courses were more likely to dole out easy assignments than other kinds of courses.

Like other reports by NCTQ, the study has been denounced by college programs and teacher unions that say the organization relies on faulty data and assumptions, according to a story in Inside Higher Ed. NCTQ developed its own “rigor standard” to rate the colleges, but most of the Illinois schools on the list have a caveat because the final score was “derived from less precise data.”

While it might easier to get good grades in teacher education programs, Illinois, like other states, have taken steps to make it harder to become a teacher. In 2010, Illinois raised the cut scores needed to pass the basic skills test, limited (but later scrapped) the number of times teachers could take the tests, and now requires teachers to pass a new performance assessment.