Take 5: Teacher evaluation study, pension reform ruling, foreign language high school

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While most teachers still agree that the new CPS evaluation system will lead to better teaching and improved learning, there’s been an overall decrease in satisfaction with the system, a new study finds. In addition, nearly four out of five teachers say the new system has increased their stress and anxiety levels, with the majority saying the process takes more effort than it’s worth.

The report from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research comes two weeks after CPS released data on how teachers performed last year under the new system, Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago’s Students (REACH Students). The system is now in its third year.

The study found that two-thirds of teachers believe their evaluations rely too heavily on “student growth” metrics, which last year accounted for up to 25 percent of REACH ratings. In addition, half of the teachers think the assessments used to calculate student growth are not fair ways to measure learning — with special education teachers being especially concerned about their fairness.

Apart from its report on teacher and principal perceptions on REACH, the Consortium also released an analysis of the ratings data from Year 1.

2. On the hook… At least for now, Chicago Public Schools better plan on paying up its pension obligation. Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz ruled on Friday that the pension reform bill passed last year is unconstitutional. Now, the battle over pension reform will move to the Illinois Supreme Court as Attorney General Lisa Madigan immediately announced that she planned to appeal.

That pension reform, which reduced benefits for employees, did not apply to CPS teachers. However, Mayor Rahm Emanuel would likely want to pursue similar pension reform for teachers, if the reform bill holds up. After taking years of a pension holiday, CPS had to write a check to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund for $634 million this year. And that pension obligation is slated to rise to $724 million in 2017.

This year, as the mayoral election approaches, CPS officials found money to avoid major cuts. But they have warned that without some relief, those cuts are pending. The CTU, however, argues that the city needs to stop trying to get out of pension obligations. “The only constitutional solution going forward is to find ways of raising revenue in both Illinois and the city of Chicago,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey in a statement.

3. Good news… CPS announced that 20,000 students took Advanced Placement tests in the spring of 2014, earning the district a place on the AP Honor Roll for the second year in a row. This is the fifth year that the College Board has honored school districts that have increased access to AP classes and increased the number of students getting college credit for AP.

CPS has yet to post detailed 2014 school-level data on AP participation. But in the press release on the honor roll, it says that the district is now a leader in participation in AP by black students. It also says the number of black students earning a 3 or higher, which is what is needed to get college credit, has increased.

Still, there likely remains a big gap between white students and black and Latino students. In 2013, 30 percent of white high school students took AP classes and 64 percent of those classes were passed. Only 14 percent of black students took AP classes and only 17 percent of Latino students. In 2013, 17 percent of black students passed, and 35 percent of Latino students did so.

Low pass rates is one reason many CPS high schools are starting to offer dual credit programs in which students can take classes certified by City Colleges of Chicago.

4. Immigration news … President Barack Obama’s announcement last week that he will use executive action to grant temporary status to 5 million undocumented immigrants could have a significant impact on millions of students in public schools in the U.S. An estimated 7 percent of students in kindergarten through 12th grades have at least one parent who is undocumented, according to Census data analyzed by the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project; in Illinois, it’s about 8 percent.

“If this alleviates that situation, it’s going to create a sense of security for families that will allow students to focus on their schoolwork” instead of worrying their parents or other family members might be deported, said Claire Sylvan, executive director of the International Network for Public Schools, a network of 17 high schools around the country that serve newly-arrived immigrants and English-language learners, in an interview with EdWeek.

Some teachers in Chicago used last week’s announcement as a teaching moment with their students, including Hancock High School’s Ray Salazar, who publishes the White Rhino blog. Salazar wrote about his students’ reaction to the decision last week.

5. A foreign language high school? A group of parents with children at language-focused elementary schools is pushing CPS to create a high school language academy, DNAinfo reports. While there are four public elementary schools where students can intensively study languages, it’s extremely difficult for these children to continue their language studies in high school. The city’s top selective-enrollment high schools offer numerous language classes, but getting into them isn’t easy and the language offerings differ at each school.

“CPS invested all this money and time, and the kids invested, and the families invested,” says Michele Dreczynki, a LaSalle II Magnet School parent. “Say you take eight years of Arabic, and the high school you go to, they don’t offer it. Then you’ve lost the investment you put in.”

Parents have made their case to top city and CPS officials, and district spokeswoman said CPS would consider community requests though there isn’t a formal process for proposing new selective-enrollment schools. The language academies are magnet schools and admissions is through lottery with consideration of socio-economic tiers. If the district were to create a new magnet high school focused on language, it would likely mirror the demographic makeup of the elementary language academies — which are disproportionately whiter and more affluent than the rest of CPS.

One final note … Voters in 36 of the city’s 50 wards will have the opportunity to vote in a symbolic referendum on whether Chicago should have an elected school board. A coalition of unions and community organizations behind the ward-level campaign will turn in more than 50,000 signatures to election officials today, which is the deadline to file for items — and candidates — to appear on February’s municipal ballots.