Take 5: Rahm’s early childhood non-news and competing PARCC letters

Print More

Seven weeks ahead of Chicago’s mayoral election — and about a week after his campaign started airing commercials touting his record on early childhood education — Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a press conference Tuesday to announce federal funding for the city’s Head Start programs. But it was hard to find the news: Yes, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did send the city a check for the preschool program, but it has done that every year and for more than a decade the funding has been pretty stable. Also, the city knew it was getting the funding for weeks.

The difference this time, the mayor’s office says, is that Chicago is promised $600 million over five years and will no longer have to compete every year for it. The mayor’s office even provided a glowing letter from HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell addressed to Emanuel (which, it turns out, was sent at the mayor’s request). But again, HHS is shifting to five year cycles for every grantee, except for the most troubled of operators.

Either way, the mayor said the funding would be a crucial step forward in his goal to provide “universal” preschool for 4-year-olds citywide — though it’s questionable how universal the goal really is. “The role model [for early childcare] will no longer be expensive babysitting–it’ll be a strong foundation of public education across the city,” he said during the press conference, after playing Bingo with a group of toddlers.

As an added political bonus, Ounce of Prevention Fund president and incoming Illinois First Lady Diana Rauner spoke at the presser, at Emanuel’s invitation. Rauner said the pursuit of expanded early childhood education would rely on “innovative public-private relationships” and strong collaboration between Springfield and City Hall.

Not to be left out, a group of community organizations and unions will hold their own press conference today to set the record straight on the federal dollars and Emanuel’s record on early childhood education. They’ll point out that enrollment in school-based preschool has actually fallen over the past two years following changes in the application process and new requirements regarding income reporting.

2. New community college operator… Loyola University Chicago will establish a special two-year college program for the city’s poorest students, Crain’s Chicago Business reports. An effort to buoy the city’s meager college graduation rates, Arrupe College will accommodate 400 students on the university’s Water Tower campus, Loyola’s President Rev. Michael Garanzini said in his September State of the University address. The plan is for students to commute to campus and take classes on a work-study basis, leading them to a diploma within two years without incurring student debt. Supporters hope the project will be a step toward Chicago Public Schools’ goal of a 60 percent college graduation rate by 2025.

Time will tell if Loyola, a private Jesuit school that boasts a 70 percent graduation rate, can create an option preferable to the City Colleges of Chicago, whose graduation rates range from 6 to 22 percent. About 15 percent of CPS grads enrolled in a City College campus in 2013.

3. The battle of the PARCC letters… Right before Christmas, a group of seven lawmakers, including Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and State Senator Heather Steans, wrote to State Superintendent Christopher Koch to ask him to make a formal request to the U.S. Department of Education to delay the PARCC.

As you will remember, parent activists in Chicago and some superintendents have been waging a battle to get the state to put off the implementation of the PARCC, which is a new state assessment that is aligned with the Common Core standards. Some worry that the PARCC, which is shifting away from multiple choice and includes more complicated questions, is not ready to be rolled out and that too many school districts lack the technology to implement a computer-based test.

The lawmakers wrote they are concerned that the PARCC is too long, that it has not been sufficiently field tested and that it will interfere with AP and ACT exams in high schools.

But, in his weekly message dated January 6, Koch includes a letter from the Assistant Education Secretary Deborah Delisle laying out the consequences if the state does not have every student take an assessment this year to comply with federal accountability laws. She says that the state could allow school districts to implement a variety of tests, but that they would each have to meet a high bar of showing that they meet the state’s standards and are comparable. Also, she warns that if the state fails to give an assessment to students it could face multiple consequences, including increased monitoring or a cease and desist order.

Note, Delisle does not mention the PARCC because federal law does not specify what test states must give to students. However, Illinois is committed to giving the PARCC because a state law requires that Illinois give a Common Core test by the 2014-2015 school year.

4. Testing the Congress… The hot debate over the PARCC in Illinois is similar to what is playing out in states across the country. Because of the push to lessen the number of standardized tests given to students, national education experts are expecting Congress to finally make some headway on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, according to Education Week. It is ESEA, also known as No Child Left Behind, that requires states to test students every year from third grade on and also implements harsh punishments, like turnovers and closures, for schools not meeting benchmarks. However, it is unclear if Congress can create a bipartisan bill that will be acceptable to President Barack Obama.

Education Week also predicts that the next Congress, now controlled by Republicans, will try to pass a bill to increase access to charter schools and will try to rewrite the rewrite the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which governs the largest federal program for high schools.

On a related note, NPR says the biggest education story of 2015 will be continued scrutiny on testing and the implementation of the Common Core standards. Also, they predict the other big stories will be teacher evaluation and scrutiny on school police as part of the Ferguson fallout.

5. Superintendent pay-out…. The Chicago Tribune looks into how some suburban school districts have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to hire close to a half-dozen different superintendents since 2001. In one extreme case, the Bellwood School District 88 hired the same superintendent three times for the job, even after she’d successfully sued and gotten a $75,000 settlement.

Tribune reporter Angela Caputo, who makes her debut on the newspaper’s investigative team after leaving our sister publication, The Chicago Reporter, writes that the revolving door to the superintendent’s office “undermines a district’s stability and pulls away resources from students. Or as one expert aptly sums up, “If the board is paying their salary and the new superintendent and maybe even a previous superintendent, that’s a big hit. How many teachers could have been paid? How many school books could have been bought?”

For its part, Chicago is on its fifth chief executive officer since 2001, but now CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has been at the helm for more than two years.