Take 5: Lifting charter cap, Dyett plans, youth programs cut

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Perhaps it’s not surprising that the only concrete education proposal Gov. Bruce Rauner announced in his first State of the State address was to lift the cap on charter schools. Rauner singled out a Roseland parent who sends her children to charters because they “offer longer school days, enhanced learning opportunities and variety for her kids.” The current statewide cap stands at 120 schools, including 75 in Chicago, some of which are replicating charters. The cap has been raised multiple times since 2003.

Without going into detail, Rauner repeated his commitment to increase K-12 funding with an eye toward improving “our most disadvantaged school districts” and promised to beef up funding for technical and vocational training programs in high schools and community colleges.

Rauner also gave a shoutout to anti-testing advocates. He said that students and teachers are “overwhelmed by too many tests” and called on policymakers to “ensure that the amount of time we test our students doesn’t get in the way of high-quality instruction.” He stopped short of mentioning the controversial PARCC exam, though, a topic on which he’s been silent since becoming a candidate.

2. Speaking of the PARCC… As promised, newly elected State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, introduced a bill last week to allow parents to opt their children out of taking state assessments — such as the PARCC — while protecting students, their teachers, schools and districts from any negative consequences in terms of grades or evaluations. So far, the bill has only attracted one co-sponsor: a fellow Democrat, Jaime Andrade, Jr., from Chicago.

Guzzardi told Catalyst he was meeting with Illinois State Board of Education officials this week to discuss the language in the bill and “to make sure they’re not concerned about risking federal dollars […]. We shouldn’t be concerned about jeopardizing school funding because seven states already done it and have seen no loss of federal funds as results,” he added, referring to California, Pennsylvania, Washington, Wisconsin, Oregon, Nebraska and Utah.

But ISBE opposes the bill for just that reason. States are required to assess 95 percent of all students, and “we are concerned that if we allow an opt out we may fall below the federal requirement which could lead to some real consequences in terms of federal money and our ESEA/NCLB waiver,” says ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus. “This is not a risk we are willing to take.”

Similar legislation is being drafted elsewhere. Last week New Jersey assemblyman introduced a bill to require schools to develop opt-out procedures beginning next school year and provide students with an alternative learning opportunity if they refuse the test, while Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order allowing parents to opt-out of the PARCC, while urging that state’s education department to protect districts from consequences.

3. Taking over Dyett… The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett once again sounded the alarm outside of Ald. Will Burns (4th Ward) office to bring attention to the fact that the door has been opened for a private contractor to move into the school. In a statement, Coalition members were joined on a webinar about the pending request for proposals for Dyett by representatives of Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy High School. Little Black Pearl currently runs a contract school for dropouts and those at risk of dropping out. The district has said that whatever school goes into Dyett must be an open enrollment high school.

Jitu Brown, a community organizer for KOCO, and other coalition members are insistent that Dyett High School, which is being phased out, be reopened as a district-run high school. “We do not want to compete for this school,” said Brown. “We want a CPS school just like they have Lakeview or Lincoln Park.”

In a statement, Burns accused the action of being politically timed to undermine his reelection. Burns said he feels as though the RFP process being pursued by CPS insures that all proposals are “fairly and impartially evaluated.”

Though acquiescing to the community by committing to reopen Dyett, CPS officials refused to go along with the coalition’s plan to run it as a school focused on “global leadership and green technology.” Representatives from five groups attended the required webinar, according to CPS. Among the participants was someone from Brinshore Development, which is building mixed income housing on the land once occupied by Robert Taylor Homes, and someone from the Digital Youth Network. These representatives could not be reached to find out if they are interested in starting a school or listened in for some other reason. Last week, letters of intent were due, but CPS Spokesman Bill McCaffrey said those are not public.

4. Austerity in IllinoisChicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown reports that Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration sent word to organizations to halt job training, after school and other “youth development” programs. According to the e-mail reportedly received by organizations, Rauner blamed former Gov. Pat Quinn for signing an unbalanced budget.

But a group of African American and Latino state lawmakers called Rauner out on these cuts. “You tell us you want Illinois to become the most competitive and compassionate state in the nation,” said Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-Chicago) in a press release. She invited Rauner to her Southwest Side neighborhood to discuss the decision. “We are asking you – where is the compassion? And without mentoring, job training and a chance to work, how can the next generation of low-income minority youth hope to compete?”

Cutting the $8 million program may just be a sign of what is to come. Brown says that voters can’t be too upset because they voted for Rauner who promised to cut his way to a balanced budget.

Just last year a University of Chicago study found that a summer jobs program lowered violent crime arrests by 43 percent over a 16 month period. Also, youth in poor neighborhoods are the least likely to have jobs, according to a study released last week.

5. Learning to like math … A new individualized math tutoring service has brought unexpected benefits to students at low-income CPS high schools, according to a report released by Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research. Doubling down on a pilot study conducted in 2013, researchers followed about 600 ninth and 10th graders enrolled in Chicago Match, a two-on-one math tutoring program folded into the curricula of many low-income schools across the city. Not only did the program significantly boost math scores, the report found, but it had a ripple effect on students’ confidence and academic well-being. A survey at the end of the study found that participants in Match were much more likely to say they enjoy math and think they’re good at it, and that they don’t think their friends study enough. Students in Match also registered a spike in non-math test scores.

“We think this pushes back on the prevailing belief that it’s too late to intervene with adolescents who have fallen behind, that we should focus more on early childhood education instead,” said Jonathan Guryan, a professor with Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy who contributed to the study. “What we’re seeing is that when you use individualized programs like [Chicago Match], it can be an effective–and cost-effective–investment in adolescents.”

It’s no secret that individualized attention leads to better outcomes for kids, but Guryan says the key distinction here is Match’s affordability to the district. At $3,800 per student, the report found that the program’s per-dollar effectiveness for raising math scores is more than quadruple that of Head Start. Chicago Match pays tutors part-time to teach specific subjects, and it can be offered as a substitution for an elective during the school day. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a big fan of the program, announced last year that he’d work to expand it.

By the way, the Sun Times followed on Catalyst’s story about CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s claim that only seven students were accounted for after the school closings, when it was really several hundred.