It’s less than a month until districts are supposed to begin giving the PARCC, but there’s no word on whether CPS still plans to defy a state mandate by administering the test at just 10 percent of schools. Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) officials have threatened to pull funding from districts that don’t test all students. CPS officials’ last comment: We’re “evaluating and discussing the impacts on the district.” Meanwhile, the topic was never mentioned at yesterday’s ISBE meeting.
Expect to hear some sort of decision from CPS soon, though, since schools need to know whether they should be preparing for the test — the first round of which is scheduled to begin on March 9. And CPS has not yet announced which schools will fall into the lucky 10 percent, if they choose to go that route. In the meantime, anti-testing activists continue to ask ISBE to delay the PARCC and to host forums around Chicago to encourage parents to opt their children out of the test.
2. A gift… Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s surprise announcement that Mt. Greenwood Elementary will get six modular classrooms was really not all that surprising at all. As the Chicago Sun-Times points out, it is two weeks before the municipal election and the 19th Ward was one of the wards that didn’t go to Emanuel in the last election.
It is worth pointing out, however, that Mt. Greenwood Elementary is not the most overcrowded school. According to 2014-2015 utilization data, 21 elementary schools are more crowded, when modular units are taken into account. And it’s not the first time Emanuel has unilaterally made a capital projects decision. Think Lincoln Elementary or the planned high school formerly known as the Barack Obama high school.
By the way, according to the utilization data, this year 241 district-run schools or about half are under utilized.
3. Finding child care … At a sparsely attended press conference this week, activists from the Bright Futures Chicago initiative released a report on enrollment trends and parents’ views on child care and early education in the city. Among the findings of a survey of some 760 parents: One in six Chicago parents don’t enroll their children in any care or education program because they can’t afford it. A quarter of parents have had to change their work schedule because they couldn’t find child care. And more than 17 percent couldn’t work for lack of child care.
The report — which also points out the enrollment drop in school-based preschool, which Catalyst has reported on — doesn’t offer any surprising new revelations. But the timing of its release speaks to activists’ frustrations with Emanuel’s repeated use of early childhood education as a campaign issue. The mayor needs to “stop making false claims about the universal quality of the programs,” Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said during the press conference. “It’s less successful now than ever.” Here’s our in-depth piece on early childhood education under Emanuel.
4. Youth Protest… About 100 youth advocates held a rally and mock “die-in” outside the DuSable Museum of African American History on Tuesday evening, shortly before the final official mayoral debate before the Feb. 24 election. The non-partisan protest, organized by Black Youth Project 100 and Communities United, urged all candidates to take on the city’s endemic racial inequality issues. Protesters held mock ballots saying “Stop Criminalizing Blackness and Brownness” in place of candidates’ names and chanted slogans like “no justice, no peace” as campaign staffers and debate-goers walked into the museum. A number of organizers spoke before the rally demanding marijuana decriminalization and more transparency related to marijuana arrests, saying the war on drugs disproportionately targets minorities.
“When [marijuana possession] is a criminal offense, we’re seeing the city filling our prisons with young people in our community, and we want them to know it’s not helping,” said Lacreshia Birts, an organizing co-chair for the group. She said the rally was held in response to city leaders consistently ignoring issues affecting young people of color. “This [debate] is a closed event, so we’re doing this to show them that we’re paying attention, and we want them to consider more issues through a racial lens.”
The two groups joined other youth organizations Wednesday to host a mayoral candidates forum at The Chicago History Museum. William “Dock” Walls, Ald. Bob Fioretti and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia took turns answering questions on education and criminal justice in front of an audience of young people. All five candidates had been invited.
5. Vouchers by another name … Last week Politico examined the growing phenomenon of Education Savings Accounts, a radical new form of school vouchers that’s gaining some ground in state legislatures. The system shifts public education dollars into personalized accounts that families can spend on tutoring, therapy or private school tuition. ESAs already exist in two states–Arizona and Florida–and at least five more will vote on whether to introduce the system this year.
Seen in some ways as a backlash to the tightening of federal control on education, ESAs and vouchers have taken shape from increased calls for “local control” of education in state houses. “The ultimate local control,” as one Oklahoma lawmaker put it, “is parent control.” The trend has, not surprisingly, drawn the ire of public education advocates, who say taxpayers end up footing the bill for religious education.
Vouchers and education tax credits have been touted by Republican governors like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Indiana’s Mike Pence, as well as a few Democrats, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. At the moment, ESAs are not on the table in Illinois. But with a governor who ran under the banner of parent choice and an ISBE chair who’s backed vouchers in the past, it isn’t hard to imagine them coming in the near future. (Update: Actually, turns out an ESA bill was filed in Illinois two weeks ago.)