Oh, to have been in Springfield on Wednesday afternoon. CPS Chief of Accountability John Barker was absolutely grilled by state lawmakers during an education panel over the district’s refusal to administer the PARCC assessment at every school. Rep. Fred Crespo, a Streamwood Democrat, asked countless times why CPS couldn’t use the paper-and-pencil version of the test if technological problems prevented the use of the online version. But Barker never gave a straight answer.
Another question that he couldn’t answer was why CPS officials say that schools are not ready when only 27 of the nearly 700 schools lack the technological capacity to administer the test. And while maintaining it will only give the test at 10 percent of schools, CPS is preparing all schools to administer the assessment. It has yet to identify the 10 percent. March 9 is the first day of testing.
Barker also revealed that CPS hopes to somehow calculate district-wide PARCC scores by using scores on other tests.
Representatives reiterated the point that the entire state — and not just Chicago — could lose federal dollars if 95 percent of students aren’t tested. One representative asked Barker if CPS had a plan in place to pay the state $1.3 billion in potentially lost funding; his answer: “I am not in a position to answer that question.” (Read Barker’s prepared testimony here, courtesy of CPS.)
2. Looks like politics… The PARCC was one of a handful of issues parents, teachers and activists brought up during the CPS Board of Education meeting also on Wednesday. “Please tell us what is going on,” said Raise Your Hand member Jenny Biggs. “Make a statement please. It’s unfair to leave all of us hanging in limbo. This really looks like politics.”
CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said he understands the difficult position that CPS is in because of the potential for lost funding, though he too asked the district to say which schools must take the test; otherwise teachers might be wasting time prepping for a test they ultimately may not have to give.
Also during the board meeting, a group of school nurses complained about insufficient staffing levels and expressed worry about an upcoming contract to privatize a portion of school nursing. And a group of teachers complained about the revised Student Code of Conduct, which emphasizes restorative justice over suspensions, which the Tribune wrote about.
It’s also worth noting that the board approved the refinancing of about $700 million worth of debt, which Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley said would save the district about $10 million in the long run. The debt refinancing is not part of the so-called “toxic swap” deals that the Chicago Tribune previously investigated. In fact, the transactions are “fairly routine,” the Tribune writes.
3. DFER vs. CTU…. Not surprisingly, both the CTU and Democrats for Education Reform—two groups with opposite education ideologies—claimed victory after Tuesday’s election. Of course, the CTU can count Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia forcing Mayor Emanuel into a runoff as a big victory. Here’s how the aldermanic races shook out: Of the 14 candidates endorsed by DEFR, five won outright, 3 lost and six are headed into a runoff. Of the 24 endorsed by CTU, nine won outright, seven lost and eight are in a runoff (including three noted in our story profiling educator candidates.)
In a press release, DFER-IL officials noted that even though the CTU outspent them, two of the CTU’s well-known allies—Toni Foulkes (16th Ward) and John Arena (45th Ward)—were forced into runoffs.
4. Cementing control in NYC …. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to institute permanent mayoral control of the city’s schools, saying to lawmakers that the city’s now-abolished, 32 separate school boards were “balkanized” and “exerted great authority with little accountability,” according to Chalkbeat New York. Under a law passed in 2002, the mayor has the power to select a schools chancellor and oversee a $20 billion budget and the city’s 1,600 schools. The law expired in 2009 and was renewed, but is set to expire again this June. Mayoral control, said de Blasio, is one area of agreement between he and former mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mayoral control promises to be a centerpiece of the upcoming Chicago runoff election between Emanuel and Garcia. Emanuel is staunchly opposed to an elected school board, a proposal that passed by over 90 percent in 37 wards (albeit in a non-binding referendum), while Garcia supports the idea. An elected board, of course, would eliminate the mayor’s power to appoint board members and select a schools CEO.
5. Knowledge isn’t power.…Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman tackles the truism that “educational failings are at the root of still-weak job creation, stagnating wages and rising inequality.” In his regular New York Times column this week, Krugman calls that “a view very much at odds with the evidence” and asserts that a better-educated workforce isn’t the solution to stagnant wages or higher productivity. The left-leaning Krugman calls for solutions such as higher taxes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals, a higher minimum wage–yet acknowledges advocating for these direct solutions “makes you sound partisan. Hence the desire to see the whole thing as an education problem instead.”