Take 5: Child poverty, selective school glitch, choice fails in Newark

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Voices for Illinois Children released a report today that shows staggering child poverty rates have persisted despite the improving economy–and the rates won’t improve without major government action. Among the findings: In 2013, 21 percent of Illinois children lived in households with incomes below the poverty line, compared to 15 percent in 2000. Child poverty is no longer just a Chicago problem, either: In 2012, the city accounted for just 33 percent of children in poverty, compared to 56 percent in 1999.

The report’s authors say budget cuts to health care and child services proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in his FY 2016 budget threaten to worsen child poverty. They say dialing up these kinds of services, rather than cutting them, would be better for the welfare of the state in the long run. “Society as a whole pays the costs of persistent child poverty, but we all benefit when children have access to the building blocks of success,” said Gaylord Gieseke, president of Voices for Illinois Children. “The future prosperity of our state depends on investing in opportunities for all children and families across Illinois.”

2. 100 percent opt-out… Parent groups and the Chicago Teacher’s Union had already been spreading the word about how to opt children out of a controversial new exam, but now some local school councils are stepping into the action. The Sun-Times reports that at least two top-rated North Side schools are encouraging parents to sit their children out of the PARCC. One of them is Blaine Elementary School, whose principal, Troy LaRaviere, became a vocal critic of CPS administration last year. That school’s parent-teacher association is aiming for 100 percent of students to refuse the test so “our students can get back to 10 hours of vital instruction,” LaRaviere said in the article.

LSCs at other schools across the city have been asking for more information about the PARCC and about opting their children out — an option that technically don’t exist, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. The district hasn’t been clear on how it will handle parents who want their children to opt out, although last year,  officials took a strong stance against opting out and even investigated some teachers who refused to administer the test.

As resistance to the PARCC spreads across the state, the Tribune reports that “murky laws, mixed messages, little direction from districts and what critics describe as pressure from the state have created confusion for parents who don’t want their children tested.” An opt-out bill made it out of committee earlier this week in Springfield and is now before the full House.

3. Selective school snafu… Instead of getting letters telling them that they won a coveted seat in a selective enrollment school, some 1,200 students were informed that their application was not considered because they failed to complete the application, according to DNAinfo. Some parents apparently did not realize they had to select a school before submitting an application, thinking they would get an opportunity to choose a school after their child took the entrance exam. So their children took the entrance exam, but their application was deemed incomplete. CPS hasn’t offered any immediate remedy for the parents.

But spokesman Michael Passman says that if selective enrollment seats are available after all eligible students make their choice, these families will get an opportunity to apply.

By the way, the scores indicate that Hancock, the new selective enrollment high school on the Southwest Side, immediately got some traction. Some students had to score higher to get into Hancock than long-standing schools such as Westinghouse, King, Lindblom and South Shore.

4. More from The School Project …. Filmmaking collaborative The School Project will hold its third of six documentary screenings tonight. The short film, titled “Restoring Justice,” will focus on the city’s efforts to close the “school-to-prison pipeline” by shifting school discipline away from zero-tolerance policies. The film and subsequent discussion will take a magnifying glass to the effects of punitive discipline policies, and explore the alternatives that have become popular in the past few years.

Following the free screening  at North Lawndale College Prep’s Collins campus will be a Q&A session with a panel of experts on restorative justice policy. The issue of restorative justice got some attention last week when teachers at De Diego Community Academy complained to the Board of Education that they lacked the resources to deal with unruly students.

As Catalyst first reported in 2009, CPS has one of the highest suspension rates in the country and black male students are disproportionately suspended and expelled. Restorative justice has long been part of the district’s policy, but substantial resources have never been committed to the idea.

4. School choice struggles in Newark… The Washington Post published a troubling analysis of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s massive plan to overhaul Newark’s school system, which went into full effect this year. Called “One Newark,” the plan turned over multiple neighborhood schools to charter operators and created a citywide lottery that forced many students to change schools. Five years after Christie announced the plan, saying it would become a “national model,” One Newark has met a massive citywide backlash and its leaders are struggling to defend it. The city’s outspoken mayor, Ras Baraka, was swept into office last year on a mandate of dismantling the program.

One Newark began in 2010 as a widely publicized joint venture between Christie and former Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who has since become a U.S. senator. It was funded largely by a $100 million donation by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who said he chose to invest in the program “really because I believe in these guys [Booker and Christie].”

After failing to raise dismal test scores, program director Cami Anderson–a former Teach for America executive the governor hand-picked to lead the initiative–is under fire from all sectors of the city, including former supporters of the plan. Christie, meanwhile, has distanced himself from the city since the plan went into effect. “This belongs in the governor’s lap,” said Baraka, a former high school principal. “This catastrophe that’s happening is a black eye.”