Take 5: Charter opposition, discipline reform, opt-out bill

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The 2015 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools goes to the Noble Network. The network recently dropped plans to open up schools in Uptown and Rogers Park.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The 2015 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools goes to the Noble Network. The network recently dropped plans to open up schools in Uptown and Rogers Park.

A group of North Side parents, teachers and principals have formed a coalition against a proposal to relocate the Noble Street Academy to the Uptown area. They’ll be protesting this afternoon outside of a public hearing on proposed changes to existing charter and contract schools — including the Noble proposal.

“Opening a charter or any high school in our respective communities will undermine the efforts that are currently underway and the momentum we have gained in our neighborhood high schools through the hard work and dedication of our staff and our communities,” says Susan Lofton, principal of Senn High School, in a statement. “Relocating or opening a new school will be a detrimental diversion of needed resources away from our existing schools.”

Loften is working with the principals of Lake View, Sullivan, Mather and Amundsen high schools against the project, according to a story in the EdgeVille Buzz.

Also at today’s meeting the district will hear from the group that operates the Rowe Elementary charter school to create a middle school on the property once used by the now-closed Peabody Elementary. You may remember that CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett had promised to block charters from using closed schools. Now that Byrd-Bennett has stepped down due to the federal probe of the now-infamous SUPES contract, it’s unclear whether her promise still stands.

CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey told the Chicago Tribune that the district “continues to follow” the earlier commitment but if a community determines that a charter school is a desirable option, CPS will consider that option.” WBEZ has a great story that asks whether it makes financial sense to keep charters out of closed schools.

2. School discipline reforms… Student activists seeking to reduce the excessive use of punitive discipline practices in school hailed Wednesday’s passage in the state Legislature of SB 100. The bill, which had already cleared the Senate and now needs final approval from Gov. Bruce Rauner, puts limits on when schools can suspend and expel students, prohibits the use of zero-tolerance policies and bans the use of disciplinary fines and fees.

“For too long, harsh school discipline practices have contributed to the under-education and over-criminalization of young people, and especially youth of color,” said Dalia Mena, an 18-year-old member of Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, in a statement. “Illinois legislators have demonstrated that by listening to students, we can create schools where all students are valued and supported in their learning. SB 100 makes Illinois go from one of the worst states when it comes to overusing exclusionary discipline, to being a national leader with a model for other states to follow.”

3. Speaking of student activists… More than 300 Chicago high school students gathered on Tuesday at the Chicago Cultural Center for the 13th annual  Mikva Actions Civics Showcase. It was an opportunity to show off student projects about a range of social issues, from violence and gentrification to recycling and LGBT rights, DNAinfo reports.

“The beautiful thing about this showcase is the way that the same curriculum comes out differently with each class, depending on what students wanted to change and what kind of an impact they wanted to have,” Jocelyn Broitman, director of Democracy in Action, told DNAinfo. “So we’re seeing so many different projects here, but the one thing they have in common is that they involve students taking action about an issue they really care about.”

The story features a group of students from Julian High School who made music videos about gang violence and police brutality. It’s an especially poignant issue for many that school; last week two students were shot and killed while picking up their tuxes for prom.

4. Opt-out bill … After stalling for weeks, a bill that would allow parents to opt their children out of state assessments cleared the Illinois House of Representatives on Tuesday. If now goes to the Senate, but that’s not the only hurdle HB 306 would have to clear to become law: Gov. Bruce Rauner has threatened to veto the bill and, as the Sun-Times puts it, has been “leaning on Republican lawmakers to vote ‘no.’”

Rauner and others in his administration — including the state’s new superintendent — say they worry about the potential loss of federal dollars if too many children opt out of the controversial assessment known as the PARCC. Hundreds, if not thousands, of CPS students have already opted out of the assessment. This is the final week that the PARCC is being administered this year. Proponents of the opt-out bill, led by the Chicago parent group Raise Your Hand, say the PARC, is too long and and takes away valuable time in the classroom.

5. Earning college credit … Another education-related bill that’s further along is HB 3428 , which would require public colleges and universities to give course credit to students who receive a 3 or higher on Advanced Placement exams. The proposal, which overwhelmingly passed in the House and is now before the Senate, has been met with resistance from higher education officials who worry about losing out on tuition dollars.

In addition, college officials say they “fear that requiring them to give blanket credit for AP tests would unacceptably lower academic standards,” according to a story in the Chicago Tribune. As a result, they want the bill to grant them flexibility in how they allot the credit. A high school freshman from Arlington Heights told the Tribune changing the law “would give students a better chance of getting into the college they want without worrying about financial issues.” Catalyst wrote about how financial troubles were one of the biggest hurdles faced by low-income college students in our winter issue.

A few last notes … The Tribune has a long story about how SUPES came to Chicago. It’s a good recap but doesn’t offer a whole lot of new information — aside from the fact the mayor’s former education advisor,  Beth Swanson, had been involved in the decision to bring SUPES to CPS.

It’s too bad that the Tribune and most other media outlets in town weren’t asking these same questions two years ago, when the no-bid contract with SUPES was first approved and Catalyst raised questions about conflicts of interest.

Finally, Catalyst is hosting a film and discussion tonight with The School Project on the challenges and opportunities for high school reform. Come join us.

Photo: Charter school chalkboard/Shutterstock.com