Take 5: Hancock’s award, late pension payment, teacher test bias

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Dyett High School, which graduated its last class of seniors this month, will be closed next year but is expected to reopen as a different school in fall 2016.

Photo by Kalyn Belsha

Dyett High School, which graduated its last class of seniors this month, will be closed next year but is expected to reopen as a different school in fall 2016.

Last year, when CPS announced that Hancock High School would be turned into a selective enrollment school, some criticized the decision because the school had already been making significant improvements with neighborhood kids. Now, the Sun-Times reports on an ironic twist to the situation: last week the Coalition for Community Schools honored the neighborhood school for its embrace of the surrounding community. The headline says it all: “Hancock wins community schools award as it stops being one.”

The Coalition’s president said the school won the $2,500 cash award because the “way in which they gathered their community partners together with the school to address the challenges their kids brought to the table grew and deepened over time,” adding that he hoped those community relationships continue.

Next fall half of Hancock’s freshman class will come from the selective-enrollment process; the remainder will be part of a career prep program that’s open to students from McKinley Park and the general area.

2. Pension payment may be late Crain’s Chicago Business reports it may be August before CPS has the cash to make the $634 million pension payment that’s due by the end of the month. That’s when the system will start receiving the second half of its property taxes. CPS and Chicago Teachers Union officials told Crain’s the system doesn’t have the money to both meet payroll and make the pension payment — but CPS officials have refused to say exactly how much cash the district has on hand. Crain’s reports there’s about $200 million before dipping into operating accounts and possibly some TIF reserves.

Earlier this week, the head of the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund, Charles Burbridge, reiterated a call for CPS to make its full payment. In an interview with Catalyst Chicago, Burbridge said the pension fund wasn’t expecting a partial payment and would have to discuss options with its Board of Trustees if the full payment isn’t made.

3. Bias in teacher tests …  The New York Times looks at how states across the country are introducing more difficult assessments for teacher candidates. Across the board pass rates are falling, but “minority candidates have been doing especially poorly, jeopardizing a long-held goal of diversifying the teaching force so it more closely resembles the makeup of the country’s student body,” the story says. In New York, a federal judge is looking at whether a licensing test that only 41 percent of black and 46 percent of Hispanic candidates passed their first time is discriminatory. About 64 percent of white candidates passed the test.

Illinois has seen the same pattern, especially with the Test of Academic Proficiency — which is still known by many by its previous name, the Basic Skills Test. According to data from January to March of this year, just 31 percent of test-takers passed the entire assessment. Whites, who make up more than half of all test-takers, passed it at a 38-percent rate. Only 13 percent of blacks and 16 percent of Hispanics passed.

Despite some modifications to the testing process — including an elimination on the number of times candidates could take the APT — all the extra rigor has had a detrimental effect on enrollment in teacher education programs across all races.

Linda Darling-Hammond — a professor of education at Stanford who helped design another controversial performance-based test for teachers called the edTPA — tells the Times that in devising new tests, “we need to be clear about what skills are necessary, rather than just trying to eliminate people from the pool… We’re kind of in a testing era in the United States. If you have a problem, throw a test at it.”

4. On that subject … This week the former president of Columbia University’s Teachers College — Arthur Levine, a widely known critic of teacher ed programs — announced he’d help create a brand new program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Levine, who now heads the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, said the program is a $30 million partnership between both institutions and will focus on preparing teachers in math and science.

MIT, which doesn’t have a school of education, will conduct the research to guide the new curriculum and develop technologies focused on digital learning, according to a story in NPR. The project will “experiment with some of the most high-profile—and controversial—ideas in higher education delivery, including digital learning, competency-based education, and simulations,” according to EdWeek. “As envisioned, the Woodrow Wilson Academy for Teaching and Learning will dispense with credit hours and seat-time requirements. Candidates will progress through the program at their own pace as they master a set of teaching competencies.”

5. Choosing among options.…The architects of three competing visions for a new school to open in 2016 in the now-shuttered Dyett High School faced their first public scrutiny Wednesday night during a community meeting. DNAinfo reports that most speakers in the crowd of 200 were in favor of a plan from the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett that would keep the Dyett name and reopen a CPS school focused on green technology and developing global leaders. The two other proposals, which faced some criticism, include a contract school from the arts nonprofit Little Black Pearl and a district-run school called Washington Park Athletic Career Academy, put forward by Dyett’s former principal.

Some speakers said it would be inappropriate to open a sports-centered school in a largely African American community, where students often face pressure to become professional athletes. Little Black Pearl was criticized by some for doing too little to incorporate Dyett’s legacy and for not seeking enough community input. The Sun-Times reports that the Coalition took Little Black Pearl’s proposal head-on with a flier that questioned the group’s ability to run the high school. “We shouldn’t be sitting here in a competition for schools,” Coalition member Jitu Brown told the paper. A public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 10 and the Board of Education is scheduled to make its decision by late August.

One last note … Catalyst is hosting another Classroom Story Slam this Friday evening. Please join us and wind down from the long school year by listening to educators share stories from the classroom.


  • Northside

    If we are going to consider test bias for minorities, what about whites who come from broken or poor backgrounds. Is someone willing to defend them too? I guess I will. Again I am not a white supremicist. I’VE actually been told I am too liberal. However, let’s not forget that lumping all white people, especiallly, white men with one paint brush can breed it’s own problems. White could be a Polish minimum wage immigrant…… to some wealthy Yankee 5th generation billionaire. We are not all.privileged. Maybe I am, but not the poor family from West Virginia. OR A Jewish Russian immigrant .