When CPS officials announced earlier this summer that more than 500 special education staff would be laid off districtwide, they gave few details about how the services would be continued. Part of the plan, it turns is out, is a pilot program called All Means All, which essentially provides student-based budgeting for special education. WBEZ reports that next fall 102 schools will be using this program — which gives schools a lump sum of cash per child with special needs instead of specific staff positions provided by the district.
That helps explain why many principals and Local School Council members have noted that they’ll be losing special education positions. CPS has said it conducted a review of services and staffing and found that “even as enrollment in special ed was declining, the number of staff was increasing.” District officials say they will work with schools to ensure all students’ federally required services are met.
But advocates and those who work in schools aren’t so sure. Rod Estvan of the advocacy group Access Living predicts that CPS will be forced to reallocate additional staff to schools and open positions. And Phillip Cantor, a teacher at North-Grand High School, worries that the moves may cost the district more in the long run — “because parents are going to sue…. We’ve seen this over and over in the city. It’s this short-term managerial thinking that’s going to lead to long-term costs for the city.”
2. Opportunity in crisis … If you’re an ed tech entrepreneur, Chicago is the place to be. That’s according to a story in the online publication EdSurge, which featured a two-day conference last week that brought together teachers, entrepreneurs and administrators in the Windy City.
“By nature technology and innovation are about doing more with less,” says Eileen Murphy, a former English teacher at Payton College Prep who left CPS in 2012 to found the personalized learning company ThinkCERCA. “If you have [technology] that solves real problems, shows traction or viability from a monetization standpoint, I would say Chicago is the place to be.”
The story goes on to say how important the adoption of national standards — think: Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards — and the adoption of online assessments are to the burgeoning personalized learning market. Another “key ingredient” to Chicago’s edtech market is the partnerships between nonprofits, schools and research organizations.
3. Child care programs … DNAinfo reports that City Colleges is planning to consolidate its child development degree program — previously offered at six schools — at Truman College in Uptown, starting in fall 2016. Graduates of the program often go on to work in preschools, Head Start programs and child care centers.
The move has raised concerns that South and West Side residents will have a much harder time getting to class via public transit at a time when the city is struggling to recruit teachers of color and increase its pool of early education teachers, especially those who can offer bilingual services.
In related news, a popular program that helps low-income parents pay for child care continues to face challenges, this time with child care providers being told they’d miss their paychecks, only to see an about-face from the governor’s office, Progress Illinois reports. Cuts to the program have raised serious concerns after eligibility changes resulted in very few new families being able to enroll.
4. Selling closed schools … Last week the Board of Education voted to sell three schools closed in 2013 to buyers planning mixed-use developments. A bid is out on another closed school, and CPS officials say seven or eight more are almost ready to go out.
Chicago isn’t the only city struggling to deal with now-vacant schools. According to KMWU, the NPR affiliate in St. Louis, the school system there assembled a group of volunteer architects, builders and community health experts to try to attract developers and investors to closed schools, some of which have been shuttered for a decade and look like a “set from a post-apocalyptic film.” Hosting open houses is one tactic they use. The district has closed around 30 schools.
St. Louis used to prohibit charters from buying the empty schools — no longer the case — but some say the district is still turning down those offers. CPS made a similar promise two years ago, but the district has since softened on that position, saying it could be done if a community supported the sale.
Some find it hard to embrace a new school in a vacant building, even if it’s a district-run school. In Uptown, DNAinfo reports, a growing selective-enrollment elementary school wants to move into a closed school, but the alderman there doesn’t support using state or district money to fix up the building, and he’s asking CPS to let developers and others bid on the site.
5. From IB to college … Low-income students who participate in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program are nearly 30 percent more likely to enroll in college than the national average for low-income students. That’s according to research released by the International Baccalaureate Organization,. The research also showed that 84 percent of low-income African-American IB students enrolled in college, in effect closing the college enrollment gap between black and white students.
The study notes that participation in IB programs at Title I schools has grown by 46 percent in the last five years. In Chicago, IB has grown from just one program in 1997 to 22 today, including seven schools with “wall to wall” programs and one at a charter school.
A few last notes … Protests continue over the process to re-open Dyett High School as a different type of school in 2016. Four activists were arrested for misdemeanor reckless conduct during a sit-in on Wednesday at City Hall, the Sun-Times reports. CPS is holding a public hearing on the proposals on August 10, but has not yet announced a location or time.
Public records … The Better Government Association has sued CPS again over its “systematic disregard for its FOIA obligations.” After a previous suit, CPS had “claimed that its then newly launched electronic FOIA system would correct CPS’s FOIA compliance problems, and on that basis, BGA resolved the prior litigation without any court-ordered injunctive relief or civil penalties.”
But the situation hasn’t gotten any better — just ask any reporter in town who tries to report on schools. CPS has had trouble holding on to FOIA officers in recent months, and records requests are piling up in Central Office. Nevertheless, the district’s failure to comply with the law means that the public gets less information about the decision-making going on that affects its nearly 400,000 students.