Take 5: Tense charter hearings, Dyett boundaries set, new preschool study

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Dueling protests went on outside CPS Central Office Wednesday night as public hearings took place on new charter school proposals.

Photo by Melissa Sanchez

Dueling protests went on outside CPS Central Office Wednesday night as public hearings took place on new charter school proposals.

Dueling student pep rallies set the stage for last night’s public hearing on the Noble charter network’s proposal to open a school in Brighton Park. Hundreds of students, parents and activists turned out in about equal numbers to show support or disapproval.

Cops aggressively guarded the front doors of Central Office and physically moved people — including reporters — out of the way if they were not registered to speak. Most of the speakers who made it into the hearing were Noble supporters who’d shown up en masse hours earlier and got the bulk of the speaking spots.

The public hearing was just the latest opportunity to air arguments for and against the proposed campus, which would be Noble’s 17th in Chicago and located a few blocks from Kelly High School.

District officials say they will consider testimony from the hearings as well as recommendations of Neighborhood Advisory Councils in making their own recommendation to the Board of Education, which is scheduled to vote on a dozen charter proposals next month.

While Noble’s proposal was by far the most controversial, two separate proposals to co-locate charters inside existing CPS schools also drew significant criticism. One is from the KIPP charter group, which wants to open an elementary school inside Orr High School in West Humboldt Park.

Orr students, teachers and even the principal spoke against the KIPP proposal, expressing concern it would siphon students from neighborhood schools. The principal’s participation was noteworthy because Orr is a turnaround school run by the non-profit AUSL.

KIPP’s chief operating officer, Nicole Boardman, said the charter network tries to be “good partners” with schools at co-location sites and doesn’t recruit from their attendance boundaries. “The whole goal is to make sure we are bringing resources into underutilized schools in Chicago so we can be part of the solution to keep schools open,” she said.

Similarly, parents and teachers from Hirsch Metro High School spoke up against a proposal from a group connected to New Life Covenant Church that wants to co-locate a performance-arts-themed school in that building.

2. No new alternative programs … Also on Wednesday, school officials announced that no privately run alternative programs for dropouts would be opened this year because of the ongoing CPS budget crisis. (These types of programs, which CPS calls ALOPs, are different from alternative charter schools and are allowed to offer shorter school days; much of students’ work is done online.)

Two groups — Acceleration Academies and Catapult Academies — had proposed opening about 2,500 seats at 11 new alternative  programs across the city, mostly in low-income black neighborhoods.

“CPS has doubled its capacity over the past three years to serve out-of-school and off-track youth, but because we continue to work on our budget challenges with Springfield, we will not be funding any new [alternative programs],” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement.

Earlier this year, Catalyst and WBEZ produced a three-part series on the district’s growing number of private operators who run alternative learning programs — some of questionable quality — and are making millions of dollars in profit. There are currently more than 11,500 seats at these privately run programs, CPS officials say.

3. Dyett boundaries set … The attendance boundary for the new Dyett High School will be the same as the old one, the Board decided on Wednesday. Activists who lobbied and conducted a hunger strike to reopen the school contend that means most students who attend the new arts- and technology-focused school will come from outside the neighborhood.

The boundaries will continue to be Martin Luther King Drive to the west, Cottage Grove Avenue to the east, 41st Street to the north and 60th Street to south, with a six-block area in the northernmost part of the boundary that extends out past Cottage Grove to the lake.

CPS held a hearing on the boundaries Friday night in the district’s Loop offices. It was sparsely attended, which activists attributed to the inconvenient time and location, the Sun-Times reports. Activists who had proposed to open a school focused on green technology and leadership had wanted nearly all students to come from a larger area around Washington Park, with just 5 percent of seats for citywide applicants.

The board also approved just under $400,000 in incubation and start-up costs for Dyett to be spent this school year, though Janice Jackson, the chief education officer, says the district will still request $11 million to $13 million in capital improvements at Dyett.

Board members also unanimously approved:

  • A change in how high schools will be rated this fall. This was prompted by the discovery that 9th- and 10th-graders last year took assessments — the EXPLORE and PLAN tests — that were previously available on the Internet. CPS will throw out those scores and decrease the importance of assessments in determining this year’s high school ratings.
  • The sale of the former Trumball Elementary site for just under $5.3 million to Svigos Asset Management, which plans to build up to 49 residential units and a community theater. It’s the most CPS has received for a school shuttered in the historic 2013 closures.
  • The addition of a 7th- and 8th-grade academic center that will serve up to 100 students at Brooks College Prep Academy, a selective-enrollment high school in Roseland. The center will open next fall, adding grades one year at a time, and will need about $1 million in capital improvements and staffing costs, CPS says. As at other academic centers, students who gain entry will automatically qualify for admission to the host high school.
  • The closure of the 7th- and 8th-grade academic center at nearby Harlan Community Academy High School in Roseland, due to declining enrollment. The 17 students currently in the center will be allowed to finish there, but CPS won’t take new applicants for next school year.

4. New preschool study … A new study released this week by Nashville’s Vanderbilt University found that while children in Tennessee’s state-funded preschool program for low-income children were better prepared for kindergarten than their peers who did not attend the program, those who did not attend caught up by the end of kindergarten and moved ahead by the end of second grade, NPR reports.

But researchers caution that the quality of the preschool programs — and elementary classrooms — likely had an effect on the results. The preschool program “was rolled out very quickly and not all pre-K classrooms in Tennessee are alike,” one of the lead researchers said in a news release.

Bruce Atchison, who directs early learning programs for the Education Commission of the States, told Chalkbeat Tennessee: “You can have high-quality pre-K and talk about a kindergarten-ready child, but if you don’t have a high-quality K-3 programs in place, some fade-out is going to occur.”

Steven Barnett, who directs the National Institute for Early Education Research, told NPR that Tennessee made some key mistakes in scaling up its program by not putting “quality control” mechanisms in place and by under-funding the program.

5. STEM after-school programs … New data released earlier this week by Afterschool Alliance found that after-school STEM programs — short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — are a good way to bring underrepresented groups into the field.

These programs help bridge the gap between white students and students of color because African-American and Hispanic children are at least two times more likely to join an after-school program than white children. Overall, girls are participating in the programs at slightly lower rates than boys, according to the report.

In Illinois, 55 percent of parents consider STEM when selecting an after-school program, and 65 percent said STEM opportunities are offered in their child’s program. The U.S. Department of Education projected that STEM jobs would grow at a faster rate than other jobs by 2020.

The report also found that nationwide STEM programs are more prominent in urban communities than rural and suburban areas, and math and science are more commonly offered than technology and engineering.

A few more things One of the two dozen MacArthur “geniuses” named this week is Juan Salgado, president and CEO of Instituto del Progreso Latino, which focuses on educating Hispanic immigrants in Chicago. “What we do in Instituto is we believe that any learner can become basically a college student — that if you’re at a 4th-grade, 6th-grade reading level and you’re an immigrant mom, you can become a registered nurse, a master’s degree nurse,” Salgado told NPR earlier this week. Apart from its adult education programs, Instituto also has an alternative school and a charter school focusing on health care.

And our long-read recommendation for the week comes from The Hechinger Report, which took a look at how New York City has put small high schools on the back burner after seeing improvements  — as well as some unintended negative consequences. (Small schools were rolled out so quickly, one study found, that in some parts of the city larger high schools became “dumping grounds” with large enrollment increases.)

Small-school initiatives funded with more than $2 billion from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have seen mixed results across the country. Back in 2010, the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research found that the 23 small high schools opened in Chicago facilitated closer relationships among students and adults and had a positive effect on graduation rates, but didn’t see significant improvements in student test scores.

  • Concerned Parent

    A charter will locate in an AUSL run school. The cannibalization grows.

  • NBCT Vet

    Why have the last two Catalyst articles about intensely controversial charter expansion featured photos of Noble supporters?

    Also, asking a few questions at these rallies and protests and public meetings would show that the vast majority of Noble supporters come from outside the Brighton Park area while thousands of those opposed are from the community itself.