Take 5: State ed budget, CTU walk-ins, switch to SAT

Print More
Students, teachers and others participated in a "walk-in" at Hernandez Middle School in Gage Park on Wednesday, Feb. 17.

Photo courtesy Chicago Teachers Union

Students, teachers and others participated in a "walk-in" at Hernandez Middle School in Gage Park on Wednesday, Feb. 17.

In his second annual budget address Wednesday, Gov. Bruce Rauner acknowledged that state lawmakers may not support many of his proposals — there still isn’t agreement about the current year’s budget — but he stressed that education should remain a shared priority. As he did last year, Rauner called for funding schools through a “standalone” bill that’s separate from the budget.

Rauner proposes to fully fund the so-called “foundation level” of $6,119 per-pupil spending for K-12 education — something the state hasn’t done in years. In total the governor is proposing a $565 million increase to the Illinois State Board of Education’s budget.

In addition, he wants $75 million more for early childhood education funding, which he says would create nearly 3,000 additional full-day preschool slots.

Before Rauner took office last January, the state told the federal government it would increase early childhood spending by $50 million over each of the next five years as part of its successful application for a preschool expansion grant. Illinois fell short of this promise last year, adding just $25 million to early education and putting federal dollars at risk.

Rauner’s proposal also calls for slight funding increases for special education, college and career readiness, and the state’s charter commission; no changes to spending on bilingual education and career and technical programs; and cuts for Advanced Placement, after-school programs and Teach for America. Higher education wasn’t addressed.

In his speech, Rauner called out Chicago Public Schools, where CEO Forrest Claypool has been insisting that the state pay into the teachers’ pensions as it does for other Illinois districts. Rauner said that each year, CPS receives $600 million more than other school districts with similar demographics. He added that a district that takes money from another is “doomed to fail.”

Claypool called Rauner’s remarks “extraordinarily disappointing.” In his own press conference, Claypool said CPS needed to “redouble our efforts to work with the Legislature to fix this system.”

2. CTU “walk-ins” … Without pension relief from Springfield — or a contract with the Chicago Teachers Union — Claypool promised $26 million in mid-year cuts for schools in the coming weeks, with more significant cuts to come next school year. Teachers, students and parents protested the planned cuts as they “walked in” to some 200 schools on Wednesday. The walk-ins were organized by the union as part of a national movement that calls for increased educational funding.

At Locke Elementary, in the Montclare neighborhood on the Northwest Side, about 200 people — mostly students who’d arrived early for school — marched around the building, shouting for more funding for schools. As they walked, seventh-graders Kaitlynn Rodriguez and Yadira Lopez described the school’s fundraising efforts for a new playground or turf field to replace what’s now an empty lot. Lopez says there’s no money for sports teams, like her volleyball team, to travel to compete against other schools. “So all we do is practice here and play against each other,” she said.

The walk-ins were also meant to generate support for the union during ongoing contract negotiations with the district. The two sides have been talking regularly since the union’s “big bargaining team” rejected the latest offer from the district. “I really believe that there is more that our schools could get,” said Locke teacher Kinga Baut. “I think there has to be a compromise made on both sides … but we have given up already so much.”

3. Expelling black students … Charter schools continue to expel students at disproportionately high rates, when compared to district-run schools. And black students are still disproportionately disciplined in both district-run and charter schools, according to the latest data from the 2014-15 school year.

Last school year, black students made up just over half of charter school enrollment, but accounted for 82 percent of charter expulsions. Similarly, black students accounted for just over a third of students at district-run schools, but 76 percent of expulsions. Meanwhile, no white students were expelled at either type of school last year.

Total expulsions:

2013-14 actual number 2014-15 actual number 2013-14 rate per 100 students 2014-15 rate per 100 students
all students (district-run) 114 79 .04 .03
all students (charters) 312 315 .11 .11
white students (district-run) 0 0 0 0
white students (charters) 4 0 .01 0
black students (district-run) 99 60 .09 .05
black students (charters) 233 259 .2 .24
Latino students (district-run) 14 18 .01 .01
Latino students (charters) 72 54 .05 .04

At district-run schools, out-of-school suspensions dropped to about 24,000 from nearly 50,000 the year before (the figures include multiple suspensions of the same student). Black students made up more than 70 percent of those suspensions.

CPS officials celebrated an overall decline in suspension and expulsion numbers, and pointed toward increased use of restorative justice practices. Still, Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson told the Sun-Times “it’s clear that much progress has been made, but much work remains to reduce punitive discipline rates for African-American students.”

As in previous years, the district does not have detailed discipline data for charter schools, which don’t use the CPS Student Code of Conduct and are allowed to expel students for lesser offenses than district-run schools.

A report last fall from the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research found that students with a documented history of being abused or neglected are much more likely to be suspended than their peers.

4. Out with the ACT … The state of Illinois announced late last week that the ACT testing company lost an administrative appeal, which means that the exam will no longer be given to all high school juniors. Now the state is preparing to offer the SAT instead — even though there is no money in the current year’s budget to offer the test free of charge.

In Chicago, school district officials have already said they’ll administer the ACT this year — much to the relief of anxious juniors who were unsure what test to study for. Officials have not said how the cash-strapped district will pay for the assessment. More than 90 other Illinois districts have also agreed to offer the ACT this year, the Tribune reports.

According to EdWeek, Illinois is one of several states with longstanding relationships with ACT that have made the switch to the SAT, which has just undergone one of the most substantial redesigns in its history.

“Chief among the changes, experts say: longer and harder reading passages and more words in math problems,” according to a recent story in the New York Times. “The shift is leading some educators and college admissions officers to fear that the revised test will penalize students who have not been exposed to a lot of reading, or who speak a different language at home — like immigrants and the poor.”

5. Play and preschool … WBEZ’s Morning Shift explored the importance of play for preschoolers this week by speaking with an early childhood expert who authored a new book on the subject, and the director of an outdoor preschool program in North Park.

Erika Christakis, who wrote “The Importance of Being Little,” told the radio station that while a growing body of research suggests young children learn best when they’re engaged in active, exploratory and relations-based play, that can be at odds with the actual experience of preschoolers. Christakis says that’s due to a combination of factors, including higher academic standards, the increased role of technology in the classroom and less time for children to play, work in mixed-age groups, and be outdoors.

At the North Park Village Nature Center, a city park on the Northwest Side, Teresa Weed directs a program with about 40 preschool students who never set foot inside a building. Instead, they spend four hours a day in the forest and prairie, even in the winter. The “forest school” model is popular in Germany, the U.K. and Scandinavia, Weed told WBEZ, but it’s only recently started to catch on in the United States. Weed says students work on numbers and language and have “unstructured” play time with items the school provides, such as rope, wood, tools and cooking equipment. The goal is for children to collaborate, experiment and work on social interaction skills.

A few last notes … After the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, an important case about public-union fees is now in limbo, EdWeek reports. The court was expected to rule against unions representing teachers and other public employees. But it’s now likely the vote will be a tie, which would mean a lower court ruling to permit the collection of fees would be upheld. If that happens, no precedent would be set and the Supreme Court could take up the issue in the future, once it has nine justices again.

Former CPS teacher Eve Ewing takes a look at the fight to save Chicago State University, a traditionally black institution in Roseland that declared a financial emergency in the wake of the state budget crisis. The school’s plight has flown under the radar, partially because CSU doesn’t have the cachet of being a historically black university. Ewing writes that students “don’t get the attention afforded to black students protesting at elite predominantly-white institutions, nor do they get the rallying cry of history, heritage, and brotherhood/sisterhood they might garner at an HBCU.”

The New York Times has a fascinating glimpse at a small initiative to keep good schools in gentrifying neighborhoods diverse — by giving preference to students who are poor, learning English or have relatives in jail. Meanwhile The Atlantic magazine has a story on how more school districts are shifting toward policies that use socioeconomic status as a factor in school assignment. Still, the vast majority of America’s children attend racially and socioeconomically homogenous schools.

WBEZ’s Morning Shift interviewed Amundsen Principal Anna Pavichevich for its “Working Shift” series about what a “typical” work day looks like for a CPS principal. Pavichevich described the job as unpredictable — “There are no two days that are the same” — and says she sometimes works from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Last month, Catalyst featured another principal, Dana Butler from Ruiz Elementary, in a feature about the day in the life of a veteran CPS principal.