Take 5: No May strike, migrant children, achievement gap analysis, summer jobs

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Chicago Teachers Union members and  supporters marched to Daley Plaza on Feb. 4, demanding a fair contract and no further cuts. The union does not plan to strike before the end of the school year, but instead will push for new revenue sources.

Photo by Max Herman

Chicago Teachers Union members and supporters marched to Daley Plaza on Feb. 4, demanding a fair contract and no further cuts. The union does not plan to strike before the end of the school year, but instead will push for new revenue sources.

No strike, for now. As expected, the Chicago Teachers Union isn’t planning to go on strike before the end of the school year and instead will continue to push for new revenue for the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools.

“We’ve made a serious play about getting the schools funded. We have to watch that play out,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said after Wednesday’s House of Delegates meeting, according to the Tribune.

Still, union leaders said they’re prepared to file a 10-day notice to go on strike if the district unilaterally decides to stop paying the so-called “pension pick-up.” At that point, the CTU would call for an emergency delegates meeting to set a strike date.

Also on Wednesday, the union issued what Crain’s Greg Hinz called a “$500 million wish list” of revenue-raising proposals for the city, including new taxes on gas, ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, hotels and car rentals. A city spokeswoman chided the union for asking Chicago taxpayers “to pony up more money,” saying the real problem is in Springfield. “Of all organizations, the Chicago Teachers Union should understand how students and taxpayers are being shortchanged by the current funding system in Springfield,” she said.

No school for migrant kids. Federal law guarantees that public education is open to all children, regardless of immigration status. But in at least 35 districts in 14 states, unaccompanied minors from Central America have been kept from enrolling in schools, which turned them away because they didn’t have transcripts or were too old to graduate on time, according to an Associated Press investigation.

Those that were not completely barred were sent to alternative programs with courses that don’t count for credits — a violation of federal law. Some migrants as young as 16 were sent to adult programs instead of high schools to enroll in GED and English as a Second Language courses.

“Some students who come from other countries may be far behind, but that doesn’t allow the school district to say that you will never succeed so we will put you in our least challenging environment, forever,” John Affeldt, managing attorney with San Francisco-based civil rights nonprofit Public Advocates told the Associated Press.

In 2014, a year when some 40,000 Central American refugee children flooded into the U.S., Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated the city would “do our part to ensure that these children are given access to services and treated fairly and humanely.” Last year approximately 124 unaccompanied youth arrived in Cook County. The AP story did not address whether these children in Chicago were getting a proper education.

Behind the achievement gap. Data from the Stanford Education Data Archive offer another in-depth look at the race- and income-based achievement disparities between students in wealthy and low-income districts across the country, with some poor children falling six grade levels below their richer counterparts.

CPS’ students were around one grade level behind the national average.

The data, made interactive in a piece by the New York Times, showed that white students consistently score higher than black and Latino students, even in wealthier districts. In fact, some of the largest gaps were found there, with north suburban Evanston at the top of the list. White students in Evanston were almost four grade levels ahead of black and Latino students, who both scored just below grade level.

Within districts, students of color are more likely to come from lower-income homes than their white peers. But socioeconomic status wasn’t the only factor in the racial gap: Even among students from similar financial backgrounds, white students tend to score higher.

This racial gap may be due to teacher bias, with black and Latino children only about half as likely to be recommended for gifted programs that could help them raise their achievement.

Creating summer jobs. Efforts to lower youth unemployment and crime rates in Chicago continued last week with a proposal from the Black United Fund, which called for the state to spend $40 million on summer jobs in low-income areas.

The proposal came from Black United Fund’s new Henry English Summer Youth Employment Program, announced last Thursday, to create 32,000 jobs this summer for Illinois youth ages 16 to 24.

“Chicago has had more than a thousand shootings this year and it’s not even summer yet,” said Nkrumah English, the fund’s interim CEO and son of the program’s namesake. “Let’s prevent tragedy and get our young people off the streets and into jobs.” English cited a 2014 University of Chicago Crime Lab study showing a 43 percent reduction in violent incidents over a six-month period when One Summer Chicago, a program that creates youth jobs, was operating. The program didn’t get its promised funding last year, when violence went up.

“We’re saying, given the fact that this violence is spreading in an epidemic way in Chicago, over a thousand people afflicted from gun violence, that $19 or $20 million is not enough,” said Conrad Worrill, a close friend of the late Henry English and board member of Illinois Black United Fund. “We need $40 million.”

What teachers think. A recent national report from Teach Plus, a nonprofit dedicated to creating leader teachers, said teachers who are given autonomy in when and how to conduct test preparation are more likely to view it as a valuable use of classroom time.

Teachers who said their test prep time was “about right” or “too little” (45 percent) spent half of that time on prep activities that they chose themselves. In contrast, teachers who thought “too much” time was spent on test prep got to choose their activities less than a third of the time.

Meanwhile, more than three-fourths of teachers nationwide don’t believe school districts take their voices into account when making decisions, according to a recent Center on Education Policy report. As a result, teachers’ satisfaction with their jobs has declined.

Around half of teachers said that they would leave teaching if another higher-paying or less stressful job was available to them. “The last decade has been a turbulent time for many teachers,” said Maria Ferguson, CEP’s executive director. “Teachers seem to be growing weary of the demands being placed on them and the inability to get their voices heard.”

Teachers also said that smaller classes, more prep time and fewer tests would make their jobs more satisfying and classrooms more efficient.