When Catalyst Chicago went to press with this issue, lawmakers in Springfield had finally passed a stopgap budget that will let schools open in the fall, in Chicago and in other districts that had sounded the alarm about possible shutdowns. After a year-long stalemate, the temporary budget will allow the wheels of state government to continue turning for a time. But there’s no reason to breathe a sigh of relief, at least for longer than a few seconds.
Charter schools present the most controversial and divisive issue I’ve encountered in 36 years of education reporting. Supporters passionately defend charters, and opponents fiercely attack them, leaving little room for rational consideration of their merits and shortcomings, and what role they might best play in a school district’s game plan. In this issue, we hope to bring some measure of clarity to the debate by illuminating the issues through the experiences of one charter network and school communities that have rallied to compete against charters.
I’m often asked — by friends, television hosts, people I’ve just met — whether Chicago’s public schools have gotten any better after decades of reform. I know they’d like a simple yes or no, but I find neither satisfying. Rather, it’s been more like yes and no, or two steps forward, one step back.
The Chicago Public Education Fund supports projects meant to be scaled up as part of the school system. In recent years, it has also paid consultants to conduct searches for top district staff and to help develop plans for the district. Its board includes some of the richest and most influential people in the city. No one outside The Fund’s staff and board of directors know how it decides which programs to support, what the results have been and how or whether the results are communicated to CPS.
With support from the non-profit OneGoal and a lot of hard work and long days during high school, Breyana Floyd made it from her rough Austin neighborhood to quiet Monmouth College, a tiny liberal arts school in western Illinois. Reading her story, you hope and pray she makes it to senior year and graduation. If she does, Breyana will become an all-too-rare success story.
Five months from now, Chicago voters will go to the polls to choose whether to send Mayor Rahm Emanuel back to City Hall for another term. It’s no secret that Emanuel is not popular right now among Chicagoans. But whether or not another candidate can ride the wave of discontent into the mayor’s office is still a big question mark.
Jesus Velazquez got caught at school with a marijuana pipe in his backpack. What happened next is exactly what shouldn’t take place if a school district’s goal—or, from a larger perspective, a community’s goal—is to get kids who make dumb mistakes back on track. Jesus was suspended for 10 days, referred for an expulsion hearing and sent to a diversion program instead of being expelled. He ended up failing most of his sophomore classes and is now facing a fifth year in high school. Surely this was a case in which a non-punitive response—mandatory drug education or participation in community service—made better sense.
Sometimes a telling story emerges virtually by accident. That’s what happened with our report on teacher attrition at turnaround schools, published in this issue of Catalyst In Depth. Deputy Editor Sarah Karp was poring over state teacher service records and noticed that, surprisingly, teacher turnover didn’t end once a turnaround was in place. Not only did most existing teachers disappear with the turnaround—a process that requires teachers and other staff to reapply for their jobs—but most of the hand-picked teachers who replaced the veterans quickly vanished too.
When Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced in 2012 that the district would open 10 International Baccalaureate programs in high schools across the city, a small but telling detail didn’t make the news: The IB’s then-new Career Certificate program, designed to give students a rigorous IB-style education while tailoring coursework to their career interests, would be a cornerstone of the “wall-to-wall” programs.
Any adult who was successful in school will likely remember that their parents played a defining role in that success. What happens during the roughly six-hour school day is only part of the learning equation. Who else but a parent or guardian will make sure children attend school and complete their homework?