What’s new at Austin High

The going rate is $225,000 for a program that serves about 150 students for 72 hours each. Leaving nothing to the school, Sylvan rehabs classrooms to meet its specifications, and then fills them with a standard set of books, computers, tables, chairs and even wall posters. The company hires and trains its own teachers, each of whom works with only three students at a time. Each student is given a battery of standardized tests that determines which books and which exercises they’ll work on. Each hour, students enter their room through one door, sit in an assigned seat, do the assigned work for the day, and leave through a second door.

Removal violates teacher rights, union delegate charges

The school’s remediation planning team recommended last May that new teachers make up a third of Austin’s faculty for the 1995-96 school year. At the time, however, there were a number of vacancies, so the recommendation did not necessarily require displacement of current faculty members. The team further recommended that any restaffing be done by a team of Austin teachers, who would be given special training. However, no such training took place, and no teachers conducted any interviews, Pyster says.

Austin High School recovering after ‘reform from hell’

“This reform was reform from hell,” says Gloria Walton, a teacher who worked all summer on plans to change the school, only to be cut from the faculty Sept. 1. And she wasn’t alone; more than 15 teachers, most of whom had done program planning over the summer, were dismissed at the 11th hour, leaving a total of 14 teaching positions covered by day-to-day substitutes when school opened—and plans for a new Austin in shambles.

A case study

Responding to the notion that instruction should be aligned with the Chicago Learning Outcomes—a set of achievement goals developed by teachers under a joint venture of the previous Board of Education, the Chicago Teachers Union and the highly regarded Washington, D.C.-based Council for Basic Education—Locke’s faculty developed outcomes for every subject at every grade. It also listed activities to promote each outcome.

‘Pathways’ codifies common sense

Called “Pathways to Achievement,” the framework aims to focus school planning in five areas that a body of research says are key to good schooling. They are: school leadership, a student-centered learning environment, parent and community partnerships, professional development and collaboration, and a quality instructional program.

Pathways also lists “best practices” for each area. For example, a best practice for school leadership is that local school councils meet regularly, and a best practice for a student-centered learning climate is that schools are safe for students and respectful of all cultures in the school community.

‘Intervention’ talks softly, carries big stick

Under the new law, a four-year pilot program gives the School Reform Board of Trustees power to intervene at “chronically underperforming schools.” That means the Chief Executive Officer can select a new principal for a school (for no longer than two years), fire the old staff, and allow the new principal to hire an entirely new staff. New local school council elections also can be ordered.

New York chancellor takes over 16 schools

Last month, Rudy Crew, the new chancellor of New York City’s public schools, took direct control of that city’s 16 most troubled schools. Some of the schools may be broken up into small schools; at others, principals and faculties could be dismissed, according to the Oct. 20 New York Times.

School ‘crisis’ policy sparks debate

School reform advocates contend the Reform Board has assumed too much power. (See letter.) They also say the school community should have been consulted before the policy was adopted. Their criticism prompted Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas to put a Dec. 31 sunset date on the policy and hold hearings to see if it should be amended. (The final hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at Chicago Vocational High School, 2100 E. 87th.)

A Learning Outcomes sampler

Students should be able to do the following :

Interpret, analyze, and critique the literal and non-literal messages in oral and written texts that represent different cultures.

Appraise the work of self and others and reassess one’s own thinking, speaking, and writing, using new understandings.

Speak and write, using standard conventions in a well-organized and coherent manner appropriate to a variety of audiences and purposes.

Write narrative, descriptive, expository, and persuasive material for different purposes and audiences, using all stages of the writing process.

Board asserts new power over schools

When the Legislature overhauled the Chicago School Reform Act last spring, it gave the new School Reform Board of Trustees more authority to hold schools accountable. (See story online in Catalyst, September 1995.) Only two months into its tenure, the board is asserting these new powers.

For one, so-called “intervention teams” from central office have begun visiting each of the 149 schools that failed to meet state achievement goals for the past three years. The administration plans to pair up the schools with universities and other institutions to help them improve; so far, the schools say they welcome the attention.

How Dallas created accountability

AUG ’91

Citing technical problems, the school system’s research chief recommends postponing the use of the accountability system to evaluate teachers; the School Board votes for the postponement.

SEP ’91

The School Board approves the commission’s report and recommendations.

MAY ’92

Kress and another commission member win seats on the nine-member School Board, as do other candidates who backed the commission’s proposals.

IN DALLAS

The occasion was the fourth annual Excellence in Education ceremony honoring winners of the Dallas Independent School District’s School Performance Improvement Awards. But the hoopla was only icing on the cake for principals and teachers at the 26 schools, who already had received $1,000 bonuses. Other staff members got $500, and the schools’ activity accounts got $2,000.

Sample assessment items/Performance levels

At this highest level, the student has deep understanding of the concept or process and can complete all important parts of the task. The student can communicate well, think concretely and abstractly, and analyze and interpret data.

Proficient

The student understands the major concepts, can do almost all of the task, and can communicate concepts clearly.

Apprentice

The student has gained more understanding and can do some important parts of the task.

History of Kentucky’s new tests

’90

Kentucky Education Reform Act requires that a primarily performance-based student assessment system be used in grades 4, 8 and 12 to hold schools accountable for improving the academic performance of their students.

’91-’92

Writing portfolios introduced in grades 4, 8 and 12.

Written tests with essay questions in reading, writing, science, mathematics and social studies administered in grades 4, 8 and 12.

Performance events in math, science and social studies administered to samples of students in grades 4, 8 and 12.

Results of testing used to establish baseline performance level for every school in the state.

IN KENTUCKY

Like many schools in the persistently poor Appalachian region of eastern Kentucky, Sandy Hook Elementary traditionally had to do without or had to do with somebody else’s castoffs. For years, Sandy Hook and other schools in Elliott County routinely received truckloads of worn, outdated school supplies from around the country, recalls Principal Claudette Green.

Common ground on testing

First, Barbara Sizemore is right. Children do need to know how to take standardized, multiple-choice tests because that’s what this society uses as the ticket to higher education and many jobs. So schools need to teach students that these tests are important. However, every college entrance and job exam we’re familiar with requires reasoning. Both the ACT and SAT are aptitude tests that involve ways of thinking and approaching problems. Even the police sergeant’s exam requires application of knowledge. A school accountability system that relies only on tests of basic skills isn’t going to serve Chicago’s children very well in the long run.

Comings and goings

THE NEW REGIME, COMMUNICATIONS Robin Matell, who has 30 years experience in crisis and employee communications, is the new director of internal communications. For the past year he has been an independent public relations consultant doing pro bono work for the school system as part of the T.I.M.E. Project. Previously, he was vice president of public relations for the American Medical Association and, before that, vice president of corporate communications for Eastern Airlines. Salary: $79,900. … Fred Lowe, former a Chicago Sun-Times business writer for nine years, is writing, editing and producing The Chicago Educator, a new employee newspaper. Salary: $70,000. … Tabrina Davis, former acting director of public affairs at Cook County Hospital, has been appointed public information officer. Salary: $65,000 . … Aurelio Huertas is the new deputy public information officer; previously, he was managing editor of City Schools, a new research-based quarterly of the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

Walsh running against Reece for CTU president

“We must make the decision to become part of the conversation about change in Chicago education, or we can continue, under this leadership, going down the road where having a say about improving education is not our job, but management’s job,” says Walsh, who worked for eight years in the American Federation of Teachers’ national headquarters in Washington, D.C. before returning to Chicago to open the Quest Center in 1992.

Proposed state Chapter 1 guidelines

Consultants

The Consultant Services form (specifying relevance to the School Improvement Plan, selection criteria, impact on student achievement and evaluation plan) must accompany the request for consultant services.

The Chicago Board of Education policy regarding indebtedness must be complied with prior to hiring consultants.

Spending restrictions rile advocates, but win some school support

Reform advocates cite two concerns. For one, the guidelines, which include a mix of spending restrictions and documentation requirements, were assembled quickly without public discussion about the problems they were designed to address.

“It would have been a lot easier to deal with the issue if they had come to us and said, we think we need to have something on state Chapter 1,” says Sheila Castillo, coordinator of the Chicago Association of Local School Councils.

Second, reformers object to central office putting itself in the position of deciding, even in limited areas, how schools should or should not use their own discretionary dollars.

Weeks into school year, board shuffles millions among schools

“I expected maybe $100,000 would be cut,” says Wilfredo Ortiz, principal of Lowell Elementary School. “Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to lose $415,000. And that was on top of $75,000 I lost in state Chapter 1.”

Lowell’s allocation went from $758,000 last year to $343,591 this year. “We found out about the actual cut at a regional meeting after school had started, and I had already hired people whom I never would have hired if I’d known this cut was coming,” Ortiz relates. “We cut all our after-school programs and enrichment programs. We had to close about six teaching positions. We had to close a computer lab funded through Title 1. We lost a school/community representative. We have no equipment money, no money for supplies, no money for field trips, transportation, furniture, summer school, no money for remediation.”

‘Educational crisis’ guidelines set system on wrong course

The policy fails to ensure due process and sets no procedures for a fair investigation. A school being considered for the “educational crisis” designation must have the right to know the charges against it, be allowed to respond and have a right to appeal—the same basic rights as someone who is given a parking ticket. Under this policy, a school has none of these rights. Instead, it contains 16 vague criteria allowing the chief executive officer to declare a school in “crisis,” including one criterion that, in effect, includes “anything else I forgot to mention.”

The General Assembly already has given the board authority to move swiftly to discipline or remove individual LSC members, principals and other staff who abuse their position. The board does not need to declare a school in “crisis” to take quick, effective action against such individuals.

‘Gale Chronicles’ give one-sided view of school

We regret that a picture was painted of Gale Community Academy as a school where teacher and staff are concerned only with payroll issues and where students were “packed” into rooms. The Gale Community Academy is a center for education, socialization and recreation in an impoverished community. It is a family of many diverse people working together. Here again, Mr. Weissmann missed his mark. All struggles for empowerment and change involve dissent and disillusionment. But we at Gale, like so many others working for school improvement, are united enough to withstand the “heat of battle.”