Beneath the hoopla, however, is serious business: getting schools to include independent reading sessions in their school improvement plans and establish links with nearby libraries, getting teachers to set up “reading corners” in their classrooms and getting parents and community members involved in children’s reading activities. Parents sign forms confirming that their children have read books outside class, and community members—sometimes celebrities—serve as guest readers.
Gage Park’s local school council ordered Principal Audrey Donaldson to root through the school’s budget to fund an extra bus for the regular summer school students. She did, but it turned out not to be necessary. Enrollment was lower than usual this year, and Donaldson says that most students who enrolled got to Lindblom on their own. Between the buses and some coordinated planning by both schools, the summer at Lindblom went by without a hitch.
If all parents were to adopt this attitude, and their wishes acceded too, we would return to the segregated classrooms of the all-too-recent past. Public schools are enriched by the diversity of the student body and the faculty. All I want for my children in the Chicago Public Schools are good teachers in safe schools. I do not care about race, religion, gender or national origin of my children’s teachers; what I do care about is their desire to teach my children. I am concerned about what my children learn and not who teaches them.
HIGH SCHOOL REORGANIZATION Created just last year, the Department of High School Services and Support has been reorganized. Now called the Unit of High School Reorganization, it continues under the direction of Powhatan Collins. … Jacqueline Simmons, assistant to Collins, has retired. … Beverly LaCoste, principal of Kenwood High, is the new director of high school restructuring, replacing Tam Hill, who returned to Calumet High as principal. … Linda Layne, who headed up articulation, is now director of the new College Bridge Program.
Students say they carry them for protection going to and from school, reports Lt. Andres Durbak, head of the School Patrol Unit. “And we found that girls are found carrying knives as many times or more than boys.
“We’re not taking about a machetetype weapon,” he adds, “but they may grab something like a paring knife in the kitchen on their way out the door.”
Arrests for the use, possession or sale of knives rose from 239 in 1992-93 to 355 in 1995-96. At the same time, the number of guns recovered, mainly in high schools, dropped to 19, from 128 in 1990-91, the year police officers were assigned to schools and metal detectors installed.
The election campaign at Gale was a hard-fought, acrimonious battle between two slates of parents and community members—one African-American; the other Latino. Following an intensive get-out-the-vote drive, the five Latino candidates emerged as the top vote-getters, with three members of the black slate taking the remaining parent and community seats. (See Catalyst, June 1996.)
Now, the custodian’s union has filed a grievance because fired workers who take the privatized jobs will have their hourly wages cut from $11 an hour to $9 an hour—a loss of about $320 per month for a 40-hour week.
Board officials counter that the custodians, who had been classified as day-to-day or substitute workers, will receive health insurance and other benefits they didn’t have as board employees. Those benefits are worth about $4 an hour, bringing total compensation to $13 an hour—$2 more than previously, board officials say.
Last year, as the board began putting together its 1996-97 budget, Congress was threatening to cut back federal Title I funds, so the board cut back schools’ preliminary Title I allocations by 10 percent. But Congress eventually backed off, and Chicago received roughly the same amount of money as last year, $182 million, reports Budget Director Chris Hoagland.
After a rigorous application process, three high schools and 13 elementary schools won either for improving academic achievement or for setting up model parent and community programs. Academic winners had been promised $23,000 for last school year and $70,000 during 1996-97; those that won for model programs were to receive $11,000 and $35,000, respectively.
The tension increased in 1991, however, when the district mandated a literature-based, whole language approach, and Wesley Principal Thaddeus Lott refused to abandon phonics-based DI. Soon, two officials from central office showed up to search a Wesley classroom for evidence of cheating. Again, they came up empty-handed. But this time, Wesley’s community rose up in arms, charging racism. The superintendent apologized publicly. And, in a fateful turn of events, ABC-TV’s “Prime Time” picked up on the story.
In most field tests, teachers try out material in their classrooms and write evaluations. Since that is time-consuming and the cost of printing expensive, a major publisher might send out only a few units per grade level, according to a longtime industry executive, who asked not to be identified. And when publication deadlines are tight, she says, “You might not field test at all.”
At the close of the 1995-96 school year, enthusiasm for Direct Instruction was running high at Herzl Elementary in North Lawndale. The school implemented DI reading in the primary grades only last November and immediately saw a substantial increase in the percentage of 3rd-graders meeting or exceeding state goals in reading—from 38 percent in 1995 to 58 percent in 1996.
Carnegie Elementary School serves some 385 pupils in Woodlawn; about 97 percent come from low-income homes. In 1995, about 20 percent of Carnegie’s 3rd-graders scored above the national average in reading comprehension. A year ago, Carnegie’s state pre-kindergarten received accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Each class has 16 pupils.
In one observational study, researchers Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley of the University of Kansas found that parents who were professionals spent 50 percent more time talking with their 1- and 2-year-olds than did parents who were on welfare. By the time the children turned 3, the vocabulary of the children in professional families far outstripped the vocabulary of the children in welfare families—1,100 words to 600 words. And I.Q. scores, a traditional measure of intelligence, reflected this difference.
Critique of Direct Instruction
In April, the Chicago Metropolitan Association for the Education of Young Children, fired off a letter to Vallas stating that DISTAR’s “rote learning” went against the teaching practices recommended by major professional organizations. (DI is short for DISTAR, which originally stood for Direct Instruction System for Teaching Arithmetic and Reading.) In June, Parents United for Responsible Education surveyed Chicago preschools to see whether they had been asked to adopt DI, which some educators deem especially inappropriate for preschoolers.
Reading Elizabeth Duffrin’s explanation and descriptions of Direct Instruction, we found ourselves nodding: Well, yes, a lot of that makes sense. Then, as we read her explanation and descriptions of the progressive approach to teaching reading, we again found ourselves nodding: Well, yes, a lot of that makes sense, too. Our conclusion: Schools need more time, especially in the early grades, so that DI can be part of a varied instructional program.