Schools buckle down despite confusion

As part of its ongoing coverage of probation, CATALYST Associate Editor Debra Williams solicited the opinions and observations of several parents and teachers. An edited transcript follows. In the next Opinions article, Catalyst staffer Jason Grotto recaps a discussion he had with four students from three high schools that are on probation.

Students see pluses, minuses in probation

None of the students believe standardized tests are a good way to measure students or schools. “We had some kids do really well,” says Latisha. “And the ones that didn’t it’s not because they couldn’t have done well, it’s just that if they didn’t feel like taking the test, they just marked whatever they wanted to on it. And some teachers would look at what they were doing and say, ‘Well, you weren’t going to do anything anyway,’ and they’d just walk on. But since we’ve been put on probation, they’ve had to buckle down.”

Board stirs budget pot, teachers press for changes

MAR 20 School waits while board mulls money.

At 8 a.m., nine members of Gladstone’s local school council gather in the school’s “multipurpose room,” formerly a classroom but now used for meetings, storage and office space. The task at hand is to review drafts of the 1997 school improvement plan (SIP) and school budget. Both are due in central office April 30th.

Comings and goings

QUEST CONFERENCE Linda Darling Hammond, executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, will be the keynote speaker at the annual conference of the Chicago Teachers Union Quest Center, “What Matters Most: Education and Chicago’s Future.” The conference will be held May 9 and 10 at the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza, 350 N. Orleans. For registration fees and other information, call Leticia Martinez at (312) 329-6272.

Schools buckle down despite confusion

Probation has caused mass confusion at our school. We were placed on probation in September, but the team didn’t come to the school until the first week in November. In the meantime, we were told not to do anything, so we put everything on hold. Later, when we were asked if we had an external partner, we said we didn’t because we didn’t know we were supposed to look for one. We thought the board was going to assign one.

Rich districts get poverty money, too

In Chicago, 80 percent of the students are free-lunch eligible, yet the school district gets only $500 per low-income child.

And in south suburban Posen-Robbins, where 86 percent qualify, the per-pupil Title I allotment is just $390.

Such are the vagaries of a complex federal Title I formula that guarantees money for virtually every school district in the country, regardless of the wealth of its student body or the depth of its resources. The only districts that don’t get money are those that have fewer than 10 low-income children or whose enrollment is less than 2 percent low income

Schoolwide programs catching on fast

Instead of spending the money only on their lowest-scoring students, these schools now are spending it to bolster their schools as a whole or to expand the range of students who get special attention. Hiring more teachers to reduce class size has been a popular use. And computer labs and other programs that once were restricted now are open to all students.

Magnets also losing out

By the fall of 1998, Turner-Drew Language, located in Roseland, will lose $142,900; Black Magnet in Calumet Heights will lose $155,400; and Disney Magnet in Uptown will lose $287,100. Beasley Magnet, located across the street from Robert Taylor Homes, took the biggest hit. By the end of next year, the school will lose $467,900.

High schools lost the most in new formula

A couple of factors are responsible. First, the new formula gives greater weight to the number of students at a school who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. And older kids are less likely than younger children to turn in the required forms, say school officials, speculating they may be embarrassed to line up for a subsidized lunch.

Old, new formulas

Under the old formula, a school’s poverty rate was determined by a combination of two factors: the number of children in the school who were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches and the number of children in the surrounding community whose parents received Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits. Each factor was given equal weight.

Title I wins confidence, not so probation

Hispanic leaders long have complained that the formula Chicago used to distribute some $125 million in Title I each year was stacked against them. By relying heavily on welfare data, the formula overlooked poor Hispanics who don’t qualify because of their immigrant status, advocates argued. In 1995, a group of principals from largely Hispanic schools petitioned the Reform Board to take up the issue. The administration then pulled together a task force of knowledgeable individuals, gave it time for serious work and accepted its recommendations even though they create some problems of their own.