Slatemaking for officers of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA) was one of many school activities that got postponed by Chicago’s early March snow storm. Even so, when the rescheduled session was held Mar. 12, only seven of the 13 nominating committee members showed up. In a vote of 4 to 3, they rejected the group’s president, Beverly Tunney, forcing her to run as a challenger.
In Chicago, the nationally normed Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and their high school counterpart, the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency, have taken on greater importance because they’re used to decide which students must go to summer school and which ones get retained. They’re also used to decide which schools will go on remediation or promotion and which will be reconstituted.
In 1992, the local school council at Darwin Elementary School in Logan Square won an award from Ameritech for its efforts to improve the school. By the end of the year, council wars were raging, sending the school into a four-year tailspin. The school went through three principals in three years, and test scores faltered. When the battles ended in 1996, Darwin was on remediation and not far from probation.
The local school council at Locke Elementary School in Belmont-Cragin gets high marks from all quarters. A local community organizer says it’s the most well organized council in that part of the city. A DePaul University professor who works with dozens of schools uses it to describe how an LSC ought to work. And the Chicago Association of Local School Councils gave it an award last year for investing in staff development.
At Lozano Bilingual Elementary in West Town, local control has brought an opportunity for students to stay at the school through 9th grade—the year when they are at the highest risk for dropping out. Parents had pressed for the extra year, and the school won an OK from central office. Since the program started in September 1996, none of its participants has dropped out.
TEMP WORK Gage Park High School Principal Audrey Donaldson is on loan to the Washington, D.C. school system, where she is serving as assistant superintendent until June 30; her job is to help the district restructure itself and, according to the Chicago board report granting her leave, “replicate the success of the Chicago Public Schools.” Assistant Principal Frank Lacey is serving as the school’s interim principal. … Wendy Jo Harmston, an activist and former organizer with North River Commission, is acting director of professional development at the Chicago Association of Local School Councils.
PURE offers support to parents
Thank you for your excellent issue on parent involvement (School Reform: What Matters Most, March 1998). PURE agrees that much work needs to be done to make parents true partners in education.
Most local school council members are aware of PURE’s work providing direct support for parents in the Chicago Public Schools. PURE offers a variety of free parent workshops, including parents’ rights, planning for parent involvement and father-to-father sessions, as well as special workshops for pre-school parents that are presented in cooperation with the Chicago Public Schools pre-kindergarten staff.
I am writing in response to the distorted and factually inaccurate article “Affluent neighborhoods get magnet school edge” published in the February 1998 issue of Catalyst. Particularly disturbing is the position Mr. Weissmann attributes to me that I “hoped the set-aside policy would, in fact, encourage young, upscale couples in gentrifying neighborhoods like Bucktown and Near West Side to stay in the city when their children reach school age.”
Chicago’s nine transition high schools—an obscure piece of the Reform Board’s retention effort—are all small. With only 100 to 150 students each, most are tucked into former or underutilized Catholic schools. They opened last year for 8th-graders who would be 15 years old by December but had scored poorly on the Iowas—two years below the national norms in reading or math.
Cincinnati is among the exceptions. Since 1992, the public schools there have held back students whose work in major subjects fails to meet district standards. Those with a low overall rating in 3rd, 6th and 8th grades are sent to summer school and, if unsuccessful there, must repeat. The retention rate is high, between 20 and 35 percent of the system’s 49,000 students, depending on the grade. But Cincinnati school officials say the system’s emerging instructional strategy—involving teams of teachers following children across several years—cushions the fall.
Teplo’s incentive-driven vocabulary lesson is ground zero in the Chicago School Reform Board’s war against social promotion. It’s a war that not only holds students back at four grade levels, but also seeks to remediate their problems and get them back on track. For Mason’s retainees, that means being assigned to small classes of their own and having the opportunity to participate in an after-school program that offers additional instruction in reading and math as well as recreational activities. Teplo has one of those classes.
“It’s law and order, and it’s also support,” says Paul Vallas, the system’s chief executive officer and paterfamilias. Chicago’s program, the nation’s boldest retention experiment, has won its share of admirers, notably President Clinton. In his State of the Union message on Jan. 27, the beleaguered Clinton hit an applause line when he mentioned it and added, “I propose an effort to help other communities follow Chicago’s lead. Let’s say to them, Stop promoting children who don’t learn, and we will give you the tools you need to make sure they do.”
Holding back students who aren’t prepared for the next grade has been tried every which way—and consistently found to create more problems for students than it solves. The Chicago School Reform Board and schools chief Paul Vallas are giving it a go anyway, building a program that it believes will succeed where everyone else has failed.