Before this school year ends, freshmen and their teachers will face one more test—the board’s new Chicago Academic Standards Exams (CASE) in the four core subjects, English, math, social studies and science. In April, social studies teachers from Schurz and other high schools gathered in central office to review proposed new curricula and ask questions about the exams.
The scores appear to have been inflated by the Reform Board’s promotion policy. Last year the board retained students in 3rd, 6th, 8th and 9th grades who failed to meet minimum cutoff scores on the ITBS or TAP. As shown in the chart below, reading gains were highest in those grades where low-achieving students got an extra year of instruction (3rd, 6th, 8th, 9th) and in grades into which the lowest scorers did not pass (4th, 7th, 9th). In the two grades unaffected this year by the new promotion policy, one (5th) had the smallest gain and the other (11th) had the only loss.
Principal Betty Greer of Hartigan Elementary School broke the bad news at a Thursday morning faculty meeting. Most teachers were stunned. At least one teared up. The bad news was probation. And 109 schools were getting it. Fresh into its second year in office, the Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees had lowered the boom on schools where less than 15 percent of the students scored at or above the national average in reading. If these schools didn’t improve, the board could remove their principals and local school councils and even shut the schools down.
The Kentucky Department of Education has been training and sending out its own kind of “probation manager” since 1994. Called Distinguished Educators, or DEs, they are experienced teachers and administrators who leave their jobs for two years to work as consultants at struggling schools, modeling ways to boost student performance.In Kentucky, every school is given an improvement target every two years; schools that fall short are assigned DEs and get a share of a special $5 million state grant, which must be used for academic improvements.
People want tests to do it all: To measure student performance against a standard and against other students. To measure a few skills in depth as well as the entire curriculum. To pass judgment on schools and to help them improve teaching. Tests can do all these things, say the experts, but no one or two tests can do them all. To avoid non-stop testing, school districts need to set priorities and accept trade-offs. Here are some of the considerations.
“The image of our schools has improved tremendously under Mayor Daley’s administrators and board, and that has helped us garner the good will of Springfield and has increased funding. … Concentrating power in the hands of a few—a smaller board of directors, a smaller administration—helps facilitate a better relationship with the mass media. If you get the media on your side, you’re halfway there. … Besides that, concrete improvements have occurred. There is a very significant capital develop-ment project going forward.
In Chicago, the status of every public elementary school is determined during a 40-minute period in early May. That’s when children in 3rd through 8th grade take a multiple-choice test of reading comprehension. Depending on their grade level, they read up to seven passages ranging from a few sentences to a full page and answer 36 to 49 questions.
Clinton’s bilingual line echoes Chicago. In announcing his opposition to a California ballot initiative that would ban bilingual education in that state, President Bill Clinton said he favors a clamp-down on bilingual programs, specifically a three-year time limit for students in the program to learn English. Clinton’s proposal echoes a new bilingual education policy passed in February by the Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees.
AWARDS AND HONORS Reform Board President Gery Chico is one of six recipients of DePaul University’s newly established Tree of Wisdom Award, sponsored by the School of Education. … Joanne Alter, founder of Working In The Schools (WITS), received a local Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Service. Alter was one of seven who was recognized by NBC 5 Chicago and AMERICAID Community Care for achievements in volunteerism and public service. … The Chicago Public Schools Summer Bridge Program is one of 97 semifinalists in the 1998 Innovations in American Government awards program sponsored by the Ford Foundation. There were 1,400 applicants.
Since none of the three candidates for vice president for high school assistant principal received a majority, the election is being re-run, an association spokesperson reports. The candidates are Ken Hunter of Amundsen, the nominating committee’s choice; Sheryl Brown- Rivers also of Amundsen and Sandra Fontanez-Phelan of Mather. The results will be reported June 12.
Nettlehorst Principal Marjorie Adams repeatedly presented budgets to the LSC that did not balance, according to Peg Tomaszek, a parent who chairs the council’s budget committee. Tomaszek and Adams came to a budget agreement on April 18, and an LSC vote was scheduled for April 27. When that day came, however, Tomaszek says, Adams presented a budget she “had never seen before. … Mrs. Adams said, ‘See, if you don’t vote for this, I’ll submit mine.'”
In addition to Thomas Reece winng re-election, six members of Walsh’s slate, the candidates for high school functional vice president, were elected, making them the first challengers to win in recent history. “Reconstitution hit the high schools hard, and the membership responded by sending a message to Mr. Reece,” says Walsh.
Between fall 1995 and fall 1997, probation and reconstituted high schools “lost” about 4,200 students. Of those, about 1,800 were 8th-graders who were retained in 8th grade, 1,371 were older 8th-graders who were sent to transition centers, 199 went to elementary or middle schools that have added a 9th grade, and 1,000 were unaccounted for.
The teachers now have until the end of October—past the peak hiring season—to find a job elsewhere in the system or be dismissed. Further, the union is forming a committee to help match them up with vacant positions, says spokesperson Jackie Gallagher. “There has been a problem with principals letting the board know where there are vacancies,” she explains.
Reconstitution was not the first time Chicago public school teachers have been asked to reapply for their jobs. As part of the board’s Options for Knowledge program, begun in the early 1980s to help desegregate neighborhood schools, 90 schools got the chance to become “specialty schools” with their own curricular focus, such as science or fine arts. As such, they had limited authority to revise job descriptions and ask current teachers to reapply for positions, explains Pamela Pearce, an administrator with the board’s Office of Equal Education Opportunity Programs. While some teachers were not “rehired,” she says, that did not occur in great numbers.
Even with the subgoals, minority women still fall through the cracks, says Sally Johnson, president of Chicago Architectural Windows, a black-owned, woman-owned business. There are no minority goals for women contractors and no female goals for minority firms. As a result, she says, “We’re invisible. When a company wants a woman-owned firm, they don’t call me; they call the white girls. When a company wants a minority firm, they don’t call me; they call the guys.”
For Williams, the amiable persona is a tool of the trade: gathering information from a wide variety of people on work sites to make sure contracting firms are following through on promises to hire minority and women workers and to subcontract with minority-owned and woman-owned firms. If he finds that the promises aren’t being kept, the contractors can lose business or lose money outright. The more amicable his relationships, he figures, the easier it will be to get information.
Shareef is the president and founder of the African American Contractors Association (AACA), an 11-year-old activist group that lobbies local governments and businesses to give black contractors a fair share of the work on their construction projects. The group claims a membership of about 200 black-owned firms, mostly small ones, and has worked with the City of Chicago, Cook County and the Illinois Institute of Technology, among others, to help members get work.
The board’s affirmative action program still lags on some of its stated goals—especially on a push to give black-owned firms 32 percent of general contracting work—but the numbers are creeping up. Groups representing black contractors note that the program still has room for improvement, but even critics give the board’s staff top marks for effort so far. The board’s affirmative action targets are higher than those of other local governments, and a higher percentage of the board’s construction-related spending goes to minority-owned and woman-owned firms
Some of the classes have a disproportionately large number of special ed students. For example, in one freshman biology class, 17 of the 25 students have a disability. Special education teacher Peter Zimmerman says the school would like to bring that down to 5 to 10 special ed students in a regular class.
West Chicago takes a team approach. Regular education teachers are responsible for the education of their special ed students. However, they get help from special education facilitators, who modify curriculum and teaching methods to meet the goals of children’s individual education plans (IEPs), and from teacher’s assistants, who work individually with special ed students. If a child is having difficulty in a certain subject, the facilitator may work one-on-one with him in class. To make sure the team is in sync, all three meet weekly during school hours to review the child’s progress and plan for the next week.
Thomas Hehir, who directs the special education office of the U.S. Department of Education, knows Chicago well from his three-year stint (1990-1993) as special education chief for the Chicago Public Schools. He says that when he came to Chicago he was “appalled” at the level of forced segregation of children with disabilities.
There is a lot of good will out there and in the central administration, but it’s still going to be a struggle for [parents] sometimes,” Soltman says. “You still have to press and look for support from other parents and people within the CPS. You are entitled to that support. Take advantage of the opportunities presented; try to see what’s available to you.”
“The day is over in Chicago when people are going to put down any number on a report and say the minutes are there,” believes Rod Estvan, a longtime critic of special education in Chicago. Formerly with Access Living, Estvan is now assisting the judge named to monitor implementation of Chicago’s special education plan.
“Mainstreaming was primarily for kids who cognitively were pretty much on target with the rest of the kids,” says Rhonda Best of Project Choices, an inclusion consultancy. Children with disabilities who demonstrated an ability to keep up earned the opportunity to be in a regular education class. They weren’t given any additional support or services and were held to the same criteria as the non-disabled students, Best says.
Nevertheless, advocates are apprehensive. “Sue Gamm has good intentions and is committed to implementing the court decision, but not a lot of people under her that have that kind of commitment,” contends Desjardins, executive director of the Family Resource Center, which receives 5,000 phone calls a year regarding rights of the disabled. “With a half million kids in the system, 50,000 of which are in special education, this is going to be an extremely difficult process.”