Chicago’s brand of retention, summer school all wrong

As an elementary school principal in Chicago, I presided over many graduations, and the importance of that ceremony to the children and their families was confirmed every spring. Thus the following headline from the Chicago Tribune of June 17, 1997, stunned me: “Tears of joy—and sorrow.” Above the headline: “For 8th graders at Von Humboldt School, Monday was bittersweet as 59 pupils graduated and 45 didn’t because their standardized test scores failed to make the grade.”

Applications up at teacher-run school

Though most parents show off their offspring from the get-go, the founders of Best Practice protectively kept quiet. But now, like a typical 2-year-old, the school is beginning to speak for itself. More than 200 eighth-graders have applied for half as many seats in next year’s freshman class.

Comings and goings

MOVING IN/ON Richard Laine, formerly executive director of the Chicago-based Coalition of Educational Rights and finance analyst for the Chicago Panel on School Policy, has been named director of education policy and initiatives by the Illinois Business Roundtable. For the past four years, Laine was associate state superintendent of education. … Laurel Spitzbarth, coordinator in the Department of Information and Technological Services, retired after 38 years with the Chicago Public Schools. … Patricia Harvey, former chief accountability officer for CPS, is a finalist for superintendent of St. Paul (Minn.) Public Schools, which enrolls some 50,000 students. Harvey currently is director of urban education and a senior fellow at the National Center on Education and the Economy in Washington, D.C.

10,000 teachers top Gov. Ryan’s education budget

$10 million for the reading block grant, which is aimed at ensuring all children can read at “grade level” by 3rd grade, plus $8 million for a new governor’s summer bridge initiative, modeled after Chicago’s summer Bridge Program for low-scoring students.

LSC advocates lobby for Chapter 1 boost

Chicago’s Chapter 1 funds, which are distributed on the basis of the number of low-income children a school enrolls, have been frozen at $261 million since 1995 even though the number of low-income students in the system has grown by 27,500. The funds constitute the major discretionary money available to principals and LSCs.

Extracurricular policy off to a slow start

Under a policy the board approved in December, students face, for the first time, grade and course-load requirements for participation in after-school activities, and athletes face higher academic requirements for staying on the team.

“The biggest deal is for the teachers who have to do the evaluations,” says Trent Eaton, sponsor of Bogan High School’s computer club. “It is another piece of paperwork.” Eaton already has checked with Bogan’s dean of students to get club members’ course schedules and has asked their teachers to provide him with regular updates on the students’ grades.

Elsewhere

MICHIGAN

Charter schools spur public schools. Researchers from Western Michigan University and a Lansing-based consulting group question the quality of the state’s charter schools but say that public schools have become more creative in response to the new competition. Their report is the first major study of Michigan’s charter schools, which were approved in 1995.

Academy should teach collaboration skills

There can be no more important educational or economic priority for our city than to keep children going to school as long as it takes for them to acquire the credentials they will need to have a realistic shot at their professional goals. Short of chaining children to their desks, the only way we will make this happen is by increasing their desire to complete secondary schooling and pursue post-secondary education.

Teacher academy one effort of many

Mayor Daley’s recent announcement of plans for a National Teaching Academy of Chicago has created considerable interest among educators, the public and the press. As questions are being raised about the specifics of the plan—specifics that have yet to be worked out at this early stage—the wider context of that plan has been lost. While some would like to suggest that the plan’s context is political, this ignores evidence that the mayor and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are focusing on something very different: the urgent need to support teacher development in every classroom in Chicago.

Spotcheck shows few schools tracking students

Although Roosevelt has not tracked its transition students, Assistant Principal Willard Uber believes they probably are doing alright. “My impression is that they are doing at least as well as those who came to us from the elementary schools. They are the kind of kids who stuck with it over at the transition center. I’m not saying they are going to be the top of the class, but I think there’s a certain personality trait that got them here.”

‘Look, I’m in 10th grade’ Two roads to sophomore standing

Victor Vant, assistant principal at Steinmetz, says transition center students have arrived with a variety of courses and credits and that the school can accommodate all of them. “If you look at students today, the majority of them have fragmented classes,” he says. For example, a student who arrives in September with half a credit in Algebra can take an elective the first semester and then drop it midyear to pick up the other half credit in Algebra.

Two different approaches

Long Beach Preparatory Academy, now in its second year, enrolled about 323 students last fall for a one-year program. Students take the standard course load but get untraditional instruction. “It’s all project- based experiential learning,” says Principal Toni Issa Lahera. For instance, students submit quarterly projects in every subject. After studying the United States Constitution, some wrote skits or newspaper articles dramatizing events from the time period.

‘Tests have error,’ test author warns

John Goldwyn, a social studies teacher at Sengstacke Transition D, says that typically he’ll look at a student’s score and say, “Yes, that is about right.” But he objects strongly to ignoring everything else a student does. “We don’t assess people in society based on one day,” he notes. “We are judged on the accumulated work that we do.” He thinks that’s an important message to send to transition students, who have trouble with sustained effort.

Classes revolve around test prep

Within a week at Transition F, Rosedell had new friends, and school “started being cool.” One friend, the fast-talking Marcus Allen, “could make an Energizer bunny look like a Duracell,” says Kevin Jones, a security guard who Marcus sought out as a friend. Jones doesn’t know Rosedell as well, only that he’s “an angel compared to Marcus.”

Services praised, instruction questioned, results withheld

Launched in February 1997, Chicago’s transition program is intended to be a safety net for older, low-scoring 8th-graders. These students are bused to nine small regional centers. where they get an extra hour of instruction, double periods of math and reading and extra counseling, tutoring and other support services. The per-pupil cost—$12,000—is almost twice that for high schools.

Midcourse correction needed

As a number of transition teachers also say, Chicago’s transition centers have yet to live up to the ideal. They cite two problems. One is the unrelenting focus on multiple-choice, standardized tests, which drives instruction toward endless practice on test-like questions and tells students that nothing else matters. America is a test-crazed society, so schools do need to teach kids how to tackle standardized tests. But test practice isn’t going to equip students to handle high school level assignments.