Teacher shortages often are blamed on a graying workforce, notes Richard Ingersoll of the University of Georgia. In fact, about twice as many teachers resign each year as retire, he says, referring to studies by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). “The solution is not to recruit new people; the solution is to find out why so many are prematurely leaving.”
The truth is found in the experience of someone like Everett Fony, a student with perfect attendance and excellent grades who scored very high on ITBS tests in the past but was barred from graduation with his 8th-grade class based on a one-tenth of one point shortfall on one ITBS test. His waiver request was denied. Clearly, nothing but his ITBS score mattered. Only when his case was brought publicly to the Board of Trustees was it decided that he could be retested. This is a policy which needs more debate and discussion, not less.
Through selective use of data, you claim that the high school dropout rate is “climbing” when you know perfectly well it has actually been declining in our general high schools. You accuse the School Board of adopting policies that direct schools to push out students, while overlooking the many policies and programs put in place since 1996 to help students stay in school. Your narrative even contradicts information clearly displayed in your own chart. You are completely silent about completely unreliable dropout data of the past and our aggressive steps to establish accurate, reliable, honest information that presents a true picture of the problem. You have even ignored the conclusions of an independent and highly respected researcher, Dr. Fred Hess from Northwestern University, on the shortcomings of the pre-1995 reform efforts.
One of the dirty secrets of the high-stakes testing movement, according to a 1999 report from the National Academy of Sciences, is that it is driving up already high dropout rates. You are doing exactly what skilled journalists should be doing and performing a substantial service for Chicago and a very vulnerable group of students. Don’t let the local politicians bully you. In my long experience in Chicago, they never actually deal with a problem until they find out that their critics cannot be beaten into submission or bought out. Do your job.
Over all, the dropout rate for Chicago’s regular high schools did improve in 1997-98, but the rate that encompasses all its schools and students got worse. In 1996-97, 15.6 percent of the system’s 101,590 high school students dropped out, according to the ISBE’s annual report, “High School Dropouts by Grade, Gender, and Racial/ethnic category.” In 1997-98, 17.5 percent of 98,610 high school students dropped out, the highest annual rate of the decade.
ELECTION 2000 Community organizers are getting a head start on planning next year’s local school council election in April. Idida Perez of West Town Leadership Project and Janet McFarlane of Rainbow/Push are co-chairs of the organizing committee. Dany Fleming of Leadership for Quality Education is convening a business partnership committee. Joe Burnett of Schools First and the Rev. Zarina Suarez O’Hagin of the Lawyers’ School Advisory Project are co-chairs of the training committee. The work is being done under the auspices of the Chicago School Leadership Cooperative.
Catalyst: Cleveland will be published six times a year and augmented by a web site and a biweekly faxed calendar of events and resources. Initially, the newsmagazine will be distributed free of charge to some 5,000 school, community, city and state leaders. Chicagoans and others outside Cleveland can sign up through the publication’s web site: www.catalyst-cleveland.org.
Under a new human resources director, central office has resolved to do better. “It is an issue that has been creeping up on us for some time,” says Carlos Ponce, CPS director of human resources. “We have started a very aggressive recruitment program, and this year have begun to take a much closer look at how we recruit and use our substitutes.”
Last December, the non-profit organization that holds the school’s charter notified Sabis Educational Services, the for-profit company it had hired two years ago to run the school, that it would be terminating its contract for cause. Sabis has since filed suit, charging the Chicago Charter School Foundation (CCSF) with breech of contract.
Kelly administrators say that the low dropout rate simply confirms that their school has turned around—Kelly is among only a handful of high schools to have gotten off probation. In May 1998, Assistant Principal John Ruskamp told The Chicago Reporter that Kelly “was looked upon as the last place you want to go. But we are now known for a good, safe school.”
Burroughs elementary in Brighton Park is among the Chicago public schools that keep their teachers. For the past two years, its average faculty turnover has been only 7 percent—half the district average. Teachers there credit parents, colleagues and the leadership of Principal Donald Richard Morris.
The board requires 30 hours of training—mainly small- and large-group discussions at regional sites—for all new hires. Those not in the mentoring program took workshops under the name “Focus on the Classroom.” Teachers in both programs said workshops provided some useful information, but not enough to fill 30 hours, and tended to be one-size-fits-all.
As for the link between race and turnover, Barbara Sizemore, retired DePaul University education dean, says she has some hunches. New teachers may take whatever job they can find at first and later transfer to schools closer to home, more accessible by public transportation or in safer areas. Another hunch is that teachers may stereotype minority students as less able learners and prefer to teach in integrated schools. A third is that schools on the rough West Side, which seem to have the hardest time filling vacancies, must take whomever they can get. Later those teachers are cleared out, only to reappear in a similar school. “I call them the ‘recycles.’ The system doesn’t ever get rid of them.”
Among districts in northeastern Illinois, Chicago’s maximum salaries for teachers with varying levels of education are near the medians, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. However, its starting salary for a teacher with a bachelors degree is more competitive—about 25 percent higher than the median, according to the state.