Focus on literacy pays off in the long run

Teachers in primary grades began using Direct Instruction (DI), a scripted, phonics-based reading program. Middle-grade teachers opted to use basal readers. Everyone picked up the Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) program, a 20-minute daily reading regimen. The focus on basics and highly structured curricula had teachers on a strict pacing schedule that told them what skills to teach each week.

Challenging assignments

Alice Brent proudly shows off the posters her students created for the Cloud Fair, the culminating event of a two-month lesson on weather. Diagrams of storm cycles. Drawings showing how a tornado develops. The mostly hand-drawn charts and illustrations spout technical terminology— precipitation, troposphere, stratus clouds.

Comings and Goings

FELLOWSHIP Lake View High School science teacher Michael Lach has been chosen as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow. Through May 2000, Lach will address science and education issues on the staff of U. S. Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-Mich.). The fellowship affords outstanding elementary and secondary mathematics and science teachers the opportunity to advise issues of national public education policy.

Two ways to teach to standards

Given the potential benefits, that was time well spent. For one, the rubrics make quality concrete for students, parents and teachers alike. During a recent visit by Catalyst, Corkery’s Maria Goslin lead her 1st-graders through examples of work of varying quality, pointing out where they fell short or met the mark. As an aide for improved learning, the approach renders traditional test scores and grading (6.8, 67th percentile, “needs improvement”) almost laughable. Teachers who have bought into this budding trend say that they now give more challenging assignments.

PURE lodges federal complaint on student retention

PURE cites two recent national reports as the basis for its action: a report on high-stakes testing by the National Research Council and a guidebook on ending social promotion published by the U.S. Department of Education.

“The education people are horrified by what Chicago is doing,” contends Julie Woestehoff, executive director of PURE. She describes the recent publications as “almost an open invitation for somebody” to file a complaint with the department.

Who can appeal what

Under these conditions, the new law allows for a hearing on principal retention.

An LSC votes to retain a principal who currently has an unsatisfactory rating from the regional education officer (REO). The general superintendent or a member or members of the LSC may request a hearing to have the contract revoked.

First principal appeals dismissal under new law

Vallas wanted to give the School Board power to overturn an LSC’s decision on principal retention. LSC advocates argued that such authority would allow the School Board to usurp the fundamental power of elected councils choosing their schools’ leaders. In the end, the Legislature allowed for appeals of non-renewals but gave jurisdiction to the American Arbitration Association.

Museum-school partnership

Chicago Public School teachers try their hand at some Mexican folk art at the kickoff event for Museums and Public Schools (MAPS), a new program aimed at encouraging first-year CPS teachers to incorporated museum resources into their lessons and help them get the most out of student field trips. Some 1,500 teachers turned out for the event, held Oct. 29 at the Field Museum. As part of the program, the new teachers get free museum memberships for a year. About 200 second-year teachers will receive an interdisciplinary curriculum. For more information, call (312) 443-3726.

When do children get golden parachutes?

More than one-fifth of the public school students in Illinois attend Chicago’s public schools. African-American students make up 53.2 percent of that student body; Hispanics, 33.4 percent; other minorities, 3.4 percent. The accompanying student profile chart sets a framework for understanding student needs.

Infighting, lawsuits tie CALSC in knots

The organization (CALSC’s) has been unstable since at least the summer of 1998, when it lost $167,000 in the financial collapse of the Latino Institute, which had served as CALSC’s fiscal agent until then. Although then-Executive Director Shiela Castillo secured enough new funding to keep the organization out of the red, she was summarily fired by board vote last December. (Castillo has since filed suit against the organization.) Two board members resigned in the wake of Castillo’s dismissal, leaving the group with a three-person board as 1999 began. Six months later, while the board was recruiting new members, then-Chair William Roberts died.

Boston distributes Chicago study

In Focus, the Boston Plan said it was taking the “unusual step” of reproducing a study from another city “in part because the findings can deepen the process of looking at student work, in which so many Boston schools are engaged. We also liked the fact the study included many examples of assignments and student work, making it immediately useful to teachers and parents.”

How Boston is doing it

The following are excerpts from the Boston Public School Plan for Whole School Change. They address the objective of examining student work and data in relation to the citywide learning standards. The goal is to identify students’ needs, to improve assignments and instruction, to assess student progress, and to inform professional development.

Student work a citywide focus in Boston

The seed for this initiative was planted in September, 1996, when the Boston Plan awarded $2 million over four years to 25 schools to pursue whole-school change. In the past, the foundation earmarked most of its funds for grants to teachers for innovative classroom projects.

For more information

The following organizations provide training or information on creating challenging assignments for students and analyzing student work:

Annenberg Institute for School Reform

Looking at Student Work

This web site provides explanations, resources and examples.

In Providence, R.I., (401) 863-7990

Chicago Annenberg Challenge

“Throwing Down the Gauntlet: How Quality Curriculum Challenges Students”

This collection of five essays by educators describes quality assignments used in classrooms and how they worked.

Contact: Chryssa Atkinson

(312) 413-0307

Learning to teach better by examining student work

By design, it’s a group effort that brings teachers together to examine their students’ work and, in the process, their own: What am I teaching? Why am I teaching it? How am I teaching it? Why am I teaching it this way? How do I know my students are getting it? How do my students know they are getting it? What did I learn in the process?

What Chicagoans believe about their public schools

Between April 1999 and October 2000, McKeon and
Associates, a Joliet market research firm, conducted four telephone polls
of a sample of Chicagoans for schools chief Paul Vallas and the Board of