Pension money sought to boost school rehab

Here’s how that convoluted equation works: The pension fund for Chicago teachers already is fully funded, meaning its $8.6 billion in assets are sufficient to cover pension costs for 16,000 retired teachers and 35,000 still on the job, according to the funds fiscal 1999 annual report. If Chicago got more pension money, the board says, it could use it to back the sale of more construction bonds.

Teachers for Chicago out, fast-track certification in

The board has asked education deans from Chicago area universities to submit proposals for new alternative certification programs that could begin as early as next summer. So far, it has received three and approved one, a math/science program coordinated by Northwestern University. It also has blessed the existing Golden Apple Teacher Education program.

Research points to solutions

The problem, teachers say, is that the kids lack motivation. “They can do the work. They don’t care,” insists Foreman High School English teacher Barbara Yohnka, echoing colleagues throughout the city. “They don’t come to class, and if they do come to class, they come late, they don’t bring their book bag, and they’ll just sit there and stare at me.”

Comings and goings

MOVING IN/ON Jobi Peterson, former executive director of the Mayer & Morris Kaplan Family Foundation, has joined the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club as educational policy analyst. She fills a vacancy left over a year ago when Elizabeth Evans left to become director of policy at the Illinois Facilities Fund. … Constance Yowell has joined the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as program officer in the Human and Community Development Program, where she will work on child and youth development, education and juvenile justice. … Philip Jackson, former chief of staff to Paul Vallas and former CHA director, is leaving his post as education advisor to the mayor to become president and chief professional officer of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago.

Getting kids to do what they can do

Mayor Richard M. Daley issued this challenge to educators a few weeks ago. Be creative, he told them, come up with new ideas to boost high school test scores. To get things started, he offered an idea of his own: Add a fifth year to high school to give low-scoring students more time to catch up. Picking up the mayor’s lead, Schools CEO Paul Vallas started talking about requiring all students to take double periods of reading and math. But thinking outside the box means brainstorming and testing new ideas, not imposing them on schools from government offices on Clark Street.

Power struggle upsets delicate leadership balance

As one of five poorly performing high schools placed on intervention, a strict accountability policy imposed by the board, South Shore was under the gun. Intervention school principals are required to do five evaluations of every faculty member. Borderline teachers get professional development and a chance to improve. But three bad evaluations are grounds for firing.

Scores up but schools no better

The changes made to date are a far cry from the “fundamental restructuring” the district envisioned in its 1997 plan, according to the $1.8 million study conducted by Northwestern University’s Center for Urban School Policy. And while test scores have jumped since 1996, the study attributes the spike to forces outside of high schools: better-prepared students are entering 9th grade, and fewer of the lowest-performing students are enrolling in high school due to efforts to hold them back in the elementary grades.

School deck stacked against black boys

“Teachers lower expectations for students based on race, gender, income and appearance,” notes Jawanza Kunjufu, an educational consultant with Chicago-based African-American Images. “So a black male student from a low-income area who isn’t dressed neatly has many strikes against him.”

ROTC, small schools, a powerful combo

Students take classes with their grade-level peers for most of the day. A typical course load includes honors English, math, science and history; an ROTC course; and, for upperclassmen, at least business or finance class. Teachers have common planning time to prepare lessons and discuss the students.

Tough love inspires students to work

Students who stay in say ROTC was an unexpected source of motivation. They give credit to involved teachers and the military version of the three Rs: responsibility, rewards and role models. Junior ROTC also makes use of instructional techniques, such as hands-on learning, that spark intellectual curiosity and motivate students.

Video games show the way

Now that players are flush with victory and craving more, it’s time to up the challenge. If every race is as easy as the previous one, there’s no sense of accomplishment and no motivation to improve, Della Rocca says.

Winning students hearts and minds

The school’s student body is more diverse and a little better off economically than average for Chicago. But the performance of its freshmen last year was close to citywide averages: 25 percent failed English; on average, they missed 20 days of that class due to absences or class-cutting; and only 29 percent scored at or above the national average in reading.

On-the-job training

Global Educators Outreach
Year started: 2000
Participants: 36 from other countries
Sponsors: CPS, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization
Service. Participants take courses at DePaul University.
Certification goal: Regular after three years.

Not just Chicago

Poor student motivation is a key educational issue for the National
Research Council (NRC), the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences,
National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine.

More data to come

Additional data on course failure will be presented as part of a report the Consortium on Chicago School Research plans to release this spring. The report will cover a decade of data on Chicago’s public high schools, including course enrollment, attendance rates and failure rates.

Frustrated teacher doesn’t know what to do

It’s a winter morning at a Chicago public high school, and one algebra teacher, a tense, middle-aged woman, is ready to boil over. Circulating through the room and glancing at each desktop, she sees that only five students have completed the worksheets she sent home with them yesterday.

How Chicago Compares

Total number of teachers: 26,000
Provisionally certified: 3,000 (1.5%)
Pursuing alternative certification: 335