The simple answer is hard work and money. But the real answer is far more complex. The hard work starts in high school with earning a grade-point average and entrance exam scores that are high enough to gain college admission. Then, the hard work shifts to making academic and social adjustments to collegiate life. Along the way, key decisions must be made about the college to attend and the major to pursue. Getting the money typically requires hard work, too: identifying and applying for scholarships and financial aid.
Mayor Richard M. Daley named Chicago Park District Chairman Michael W. Scott as president of the Chicago School Board. At a press conference, Scott told reporters his priority would be improving reading and math test scores. Scott, a government relations executive for AT&T Broadband, has served three Chicago mayors and had a brief stint on the School Board in the early 1980s. He succeeds Gery Chico, who resigned abruptly in late May, amidst reports from City Hall sources that the mayor wanted a new school leadership team. Shortly after Chico left, CEO Paul Vallas stepped down from his post. The two had served together since they were appointed in 1995. At press time, Daley had not announced Vallas’ successor.
Bringing in an entirely new team does not mean starting over. The underpinnings of the Vallas and Chico accomplishments—the mayor’s commitment to improved schools and state laws that gives him the power to impose his will—remain in place. Chicago’s broad-based school reform community—including corporate leaders, universities, foundations, education groups, community-based organizations and many teachers and administrators inside the school system—remains actively involved, providing hard-earned knowledge as well as continuity. The Consortium on Chicago School Research, unique in the nation, has copious data to help guide the way.
At a press conference, Daley made a point of thanking Vallas for a job well done. “He has been, quite simply, the best chief executive in the history of the Chicago Public Schools,” Daley said as he announced Vallas’s departure. “I’ve said that no one is irrepleacable, including me. But some people are harder to replace than others, and Paul Vallas is one of them.”
The change of plans was announced at a meeting that was hastily arranged at King the day prior to the protest. There, school officials explained to parents that King had not generated enough freshmen for a fall class and the school needed more time to complete construction and repair work. (Plans to convert King began in 1998, giving the school more time to prepare than any other college prep.)
Traditionally, high school teachers have shown more militance, which grew as the School Board swept into a number of low-performing schools with its reconstitution and intervention programs. Elementary teachers were believed to have been more comfortable with the status quo. This election is the first in which school-by-school tallies were made public, a change Reece supported under pressure from Lynch-Walsh and her ProActive Chicago Teachers & School Employees Caucus (PACT).
At a meeting later this month, the board is expected to review intervention data, including test scores that for the most part, continued to drop. Reading scores dropped at three of the five intervention schools. Math scores dropped at four, with the fifth posting a gain of only a tenth of a percentage point.
The School Board first launched its transition center program in 1997 to better prepare low-scoring students for high school work. The goal was to increase such students’ chances of graduating. However, though most students eventually pass the test, they gradually fall by the wayside. After entering high school, many drop out.
Now 15, Juan often speaks of his past with surprising candor. Talking excitedly about life on the street, the brushes with danger, the easy money, his words tumble out, and an occasional grin crinkles up his round face. Considering his future, however, he grows somber. “I could have been the next biggest lawyer in the world, the biggest cop,” he reflects, “but now I’m going to be the biggest gang-banger that died in the world.”
Of those missing elementary students, about 5,600 were coded by their schools as “unverified transfers.” That means that family members told schools their children were transferring, but the schools never received requests for student records from receiving schools or, if they did, didn’t record the requests.
“They’ve been the silent dropouts that no one really talks about,” observes Patricia Preston, director for alternative education at City Colleges of Chicago, who has tried to get the Illinois Legislature to fund programs for this neglected group. “I don’t believe they have an advocacy voice yet other than those of us in alternative schools,” she says.