With little guidance, students drift through and out of school

African-American and Latino students, who are more likely to drop out and less likely to attend college, rely more heavily on getting information and guidance from school staff to plan for college and choose demanding courses. Counselors are safety nets who fill in those gaps and prevent them from falling through the cracks. Yet a recent survey of students at four predominantly Latino CPS high schools found nearly half of the respondents at one school had never met their counselor; the average at all four was 27 percent.

Hyde Park: The battle for Canter Middle School

Parents and administrators at Murray and Ray, in particular, took for granted that Canter would start over with a new curriculum and a new faculty. Both schools boast high test scores and accelerated programs-for example, they begin foreign language classes in kindergarten. In contrast, the test scores at Canter, which enrolls more low-income students, were below grade level.

Hyde Park: Kenwood Academy limits outsiders

Although the university runs the prestigious University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, it has a stake in the reputation of nearby public schools. “We cannot attract students and faculty to the University of Chicago if the neighborhood is not perceived in the best possible terms,” says Duel Richardson, the university’s neighborhood relations director.

Hyde Park: Stemming a local brain drain

The public schools were not meeting the demand for high-quality education. Nearly a third of Hyde Park children were enrolled in private elementary schools, according to the most recent census. Many others vied for slots in the two top public elementary schools while other schools had to recruit from outside the neighborhood. When it came time for high school, many students left the neighborhood.

CPS reluctantly offers parents tutoring choices under federal law

Just as Chicago provided school choice to students at only a portion of the eligible schools last fall, CPS now proposes to provide parental-choice tutoring this year to children at only 13 of the 25 eligible schools, leaving 12 high schools out of the loop. Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins cites unspecified “questions” about serving the high schools this year.

For-profit companies dominate the list

Almost 300 agencies in Chicago provide some form of organized tutoring to children, according to Daniel Bassill, founder and president of Cabrini Connections, a nonprofit that promotes tutoring and mentoring.

Picking the right tutoring

If and when Chicago parents get to select tutoring for their children, what should they look for? Catalyst put that question to three experts on tutoring. Here’s their advice.

What makes or breaks a counselor

The daunting transition from middle school to high school was even more challenging for Bowen High sophomore Olivia Rodriguez, who entered freshman year unable to write in English. “I’ve been having problems now that everything is in English,” she says.

Comings & Goings

Last month, 93 CPS teachers who earned National Board Certification—the profession’s highest credential—received $5,500 one-time awards from the Chicago Public Education Fund and the School Board. They will also receive $30,000 over 10 years from the Illinois Board of Education (ISBE).

Getting personal is what it takes to help kids

In terms of numbers, guidance counselors are waging a losing battle—at the high school level, the School Board pays for only one counselor for every 360 students, a sure formula for anonymity. Five years ago, the board attempted to rectify the situation by requiring every high school to create an advisory period. There, teachers would meet regularly with 15 or so students to discuss problems and plans for the future. The thinking was, if kids felt teachers and other adults in the school knew them better and cared what happened to them, they would perform better in class.

Alternative safety net programs pick up slack for city’s public schools

The scene of scattered notebooks and crowded tables is typical for a Wednesday night meeting of TEAM, which stands for Tutoring to Educate for Aims and Motivation, an alternative tutoring and career counseling program run by the Erie Neighborhood House. TEAM is one of dozens of local programs run by non-profit groups that encourage low-income, mostly minority students to finish high school and go to college.

Guidance for counseling

Counselors are responsible for individual and family counseling, and running student leadership and peer mediation programs, says Horan. “This year, one counselor’s entire job is to keep track of last year’s inaugural graduates and make sure they are succeeding in college, the military and the workplace.”

Golden rules for counseling success

Lake View’s four-person counseling staff faces the same challenges as colleagues in other Chicago public schools. Each is responsible for an average of 300 students. Each has multiple duties. The freshman counselor, for instance, splits her time three ways.

Watchdog group ‘ran its course’

The Chicago Panel on School Policy Initiative Status Reports—some previous issues have covered principal training, national certification for teachers and year-round schools—provided interim feedback to show whether programs were working, Buell explains. In six years, the Panel published 20 such reports. Since 2000, it has distributed 500,000 pamphlets that condensed the report research into more usable formats for parents, Buell says.

CPS reduces special ed referrals

Canty Elementary in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood received training in school-based problem solving in 2000. By 2001, staff who had been trained had left the school and special education referral rates were up to 4.5 percent, says case manager Lorraine Ballesh and last year, Canty’s referrals fell to 1 percent.

High school guidance counselors

CPS counselors are assigned to high schools at the ratio of one for every 360 students; the American School Counselor Association recommends one for every 250 students. Experiments to reduce the ratio in some high schools, such as North Lawndale Charter High, have produced results, but a counselor shortage makes hiring difficult, and in these tough economic times, the School Board couldn’t afford to pay them. Upcoming retirements are likely to make the situation worse.

What makes or breaks a counselor

The daunting transition from middle school to high school was even more challenging for Bowen High sophomore Olivia Rodriguez, who entered freshman year unable to write in English. “I’ve been having problems now that everything is in English,” she says.

Guidance for Latino students falls short

A survey of students at predominently Latino enrollment schools last winter and spring found that 40 percent had not yet met with a counselor that year. Latinos had the least contact compared to Asian and white students. Overall, 31 percent of Latino students surveyed said they had never met with their counselor, compared to 16 percent of Asian students and 17 percent of white students.

Liz Monge: Preventive medicine

Were it not for an outside organization, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Monge may not have gone to college at all. A representative from the group visited Whitney Young weekly. “He would come in and set up a table,” Monge recalls. “I finally took notice and walked up to the table.”

Little guidance = narrow choices

A 2000 survey of CPS seniors revealed that teachers and counselors provided
them with little to no support related to applying for college or seeking
work after graduation. Of those who were planning to go to college, most
chose to go to community or other local colleges. Only 8 percent said
they were headed for full-time work. Nearly half of them already had secured
those jobs.

Eligible schools

Low-achieving students at 25 Chicago public schools are eligible for
free tutoring this year from providers that include such prominent firms
as Sylvan Learning Systems and Voyager Expanded Learning. However, the
School Board is attempting to restrict the parental-choice tutoring option
to the 13 elementary and middle schools in the group and let the high
schools wait until next year.


In addition to CPS, the approved providers are:

CPS counselors

As of January, 663 counselors were employed in Chicago public schools. Most are highly educated veterans. A master’s degree is required, but many have completed extra coursework.