According to the audit, 87 percent of the district’s 15,343 classroom teachers met the law’s guidelines for competence in core academic subjects—a regular or alternative teaching certificate and a college degree or endorsement in every core subject taught. Close to half of the 1,985 teachers who fell short are bilingual teachers.
The Renaissance Initiative, as the effort is called, is the School Board’s latest strategy to hold low-performing schools accountable. When the new schools emerge, they will bear a superficial resemblance to other Chicago public schools; the schools’ curricular format and organizational structure will be somewhat unique.
Like its lead teacher, Bowen Environmental Studies Team, or BEST, is tiny, but it’s making a big impression. Though its all-freshmen enrollment stands just under 70, the school is overcoming several challenges that stymie larger high schools: connecting service learning to classroom instruction, serving students across ability levels, getting parents involved and turning around tough kids.
Without an experienced administrator on staff, CDA’s faculty is learning how to run a school from scratch. And they decided to do everything at once. Unlike BEST, which enrolled only freshmen, CDA accepted 387 students in all four grades—a much more difficult start-up strategy, say small school proponents.
This year, about half of the 1,000 students attending the three schools are enrolled in Bowen’s regular program. The rest are enrolled in the small schools. A third small school slated to open in the fall will pick up another 125, and a fourth school will open in the fall of 2004. Meanwhile, a shrinking number of students will remain in Bowen’s regular program through 2006.
In this issue, Catalyst examines the district’s three professional development schools, a model that marries teacher preparation with practice by partnering colleges of education with individual schools. Two of the schools began training new teachers in September. The dazzling National Teachers Academy (NTA) and North Kenwood-Oakland Charter.
The Center for School Improvement was founded in 1988 to bring together two isolated groups—educators and researchers—to improve literacy instruction, social services and leadership in low-income Chicago schools. Since then, 25 schools on the South and West sides have chosen to partner with the Center.
“One of our goals at NTA is to grow new teachers and transplant them into Chicago public schools,” says Professional Development Officer Albert Bertani, who oversees the district’s teacher and principal training programs. Eventually, the school will also provide in-service training for experienced teachers, he says.
Though his energetic 5th-graders are kept in check by his six-foot-plus frame and often-serious demeanor, Cowling enjoys playing instructional games with them. “Most teachers hold back, they let kids win,” Nicholson says. “Not Andre. He gets excited when he plays against the kids. That makes them feel like beating him was a real challenge. It motivates them to try harder.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will give $7.6 million to CPS to create 12 new small high schools over the next five years. Now operating nine small high schools, the school district will open two new small schools by 2004, and plans a total of 32 by 2007. CPS and the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative will issue a request for proposals in June.
CPS joins a growing national trend where school districts and universities collaborate on teacher preparation. According to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the organization that accredits schools of education, there are more than 170 professional development schools among the 556 teacher-training institutions.
The concept of professional development schools surfaced in the late 1980s, the result of an influential report that called for schools of education to work more closely with local school districts. Now, more state policymakers are adopting the idea. Maryland was the first state to require that student teaching requirements be fulfilled only at these schools.
The school where I work has been struggling to implement school-based problem solving for the past two years. There are numerous problems, including no funding for the program, no additional staff to assist in implementing the program, and pressure to reduce the number of referred children, which have lead to fewer children receiving the services they need.