Student engagement varies by race and type of instruction

Given a choice between working independently during classes or working in a small group, Von Steuben high school senior Maria Proano would choose the group work. Given the same choice, Von Steuben sophomore Anna Tran would work alone. Proano is Hispanic. Tran is Asian. And that might be the basis for their preferences.

Q&A with Leticia Alvarez

What happened when you dropped out?

They just gave my step-dad the transcripts and we left the school. That was it, no questions asked. … They figured, you know, I was 16 years old, I could drop out.

Notebook

A collection of facts, figures and news briefs about school reform—both in Chicago and around the country.

Schools skeptical that new policy will curb dropouts

more important to advocates, the dropout policy takes aim at the chronic “pushout” problem caused by the longstanding practice of dropping students who have too many absences. That practice, common in urban school districts nationwide, is now prohibited. “Schools are moving students out, which we absolutely don’t want to happen,” says Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan.

Glencoe, Midlothian illustrate funding gap

That finding in a December 2002 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office is illustrated by a comparison of two elementary school districts in Cook County: north suburban Glencoe District 35, which spends $10,935 per pupil, and south suburban Midlothian District 143, which spends $6,584 per pupil.

Resolved: State taxes should be raised to improve school funding

Accounting for such factors as the cost of living, Education Week, a highly regarded national newspaper, recently gave Illinois a C+ for the overall level of school funding. However, it gave it the only F in the country on school funding equity. With heavy reliance on property taxes, the average spending per pupil ranges from $6,341 in bottom-quartile schools to $12,177 in top quartile schools.

Portfolios the first phase of new principal screening

CPS says its new guidelines are intended to “raise the bar” and provide local school councils with an improved pool of principal candidates. The requirements come as the system faces a leadership void, with nearly 400 current principals eligible to retire over the next four years.

Campaign eyes the grassroots

Martire’s plan, which would lower property taxes and raise the state sales and income taxes, may make economic sense, said Jones, a Republican from northwest suburban Palatine. But it would fail politically, he continued. “Here’s why,” Jones explained, turning to the audience of 75 to 100 people. “Who’s willing to pay higher sales and income taxes?”

Logistical questions

With budgets due before all the test scores come in, how should schools in jeopardy of probation construct their budgets for next school year? The board has sent a letter to schools calling on them to budget as if they were going to be on probation.

Teachers to ‘grade’ principals

The Chicago Teachers Union has sent each of its 33,000 members a 28-question survey intended to measure principals’ effectiveness as instructional and organizational leaders. The results will provide critical information for teachers who are considering a transfer and parents who are choosing a school for their child, the union maintains.

More hoops for would-be principals

More hoops for would-be principals Current principals, interim and acting principals with more than six months experience, and recent graduates of approved principal-preparation programs automatically meet the new guidelines.

Other noteworthy findings

Researchers considered that Hispanics might prefer collaborative work because it allowed them to learn in their native language with other Spanish-speakers. The data did not support that hypothesis.

Research summary

WHO WAS STUDIED: Students at eight high schools in four cities (including Chicago) were studied for one week during their math and science classes. Students were beeped at random and then asked to answer a brief survey about what they were doing in class and how engaged they felt in the work.

Where Illinois ranks

TAXES OVERALL

43rd in state taxes as a percent of personal income

34th in state and local tax burden as a percent of personal income

41st in state income tax rates (among 41 states with income taxes)

Moderate gain seen for CPS

From the standpoint of its property tax base, Chicago is not a poor district. Thus, even though its student body is overwhelmingly poor, school finance reform likely would bring it only moderate financial gain.

Bring back the assessment center

In the late1990s, it rushed into a high school reconstitution program that chased away good faculty members as well as dismissed presumably bad ones. It wrote its own set of end-of-course exams for high schools, winning praise for some and ridicule for others. It gathered teachers to write daily lesson plans for every core subject at every grade level—a total of 9,360—again getting mixed reviews.

What reform might look like

ASSIGNMENT

*Revise the state’s tax structure to:

*Reduce the schools’ reliance on property taxes.

*Boost minimum baseline spending by $1,000 per child.

*Increase overall revenue to arrest what some see as a growing structural deficit.

Standards push helps lawsuits

Indeed, lawsuits are by far the most common tactic activists have used to try and force states to change their education funding systems. In all, 45 states have faced lawsuits filed by reformers looking to the courts for relief. And while every state constitution includes an education clause that can be used as a springboard to a lawsuit, courts in some states have been more willing than others.

Elsewhere

Mayor Michael Bloomberg won approval from the Panel for Educational Policy of his strict new promotion policy for 3rd-graders. Just before the vote, Bloomberg fired and replaced three panel members who were against the plan, according to the March 16 New York Times.

Comings & Goings

Four Chicago Public Schools teachers are winners of this year’s Golden Apple teaching award. They are: Jelaine Binford, Curie High; Timothy Devine, Northside College Prep, Elena Diadenko-Hunter, Clemente High; Diego Giraldo, Jones College Prep.