No uniform policy on high school fees

A recent Catalyst Chicago telephone survey of CPS high schools found wide variance in fees among the city’s public high schools. At the high end are schools such as Whitney Young, which charges an average of $200, and $165 at Jones College Prep. At the low end are other schools, such as Sullivan and Wells, which each charge $20. A handful of schools do not charge any fees.

Under fire, CPS tells schools to find 15 minutes for exercise

After Catalyst Chicago requested an interview with the Illinois State Board of Education to ask why the state’s daily physical education requirement was being neglected in the city’s public schools, Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins swiftly sent an e-mail directive instructing top staff to make sure schools comply with the law.

Q&A with Charles Kuner

Two years ago, Farragut High social studies teacher Charles Kuner and former colleague Matthew Katz, a lawyer who taught in the school’s legal careers program, began working on a project that would serve the community as well as educate their students. The end result was the David Cerda Legal Clinic, named after a Farragut graduate who was the state’s first Latino judge and Latino appellate court justice. Students in Kuner’s class help volunteer lawyers with legal research and also learn about public policy-making and government. Associate Editor Maureen Kelleher talked with Kuner about the clinic’s work.

Notebook

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

Charting a course to create preschool for all in Illinois

For two years, members of the Illinois Early Learning Council deliberated the best strategies for creating a statewide system of high-quality preschools for 3- and 4-year-olds. What they came up with is a list of recommendations that lay the foundation for a two-year program to serve poor families and children who are otherwise at-risk of failure in school.

Half-day takes its toll at Mays

An Englewood preschool loses students when district eliminates the full-day format. Before CPS wiped out most of its full-day state pre-kindergarten classrooms, 982 children were enrolled in 55 classrooms. This fall, only four schools will have full-day programs.

Comings and Goings

MOVING IN/ON Stephen W. Raudenbush, an expert on education research methods from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, joins the University of Chicago faculty as chair of the new interdisciplinary Committee on Education, which will focus on improving urban schools. … Barbara Holthas resigned as a member of the Steering Committee of the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. Holt was recently named vice president of external affairs at the Chicago Urban League. … Jana Fleming, executive director of child development studies at City Colleges of Chicago, has been retained by The Joyce Foundation as a consultant in early childhood education grant-making. Fleming has also served as a researcher at the Erikson Institute and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

PRINCIPAL CONTRACTS Interim principals Arnold Bickham at Lavizzo, Susan J. Kukielka at Decatur Classical, Michelle Miller at Garvey, and Minnie Watson at DePriest have been awarded contracts. … Philistine Tweedle at Beasley Academic Center has had her contract renewed.

TEACHER AWARDS Twenty-four teachers are recipients of the district’s new honor for outstanding teachers and will serve on the newly created Teacher Leadership Advisory Board, which will meet regularly with CEO Arne Duncan: Tracy Singer, Farnsworth; Sarwar Baig, Hayt; Patricia Pena, Lyon; Kenneth Voorhees, Piccolo; Nancy Geldermann, Hawthorne; Jesch Reyes, Sumner; Heather Hall, Jensen; Valerie Gue, National Teachers Academy; Patricia Gonzalez, Burroughs; Pamela Kisala, Blair; Gina Alicea, Talman; Anne Reiman, Hendricks; Bernice Hall, Nicholson; Marypat Robertson, Ray; Kristen Schroeder, Keller; Sandra Brookins, Powell; Adrea Delaney, Carver Primary; James Doyiakos, Amundsen High; Juanita Douglas-Thurman, Lincoln Park High; Cheri Monik, Austin High; Evelyn Chandler, York High; Christine Salstrand-Smith, Hubbard High; and Michelle McGillivray, Morgan Park High. Each teacher received $2,000 award and $1,000 for their school.

HELPING DROPOUTS A new guide, “How to Retain or Reenroll Your Student in a Chicago Public School,” is available from the Community Coalition on the Dropout Crisis, a local education advocacy network of community-based organizations and activists. The guide informs parents on how to advocate on behalf of their student and gives steps for keeping students in school or reenrolling former dropouts. The guide also outlines attendance and truancy policies. To download a copy of the guide or a sample letter to request a due process hearing from a school, go to www.gwtp.org.

TOP SCORING STUDENTS The following students have been named National Merit Semifinalists based on their PSAT scores: Sarah Bayer, Katherine Hayden, Michelle Hochberg, Petra J. Kelly, Stephanie Kelly, Gideon E. Klionsky, Nora E. Lambrecht, Joseph B. Matuch, Ryan A. McElhaney, Sophie T. Rosenberg, Elizabeth G. Scholom, Bennett L. Smith, Abraham Sohn, Benjamin N. Tupper, and Roger G. Waite from Lincoln Park High School. … Ilya Chalik, Mitchell Y. Isoda, Michael A. Kennedy, Rebekah G. Kim, Matthew K. Law, Simon G. Swartzman, Maximilian Swiatlowski, Joseph Z. Terdik and Monica L. Wojcikfrom Northside College Preparatory High School. … Samson A. Felshman, Aidan A. O’Dowdy-Ryan, Benjamin M. Scholom, Nicole C. Smith and Richard C. Watterson from Walter Payton College Preparatory School. … Elena M. Losey and Kaj C. Peterson from Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center. … Adam E. Ammar, Rachel K. Bernard, Maria C. Bond, Lindsay N. Bowe, Mark Chen, Wenna Jia, Richard G. Otap, Ria L. Roberts, Maxwell G. Shuftan, Jared E. Twiss-Brooks, David B. Wong and Beilin Ye from Whitney M. Young Magnet High School.

NEW BOOK The Annie E. Casey Foundation has released the 2005 Kids Count Data Book. The publication features state profiles of child well-being, as measured by 10 key indicators such as infant mortality, teen birthrates and children living in poverty. The new report may be viewed or ordered online at www.kidscount.org.

Taking pre-K up a notch


South Loop Elementary


Testing young children is a dicey proposition. On one hand, educators and policy-makers agree that finding out what preschoolers know and building on those skills is important. It is also essential, they say, to determine whether preschool programs are delivering the goods and sufficiently preparing youngsters for grade school. Yet, early childhood experts warn that much is unknown about how best to teach reading and early math to 3- and 4-year-olds, and that too much emphasis on these academic skills could be detrimental.

With inclusion, best intentions often go awry

When I returned to the public schools as a substitute teacher last year, it didn’t take long for me to observe that mainstreaming, which had started out as such a good idea, had become a serious problem, endangering not only special education children but those in regular education as well—producing disastrously unequal and ineffective results.

Pre-K goal: ‘fun and engaging’

This fall, CPS unveiled at South Loop Elementary a new all-day preschool program for poor and middle-class children—a three-part mix of Head Start, state pre-kindergarten and the district’s own tuition-based preschool. Before the opening, however, CPS Early Childhood Education Officer Barbara Bowman had eliminated all full-day state pre-K programs, a move that affected some 900 children. Catalyst Associate Editor Debra Williams sat down with Bowman to discuss the thinking behind that decision, and her thoughts on how preschool is evolving and the challenges of preparing young children for kindergarten and reading.

Survey: recess, gym class shortchanged

Instead of the daily physical education classes mandated by the state, a Catalyst Chicago telephone survey found that one to two days of gym class per week is the norm in elementary schools. No recess is also the norm. Fewer than one in five schools—18 percent—provide daily scheduled recess for all kids, and only about one in 16—6 percent—provide for a recess of at least 20 minutes, the survey found.

Renaissance Watch: Applicants face new review process

Last year, applicants for Renaissance 2010 schools ran a three-tiered gauntlet to win approval. This year, Chicago Public Schools sought to improve the selection process by bringing together all the stakeholder groups to review applications from the start. In addition, the district will hold public forums to give communities a chance to meet and question some prospective school operators before the School Board makes its final selection.

Abstinence-only curricula comes under fire

Abstinence-only curricula are coming under increasing fire. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois recently warned superintendents that abstinence-only programs often include false or misleading information and said recent studies show that abstinence-only programs do not prevent teens from engaging in premarital sex and may deter young people from using condoms or from getting tested and treated for STDs. Yet under policies put in place by the Bush Administration, schools that want federal funds for sex education can only receive grants if they agree to teach solely from abstinence-only curricula.

Keep tests focused on student learning

Standardized testing has become an integral part of the educational system, with sweeping implications for the future of our schools. School Board officials utilize test scores to label our institutions of learning as schools of distinction, excellence, merit, and opportunity, but they fail to clearly define the differences. As a result, many parents, students and educators often become discombobulated.

Next up: tougher standards to accredit preschools

Beginning next year, the National Association for the Education of Young Children is launching more rigorous standards that will make it tougher for Head Start and other preschool programs to get accredited. “The new standards are much higher and more specific,” says Jamilah R. Jor’dan, president and founder of Partnership for Quality Child Care, a Chicago nonprofit that helps programs get accredited. “They needed to be changed to address areas of ambiguity.

Advisory council renews call for universal preschool

In the current state budget, Gov. Rod Blagojevich paid the final installment of a pledge to invest $90 million over three years to increase the number of children in preschool. Now that the governor has fulfilled his financial promise, early childhood advocates are looking this year for his leadership to renew the call for universal preschool programs for every 3- and 4-year-old in the state by 2012.

What’s on the test

The NRS tests Head Start pre-kindergarteners in four skill areas. Questions for each section were excerpted from existing early childhood assessments. Yet, only one of those tests was developed to measure skills of children from low-income and poorly educated families.

“One of the problems with [NRS] is it does not take into account children’s backgrounds and cultures,” says Erikson Institute President Sam Meisels, who also served as an advisor for NRS.

Another problem with the test, says Sandra Schaefer of Erie Neighborhood House, which serves 104 Head Start students, is that it captures what children know at one moment in time—when the test is administered. “At that age, what they know changes from day to day,” she says. “The test is too narrow.”

Here are critiques of two sample questions.

Vocabulary:

This portion of the test asks children to identify by pointing out which one of four pictures illustrates a given word. However, experts note that some vocabulary words are inappropriate for young children. For example, “the test asks kids to point to a vehicle, but that’s not common language,” says Lynda Hazen, the former president of the Illinois Head Start Association, who operates a Head Start program in DuPage County. “How many people tell their child to go get in the vehicle?”

“Point to vehicle.”

Math:

In the math portion, children are asked to answer questions by pointing to items on a page. A more appropriate way to measure math skills in 4 and 5 year olds would involve handling physical items like blocks, say early childhood experts. One question displays a picture of five nickels and asks children to say how much money that is. “It is not common to practice money value at this age,” says Kimberly Cothran, the director of the Chicago Commons New City Center.

“Bobby has four nickels. His father gives him one more. … How much money does Bobby have now? How many cents is that?”

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Head Start Bureau