Life isn’t easy when you’re a financial guinea pig. Take Tarkington Elementary, for instance. It is one of three so-called performance schools—district-run schools with special privileges—that are doing a test run of a new funding formula, one that is supposed to make sure that money follows kids. Called per-pupil budgeting, or sometimes student-based budgeting, the formula allocates dollars to schools based on their size and needs of their student populations.
The more a student misses class, the more likely he is to fail the course. The more courses she fails, the less likely she is to graduate on time. But freshmen don’t know those equations. In spring 2004, 49 percent of freshmen missed more than two weeks of school in a major subject, according to research by the Consortium on Chicago School Research. Some were officially absent, but others were simply cutting class. Schools have few resources to solve this problem.
Under the 10-year leadership of Supt. Thomas Payzant, the Boston Public Schools has focused on improving instruction and in some ways has been a model for the current Chicago school administration. Payzant was the featured speaker at Catalyst Chicago’s 15th anniversary celebration. Here is an edited transcript of his conversation with Publisher Linda Lenz. (Includes a photo slideshow from the event.)
[QuickTime movie, 5MB]
Since it opened in 2001, Passages has become an educational haven for immigrants and refugees from four continents. It also attracted non-immigrants who liked the school for its small class sizes and diversity. Asian Human Services, a multi-service social service agency, got the idea to open the school after years of watching immigrant Asian students and their parents struggle through their transition to new communities and new schools.
Uplift opened its doors in September, but its story is more than a tale of a new school. It’s about grassroots might in a neighborhood where there’s a shift in the housing and bank accounts of those moving in. It’s about political struggle in an area with a reputation as a bastion for working-class families; protection and support for those who are down, for a minute, but not out; and assistance for those who are new to the city and the country. And from an educational standpoint, it’s about pushing the limits of Chicago Public Schools’ most ambitious reform effort.
Charter group Leadership for Quality Education, the education arm of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, has merged with the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. INCS Executive Director Elizabeth Evans will head the merged group. Pamela Clarke, executive director of LQE, will become deputy director of INCS. Other LQE staff will also join INCS. LQE had long been a strong backer of the charter movement.
This fall, Tarkington, Pershing West and Uplift Community School are the first non-charter public schools in Chicago to try out the new student-based budgeting system, which aims to distribute money more equitably and give principals more financial freedom. These schools’ experiences will likely influence the rollout of per-pupil budgeting, a move that CPS officials plan to take districtwide over the next five years.
In an ideal world, the union would never need a law to protect the seniority rights of members in our schools. Principals would only dismiss those whose calling was not necessarily teaching. Unfortunately, such an ideal world does not exist in CPS. Such a law is necessary because so many administrators are arbitrarily dismissing excellent and superior-rated teachers and ignoring seniority. I have witnessed the abuses firsthand.
Jerry Mandujano, a.k.a. the tracker, strides up the front staircase at Gage Park High. He holds a clipboard with computer printouts that display student photo IDs and class schedules. The front line of a new strategy to curb class cutting, Mandujano is out to find these students. Although the school year is only three weeks old, each already has skipped class repeatedly.
The Chicago Public Schools’ two-year-old truancy initiative has yet to make an impact on high school absences. Aimed at improving communication with parents, the initiative gave schools a standard set of procedures for handling unexcused student absences. But schools still face considerable obstacles in getting teen truants back on track. Here is a rundown of the steps schools should take and a sample of reaction from school staff.
Students at South Shore’s School of Entrepreneurship admit to cutting class when they feel tired, bored, frustrated or simply in the mood to hang out with friends. But Ms. Burke’s English class is one they don’t want to miss. Through her no-nonsense, often sarcastic demeanor, shine a warmth and enthusiasm that connect with kids.