More voices need to be heard on new funding formula

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.

Ditching has domino effect

Parent volunteers at Farragut High

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.

WebExtra: Q&A with Thomas W. Payzant

Publisher Linda Lenz interviews Boston Supt. Thomas Payzant

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]

Q&A with Jonathan Kozol

In his best-selling book “The Shame of the Nation: The Return of Apartheid Schooling in America,” Jonathan Kozol argues that public schools are further away than ever from the goal of equal, integrated education set in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.

Small schools not a deterrent

Attendance remains a big problem—even in small schools. Last school year, average daily attendance was no higher than it was in the large schools from which the small ones were carved. Class cutting also remains a serious problem, despite the tighter supervision.

Uptown: Immigrants find educational oasis

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.

Uptown: Home-grown school aims to beat odds

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.


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

Comings and Goings

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.

3 new school principals buy ‘almost everything we want’

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.

Seniority will always be a priority

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.

Private tutors withdraw after 11th-hour cuts

When Chicago Public Schools cut 17,000 students from the program that provides tutoring under the No Child Left Behind Act, private firms lost the lion’s share of students: 24,500, compared to the 6,500 students cut from the district’s own tutoring program.

The ‘tracker’ hunts down cutters, truants

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.

WebExtra: Pros, cons of CPS truancy initiative

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.

Ms. Burke keeps them coming

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.