No small plans for high schools

Arne Duncan recently outlined a series of reform projects to the city’s civic leaders. First up: hiring outsiders to bring in new and improved curricula and intensive coaching for teachers. But those working in schools are skeptical, fearing that the board’s plan will end up as a passing fad.

Using economics to influence where teachers go to work

The balance of teacher talent and experience in the city’s public schools is often mixed, but for some, the scales are more likely to tip in one direction or the other. A Catalyst Chicago analysis of teacher salary data found that certain types of schools—catch-up high schools for kids left behind and schools with the highest poverty rates—tend to have the lowest-paid teachers on staff. By comparison, selective high schools and elementary gifted centers and magnets have more higher-paid teachers.

How much should schools pay for teachers?

A new budgeting system could shift the mix of inexperienced and veteran teachers at some schools. Some think that making schools pick up the full tab for teachers salaries would level the financial playing field and may even raise teacher credentials or experience at hard-to-staff schools. Others argue that this strategy is too politically volatile, as it can create seismic monetary shifts, and may create incentives for principals to base teacher hiring decisions on salary rather than quality.

$25K spread in average teacher pay

Teachers with the most and least experience are unevenly distributed across Chicago’s public schools, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of school-level budgets and teacher salary data.

Oakland: Schools pay for pricey staff

Most urban districts that have switched to student-based or so-called lump-sum budgeting do not charge schools the full tab for teacher pay, charging them a flat rate per teacher. But Oakland—in a move calculated to level the financial playing field, particularly for teacher hiring—decided to make schools pick up the full cost of teachers’ salaries.

How we analyzed the data

Catalyst Chicago calculated the average teacher salary at each school with data obtained from the Office of Management and Budget that lists, for each job code, the number of full-time positions at each school this fiscal year and the total budget for teacher salaries.

For this analysis, only job codes that represented teachers who spent the majority of their time in classrooms were included. Assistant principals, for instance, who may or may not teach classes, were excluded.

Excluded from this analysis were alternative schools that serve kids who are disruptive or dropouts and charter schools, which did not have readily available budget data.

Source for all graphics: Catalyst analysis of Chicago Public Schools data

Math, science plans face hurdles

If math teacher Delora Washington had her way, Corliss High in Pullman would be first in line to join the district’s initiative to prod schools to adopt new, improved math curricula. But Corliss doesn’t have the technology and manpower the curricula require, and that’s a problem other schools are likely to face if they decide to participate in the initiative.

Q&A with Elizabeth Kirby

Earlier this year, former teacher and assistant principal Elizabeth Kirby became principal of Kenwood, taking over from Arthur Slater, who was initially sent to the school by central office. Kirby, who taught at Triumphant Charter and Olive-Harvey Middle College before coming to Kenwood, talked with Consulting Editor Lorraine Forte about the lessons she learned from charter schools, leadership and plans to make the school more academically competitive.


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

Comings and Goings

MOVING IN/ON Vivian Loseth has been promoted from assistant director to executive director of Youth Guidance, a social service agency that works with Chicago Public Schools students in low-income communities. … Mark Larson, former director of education for Lincoln Park Zoo, is the new director of partnerships for the National College of Education at National-Louis University.

Career academies raise graduation rates

Many Chicago 8th-graders hope to bypass their neighborhood high school and find a better future elsewhere. Their best bet is to enroll in one of the city’s career academies, also known as vocational schools, where their chances of graduating are higher, according to researchers.

In an earlier study that compared graduation rates of students who were CPS freshmen between 1993 and 1995, researchers found only those who had enrolled in career academies—also called vocational schools—were more likely to graduate than similar students who remained at their neighborhood schools.

Career academies are often organized as small career-themed schools within a larger school, which may account for their higher graduation rates, according to co-author Julie Berry Cullen, an economist at the University of California, San Diego. Research has shown that reorganizing a large school into small schools lifts student achievement, she explains.

Research summary

The Effect of School Choice on Student Outcomes: Evidence from Randomized Lotteries

WHO CONDUCTED IT: Julie Berry Cullen, assistant professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego; Brian Jacob, assistant professor of public policy at Harvard University; Steven Levitt, professor of economics at the University of Chicago

WHAT THEY STUDIED: Using data from admissions lotteries at 19 CPS high schools, they compared the high school careers of lottery winners who attended a magnet school or program to lottery losers who enrolled in their neighborhood high school.

WHAT THEY FOUND: The study found that students who won lotteries to attend CPS magnet high schools or programs did no better academically than those who lost the lotteries and attended their assigned neighborhood schools. Even attending sought-after programs with high-achieving peers conferred no academic benefit, as measured by graduation rates and standardized test scores. However, they did find that lottery winners reported lower incidences of disciplinary action and fewer arrests.