South Chicago report card

Since the steel industry vanished from South Chicago in the 1990s, the blue-collar community has struggled to create jobs and affordable housing. More than one of every three children in the community lives below the poverty line, and 85 percent of students attend public schools.

Fundraising a problem, not a solution

As a longtime PTA member and leader, I read the story on fundraising (“Cashing in, getting extras”), and just couldn’t decide whether to weep or scream. Talk about a clear example of this state failing to adequately and equitably fund its public schools. And here is a story about well-meaning, and in some cases desperate parents, trying to do what we as taxpayers have a constitutional and moral duty to do—which is to educate the next generation.

Texas figured out (for now) how to fix school funding; when will we?

What does Texas have that Illinois does not? Several freshly-signed tax and school finance reform laws that will inject billions of dollars into the state’s public education system. The long-overdue solution relies on a tax-swap—more taxes on business and less on property—and an increase in cigarette taxes. Some of the money is earmarked to pay for raising teachers’ salaries and policy initiatives such as higher graduation requirements that Illinoisans put in place long ago.

WebExtra: Poor kids in Chicago, elsewhere likely to get least qualified teachers

A new study of teacher quality validates a well-known fact: That poor and minority children are more likely to be taught by teachers who lack experience, are uncertified or have flunked basic skills tests. States and districts have a long way to go to meet a No Child Left Behind deadline next month to submit plans for ensuring that their low-income and minority students have equal access to qualified teachers.

Comings and Goings

CONSENT DECREE CPS and the federal government reached a tentative agreement to update the 26-year-old desegregation consent decree. Under the modified decree, the district will be able to decide, without federal oversight, how much money and what resources will go toward integration. U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras cancelled the public hearings scheduled for May 15, angering parents and community leaders. Kocoras delayed approving the modified decree until groups acting as “friends of the court”—the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law—have time to review it and submit their critiques.

Suburban superintendent takes on CPS

CPS has tapped Allan Alson, the highly regarded superintendent of Evanston Township High School, to oversee its high school transformation project. In 1999, Alson led the creation of a consortium of 15 school districts that were committed to closing the achievement gap between white and minority students. Associate Editor Maureen Kelleher spoke with Alson about what needs to be done to make Chicago’s public high schools better.

Parents rate schools, selves on involvement

A majority of parents give their child’s public school high marks—and themselves higher marks—in parental involvement activities and effort, according to a survey commissioned by Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE). The survey’s goal was to determine how charter schools and regular public schools compared in parent involvement.

South Chicago: Finding new life after steel

After decades as a steelmaking hub, South Chicago has begun to write its next chapter. Home to the USX South Works mill, which once employed more than 20,000 workers earning substantial union wages, the far Southeast Side neighborhood began to decline when USX began to shed jobs in the 1970s. Now, the community is working to create affordable housing, bolster the business sector and improve education.

South Chicago: A school for the community tries to raise math and reading test scores

The buzz of activity at Sullivan Elementary is the result of the Community Schools Initiative, one of CEO Arne Duncan’s pet projects. Community schools, which are springing up in districts across the country as well as Chicago, aim to provide activities and services not just for students but their families and the neighborhood as well. Chicago has 102 community schools so far.

Tall order for academies

Achievement academy students compete in an academic bowl at Westinghouse High School.

Achievement academies are the district’s latest experiment to transition older, struggling 8th-graders into high school work. Its latest strategy is based on a national model developed at Johns Hopkins University. Three years in, the track record is mixed. The real test of its success: Will students graduate?

Charter provides escape route

Born in Mexico, Arturo was enrolled in a bilingual program through the end of 4th grade. In 8th grade at Northwest Middle School, he missed the standardized reading score needed to enter high school and had no choice but to enroll in an achievement academy. A resident of Belmont Cragin, he was automatically assigned to Senn Achievement Academy in Edgewater.

Revolving door for rookie teachers

Most of the district’s nine achievement academies, which serve some of the district’s most academically challenged students, suffer from high teacher turnover and have a greater percentage of rookie teachers than the district as a whole, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of data provided by Chicago Public Schools.

On the campaign trail

CTU President Marilyn Stewart fought a contentious post-election battle with predecessor Deborah Lynch to take over the leadership reins. Her three-year term has another 12 months left, yet the campaign is already heating up with one opponent’s hat already in the ring and heated rumors that Lynch wants a rematch.

South Chicago: Bowen’s small schools come full circle

When the first wave of school reform came to Chicago in 1990, Bowen High School quickly became a pioneer in the small schools movement, creating a school-within-a-school for students who were interested in becoming teachers. Eventually, more small schools were launched and began flourishing, only to fall victim to top-down reforms. But through the efforts of community and school leaders, small schools have returned to Bowen, and, so far, seem to be making strides.

Q&A with Harvey Grossman

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois is one of several groups that have filed “friend of the court” briefs in the federal case that will determine whether Chicago Public Schools is released from its long-standing desegregation consent decree. Harvey Grossman says the district still owes a debt to children in segregated communities and needs oversight to ensure that resources are distributed equitably.


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

A different kind of discipline

Student advocates are charged with helping achievement academy kids deal with disruptive behavior and other problems that interfere with learning. More accessible than a counselor and less threatening than a disciplinarian, advocates’ duties include monitoring kids’ attendance, tracking down truants and conferring with parents and teachers about students’ progress.

One-on-one advice to get kids on track

On a morning in early May, students in Chicago Vocational’s achievement academy wait in a large brick-walled room. One by one, as names are called, each student receives his or her report card and then chooses an open seat at one of several tables for a 15-minute conference. The conferences, held with school staff members, are a centerpiece of the achievement academy approach.

From surly to ‘sweetie pie’

Cierra Jones didn’t have the easiest time in elementary school. She transferred once mid-year, which set her back academically, and repeated 3rd grade. By the time she completed the 7th grade, she was approaching 15 and, under CPS policy, was too old for elementary school. Sent instead to Chicago Vocational’s achievement academy, she arrived with, in her words, “an attitude problem, a real bad temper.”