Are Children Learning

Chicago schools want to delay plan for tackling the gifted gap

PHOTO: Frederick Bass

Chicago Public Schools wants to delay for a year a plan to make gifted services available to more children outside of selected enrollment, or test-in, schools.

On Wednesday morning, the Chicago Board of Education is holding a hearing on a request for a one-year extension to comply with a new Illinois law that compels school districts to better accommodate gifted children. The public can sign in to comment beginning at 8:30 a.m. in advance of the 9:30 a.m. meeting.

The law requires Illinois districts to identify students who are gifted using “multiple, reliable and valid indicators” and put programs in place to challenge them. That could include offering the chance to start kindergarten and first grade early, accelerating a child in a single subject, or having the child skip a whole grade.

But those steps are a big undertaking, one that Chicago wants to delay for a year. Emily Bolton, a spokeswoman for CPS, said the district is seeking the extension to “allow us more time to thoughtfully develop and execute” a plan to comply with the scope of the new law.

The law, which went into effect July 1, also stresses that district approaches should be “fair and equitable”—and in Illinois, gifted services have been anything but. In the early 2000s, the state was considered a leader in gifted education. But by 2017, only 33 percent of high-poverty schools statewide offered gifted programs, lower than the national average of 69 percent.

Carolyn Welch, policy and advocacy committee co-chair of the Illinois Association for Gifted Children, says the new law is a “critical step” — especially for low-income students, who tend to be underrepresented in gifted programs if their schools offer them at all. In high-poverty public school districts like Chicago, many families don’t have the resources to pay for classes or enrichment activities outside of school. So students depend on public schools to meet their needs.

Prior to the new law, which is called the Accelerated Placement Act, about 55 percent of Illinois districts lacked policies allowing early entrance to kindergarten and first grade and 46 percent lacked policies for accelerating students in specific subjects. Only one in 10 allowed kids to skip a grade, according to a study by the Illinois Association for Gifted Children and the Untapped Potential Project.

In Chicago, students can test in to competitive academic centers, classical schools, and other gifted programs, but outside of those, program offerings are ad-hoc. Like at a lot of big urban districts, what’s available at individual schools can vary quite a bit throughout Chicago schools, said Eric Calvert, associate director of the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University. And there are more children in Chicago than the centers can serve, with three applicants vying for every seat, he said.

Elementary gifted programs also don’t accommodate students who might be gifted at one subject but average at another. And when you look at who attends those programs, they tend to be on the higher end of the socio-economic scale and disproportionately white. Some of that, Calvert added, “is a product of the fact that resources make a difference in achievement.”

Calvert said it’s important to have ways to identify and accommodate gifted students at neighborhood schools because it’s a way that, without new resources or special programs, “schools can provide something to students who need it.”

“If you’re a second grader ready for third grade content that has an option the school can provide, that doesn’t cost any more than serving that student as a second grader.”

A 2016 study titled the Untapped Potential Report examined the gifted gap in Chicago and found that white students, who make up 10 percent of the district, occupied one in four gifted seats. Hispanic students, meanwhile, were particularly underrepresented, comprising 46 percent of total CPS students, but only 25 percent of seats in elementary gifted programs.

Low-income students, more than 82 percent of the district, only comprised 60 percent of gifted seats, according to the report.

The risk of an approach like Chicago’s, which leans on a small number of gifted and classical programs, is that a lot of kids slip through the cracks “and lose their potential,” Calvert said. Then high-ability students who are chronically underchallenged and see school as a waste of time are more likely to underachieve and even drop out.  

Students who are supported in elementary school are more likely to track into advanced coursework in high school, which increases their chances of graduating from college, enjoying more social mobility, and having children who graduate college as well, Calvert said. He pointed out that the largest ethnic group at CPS is Latino students, but that a disproportionately low number of those students are at advanced high schools, and that they matriculate into college at lower rates than their white and Asian peers.

About 65 percent of students at CPS are enrolled at Level 1-plus or Level 1-rated schools, but the population in those schools don’t reflect the school district’s racial mix, according to a draft of the school district’s Annual Regional Analysis. Only 45 percent of black students and 72 percent of Latino students are in those top-rated seats, compared with 91 percent of white students.

Making the grade

New York City gets a gold medal for pre-K quality and access, new report finds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Pre-K students play during center time at The Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights, Queens. New York City earned high marks in a national review of pre-K programs.

New York City’s pre-K program earns high marks when it comes to quality and access, according to a new report that ranks early childhood education in major cities across the country.

That’s according to CityHealth, a policy advocacy group, and the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, an authority on pre-K research.

The city is one of only five that were awarded CityHealth’s highest ranking — a gold medal — for meeting at least eight of 10 benchmarks for effectiveness and having high student enrollment. The report evaluated pre-K programs in the country’s 40 largest cities.

“I think New York City should be very proud of their program, and it really is a model for other cities,” said Ellen Frede, senior co-director of the institute. She was not an author of the report.

New York fell short on two measures: teacher training and education requirements for classroom assistants.

The knock on teacher training is surprising, given that the city often touts its dedication to professional development as one of the major factors contributing to program quality

Also surprising: The report gives New York City credit for pay equity, which measures whether pre-K teachers are paid similarly to their K-12 colleagues. Only in city-run classrooms do early childhood educators earn the same as teachers who work with older students. But most pre-K students attend community-based programs, where teachers can earn as little as 60 percent of the salary paid to those who work for the city.

“It’s equity to some extent. There is work to be done there in New York City,” said Albert Wat, senior policy director for Alliance for Early Success, who peer-reviewed the report.

Still, New York City is far ahead of many other cities such as Indianapolis, where enrollment is low and programs show few of the marks of high quality. Education department spokeswoman Isabelle Boundy called the city’s early education efforts a “game-changer.” Since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, the city has made free pre-K available to all 4-year-olds and has begun to expand the program to 3-year-olds.

“As New York City continues to increase access to free, full-day, high-quality early education, our programs are on par with gold-standard programs across the nation,” she wrote in an email.

The rankings are awarded by CityHealth, a non-profit funded by the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, which notes the long-term health benefits afforded by pre-K. In New York City, a 2017 study showed improved health outcomes for low-income children after the launch of universal pre-K. Other studies, however, have shown mixed results.

You can read the full report here.

 

Early education

New pre-K report gives Memphis bronze medal, Nashville gold

PHOTO: Jacinthia Jones
Pre-K students at Lucie E. Campbell Elementary in Memphis.

A new report on quality and access to early education programs across the country gives Memphis a bronze medal, mainly for providing prekindergarten for at least 30 percent of the city’s 4-year-olds, and Nashville a gold medal for meeting both quality and accessibility standards.

The report said in addition to accessibility, Memphis met benchmarks related to classroom size, teacher-child ratio, and teacher education level, but missed the mark when it came to curriculum or learning goals, teacher professional development, and local funding commitment.

Nashville met criteria for accessibility, classroom size, teacher-child ratio, teacher education level, local funding, and professional development. Both Memphis and Nashville met standards for salary equity, meaning that prekindergarten teachers were paid similar to K-12 teachers.

The report  was produced by CityHealth, a policy advocacy group, and the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, an authority on pre-K research.

Memphis officials were quick to take issue with the report’s finding regarding local financial support. “Mayor (Jim) Strickland has been committed to pre-K funding since he’s been on the council,” said Doug McGowen, the city’s chief operating officer. He also noted that as a councilman, the mayor advanced two pre-K referendums, although both were defeated by voters.

Most of the 5,600 subsidized preschool seats in Shelby County Schools are funded through state and federal grants. Last year, the Memphis City Council allocated $8 million to replace an expiring federal grant and another $8 million to add 1,000 preschool slots, McGowen said.

After 2021, he said, the city will maintain $6 million in annual funding. Shelby County government is working on additional funding streams.

Read the full report below: