both sides now

With "turnaround" dead in the water, city releases plan details

Even as city officials swore that they had not set any quota for rehiring at schools it was trying to shake up, they were assuring the state that the schools would replace at least 50 percent of teachers.

The assurances were made in nearly 800 pages of documents submitted to the state in March as part of the city’s application for federal School Improvement Grants. The city released the original application Thursday, four months after submitting it and two days after a State Supreme Court effectively torpedoed the city’s bid for the funds.

The documents include a letter addressed to State Education Commissioner John King from the deputy chancellor overseeing turnaround, an outline of the plans, and a 770-page tome on changes the city proposed for each of the 24 schools, along with the city’s justification for planning to close each of them. The release did not reflect changes that state and city officials said were made throughout the spring.

The city also released a shortlist of programs on Thursday that it says are now at risk after an arbitrator ruled that the city’s plans for staffing the schools violated its contracts with the teachers and principals unions.

Much of the application’s content for each schools mirrors the proposals the city released when it began preparing the schools for closure. But a separate section outlines just how changes at each school would meet federal requirements for “turnaround,” the overhaul process that the city was proposing.

The federal rules called for at least 50 percent of teachers at the schools to be removed. Publicly, city officials said they were not focusing on that requirement. Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said repeatedly that there was “no quota” for the portion of teachers rehired at each school.

“Our goal is for schools to hire and recruit the most qualified teachers who meet the high standards set by their principals — not to remove a certain percentage of staff,” Sternberg told GothamSchools two days after the city submitted its application.

Yet the turnaround application makes clear that the department intended to hit the 50 percent mark. “The Department believes it will be able to meet this requirement to screen and select 50% new staff at New School,” the application said in sections on human capital at the schools.

The application stressed that meeting the 50 percent requirement could require some creative interpretation of the words “new” and “staff.” And it also stated over and over again that it intended to carry out the staffing overhaul in compliance with a contractual process known as 18-D that is usually reserved for school closures. The arbitrator ruled that 18-D could not be used for turnaround.

The city is appealing the arbitrator’s ruling, and the judge’s decision this week that it should stand. In an email message that accompanied the application’s release, Department of Education officials said the arbitrator’s ruling will cause students at the 24 schools not to have good teachers and to miss out on some programs and changes that could have been funded through the federal grants.

The potentially missed programs and changes include

  • Extended learning time for students
  • After-school and Saturday programs for struggling students
  • Special school year and summer programs for new ninth-graders
  • Classroom technology and upgrades such as Smartboards, iPads, laptop carts, computer labs;
  • New advanced courses conducted through distance learning;
  • Special tutoring and other interventions for students who are falling behind;
  • New staff to teach English Language Learners and students with disabilities; and
  • Credit recovery for students at risk of or dropping out.

The SIG application also included new programs offerings city officials have been touting from the start, such as the creation of “small learning communities” in most of the high schools, and the removal or addition of career and technical education courses to the rosters of Alfred E. Smith High School and Automotive High School.

The city’s cover letter to the State Education Department is below, followed by the complete 770-page application.

24 Schools SIG Applications Draft – March 2012

Future of Schools

Chicago Schools sets community meetings on controversial school inventory report

Chicago Public Schools is hosting a dozen workshops for community members focused on a controversial report about local schools that offers an unprecedented window into the assets — and problems — in certain neighborhoods.

The district published report, called the Annual Regional Analysis, in September. It shows that, in many areas of the city, students are skipping out on nearby options, with less than half of district students attending their designated neighborhood schools.

The school district and Kids First, the school-choice group that helped compile the report, maintain that the analysis is meant to help guide investments and empower communities to engage in conversations about their needs.

The report divides the school district into 16 “planning regions” showing where schools are, what programs they offer, how they are performing, and how people choose among the options available.

The meetings will start with a presentation on the report. They will include small-group discussions to brainstorm how Chicago Schools can invest in and strengthen schools. The first workshop is scheduled for Wednesday at Collins Academy High School.

While the school district has touted the detailed report as a resource to aid planning and community engagement, several groups have criticized the document and questioned the district’s intent.  The document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that the district might use it to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

The parents group Raise Your Hand, the neighborhood schools’ advocacy group Generation All, and the community organizing group Blocks Together penned a letter recently scrutinizing the report’s reliance on school ratings, which are based largely on attendance and test scores.

“Research has shown that test scores and attendance tell us more about the socioeconomic status of the students’ communities rather than the teaching and learning inside the school itself,” they wrote. Chalkbeat Chicago first reported about the analysis in August after obtaining a copy of it. Yet, the document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that it could be used to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

Here’s a list of the 12 community workshops, all of which all begin at 6 p.m.:

West Side Region: Oct. 17, Collins Academy High School

Greater Lincoln Park Region: Oct. 18, Lincoln Park High School

Greater Calumet Region: Oct. 22, Corliss High School

South Side Region: Nov. 7, Lindblom High School

Greater Stony Island Region: Nov. 8, Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Far Southwest Region: Nov. 13, Morgan Park High School

Far Northwest Side Region: Nov. 14, Steinmetz High School

Greater Milwaukee Region: Nov. 15, Wells High School

Greater Stockyards Region: Nov. 19, Kelly High School

Pilsen/Little Village Region: Nov. 26, Benito Juarez Community Academy

Greater Midway Region: Dec. 6, Curie Metropolitan High School

North Lakefront Region : Dec. 11, Roger C Sullivan High School

testing questions

‘The needle hasn’t moved’: Regents sound off on racial gaps in 2018 test scores

PHOTO: Getty Images/Kali9

New York State’s top education policymakers raised concerns Monday about whether the state is doing enough to address persistent racial gaps on state exams.

The discussion was the first opportunity the Board of Regents have had to discuss the results of last school year’s reading and math tests since they were released late last month. And while the Regents seemed to be in agreement that the gaps are problematic, there was little discussion of what to do about it beyond requesting more data.

The test scores released in September show just under 35 percent of black students statewide are proficient in reading, 17 points below their white peers. In math, the gap jumps to 25 points. (The gaps are similar for Hispanic students compared with their white peers.)

The gaps are even wider in New York City.

Regent Judith Johnson, who has repeatedly criticized the state tests for not reflecting student learning across different ethnic groups, said the education department is still not doing enough to analyze the causes of racial differences in proficiency on the grades 3-8 exams. Those gaps, Johnson said, will bring down the competitiveness of the American workforce.

“It’s absolutely based on poverty and color,” Johnson said. “That has not changed and that begs for analysis at this point.”

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia acknowledged “troubling gaps” on student achievement, but also said state officials, including the Regents, have been working on it for years. She also pushed back on the idea that the tests themselves aren’t useful, arguing they draw attention to issues of inequity.

“If we didn’t have an opportunity to see this, it wouldn’t be as high up in our mindsets,” she said.

While some gaps have narrowed slightly among certain student groups, it’s happening at a glacial rate, said Regent Luis Reyes. He pointed to a two-year period where the gap between Hispanic students and their white peers shrunk by about 1 percent on both math and English tests.

“One percent is not a revolution, it’s not a reform, it’s not a transformation,” Reyes said. “It’s ice age.”

Reducing an emphasis on state tests in how officials judge overall school performance is part of the education department’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. In coming up with school ratings, officials will consider factors such as how often students are suspended, are absent from class, and how prepared they are for life after high school.

Regent Kathy Cashin said she wants to see teaching and learning take the main stage of the state’s education agenda. “The needle hasn’t moved for minority children in decades,” she said.

Elia emphasized that the test includes an essay and that it’s not “just a multiple choice test.” And she reminded the Regents that the math and English assessments are required by the federal government, but there are options to consider performance-based testing on science exams. Elia has previously shown some interest in an alternative science test.