Drug policy should focus on teaching, not punishment

Jesus Velazquez got caught at school with a marijuana pipe in his backpack. What happened next is exactly what shouldn’t take place if a school district’s goal—or, from a larger perspective, a community’s goal—is to get kids who make dumb mistakes back on track. Jesus was suspended for 10 days, referred for an expulsion hearing and sent to a diversion program instead of being expelled. He ended up failing most of his sophomore classes and is now facing a fifth year in high school. Surely this was a case in which a non-punitive response—mandatory drug education or participation in community service—made better sense. 

Slowing the revolving door

Sometimes a telling story emerges virtually by accident. That’s what happened with our report on teacher attrition at turnaround schools, published in this issue of Catalyst In DepthDeputy Editor Sarah Karp was poring over state teacher service records and noticed that, surprisingly, teacher turnover didn’t end once a turnaround was in place. Not only did most existing teachers disappear with the turnaround—a process that requires teachers and other staff to reapply for their jobs—but most of the hand-picked teachers who replaced the veterans quickly vanished too.

A grand vision for career prep

When Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced in 2012 that the district would open 10 International Baccalaureate programs in high schools across the city, a small but telling detail didn’t make the news: The IB’s then-new Career Certificate program, designed to give students a rigorous IB-style education while tailoring coursework to their career interests, would be a cornerstone of the “wall-to-wall” programs. 

Who else will tell these stories?

Sept. 18 was my first day as editor and publisher of The Chicago Reporter. It’s rare when you can bring your values and skills to a job. I’m privileged to do that at the Reporter, an organization that shares my commitment to investigating race and poverty.

A question of involvement

Any adult who was successful in school will likely remember that their parents played a defining role in that success. What happens during the roughly six-hour school day is only part of the learning equation. Who else but a parent or guardian will make sure children attend school and complete their homework?

Turning a new page on literacy

A  week after the Board of Education voted to close 50 schools this coming fall, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett told an audience at the City Club that it was time to leave behind the acrimonious battles that have marked this school year. “Whatever has happened this past year is done,” Byrd-Bennett said. “It is a new beginning. … It is time to turn the page.” Sadly, it’s unlikely that the storms of this tumultuous year will dissipate easily or swiftly.

For smooth school closings, CPS has many promises to keep

As the saying goes, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Unfortunately, that saying does not bode well for the thousands of children who will be displaced when 54 schools shut down this year. It’s also a bad omen for communities. The last thing Englewood, Austin or any of the neighborhoods—most of them poor and black—that stand to lose schools need is another boarded-up vacant building.

Closing the opportunity gap

Every year, a high-stakes gamble begins.Parents across Chicago take their children to be tested for selective elementary schools and programs, the first step in a potentially make-or-break scenario. The district has 16 schools and programs for gifted students starting as kindergarteners—plus 10 more for older elementary students—and these schools and programs send large numbers of students on to the district’s gems: the selective high schools that invariably score at the top of the heap on state achievement tests and offer students a broad array of rigorous courses, engaging electives and enriching after-school activities.