When James Menconi was hired as assistant principal at Monroe Elementary in 1992, reading scores were dismal. Only 18 percent of the students at the Logan Square neighborhood school were reading at grade level. “Something is wrong here,” Menconi recalls thinking to himself.
Fenger has shed one of last year’s external partners—Washington D.C.-based America’s Choice. The School Board dropped America’s Choice from its external partner list for not delivering on its contract. Many Fenger teachers were not sorry to see them go. Fenger is still working with the group Ollarvia has dubbed the school’s “internal external partner,” the Office of Accountability’s reading team, which is also working with 10 other public schools.
Teachers in primary grades began using Direct Instruction (DI), a scripted, phonics-based reading program. Middle-grade teachers opted to use basal readers. Everyone picked up the Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) program, a 20-minute daily reading regimen. The focus on basics and highly structured curricula had teachers on a strict pacing schedule that told them what skills to teach each week.
Some neighborhood teens are opting for more selective schools, such as Morgan Park, or newer facilities, such as Percy Julian. “People have a misconception of who we are—just a school sitting over there not doing anything for its students,” says Assistant Principal Patricia Nichols. “But that’s not so. We offer so many good things in this building.”
The Near West Side school’s reading and math scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) dropped in 1997 below the 15 percent cutoff for probation. But with guidance of an external partner and an influx of new staff, Gladstone’s scores rebounded dramatically. Last spring, 21 percent of Gladstone’s students scored at or above norms in reading; 29 percent in math.
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.
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.
Beginning next year, the National Association for the Education of Young Children is launching more rigorous standards that will make it tougher for Head Start and other preschool programs to get accredited. “The new standards are much higher and more specific,” says Jamilah R. Jor’dan, president and founder of Partnership for Quality Child Care, a Chicago nonprofit that helps programs get accredited. “They needed to be changed to address areas of ambiguity.
Subdividing South Shore into smaller learning units is part of the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative, which is also funding small school conversions at Bowen and Orr high schools. Grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a consortium of local funders are underwriting the $18.6 million effort.
A pitch to create a Junior ROTC small school that was turned down previously is being recast this year as a School of Leadership. The plan calls for an integrated curriculum that combines political science, criminal justice and service learning with Junior ROTC training.