Chicago students lag behind other big cities on “nation’s report card”

Chicago posted flat reading scores in today’s release of the 2009 Trial Urban District Assessment, which stacks up 18 big-city districts based on results from last year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “nation’s report card.” Chicago tied Baltimore and outscored six other districts on 4th-grade reading tests, but fell short of 10 other districts—including Atlanta, New York and Boston.

Chicago performed somewhat better on 8th-grade tests, outscoring eight urban districts but lagging behind nine others.

Chicago’s average 8th-grade score of 249 is three points lower than the average for all large-city districts and 13 points behind the national average. The city’s average 4th-grade score of 202 is eight points lower than the urban district average and 18 points behind the national average.

These scores signal that Chicago’s students are performing behind many of their counterparts in other large cities, and more than a year behind students nationwide. NAEP officials estimate that a 10-point difference on the assessment’s 500-point scale is equal to a year’s worth of learning.

CPS involved in 43 proposals for federal innovation grants

The deadline passed quietly yesterday for submissions in the $650 million federal stimulus competition known as the Investing in Innovation, or i3, grant program.

For Chicago Public Schools officials, quiet is good. They have yet to publicly name the organizations with whom they are partnering, lest a competitor use the information to its advantage.

Still, the district did say it will be serving as the lead agency in two “development level” applications—one aimed at school turnarounds and another at beefing up the skills of teachers and school leaders.

Meeks’ voucher bill falls short in House vote

After a lengthy debate on the House floor, lawmakers voted 48-66 against state Sen. James Meeks’ controversial school voucher bill. The plan would have granted private school tuition vouchers of about $3,300 to perhaps as many as 46,000 students in some 50-70 low-performing and overcrowded Chicago schools.

House sponsor Rep. Kevin Joyce (D-Worth) technically postponed the bill for later consideration. But lawmakers will have little time in this session to return to the matter. They must now turn their attention to the 600-pound gorilla in Springfield: passing a state budget before the end of the week.

Voucher bill picks up steam, passes key House committee

A controversial school voucher bill sponsored by state Sen. James Meeks has cleared another hurdle, today passing the House Executive Committee on a 10-1 vote. The proposed bill, which would launch the state’s first private school voucher program, now moves to the House floor, where even opponents concede its chance of passage is good.

Meeks turned his attention to vouchers last year. His legislation, SB 2494, would offer state reimbursement for private school tuition—up to $6,000 per child—to families that opt out of one of Chicago’s lowest-performing elementary schools. The bill would apply to some 22,000 students in the lowest 10 percent of schools in the district.

Meeks is also pastor of Salem Baptist Church, which operates Salem Christian Academy, a private school that would be eligible to accept students under the voucher proposal.

Surveys show not all teachers oppose use of test scores to rate teaching

A spate of teacher surveys is giving policymakers a clearer picture of what frontline educators think of emerging school reforms. But as Learning Point researchers Ellen Behrstock and Jane Coggshell point out: educators are often at odds with researchers and policymakers over how to evaluate learning and spark effective teaching.

This disconnect is poised to heat up as Illinois districts forge ahead with changes in teacher evaluations. By law, student performance data must become a “significant” factor for teacher ratings in Chicago by 2013 and all districts by 2016. Yet teachers have said loudly and clearly in two recent national surveys—one conducted by Learning Point and Public Agenda—that standardized tests are an inferior way to evaluate them.

Taking teachers’ views seriously could make or break the effort. Says Coggshell, “It’s not just listening to teachers…but really educating them on what are the benefits [of better evaluations] and what is involved and how much more work will it be for them. It’s a two-way conversation that needs to occur, and occur often.”

Illinois loses out in Race to the Top’s first round

Education Secretary Arne Duncan today announced two states, Delaware and Tennessee, have won nearly $600 million in first round Race to the Top grants. That leaves nearly $3.4 billion for what officials hope to be a spirited second round of vetting in June.

“We set a very high bar for the first phase,” Duncan said in a prepared statement. “Both states have statewide buy-in for comprehensive plans to reform their schools. They have written new laws to support their policies.  And they have demonstrated the courage, capacity, and commitment to turn their ideas into practices that can improve outcomes for students.”

Illinois, one of 16 first round finalists named earlier this month, placed fifth in the point totals awarded by judges; a ranking that should bolster state officials who wrote what many national observers labeled a surprisingly strong application.

Illinois’ Race to the Top bid marked by aggressive timelines

One fundamental concern emerged last week when five peer reviewers grilled five of Illinois’ top educators about the state’s Race to the Top application. Does the State Board of Education have the capacity—the manpower and financial resources—to see through a bevy of proposed education reforms under exceptionally tight deadlines?

“The judges knew the application very well, and the focus was on implementation,” says Miguel Del Valle, chair of the state’s P20 Council and one of the five delegates sent to Washington D.C. last week to defend Illinois’ bid for up to $510 million in competitive federal stimulus grants.

“They felt our timeline was very aggressive,” he adds. “Our response was that it has to be very aggressive.”

Chicago schools looking for partners in bid for more federal dollars

Chicago Public Schools officials are working against the clock as they begin to solicit proposals from nonprofits that want to partner with the district in a bid for federal Investing in Innovation, or i3, grants.


The district will issue a “request for partnerships” tomorrow (March 19) and expects proposals by the end of the month—just six weeks before the May 11 federal deadline for i3 applications. Dozens of nonprofits have already contacted the district and shown interest in forging partnerships.