A matter of time

Compared to national averages, the Chicago Public Schools  school year is 10 days shorter and the school day 45 minutes shorter. Research shows low-income students stand to gain the most from extra learning time, and district and state officials are planning bids to win federal funds to pay for it.

Illinois moving ahead on Race to the Top, but governor has yet to name key oversight council

Even among its emerging strengths, Illinois has loose ends to tie off before the US Department of Education closes the door on applications for incentive grants under the Race to the Top initiative.


For one, Gov. Pat Quinn has yet to select members of a “P-20 council” that will oversee the development of a longitudinal data system to track individual student outcomes from pre-school through post-secondary education. The system will link students to teachers and to the preparation program the teacher attended—giving Illinois an advantage in the federal funding race over some states that legally restrict such links.


More generally, the council will also direct traffic as the state’s educational institutions try to better align teacher training and standards for student learning.


A spokesperson for the governor says the council has an important role to play in the race for the state’s share of the $4.3 billion in federal funds, and that stakeholders are expressing a lot of interest in signing on. The council was part of legislation passed more than two years ago, but Quinn’s office would not say when council members would be selected.

Approved: Chicago’s first charter school teachers union contract

Teachers at three Chicago charter schools have ratified a labor contract with education management group Civitas—ending months of negotiations and finalizing the city’s first teachers union contract for charters.

The vote was 87 to 8 in favor of ratification. The deal was signed this morning by all parties.

Highlights include:

  • Salary raises that will range from 4.2 to 25.4 percent in the first year and 2.5 and 10.55 percent in the second and third years
  • Additional merit pay programs in years two and three of the contract
  • A new teacher evaluation system based on the Danielson model
  • Joint teacher-administrator planning on curriculum and professional development
  • Due process for disciplinary issues and firings, including an avenue for “binding arbitration”
  • Class size caps (29 students) that require arbitration when exceeded
  • New avenues for parent and community engagement will be established
  • A slight increase in Civitas’ contribution to health plans (from 75 to 80 percent of the premium)

Value-added scores give mixed view of Chicago school turnarounds

With little fanfare last month, Chicago Public Schools released its second edition of “value-added scores” for every elementary school in the system—offering parents what is theoretically a fairer way to gauge school performance and sounding a note of caution on school turnarounds.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is pressing districts across the country to emulate Chicago’s “turnaround” approach, in which teachers are replaced wholesale at struggling schools as a way to jumpstart academic changes. Yet the latest value-added scores (download in Excel) paint a decidedly mixed picture.

Schools run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership make a strong showing in math. But one CPS-led turnaround effort raises red flags.

Ed Department lays out plan for distributing i3 grants

US Sec. of Education Arne Duncan today laid out priorities and a game plan for distributing nearly $650 million in the so-called “i3 Fund” or Investing in Innovation Fund—basically a massive pot of seed money for district- and nonprofit-led school improvement programs that will be awarded on a competitive basis under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Comparing the competitive grants to a form of venture capitalism, Duncan said: “New ideas don’t always work, and I’m sure we will experience some failures.” But, he added, when programs succeed they will make “a dramatic difference” in the lives of students.

To win, educators will need to submit grant proposals early next year that meet the administration’s school reform priorities and convince a peer-review panel of their potential effectiveness. Bidding starts early next year and Duncan’s team will award grants in 2010 to either individual districts or districts that have partnered with nonprofits, universities or other school systems.

Pitfalls with school choice in Chicago, other districts

A new report by The Center on Reinventing Public Education strikes an optimistic note on the emergence of “portfolio schools”—that is, charter and charter-like schools—in Chicago, New Orleans, New York and Washington DC. But the report also offers a long list of potential pitfalls—from the evaporation of philanthropic dollars to shifting political terrain—that threatens any well-oiled network of autonomous school options.

The center is a research collective at the University of Washington that generally takes a constructively critical view of school choice and district decentralization efforts. In this report, the researchers offer little in the way of evaluation of each city’s portfolio initiatives, but they do serve up a good reference tool for understanding the differences in scale and scope of major reform efforts in the country’s hotspots for urban educational change.

But the authors do knock Chicago for limiting its portfolio approach to new schools started under the Renaissance 2010 initiative. The city’s inability to take to scale per-pupil budgeting also draws fire, and Chicago’s experiment with local school councils gets short shrift.

Appellate court decision raises questions on new charter law

An Illinois Appellate Court decision has cast legal doubt over a hard-fought provision regarding charter union drives in the state’s revamped charter law.

In the decision, the court has sided with the Cambridge Lakes Charter School’s management group, the Northern Kane Educational Corporation, which challenged a union drive by its teachers. Under the ruling, the state’s labor board cannot grant union rights to the school’s teachers because they technically work for a private company that is not subject to the Illinois Education Labor Act.

Exactly how the ruling will affect the Cambridge Lakes union push remains unclear. Muddier yet is how it will impact a contradictory clause in the state’s new charter law.

Resolved? Three aldermen back resolution on charter union drives

As teachers and administrators at three Chicago International charter schools try to put the finishing touches on the city’s first charter union contract, organizers with the teachers’ newly formed union, Chicago ACTS, are asking aldermen to unequivocally back the right of other charter teachers to form unions.

Chicago ACTS (Alliance for Charter School Teachers and Staff) is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and, according to organizer James Thindwa, continues to develop connections with other charter teachers across the city. As part of the larger union push, Thindwa says Chicago ACTS will be working with aldermen Joe Moore, Ricardo Munoz and Pat Dowell to drum up support for a resolution that declares Chicago a union-friendly town and urges charter school administrators to remain neutral during union drives.

Case study: National Board teachers take the instructional lead

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the granting body for teaching’s gold standard credential, has released a case study on Chicago Public Schools’ growing pool of master teachers. The report comes on the heels of the district’s achievement of a goal it set in 2000: to increase the city’s ranks of National Board certified teachers up to 1,200.

The report suggests that schools with a critical mass of National Board teachers on staff can greatly impact student learning. In fact, National Board teachers now make up more than 15 percent of the teaching force in more than 50 Chicago schools.

Under former Schools CEO Arne Duncan, now US Secretary of Education, the district also made strides toward increasing the number of master teachers at work in the lowest-performing schools in the neediest communities—a problem that hurt the movement early. Now some 60 percent of schools with concentrated student poverty (85 percent or more), have at least one National Board teacher.

But the real lessons offered up in the case study come from National Board teachers who have taken on leadership roles in their schools. One teacher is Molly Myers, who setup a website for teachers at Lindblom Math and Science Academy to view video footage of their teaching and critique one another.