Ensuring equity for children who have special needs

To paraphrase a common saying, sometimes a statistic is worth a thousand words. As reporting for this issue of Catalyst In Depth unfolded, a telling statistic emerged (shown in the accompanying graphic). Its point: Racial disparity in CPS reaches down even into small-scale programs that fly under the radar. In this case, the disparity is in the district’s program for placing children with more severe disabilities in private, therapeutic day schools, designed to provide optimal support for learning.

Dual language for all students

Back in July, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the creation of a city Office of New Americans intended to, in his words, “make Chicago the most immigrant-friendly city in the world.” Indeed, immigration continues to change the face of Chicago and the metro area. In the city, one in five residents is foreign-born, according to census data, and 12 percent of students are English-language learners. In the suburbs, the ELL population has doubled in a quarter of school districts, and educators are grappling with how to educate these students at a time when state dollars are shrinking. 

Tough choices for turnarounds

Tamoura Hayes started high school with big dreams for college that she already knew would be tough to reach. “C’mon,” she said. “I go to Marshall High School.” Obviously, Marshall’s long-standing academic failings weren’t lost on Tamoura, who went on to say that she “wasn’t even supposed to be here.” Marshall was her last option. Her family couldn’t afford the private school that was her first choice, and she wasn’t offered a slot at Raby, one of the newer high schools sprouting up on the West Side.

Make most of early learning, target cash to kindergarten

When Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the new $500 million
Early Learning Challenge Grant competition in late May, educators
weren’t the only ones who joined him at the event. Duncan was
accompanied by an array of leaders from outside the education world who
endorsed Duncan’s call for increasing investment in early education. “To win the future, our children need a strong start,” Duncan said.

Taking the measure of new CEO Jean-Claude Brizard

From a journalist’s standpoint, the most refreshing news to emerge from a recent interview with incoming Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard was his promise to be transparent. The in-depth, shoe-leather reporting and analysis that is our hallmark can only be accomplished when administrators have a green light to talk freely about their work, and when principals feel free to give writers access to schools, classrooms and teachers. If Brizard makes good on his pledge, it would contrast sharply with the administration of former CEO Ron Huberman. And Brizard’s commitment should be heartening to the public, too, since an administration that is transparent with the press is likely to be the same way with parents and others invested in understanding and supporting school improvement.

Kill student retention and get real about learning

It’s a practice that just won’t die. Study after study, researcher after researcher, has made the same point: Holding students back when they are not achieving at grade level does not help them academically.  Still, the idea resonates with the public. And outgoing Mayor Richard M. Daley garnered praise for instituting a ban on social promotion in 1996. Now, like an aging, punch-drunk prizefighter who just won’t give up and leave the ring, the district’s promotion policy remains alive, if not well.

Teaching: not just academics

“Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test” That headline topped Catalyst Chicago’s story on the impact of an
Illinois State Board of Education decision to raise passing scores on
the test that college students must take to earn admission to a school
of education. The board’s move was part of a strategy to raise the
rigor of teacher preparation in Illinois and, in turn, improve the
quality of the teaching force. In September, the first round of testing took place under the new standard—and pass rates plummeted to 22 percent overall.

Facing a critical juncture

Fix another budget mess. Do something—anything?—to improve the worst schools. Curb school violence. Keep labor peace. Almost enough to make you ask, who needs this headache? Making inroads on these vexing problems could easily consume every waking hour of the city’s next mayor and schools chief.

Time to write a new chapter for Chicago Public Schools

Renaissance schools have brought a chance at a better education to
students eager to escape failing traditional schools but unable to get a
coveted slot in magnet schools with special programs or selective
schools. Some Renaissance schools, indeed, are high-performing. Yet
school closings have been detrimental to students. A study by
researchers at the University of Chicago shows that most displaced kids
landed at another bad school.
And despite Renaissance, three out of four Chicago Public Schools students remain enrolled in low-performing schools.