For students, teachers and administrators, the month of September is the beginning of the year, the time to set a new course. For Chicago’s public schools, this September ushers in a particularly ambitious new beginning. CEO Arne Duncan has unveiled an education plan that, for the first time, seeks to transform teaching to ensure that all students get “superior instructional programs” in “supportive school environments.” With the title “Every Child, Every School,” the Duncan plan echoes the spirit of “No Child Left Behind,” the federal government’s sweeping, though somewhat clumsy, effort to force schools to teach all children.
Drawn up by a University of Chicago researcher with scads of input from educators and academics, Duncan’s plan earnestly talks about helping everyone in the system do a better job. (In contrast, former CEO Paul Vallas’s vision often involved creating new programs for those people to implement.) The 60-page plan is bold in its restructuring of the lines of responsibility, installing a raft of new leaders in belt-tightening times.
Sadly, though, the report is thick with academic jargon and thin on plain English. Put into simpler terms, the plan might have been distributed to parents. Still, those who read it will learn, for instance, that teachers and principals have more opportunities to improve their professional skills. They will also learn that Duncan has decided to reorganize the district’s six regions into 24 instructional areas, each to be led by a highly-regarded former principal or educator. These new administrators will keep a more watchful eye on academic performance, and they will offer principals more support to improve classroom instruction. And beginning next spring, parents will have access to detailed analyses of their children’s performance and reports of overall student performance by teacher.
However they are expressed, such steps parallel the underlying mission of No Child, which envisions a new day and age for public schools. Teachers are expected to teach all children—and those children are expected to learn. Schools are expected to do better, and repercussions await those that don’t. At the same time, parents are expected to become more involved with their children’s academic life.
Grounded in sound educational values, Duncan’s plan is a good start. But he could save himself and the district unnecessary grief by communicating his admirable intentions better. As one staunch school improvement advocate put it, Duncan could use a wise uncle.
Someone who would pull him aside and help him understand the necessity of communicating effectively to parents, taxpayers and the business community. Most of them are already rooting for his success. Their support shouldn’t be undermined.
ABOUT US Our editorial advisory board welcomes five new members: Jody Becker, a reporter for WBEZ-FM Chicago’s public radio station; Shazia Miller, a researcher who also handles public outreach for the Consortium on Chicago School Research; Diana Nelson, director of public affairs for the Union League Club of Chicago; Luis Salces, president of LMS Communications; and Silvia Villa of the Chicago Teachers Center at Northeastern Illinois University.
We also extend heartfelt thanks two departing board members: Carolyn Nordstrom, who served a year as board chair, and Ari Munoz Contreras, a member for three years. Your insights and ideas helped us excel.
NEW RESOURCE Ever wonder how the most recent CPS reading test scores or attendance rates compare to those of five or ten years ago? A new feature on Catalyst’s web site will answer such questions. Citywide Data is a compilation of year-by-year school report card data, including student ISAT and ACT test scores, graduation rates, teacher salaries and demographics and much more. In some cases data are available back to 1986-87. We trust our visitors will find it useful.