Footnote Credit: Illustration by Kurt Mitchell

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Oct. 1: Truancy march

State Sen. James Meeks leads a group of teachers, parents and school officials through West Englewood, looking for 160 truants from Harper High. Most of the kids aren’t home. But Meeks, who is also a minister, persuades one young man who missed a year of school to re-enroll. Other missing students had moved, weren’t in school because of medical problems or were in jail. Several teachers at Harper were in danger of losing their jobs because the truant students caused a drop in enrollment.

Oct. 11: Year-round

Mayor Richard Daley says summer vacation is “ridiculous” and calls for year-round school, suggesting that the district offer educational camps during the summer. But School Board President Michael Scott says the district can’t afford to keep teachers on the payroll over the summer months. Most Chicago students attend school 180 days per year, but some charter schools have longer years and longer days than regular public schools. The state requires 176 days of school per year.

Oct. 13: Community schools

The district announces plans to open 35 new community schools, which stay open on evenings and weekends and provide both academics and recreation for students and programs for parents and residents, such as ESL and GED courses. The latest list of schools includes charters and new Renaissance schools. Officials say the added schools will insure that the district meets its goal of having 100 community schools by 2007.

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Ohio: Value-added

Ohio is preparing to implement a “value-added” model to measure students’ academic progress, according to the Oct. 13 Cleveland Plain Dealer. A task force is working on how to put the model in place by 2007. Every student in the state has been given an identification number to allow educators to track grades and test scores even if students change schools. A pilot project is already in the works in 42 districts.

Arizona: Tax breaks

Citing lagging salaries and the rising cost of housing, the state superintendent of instruction wants to give tax credits to educators in public and private schools, according to the Oct. 12 Arizona Republic. Supt. Tom Horne, who holds the elected post and faces re-election next year, has proposed giving a $2,500 credit to teachers as well as school counselors, psychologists and librarians. At least two state senators, including the Senate president, are considering sponsoring the plan. But the state’s largest teachers group opposes any plan that includes private school teachers, and says teachers should get higher salaries instead. The average public school teacher in Arizona earns $42,000 annually.

Massachusetts: Longer day, year

At least 20 school districts are considering plans to lengthen their school days, according to the Oct. 3 Boston Globe. Boston, Springfield and Worcester are among the districts that may add an extra two hours to the school day, with the cost paid by a special state grant. Springfield is also considering adding 20 days to the school year. Districts competing for the grant funds must show that parents and teachers support the idea.

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“How else do you know what your kids need and how to plan your curriculum?”

Legacy Charter School Principal Lisa Kenner, on why the North Lawndale school will administer five diagnostic reading tests per year. The district recently scrapped the Iowa tests and plans to replace them with three reading assessments per year.

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Some Chicago schools have just joined a program that gives them more autonomy from central office. How does becoming autonomous change a school’s day-to-day operation?

Paul Swisher, LSC community representative, Walter Payton High

Beginning this year, 85 schools that met most of a list of more than a dozen criteria concerning student performance, school climate, management and special education status were given the chance to join the Autonomous Management and Performing Schools initiative, or AMPS. AMPS schools were freed from district rules on curriculum, staff development, oversight and reporting procedures.

Principals say they now have more time for educational innovation. Carlos Azcoitia, principal of Spry Elementary and Community Links High, says he attends fewer meetings and has more time for classroom visits and school improvement planning.

Donald Fraynd, principal of Jones College Prep, says it’s easier to manage his budget because he no longer has to obtain multiple approvals and turn in a stream of paperwork to make changes. Repairs are quicker, he adds, because his engineer can call the vendor directly. And CPS gave Jones the money to design its own teacher mentoring program. “You can customize it to the unique needs of your school,” says Fraynd.

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Chicago expanded its reading specialist program for low-achieving schools last year, but the first crop of specialists has failed to significantly raise reading scores, according to a September report from Designs for Change. In 2001, the district hired a specialist for each of the 114 lowest-achieving schools. But by 2005, average reading scores at those schools only inched up: Iowa scores rose to 25.6% at or above national norms, from 23.7%; while ISAT scores rose to 29.1% meeting state standards, from 22.8%. The district required every school on probation last year to hire 2 reading specialists.

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